Sunday, 19 August 2007
The Drab Garb of Solomon Kane
Comic Book Resources has posted an interview with Dark Horse Comics editor and writer Scott Allie, discussing his upcoming series about Robert E Howard’s Solomon Kane.
As Allie notes, “Of the three main Robert E. Howard characters — Conan, Kull, and Kane — Kane's the one that exists in an actual historical era — the end of the sixteenth century. He's a Puritan adventurer with a military history and he's driven by a sense of vengeance.”
Howard’s stories and poems do indeed place Solomon Kane at the end of the sixteenth century. He was present when Sir Francis Drake executed Thomas Doughty in 1578, and served under Sir Richard Grenville when his ship the Revenge single-handedly fought a 53-ship Spanish fleet in 1591. Both of these were real events.
But pictures of Solomon Kane always show him in the clothes of the mid-to-late 17th century, as in Gary Gianni’s fine illustrations (above and below) to the 1998 edition of The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.
In real life, men in the late Elizabethan period looked like this:
The appearance of fighting men who could not afford to have their portraits painted has been reconstructed like this:
I am not sure where the depiction of Kane as a 17th century version of the Shadow started. There does not seem to have been a single moment when a definitive version of Solomon Kane was created (unlike Howard’s better known character, Conan, whose appearance was fixed by Frank Frazetta’s paperback covers in the 1960s, which marked a sharp break from the short-haired, blandly handsome version who appeared in illustrations to the original publication of the stories in Weird Tales). The way that Gianni portrayed Kane was consistent with the appearance of the character in various Marvel comics of the 1970s and 1980s.
The Marvel version, in turn, drew on the covers painted by Jeff Jones for 1960s small-press book collections.
But, as you can see, the Jones version is quite vague in its details. Those are the earliest pictures of Solomon Kane that I have found. If there were any illustrations to his appearances in Weird Tales, I would love to see them, but I haven’t yet.
So far as I know, only one artist has given Solomon Kane a distinctly different appearance: Howard Chaykin in a story for Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan.
But I find it hard to recommend this version. The tabard and hooped rugby-jersey sleeves seem neither in period nor in character.
So why is Kane always depicted anachronistically? Partly, I think, because the word “puritan” always throws up images of roundheads, pilgrim fathers and Salem witch-hunters, although it was in use, mostly as an insult, earlier than that. But in part, it is just that, even when toned down (as in Shakespeare in Love), Elizabethan menswear, with its stiff doublets and hose, pantaloons and ruffs, looks distinctly silly to 21 century eyes.
Will Dark Horse take up the challenge of creating a different but historically appropriate Solomon Kane? Or will they stick with the familiar, easy but anachronistic version? We’ll have to wait and see.
Pictures and panels
Illustrations by Gary Gianni to Robert E Howard The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, Wandering Star Books and Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 1998
Anonymous Sir Walter Raleigh and his Son, c 1591, National Portrait Gallery, London, reproduced in Francois Boucher A History of Costume in the West, Thames & Hudson, 1966
Isaac Oliver The Three Brothers Brown, 1598, Collection of Lord Exeter at Burlington House, photo by Courtauld Institute of Art, reproduced in Francois Boucher A History of Costume in the West, Thames & Hudson, 1966
Plates by Richard Hook for John Tincey The Armada Campaign 1588, Osprey Books Elite Serries no 15, 1988
Solomon Kane “The Hills of the Dead”, script by Roy Thomas, adapted from the story by Robert E Howard, art by Alan Weiss and Neal Adams, Kull and the Barbarians issue 2, Marvel Comics, July 1975, reprinted in The Savage Sword of Conan issue 16, Marvel UK, February 1979
Solomon Kane “The Prophet!” by Ralph Macchio (scripter), Mike Mignola (penciller), Al Williamson (inker), Joe Rosen (letterer), Bob Sharen (colourist) and Carl Potts (editor), (The Sword of) Solomon Kane issue 4, Marvel Comics, March 1986
Jeff Jones, cover illustration to Robert E Howard Red Shadows, Donald Grant books, 1968, scan taken from the Howard Works website
Jeff Jones, cover illustration to Robert E Howard The Moon of Skulls, Centaur Press, 1969, scan taken from the Howard Works website
Jeff Jones, cover illustration to Robert E Howard The Hand of Kane, Centaur Press, 1970, scan taken from the Howard Works website
Solomon Kane “Rattle of Bones", script by Roy Thomas, adapted from the story by Robert E Howard, art by Howard Chaykin, Savage Sword of Conan issue 18, Marvel Comics, April 1977, reprinted in The Savage Sword of Conan issue 20, Marvel UK, June 1979