Barry Blair: What to read first? by Christopher Helton
One of the fun bits of writing these pieces about Barry Blair and his comic work is getting to re-read the old stories, in some cases getting to read them for the first time. A lot of people who are comic fans today may not realize that it wasn’t always as easy to track down works of small press books as it is today. When I was a kid, one of the first places that I bought comics from regularly (that wasn’t a drug or grocery store) was actually a used bookstore that sold maybe 10-20 comics regularly each month. I think that it wasn’t until 1985 that I was able to start going to a comic store on a regular basis, and find books that were beyond what was sold at newsstands.
In the case of Blair’s Samurai comic, I am getting to read these stories for the first time. This is why I decided to start my discussion of his titles with that comic, rather than the probably more popular Elflord book.
Blair is probably one of the earliest published Western comic creators to start using an artistic style that was inspired by Japanese manga and anime. Those inspirations really show in Samurai. When I started reading this comic for this series, I was transported back to when I first saw Battle of The Planets and Speed Racer as a kid, and later in high school when I first saw pirated tapes of Robotech. All of these series seeped into the issues of Samurai as I was reading them. More “cartoony” styles weren’t unusual in small press comics in the 80s. Matt Wagner’s style on the early Grendel comics, while probably not directly influenced by manga art, did have a much more stylized approach to the art than Wagner has nowadays.
What is Samurai? It is about a samurai (big shock considering the title), giant robots and their cloned pilots, espionage and intrigue, and big space ships. The story covers pretty much everything that would have been new and exciting to a comic reader at this point in time. Combine this with a vaguely cyberpunk setting, and the comic makes its own gravy.
Now, I am going to go into the characters of Samurai in a bit more detail next time, there just isn’t enough space to introduce the series and go into it in any detail. Luckily we’ve got plenty of weeks to talk about things.
Why should you read Samurai? Well, if any of the above bullet listed items sounds appealing you should check it out. Yes, there are some clichés in the plot and in the story, but I think that comes with the luxury of hindsight and more familiarity with the genre today than we would have had back then. One thing that I really enjoyed was the idea that the reason for cloned giant robot pilots was because they would have to scale down the size of the pilots so that they could fit into the cockpits of the giant robots. The idea that it was easier to create clones of people to pilot these robots than it was to make the robots larger so that an actual person could fit into them just sounds so bizarre that it could almost be real.
Next time we will look at the main characters of Samurai and try to explore the world a bit. Until then.
The Barry Blair Library is now available through Outland Entertainment.
Christopher Helton writes about pop culture, comics and gaming at his long-running Dorkland! blog, and as a writer for the Bleeding Cool website.
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