REVIEW: “The Horned God”

from Savage Sword of Conan #162

story by Charles Dixon, art by Jorge Zaffino

Marvel Comics, July 1989.

I’m not really even going to review this comic. I’m just going to talk about comics in general.

Every once in a while I hear people talking about the writing and art in comics as completely separate entities. I always snicker to myself and think that you simply can’t do that because in comics the art IS the story and the story IS the art. In comics you read the art. You can’t rate the story a “7” and the art a “3.” They are the same thing. You have to rate the COMIC a “7” or a “3” or whatever.

But, of course, you CAN separate the writing and the art in comics. I have a habit of thinking in ideals. And I myself tend to swing back and forth from month-to-month, hour-to-hour. Sometimes I feel the quality of the art is completely irrelevant — it could be stick figures drawn by a 3-year-old — as long as it conveys whatever information it is intended to. And then other days I feel like in comics the “story” is irrelevant compared to the visual “narrative” created by the art.

Every time I see Jorge Zaffino’s artwork, I hurtle wildly towards the latter.

There are certain artists I stop everything for, bread crumb flurries fluttering out of my agape lips. Geoff Darrow, Richard Corben, and Jorge Zaffino are among them.

Zaffino died tragically young at 42 years old. He had apparently done a significant amount of comics work in his native Argentina (none of it reprinted in the US) before doing a handful of work in the States in the ’80s and ’90s. This included Winter World and Seven Block for Eclipse Comics (both written by Chuck Dixon and recently reprinted by IDW in preferable black and white). Then, graphic novels Punisher Assassin’s Guild and Punisher Kingdom Gone, also both by Dixon and featuring some of the best art to ever grace that character (trust me, I’ve read almost all of it). Some work on the series Terror Inc for Marvel. A smattering of others.

And this.

Zaffino worked with Dixon a lot. He obviously had an affinity for his writing, but I can’t remember a lick of anything that happened in any of their collaborations. The visuals, however, have burned into my retinas. Zaffino himself said of his work: “I do not consider myself a comic artist, because the comic is not only drawing well, but also telling something. My stuff is more a matter of creating an atmosphere, than telling a story.” This should be damning, but I think he’s selling himself short, and his art is so overpowering that no matter how good the writing might have / could have been, it never had a hope of keeping up. The naturalism of his art is astonishing. The rough, vital, visceral energy.

Does it matter that this is a story about a king’s aide seeking a unicorn’s horn to create an aphrodisiac for his sexually uninterested master so he can produce an heir? So he hires Conan the Barbarian to help him get it? Conan becomes romantically involved with the king’s sister? They fight off mountain tribes? I like Conan well enough, but I certainly didn’t give a shit about much of this, and yet I was compelled to read this story six times.

I’d give the story a “6,” the art a “10,” and the comic a “10.” That’s the point I was trying to make.


Some far more intelligent and eloquent appreciations of Zaffino:

Some more art:

Some more art from this story (scanned from the original art):


Kumar Sivasubramanian is the writer of Weird Crime Theater.

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