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John’s ProFan Review: Thrud The Barbarian, Vol. 1

The cult classic title Thrud The Barbarian, and its titular character’s full-color adventures, are collected for the first time in this initial volume of 110-page, hardcover awesome from Titan Comics.

Thrud The Barbarian | Cover

Thrud The Barbarian was created by British artist and writer Carl Critchlow in 1981, while the comic was later published in the British gaming magazine White Dwarf from 1983-1988. As is stated in the book, the 1980s were the “Golden Age of RPGs”, and Thrud fit right into a genre that was already home to characters like Judge Dredd and Conan the Barbarian (of which Thrud is a naked parody). After Thrud‘s initial run ended, Critchlow continued his career in comics with 2000 AD on such titles of theirs as Tharg’s Future Shocks, Flesh, and even Judge Dredd–including full-color work on the fantastic 1995 Judge Dredd/Batman crossover The Ultimate Riddle. I would be remiss if I did not mention Critchlow’s prolific work with Magic: The Gathering, contributing over 200 pieces of art to the card game.

The original design of Thrud in Critchlow's former black-and-white, inked style.

The original design of Thrud in Critchlow’s former black-and-white, inked style.

All roads eventually led Critchlow back to Thrud, however, when he realized there was still a large amount of interest in the title; his character had actually become a bit of a cult hero, so Critchlow began independently producing full-length, color Thrud comics, and those are what are collected in Thrud The Barbarian, Vol. 1.

As I mentioned, Thrud is a character that exists in exact satire of Conan The Barbarian. However, if that’s all it was, Thrud would wear thin almost immediately, and we would not be talking about a character of “cult hero” status. What keeps the premise of Thrud from going stale is the style of Critchlow; both in his writing and his illustration, and particularly in how the two interact with each other.

Thrud The Barbarian | Necromancer

Being a British man of a certain age (born in 1963), I would assume Critchlow’s comic sensibility has, at least in part, been influenced by the works of Monty Python; the way he has written Thrud would seem to bear that out. The characters are overtly dense and fully-committed to their existence, no matter how ridiculous and dangerous their situation may become. This, of course, results in comedic moments of comically disproportionate violence, and the rapidity at which they occur makes these moments even more hilarious. Add on top of this the hysterical use of sound effects–one such instance is merely *DOOM*DOOM*DOOM* used as the foreboding theme of a rampaging baddie–and a vernacular that would make Game of Thrones‘ Joffrey sneer with delight, as it includes the name “appleslayer” for a character’s knife, and the result is me laughing out loud the entire time I’m reading. As for the character of Thrud, he’s written as a guy who basically Mr. Magoos his way into trouble that he then has to get himself out of; whereas Mr. Magoo might unintentionally release a dozen balloons that inexplicably aid in his rescue, Thrud essentially says “Hold my beer” and begins wildly swinging his axe–actually, he would probably drink the beer first: drink and hack first; think second… maybe. This is my kind of humor, and Critchlow marries is so well with his illustrations.

Thrud The Barbarian | Bridge

Throughout his career, Critchlow’s artistic style has been alternately praised and criticized (as is wont to happen with a decades-long body of work); you can probably guess that I fall into the “praise” side of that dichotomy. I greatly enjoy his use of deep and crisp blacks (somewhat reminiscent of a Rembrandt or Titian style) and the often thick and sharply cut lines. It results in a sort of great pop art that, to my eye, reminds me of the iconic poster work of someone like Drew Struzan or Tim and Greg Hildebrandt; or the work of two of my absolute favorite artists of all time, Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell. I’m not sure if artists enjoy being compared to other artists; I could assume it varies from person to person, but that’s the best way I have to communicate my opinion. The point is, these are all artists who create art that can best be described as simply being “bad ass”, in the sense that looking at it feels like listening to 1980s rock and roll. So when you juxtapose these bad ass images against the cheeky and quirky dialogue of Thrud, it’s fantastic fun. On top of that, the panels are filled with flat-out funny sight gags–such as the above pictured Thrud, confused and clutching his beer, as he falls from a great height–as well as the aforementioned sound effects.

Thrud The Barbarian | The Black-Currant

The book itself comes printed in high quality, by Titan Comics. The introduction is “violently” written by writer and artist Bryan Talbot, Critchlow’s graphics tutor way back in 1981. Vol. 1 collects the first five issues of Thrud The Barbarian‘s full-color run; you’ll see Thrud encounter a necromancer, accidentally *THWOMP* his way into being king, battle his comically clumsy archnemesis The Black Currant, and much more. In addition, the collection includes several of the White Dwarf strips, one of the original colored one-page comics, and a look at some of  Critchlow’s Thrud sketches. You will not only understand why this title has become a cult classic, but with the contemporary popularity of intelligently silly and fantastical things like Adventure Time and The Venture Brothers (the latter of which’s Brock Samson character would seem to at least partially be inspired by Thrud), I see no reason why this shouldn’t be the moment in time when Thrud The Barbarian finds its largest and most receptive audience yet.

Thrud The Barbarian, Vol. 1 is available now, and–if you couldn’t tell–I highly recommend checking it out.

About John Elrod II (285 Articles)
John is currently untitled. This complete lack of definition would drive most into abject bitterness and utter despair, but not someone of John’s virility. No, John is the picture of mental stability and emotional platitude.

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