In Memoriam: Ken Barr

Ken Barr RIP

We’re sorry to report the death of artist Kenneth (Ken) Barr, aged 83. He is perhaps best known to downthetubes readers for his Commando covers, but was an innovative artist whose covers for publishers such as Marvel and a wide variety of book publishers are highly regarded, making him one of the most beloved and collected comic artists.

Ken, who had turned 83 a few days ago, retired in 1987, returning to his native Scotland from the United States, where he had worked for much of his career as a film poster, comic and book cover artist.

"Road to the Rim" art by Ken Barr
“Road to the Rim” art by Ken Barr

Born in Scotland in 1933, after serving with the Army in Egypt for his National Service he established himself as one of the top artists in the graphic art and comic industry. Since his first covers appeared on Nebula science fiction magazine in the 1950s, he produced a vast and wide range of subject matter for many of the top companies in many fields, including Star Wars and Star Trek covers, as well as creating film posters and book covers.

Ken Barr's Terminal Man film poster
Ken Barr’s Terminal Man film poster
Commando #1, published in June 1961. Art by Ken Barr
Commando Number 1, published in June 1961. Art by Ken Barr
Ken Barr's final cover for Commando - Issue 4138, commissioned by Calum Laird in 2008. "It was quite odd working with Ken," Calum recalls, "as we never met face-to-face, I just called his mobile. And his rough was sent in by post… on tracing paper. This was at a time when everybody else was, at least, using the fax machine. The print here doesn’t do justice to the red he used on the cover. "It was the only job he did for me, not because we didn’t want to do more, it just never happened."
Ken Barr’s final cover for Commando – Issue 4138.

Over the years Ken painted many images that have now become iconic cover artwork, delivered in a wide variety of styles ranging from many of the classic early war covers for Commando comics, including the first 14 issues. His last cover work on the title was for Issue 4138, above, commissioned by Calum Laird in 2008.

“It was quite odd working with Ken” Calum recalls, "as we never met face-to-face, I just called his mobile. And his rough was sent in by post… on tracing paper. This was at a time when everybody else was, at least, using the fax machine.”

The print above doesn’t do justice to the red he used on the cover, Calum notes.

“It was the only job he did for me, not because we didn’t want to do more, it just never happened.”

Ken moved to the United States in 1968, where he quickly carved a career as an artist with credits that include fantasy art covers for Warren publications such as Creepy and Vampirella,Doc Savageand Planet of the Apes) and DC Comics (such as G.I. Combat).

He was also the regular penciller/inker and occasional writer of strips for DC’s various war comics under Joe Kubert’s editorship, including Our Army At War, Our Fighting Forces, Battle Album and Star Spangled War Stories in 1969-74.

Our Fighting Forces #123. So long Hellcats, Hello Losers - by Bob Kanigher and Ken Barr.
Our Fighting Forces #123. So long Hellcats, Hello Losers – by Bob Kanigher and Ken Barr.

Comics expert Philip Rushton notes thst apart from all his superb paintings on both sides of the Atlantic people forget that he also earned a small place in comic book history by drawing the first ever story of DC’s Losers series in Our Fighting Forces.

The opening page from a Creepy story, "Life Boat" drawn by Ken Barr.
The opening page from a Creepy story, “Life Boat” drawn by Ken Barr.
The Rampaging Hulk #1 - Cover by Ken Barr
The Rampaging Hulk #1 – Cover by Ken Barr

He also worked on several black-and-white comics from Marvel Comics such asDoc Savage, The Rampaging Hulk, Starlord, The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu and Planet of the Apes.

Ken Barr's cover for Kyrik and the Lost Queen
Ken Barr’s cover for Kyrik and the Lost Queen

From the 1970s onwards, he created hundreds of book covers for many of the leading book publishers such as Avon and Random House over his long career as a commercial artist; and also drew numerous film posters, those credits including The Wind and the Lion, Terminal Man, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and several horror and fantasy films.

Fellow artist David Pugh notes Ken drew some really inspiring Conan covers. “Robert E. Howard would have loved his work.”

A trading card set reprinting some of his best fantasy and horror artwork, The Beast Within, was issued in March 1994 and a book featuring a collection of his work, titled The Beast Within: The Art of Ken BarrThe Beast Within: The Art of Ken Barr, was published in 2007.

Barr also produced fantasy artwork for the Danbury Mint.

“I was very lucky to have met him and his wife Kathy at the 1970 New York Comic Convention, and over the years he produced some wonderful work for several of my publications,” says Sal Quarticco, company president of SQP Art Books, in a tribute. “We’ve been friends for over 45 years and I’ll miss him.”

Our sympathies to Ken’s friends and family at this sad time.

This print by Ken Barr is available through his official web site
This print by Ken Barr is available through the comicmagazines.com web site

• You can buy signed copies of Commando and prints by Ken at: www.comicsmagazines.com

Comicsmagazines.com is also co-publisher with Ken Barr for  archive artwork publications in the UK and, where copyright allows, they are also able to offer licensing opportunities using Ken Barr artwork.

Tribute by Sal Quarticco

• The Dracula Society offers an exclusive postcard by Ken Barr (Ken is a life member of the Dracula Society)

• Ken Barr: Commando Checklist

Ken Barr art on ComicBookArtFans.com

Ken Barr Profile on the SF Encyclopedia

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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