Seeing the two women, [Vanda’s character Clotilde and real life-named Clotilde Montron], together in Pedro Costa’s Ossos is striking – the unkempt unwashed hair, the ungroomed eyebrows, the upper lip hair, lack of even natural cinematic makeup – help establish the elements of realism. Both are gender ambiguous to the typical spectator, illustrating the expectancy of gender performance for women in cinema, as well as the expectation of the operation of the gender binary (women are clearly demarcated as “feminine” cis females). I would even say that Vanda’s challenging of this expectation is what makes her so “dangerous” [as Costa described her]. This refreshing imagery, coupled with the unapologetic look of confidence Duarte exudes when Clotilde and Tina dress for work as housemaids, reinforces why Duarte is so magnetic and fascinating to observe. The contrast of her more delicately-featured friend does nothing to deter her confidence, which makes the description “total lack of respect” further apply to gendered beauty standards. More than this, Vanda represents a woman often not seen in cinema: a woman unconcerned with expected gender performance and appearance.
— Apexa M. - Vanda’s Resistance: Exploration of Vanda Duarte in Pedro Costa’s Fontainhas trilogy | FilmAntidote.com
Published in Savage Sword of Conan #6, The People of the Dark is based on an original Robert E. Howard story, but not one that was originally a Conan tale. One of the author’s Weird tales, it nevertheless continues many of the fascinations of the Hyborean age, from Howard’s obssession with barbarism to his admiration of the Irish. It follows Jim O’Brien, who plans to kill a love rival, and is instead transported back in time (or, in Savage Sword, to the Hyborean age, Conan’s world, which gives it a feeling reminiscent of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion sequence) where the woman he loves and his rival are killed by monstrous proto-humans while he escapes. Flashing forward (or sideways), Jim O’Brien then fights the remnants of the proto-humans, grown monstrous, to save his love rival and lover both, repaying them for their sacrifice in the ancient past.
It’s an odd story, and reading the omnibus editions of Savage Sword, it really stands out against both the Howard Conan stories and the original scripts. It is also one of the most impressive stories in the first volume visually, with Alex Niño’s (Heavy Metal, Atlantis: The Lost Empire) stunning compositions lending themselves well to the shifting perspectives of the story. The first few pages are ambitious full page collages, reminiscent of more recent work by Emma Ríos. However, while Pretty Deadly is full colour and often dominated by blacks and heavy borders, Niño’s art relies on negative space to draw the eye down across the page, the multiple figures of Jim O’Brien above investing the image with the sense of the uncanny, shifting time and multiplicity. These stories are often heavy with narration, but Niño’s art does a lot of the heavy lifting here. The typical set-up of comics is inverted: the art conveys content, whereas the text mostly conveys tone. Brandon Graham has mentioned before how he enjoys the often conflicting narrative text and images in the old Savage Sword tales, and I think this story is a fine example of that. There is an imagination in Roy Thomas’ script that makes it hard not to scoff at writers who shove a text box in the corner only to say ‘meanwhile…’ The difference between writing and signposting.
The second page here is just another example of Niño’s great composition, which forces the eye to read the page right to left and back again. I am not a fan of the action lines as O’Brien bounces across the page, because I think the page is dynamic and clear enough without them, but nevertheless it shows the strength of the art, especially in how the bottom half of the page seems to open up from the narrow, rigid lines of the panels in the top right.
Lastly, some of Niño’s tight panels from later. The Conan part of the story is very much boxed in in comparison to O’Brien’s parts, investing the narrative with tension and claustraphobia as Conan rushes through narrow caverns. The rushing figure interpolated over other panels also lends a sense of urgency and confusion, as Conan is set against himself, as if lost in a labyrinth and doubling back on himself before falling. With work as strong as this, it’s hard not to be critical of Dark Horse’s current Conan ouvre, which stresses an essentially formalist approach to Howard’s original stories. I remember when they first gained the property, how diligently they stuck to the ‘timeline’ (as if it were not itself in dispute) and denigrated the likes of this story for being an adaptation of a non-Conan tale invested with Conan. Yet, is hewing to Howard’s original stories not merely producing a simulacra? The Hyborean age was invented so that Howard could write historical fantasy without doing the research, so investing so much time in producing a Lord of the Rings-style ‘built world’ is a farce at best. Rather, adaptations like Thomas/Niño’s People of the Dark come closer to Howard’s vision, riding roughshod over sense to gain the lead. Instead of monkish translations, this is productive transformation, synthesis that produces a greater work, or at least one that is markedly different.