By Sanho Kim (Iron Horse Publishing Co.)
Jumble sales are wonderful things. When I was a kid I got as many comics and books from inside church halls as I ever did from market stalls or newsagents. I still shamble around them occasionally but the pickings are pretty slim for print-freaks these days.
One thing I did pick up a few years ago was this fascinating precursor to today’s graphic novels.
Charlton Comics was always a minor player in the comics leagues, paying less, selling less, and generally caring less about cultivating a fan base than the major players. But they managed to find more big names in the 1960s than either Marvel or DC, and create a pantheon of memorable characters and concepts than any other.
Dick Giordano, Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neil, Joe Gill, Steve Skeates, Steve Ditko, Jim Aparo, Pat Boyette, Don Newton, Joe Staton, John Byrne, Mike Zeck, Sanho Kim – the list is endless.
But wait, what was that last one?
Sanho Kim started drawing for the company in 1968, a Korean professional of ten years standing who decided to try his luck in the home of the comic book. Drawing westerns, war stories and mysteries – which is code for horror and supernatural stories in the days before the Comics Code Authority relaxed its stranglehold on publishers creativity – he brought an eerie elegance and exoticism to funny-books that had never been seen before. Bizarre and compelling, I had never seen anything like it before.
I can’t find that much about him or by him these days, but this digest, landscape format book, which he apparently self-published in 1973 is a phenomenal piece of work that needs reviving and a saga that needs completing.
Set in Korea, it tells the tale of an uncouth and itinerant young swordsman who has a sexual dalliance with a beautiful maiden by a deserted stream. He then discovers that she is the Emperor’s fourth wife, desperate to get pregnant before her imperial husband removes her in same way he removed her three “barren” predecessors. Now that he has performed his function, the besotted young warrior finds himself a target for assassins, an unwelcome piece of evidence and perpetrator of a capital offence.
Combining, frenetic martial arts action with philosophy, earthy cynical humour with old world romance and presaging the road movie/buddy stories of a decade later this stunning blend of line art and grey wash tone paintings is a thing of beauty, and I fervently hope you have a chance to see it yourself one day.
© 1973 Iron Horse Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved