In Review: Drawn Swords: An Unauthorized Exploration of Red Sonja and the Artists Who Brought Her to Life

A must have book for fans of Red Sonja and comics.

Drawn Swords: An Unauthorized Exploration of Red Sonja and the Artists Who Brought Her to Life by Matthew Stephen Sunrich 

Published by Hasslein Books on June 12 , 2017. Oversized paperback of 322 pages at $19.99

The cover: In an ominous desert setting, most likely Stygia, Red Sonja looks upon the reader with her sword held behind her head. This cover photo was taken by Andrew Dobell and features Tabitha Lyons as he She Devil with a Sword. Great frontpiece with the tan tinting make this seem appropriately aged. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “Since her debut in Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian during the early years of the Bronze Age of Comics, Red Sonja, the scarlet-maned She-Devil with a Sword, has gone on to become the undisputed queen of sword and sorcery. She has hacked and slashed her way through more than 300 comic books to date — a number which continues to grow in the pages of Dynamite Entertainment’s various series. Here we explore her adventures and how they relate to other comics, as well as novel, television programs, and films, and examine the work of the myriad artists whose pens and pencils gave her the breath of life.” I really enjoy Dynamite’s Red Sonja comics and have fond memories of the Marvel tales, so I’m looking forward to reading what Sunrich has to say about the Hyrkanian. Overall grade: A

The book opens with a Foreword by Nancy A. Collins, one of Sonja’s writers, who gives her thoughts on the famous redhead, which is followed by an Introduction from author Matthew Stephen Sunrich, who gives a short history on the character, including what specific comic books will be focused on and the artists highlighted.

This chronological retelling of Sonja’s publication history is incredible. I was familiar with Red Sonja and some of her writers and artists, but I didn’t know them. Now I know them. Sunrich gives a little history of what happened before a team takes on Sonja, which is followed by concise summaries of key issues or sagas, and then discusses what each writer and artist brought to the tale.

It’s the analysis of the tales that’s really informative. Sunrich gives background on the contributors, how they ended up on a Sonja book, and how the stories are considered today. It was the early issues of Sonja where I got the most information, such as why Roy Thomas wanted to do a Sonja book, how Bruce Jones made changes to the character (I knew none of this), and Frank Thorne’s influence on the warrior’s iconic look. Sunrich even includes where these stories have been reprinted, if one can’t afford the originals. Talk about helping a reader out!

I never knew that another publisher held Sonja’s rights before going to Dynamite Entertainment, so the chapter devoted to Cross Plains and its one Sonja book was enlightening. Roy Thomas wrote the tale? Steve Lightle illustrated it? I have to track this down!

Dynamite’s run with the character, which continues to this day, gets the lion’s share of the book because they’ve done the most with her. I was really impressed with the details given to each phase of her publication. Being more recently published, I felt pretty confident that I knew all there was to know about these books, but as with the Marvel run, Sunrich illuminates the reader in several ways, such as tying the stories into their classical roots, be they mythological or literary; I was impressed by how many stories have their origins in words beyond Howard’s contributions — Lovecraft, I knew, but Melville?! Common thematic elements are also found with films and games. The books that really peaked my interest were the ones that Sunrich described as unusual, because he explains how these tales went outside the norm for Sonja adventures. I own a few of these, but now I feel I have to track down the ones I’m missing to see for myself.

The final line: A must have book for fans of Red Sonja and comics. The analysis of the stories is great and the information on the contributors to the comics invaluable. I have a stronger appreciation for this character I already loved and I’m inspired to dig out some back issues and start reading. Overall grade: A

To order a copy of this book go to https://www.amazon.com/Drawn-Swords-Unauthorized-Exploration-Artists/dp/0692903283/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497364355&sr=1-1

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
One Comment
  • Nick
    4 August 2017 at 2:08 pm -

    Believe it or not, there’s even a Sonja short story inspired by ‘Hamlet’ … and it’s one of the best Sonja stories I’ve read.

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