Sunday, 22 February 2015

Ariel: The Book Of Fantasy

Ariel was a unique one. Sort of like an upmarket version of Heavy Metal, it was published by Ballantine Books between 1976 & 1978 as a quality art and comics magazine that was actually a trendy coffee table book.

Sitauted on the shelf next to Dragon's Dream books like The Studio, it was printed on expensive, high quality paper stock and featured big, big names, with portfolio pieces, illustrated stories and comics from the likes of Ray Bradbury, Richard Corben, Frank Frazetta, Ursula Le Guin & Michael Moorock to name just a few.

This was comics as serious, respectable, highbrow stuff, and if not completely successful ( it only lasted 4 issues ), and priced out of the range of most fans, it was an undeniably gorgeous visual treat.
The only volume I managed to get at the time was #3, and it was a beautiful, if slightly distant and unfriendly package.
No Stan's Soapbox here, or introduction of any kind, more the sort of thing critics with hipster beards would stroke their chins at in fashionable art galleries.
Still, Ariel #3 has a wealth of riches in it's glossy pages:

For instance, here's Tim Conrad illustrating a new Elric prose story:

Jack Kirby surrounding a Robert E. Howard poem:

The Halls Of The Frost Giants, a Nordic fantasy that looks like every Prog Rock concept album cover ever:

There's also a couple of interviews with Frank Herbert and Barry Windsor-Smith, Bazza's from the time he was sharing space with Jeff Jones, Mike Kaluta & Berni Wrightson at the aforementioned Studio:

I already had all the art from this piece, in the Studio book, but Bazza was always good value in interviews, so didn't mind too much:

Besides here was Al Williamson, Carlos Garzon and, I suspect, an uncredited Archie Goodwin adapting Harlan Ellison's auto-apocalypse road rager Along The Scenic Route, the only actual comic strip in Ariel:

Bruce Jones illustrating his own fable The Maiden & The Dragon:

The Awakening, a spooky story with accompanying touched up photographs:

Tom Canty with a couple of illos for a couple of short pieces by Roger Zelazny:

And Alan Lee with some beautiful paintings accompanying Larry Niven's A Transfer Of Power:

And, of course, there's Jim Crocker, Prince Of Atlantis, an interview with a farmer from Iowa who's absolutely convinced that in a previous life he was, in fact, no less a personage than Yala Doree Hados Abalin Octavian Lamothrace, Crown Prince of The Lost City Of Atlantis.
To this day, I have no idea what the holy hell this piece is doing in this book, but always like the fact that one of the names Jim picks for himself happens to be my surname.

Probably a bit ahead of it's time, I don't know if something like Ariel would fare better these days. Back then, we were all casting around for the next step on from Marvel & DC, but none of us had the disposable income necessary to support something like this properly, plus, as beautiful as it was, it did have that coldness and utter seriousness about it.
Notice, for instance, how on the cover of volume #4 ( the one with Corben's Den on it ) they even got rid of that evocative logo to make the book look even more like an art catalogue.
Still, I love a noble failure, and I always lumped Ariel in with Bryon Priess' equally fascinating but occasionally wrong-headed attempts to bring comics into a new age of maturity. I do know, that at some point, I'll make it my business to get the other three volumes, that's for sure.


  1. I still have a copy of the 1978 edition. It's like a graphic novel before there were graphic novels.

  2. I still have a copy of the 1978 edition. It's like a graphic novel before there were graphic novels.

  3. Bravo! You hit the nail on the head in your assessment of this magazine. Thank you for posting such a detailed survey of the third issue—it brought back memories and even prompted me to seek out a copy.

    One correction: The issue with Corben's Den on the cover is actually #1. That's why it didn't have the logo that the other three share. This issue featured the first sixteen pages of Neverwhere in advance of its publication in graphic novel form. The next issue (w/the Frazetta cover) featured another installment. These first two issues also split an extended Frank Frazetta interview and analysis, the first in B&W, the second in full color. There's also a great Corben painting in issue #2, accompanying Harlan Ellison's "Eggsucker".

  4. You are, of course, right, and I only realised that once I'd posted it. Hey ho.
    Bought that 2nd issue off ebay recently, and it is indeed great. Ariel really is the lost classic of the bronze age.