Spotlight On Commando Artist Ken Barr

Nebula Issue 33, Ken Barr cover.

Ken Barr is among the best known of all Commando cover artists. In fact, he was the original cover artist, producing the artwork for the very first Commando comic – issue 1, Walk Or Die!, back in June 1961. His cover art was dominant throughout the early years. He was responsible for all of the first ten issues and all bar a couple of the first thirty. He remained the most frequent contributor of cover art, before taking an almost two year break from Commando in 1963. When taking back up the gauntlet in 1965, he produced many more covers throughout the latter half of the 1960s.

Beyond 1970, although there were a great many reprints of Ken Barr’s covers, his original contributions were more sporadic. Ken Barr’s final original cover art for Commando was issue number 4138 Blood Red Battle, published in September of 2008. In all, Ken Barr contributed well in excess of a hundred original covers for Commando and if you include reissues, his covers have been used more than 350 times in total. A number which will undoubtedly continue to increase.

Ken Barr was born in 1933, in Glasgow, Scotland. Having completed National Service, serving with the British Army in Egypt, he then embarked on a career as a commercial artist. His first published works appeared in the British magazine, Nebula Science Fiction. His first cover was issue no. 33 of the magazine, published in August 1958. Both front and rear cover images were produced by Ken Barr, as well as some internal artwork. He also produced the cover for the magazine’s final issue, published in June 1959.

Having relocated to America around 1967/68, Ken continued his work for comics and quickly established himself in the industry there. He worked with DC Comics on war comics including G.I. Combat, Our Army At War and Our Fighting Forces. He also worked with Marvel on titles such as Doc Savage, The Rampaging Hulk and Planet Of The Apes.

In other work, Ken Barr produced tv art, including Start Trek and movie posters for films such as Critters and Thunderbolt And Lightfoot. His artwork also graced the covers of many novels, the first of which was Roger Zelazny’s The Guns Of Avalon, in 1974.

In 1994, a set of trading cards, titled The Beast Within was issued by Comic Images, depicting some of Ken Barr’s best work in fantasy and horror. A book, featuring a collection of Ken Barr’s artwork, The Beast Within: The Art Of Ken Barr was published in 2007. Ken Barr passed away in March 2016.

Images are: Ken Barr, Doc Savage no.7, Commando no. 307, signed by Ken Barr, The Beast Within trading cards, Ken Barr’s first and final covers for Commando – issues no.1 Walk – Or Die! and 4138 Blood Red Battle.

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