Thieves’ World Graphics (1985-1987)

When I think of Thieves’ World, this is the stuff. There are six oversized comic adaptations in all, published between 1985 and 1987, all illustrated by the amazing Tim Sale (probably most famous now for his many collaborations with Jeff Loeb, including Batman: The Long Halloween, and all those prophetic paintings from the TV series Heroes). Sale’s art – at this point a little bit Cerebus, a little bit Conan and a little bit something magical and hard to describe – cemented the look of Thieves’ World for me and, to a certain degree, fantasy worlds in general (OK, not entirely – Mike Mignola’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser adaptations did a lot for that too). The stark black and white is perfectly noir. Just look at that illustration of Hanse Shadowspawn. Now that is a thief! (God, that name is painfully silly, though)

The stories, I think due to the harsh process of adaptation, work better here. Plots fit together better. Characters click (particularly Hanse and Tempus). The structure gains meaning through integration in ways the prose stories, which always seem discretely apart from one another, don’t.

I have a hard time gauging the overall impact of the graphic adaptations. They were extremely difficult to come by in the years before the internet made everything available at all times, which seems to indicate that readers were loath to part with their copies. The line started just before the mainstreaming of the concept of graphic novels (Dark Knight Returns and Maus came out in ’86, Watchmen in ’87), so you can call Thieves’ World Graphics a trailblazer or a near miss, in terms of the business of comics. In fantasy, though, there’s been a steady march towards the more plausible over the years (culminating in many ways in Game of Thrones) and I can’t help but credit Sales’ visuals with helping that along.

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