That’s a big deal when you’ve been working on a book for 35 years. Barry Windsor-Smith (“Conan the Barbarian,” “Weapon X”) has been working on “Monster” for so long (Translation by Jano Rohleder and Rowan Rüster, Cross Cult, 368 pages, 40 euros) that it has finally been published. The book became known as the White Elephant over time: you knew it existed, but no one expected to see it.

Another scene from “Monster” from “American Nightmare.”

Cross Cult (photo)

“Monster” began as a regular “Hulk” issue, but Windsor-Smith had a falling out with the Marvel editors, as he had with nearly every editor, publisher, and many colleagues throughout the course of his 50-year career.

It was mostly about his artistic independence, as well as his rights to and control over his own work, for which he had struggled. The then-50-year-old Brit retired from the comic book industry 20 years ago. The original 30-page “Hulk” magazine has been expanded into a 368-page hardcover.

It’s the narrative of a young boy named Robert Bailey, who, like Windsor-Smith, was born in the late 1940s. The father returned from the war late, with mental wounds that would never heal, to rural Ohio. He hits, humiliates, and paralyzes the youngster, and his mother does nothing to stop him.

Bobby joins the army 14 years later and ends himself in the same experimental medicine section where his father worked. Bobby is converted into a monster that is highly powerful but has ulcers. He flees, gets pursued, and eventually falls into a trap that turns out to be his birthplace.

Hieronymus Bosch echoes

It’s clear from the start that Bobby isn’t the only monster in this story. However, through exquisite flashbacks, the mosaic of the plot slowly unfolds in front of the reader’s eyes.

Another scene from the movie “Monster.”

Cross Cult (photo)

The frightening scenes at a concentration camp’s experimental laboratory, which are likely reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch or Pieter Breughel’s horrific visions, are the high points. And, like these two painters, one can become caught in the intricate details of “Monster,” with its fine black strokes and vast cross-hatching that contrasts with the white sections.

In a video interview with bookseller and podcaster Brian Hibbs regarding the book’s creation process, BWS explains, “My middle name is irritation.” He trashed entire sequences over and over, returning to the wrong turn and then taking a more right approach.

“It was like going through a divorce” when it came to publishing the book.

Windsor-Smith is depicted as a contemplative old hippy, wearing circular John Lennon nickel-plated glasses, a graying beard, and a cream Stetson to conceal his long hair.

The German edition of “Monster” has a cover photo.

Cross Cult (photo)

Is he overjoyed and relieved that “Monster” has finally found its way into the hands of readers? “Putting the book out there was like going through a divorce.” But there’s not much in it that I don’t like,” says the respondent.

“Monster” is likely to be Barry Windsor-final Smith’s effort, a farewell at the pinnacle of his creativity: “I might make a making-off book, but that’s it.”

Note from the editor: This article was first published in June 2021, but it has been somewhat updated in light of recent events.

By Editor

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