Michael Wm. Kaluta and Robert E. Howard

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Michael William Kaluta exploded onto the Howardian art scene with the publication of FAX's The Lost Valley of Iskander in 1974. The cover and illos were awesome. I still remember where I was when I bought the Zebra reprint (with a Jones cover). Even with the smaller size, the detail and composition of the illustrations rocked my thirteen year-old world. When it was first published, the FAX edition was, without a doubt, the finest illustrated Howard book ever produced. I still say it equals the later DMG edition of The Sowers of the Thunder by Krenkel.

MWK was a Howard fan before the Lancer Conans were ever published. Here are a couple of quotes from Mike regarding how he got bit by the Howard bug good n' hard: 


I believe one line of the narrative [in Almuric] was graven onto my teenage brainpan... harken: ‘My mind peopled the distance with nightmare shapes.’ “

“In my early Conan reading, I so devoured the books that all the stories bled together. This gave me a dream-like world where the young Conan who fought giant apes in Stygian darkness strode side-by-side with the adult Conan as he raised the Aquilonian crown in his blood-stained hands.
— Michael Wm. Kaluta

That initial quote is Kaluta recalling his first reading of Almuric fifty-five years ago. The original Ace edition with the Jack Gaughan cover. The second quote is from MWK's intro to the Dark Horse collection of the Busiek/Nord "The Tower of the Elephant" story arc. Kaluta was tapped to do the "Yogah flashback" segment within the tale. I hope Cary Nord felt suitably humbled. 

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Long before his work on the Dark Horse rendition, Kaluta did a series of acclaimed Conan covers in the mid-1980s and then did a few more in the '90s. Mike also did the cover for The Official Handbook of the Conan Universe in 1986.  

I'm sure many Howardian art fans remember the fabled artistic collective known as "The Studio" from the late '70s. Its members were Kaluta, Barry Windsor-Smith, Bernie Wrightson and Jeffrey Jones. Jones and Wrightson have both tragically passed on, and with Barry Windsor-Smith seemingly a near-recluse at this point, Kaluta is the last man standing.

A fact some of our Gentle Readers might not know is that Kaluta was one of the artists hired to work on the never-completed Red Nails animated movie, along with Mark Schultz and others. The producers on that project were not the straightest-shooters in the world and MWK has made a few pointed remarks about them on social media over the years.

Kaluta is renowned for being a friendly, gregarious guy who doesn't get tongue-tied. Check him out on the Fire and Ice/Painting With Fire Frazetta doc (just another one of his notable resume points). He's famous throughout the art community as being a generous, interesting guy. There are videos on Youtube of other artists talking about crashing at his very cool apartment in NYC when they had to visit for conventions/whatever. Rafael Kayanan is one of those beneficiaries and was quite impressed with MWK's weapons collection. 

When I first met Jim Keegan in 2006, he very quickly volunteered to me what a great guy Mike is. I believe it was Ruth Keegan who described Mike to me as "a big ol' teddy bear." Frazetta, Krenkel, Mark Schultz, Neal Adams, Wrightson, Jones, Windsor-Smith, Kayanan, the Keegans... MWK knew/knows everyboday.

Kaluta has been doing REH art for forty-plus years. Every single decade except the one we're in now. He should've done the Del Rey El Borak--not Tim Bradstreet--which would have been in the present decade. Mike was quite willing to do so and Paradox initially announced him as the artist, then pulled a switcheroo. Mike got robbed, in my opinion, and so did Howardian art fans.

Did I mention that Kaluta has won numerous Locus and Chesley awards for his art, starting in 1973? He earned the "Best Artist" Locus in 2014. Still kickin' ass and relevant. Just sayin'.

One final thing... Kaluta is the only artist from the Studio that has never done a rendition of Solomon Kane. Considering that he's both an REH and Shadow fan, that's just odd and needs to be rectified. Judging from Mike's rendition of his "Shamus" character, I'd say MWK could do a mean Steve Harrison as well.

Mr. Kaluta's own website can be found here. For even more of Kaluta’s Howardian art, vist Bill Thom’s great website Messages from Crom.

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