Forgotten Sword and Sorcery Artists: Ken Barr

Sunday , 9, July 2017 2 Comments

Ken(neth) Barr (1933-2016) is a guilty pleasure of mine. He was a fixture of the 1970s into the early 1980s for many paperbacks and comic book covers. He was originally born in Scotland.

He had some early work for Nebula Science Fiction in the U.K. in 1958 and 59. He did comic book work in the U.K. until coming to the U.S. in 1967. He worked for DC Comics and for Warren Magazines (Eerie and Vampirella).

He also did some work for Marvel, producing some covers for Savage Tales.

His paperback career started with the cover for Roger Zelazny’s The Guns of Avalon (1974). Remember Zelazny’s “Amber” series? That was a popular once upon a time. Talk about being memory holed.

Barr had a knack for sword and sorcery covers that caught your attention with the colors. He did three out of four of the Kyrik novels by Gardner Fox in 1975 and 76.







He appears to have been a popular artist for Belmont and Leisure Books. Some covers were better than other. They were grade B Frazetta imitations with swipes of poses from Frazetta paintings. Karl Edward Wagner once mentioned the swipe used for the cover of The Seedbearers in one of the Year’s Best Horror Stories. Nonetheless, Barr’s paintings were dynamic.

Avon Books also made use of Ken Barr as he produced covers for the A. Merritt collection The Fox Woman and Other Stories (1977) and the schlocky novel Rolind of Meru.

Fawcett Crest reissued a bunch of Andre Norton novels in the late 70s and early 80s with new covers mostly by Ken Barr. In many cases, the covers are better than the books. Those that are science fiction are still given a sword and sorcery appearance. Like I said last week, any excuse to slap a muscled swordsman with a loin cloth on the cover during the disco era.

Zebra Books reprinted some H. Rider Haggard novels in the late 1970s. Two with Ken Barr covers, Morning Star and The Wanderer’s Necklace.

Playboy Books (remember those?) used Ken Barr for Richard C. Merideth’s “Timeliner” series. He also did the covers for Playboy’s “Spaceway” books written by Andrew Offutt (as “John Cleve”).

Ken Barr continued to produce paperback book covers up through 1990 including a few horror novels. After that he disappeared. There was an book of his art published in 1994, The Beast Within. There was also a card set sold in packets at that time. I have a few of those packets stored away somewhere around here in a box.

Ken Barr did not change paperback cover art. Most don’t. He is a favorite sword and sorcery artist of mine from that period. At least he got a book of his art published when he was still alive.

  • deuce says:

    Definitely underappreciated. Ken did some great covers for Marvel’s B&W mags. His cover for Merritt’s THE FOX WOMAN AND OTHER STORIES is frikkin’ gorgeous. Barr was like a technicolor Earl Norem. One of the few Scottish fantasy artists of note.

    • Man of the Atom says:

      “Barr was like a technicolor Earl Norem.”


      Barr was always a treat. His works had an inherent “in media res” action bristling from them, as opposed to many others who appeared to use posed models.

      For me, Barr always harkened back to Burne Hogarth on his Tarzan newspaper comics or his art instruction books.

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