Kull Part 3: The Big Belt Controversy
I had worked out the basic look of the Kull sculpture and Paradox, the owners of the Robert E. Howard character rights, had approved the concept. We were good to go.
Next it was time to decide on the size of the sculpture. This is a critical question in licensing and various factors come into play on the decision. For example, sometimes we take on a project of a character that has a comic, but it is a specific independent book with a loyal, but limited core of readers. So for that reason, we may produce a piece that is smaller so that it will have a lower retail price so that we can market specifically to that readership. Often, comic readers do not necessarily translate into statue buyers and if a piece has a very specific appeal, the price point becomes a major factor and that affects the size the piece can be and still be within a certain price range. There may also be a projected series of sculptures from that comic title and we may want all of the characters to be in an affordable price range so people can more comfortably collect them all.
Still, my preferred sculpting scale is one-sixth scale, which means a 6-foot tall man would be 12 inches tall in this scale. I have sculpted most of my recent sculptures in that size range. The women are roughly eleven inches tall, which corresponds to a one-sixth scale size.
My intent from the beginning was to sculpt Kull in that scale and Paradox agreed. This is a terrific barbarian character by Robert E. Howard himself and I was going to design the look. Just me and Paradox in the trenches hashin’ it out. The stuff of legends....I wanted the piece in a scale that would showcase the look and design so it made sense to keep it in that one-sixth scale. Kull is, in my estimation, well over six feet tall, so the sculpture is a good thirteen and a half inches tall, not including the base, which will add another two to three inches, at least. That is a good size that keeps it in the scale of my main line of figures, will make a good impression in both fully painted cold-cast porcelain and bronze and that will keep the retail price in a manageable range.
Now to begin the full sculpture: I began with the armature in aluminum wire. This wire frame fulfills the same function as a skeleton does—it supports the soft outer material. I keep the armature as simple as possible. I then applied the sculpting material—in this case Super Sculpey, which can be found at most hobby stores. It comes boxed in a fleshy pink color so I mix it with a material called Sculpey III, which comes in various colors. I can see the play of light on the form more easily this way and so can the licensor, for approval purposes.
As I applied the basic rough form, I came to a decision about the Big Belt. I had gone to Robert E. Howard Days in
By the way, there’s an excellent film about Robert E. Howard called The Whole Wide World with Vincent D’Onofrio and Renee Zellweger that anyone would enjoy, whether you’re familiar with REH’s writing or not.
While in Cross Plains I got into some interesting discussions about the characters of Conan and Kull and the “Big Belt” debate as an issue with which every artist must come to grips. Why, what do you mean, you ask? Whether painted, drawn or even acted out-do you, as an artist, give the barbarian the Big Belt? I was asked “Are you going to give him the Big Belt?” usually with a cocked eyebrow and got into more than one lively discussion on the subject. By the end, I was ready to give more than one attendee “The Big Belt”.
The most famous artist to illustrate the Big Belt was without doubt Frank Frazetta and he did it in unparalleled style. Interestingly, he gave Conan two normal belts in the Conan the Adventurer painting Coincidence? Anyway, he did generally give Conan a large, broad belt of some kind. Many, many artists have used that specific bit of vesture and have given it their own special look. Schultz, Buscema, Gianni and Bisley have done it well and so have many others, but all artists at some point have to make the choice. Roy Krenkel usually did not draw in large belts but he did on the King Kull painting. Seems like a menial conversation, but some people frown on it and consider the Big Belt something of a cop out, as if the artist couldn’t figure out anything else to solve the costume look. Well, I’m not one of them says I. Most artists come to the same conclusion I did. Warriors of many ancient peoples, “barbarian” and “civilized” wore a large belt to hold all the weapons, pouches, and such that they needed as they navigated their lives. Soldiers today have large belts and so do police officers. In researching Kull, there is some good description, but it is not all that specific. I found that Kull is right handed and that he has gray eyes and black hair. There are other, less specific references to his physical appearance, but at one point, in one story, he is described as wearing a “girdle.” Now to a warrior a girdle isn’t the same as our grandmothers might have worn, although J. Edgar Hoover might be described as a warrior and he wore a girdle, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. It’s a broad belt of some kind used to hold gear and weapons and to protect the mid section. Controversy ended. My Kull would have a Big Belt. Here are photos of the initial stages showing the armature with part of the sculpting and then the photos after I blocked in the basic muscle mass.