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Tag Archive: Art of Drew Struzan


Blade Runner one-sheet John Alvin   Young Frankenstein one-sheet John Alvin

Back in early 2012 we reviewed one of several books released on movie poster artist Drew Struzan, a useful and interesting resource called The Art of Drew Struzan, reviewed here.  It chronicles the best of painted motion picture advertising one-sheets that Struzan created, and even more enlightening, includes commentary by Struzan about his process and the politics and business of his years of leading the craft.  The picture he painted wasn’t pretty, but despite his own roadblocks he is generally thought of as the best motion picture poster artist of the last 50 years.

Along with Struzan, another poster artist created posters that often could be confused for Struzan’s.  That was the late poster artist John Alvin.  Unfortunately Alvin did not document his own personal account of his creative and professional experiences, but his wife Andrea has put together a book that at least documents his most popular work, released this month by Titan Books as The Art of John Alvin What we don’t know from any of the books we’ve reviewed on poster artists is how they might have competed for work over the years.  Andrea Alvin makes no mention of Struzan, but seems to indicate Alvin was able to keep a nice niche of clients over the years, ranging from the decision-makers behind the movies of Mel Brooks, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, and the renaissance of animated Disney blockbusters.

ET one-sheet John Alvin   Empire of the Sun one-sheet John Alvin

Alvin’s work seems far more commercial compared to the paintings of Struzan, as can be seen in Alvin’s posters for Empire of the Sun (1987), Cape Fear (1991), Batman Returns (1992), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), and Batman Forever (1995).  But that doesn’t mean they were any less effective at drawing moviegoers to the theater, the entire point of the poster.  The one-sheet for Empire of the Sun is often seen as one of the most memorable images in the history of movie posters.

The power of much of Alvin’s posters is the simplicity.  In 1982 when the public first learned of a movie called E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, the only thing we knew was a newspaper ad showing a wrinkled alien hand touching the hand of a kid, inspired by Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam.  His teaser poster was equally as effective—never did these pictures show E.T. himself.  Those same images were reproduced on movie posters, cardboard standees, and eventually all over picture books sold via school book orders.  Simple images, but lasting images, and what they didn’t show was part of the enticement to reel in an audience.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Anytime I get the chance to go behind the scenes in any industry I have tried to take full advantage of the opportunity.  I once performed in a band at Disney World in Orlando and enjoyed seeing the underworld that made the Disney operation work literally underneath the city.  I later worked at the Smithsonian Institution and got to witness a similar but greater operation in the vaults not under the museum but in the upstairs floors.  From the standpoint of a musician it is fascinating to stop and take stock of all that is required to make a symphony perform a complex work and make it sound perfect.  I get a similar level of excitement when interacting with writers and artists at conventions or via email or other encounters, and in particular watching an author build a universe where nothing had existed before.  Watching any artist in action is an education, an opportunity to learn, admire, and maybe even emulate if you have the discipline and desire.  Reading great words helps you become a better writer, and viewing great art gives you a better feel for design and form in general.

When an artist reveals his or her process, it is a lot like a magician showing how a magic trick works.  The risk is that some of the knowledge could make later viewings somehow less meaningful.  But when dealing with a great creator, no matter how much you learn about process, none of it takes away from the experience, because ultimately, merely having the knowledge of the “how it’s done,” doesn’t mean you can wander off and replicate it, because skill and artistry are greater than mere process.

Following my review this weekend of The Art of Drew Struzan, I think this is a great follow-up book in a similar vein.  I received my personal copy of Alex Ross’s Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross from Alex Ross’s business partner, Sal Abbinanti around Christmas time.  It was like an early Christmas present.  Among other things, Sal is a long-time friend of Ross, and I can never get over the fact that Sal was a model for Ross’s classic Captain Marvel, maybe Ross’s most iconic superhero re-imagined.  If you ever are fortunate enough to deal with Sal, look for a great experience.

Rough Justice is a play on words.  “Roughs” are what Ross refers to as his work that is created in order to get to a final painting.  He uses thumbnails to get down the big picture and often to lay out the design for an entire work.  He often free-hand sketches with fluid movements, with sprawled out reference images surrounding him, in order to mock-up the image he sees in his head, well before he dips his brushes in gouache.  And of course the “Justice” in the title comes from his ongoing themes underlying his great superhero subjects and the title of one of his key series for DC Comics.

Maybe artists of equal or better skill will find things to critique in Ross’s artistic process revealed in Rough Justice.  But, if so, I bet that small group of artists is so small that I’d wager there would still be more praise given than not.  Ross isn’t apologetic that his images are realistic (some folks prefer more abstract elements).  Neither does he apologize for using actual models for his development of a scene.  His process is his process, yet it is likely using any other process would get him to the same results.  The same type of photo references are used by Drew Struzan and Frank Cho so it’s almost as if the very best artists use this method for a reason–it helps to make them the best.

I’ve mentioned before that I met the late Michael Turner at a convention a few years ago and he let me flip through all his great original art pages.  When you page through Rough Justice, you get a similar experience.  I found myself actually checking my hand for pencil smears, because the reproduction of Ross’s original pencil work is so nicely reproduced.  Ross notes that he does not rely on tracing or projections in his work.  Ross is as much penciller as painter, although the public rarely gets to see anything but his finely tuned painted works, and except for some convention sketch books, this book is the ultimate collection in a single volume.

Alex Ross's original sketch design for the new Batwoman

In Rough Justice the reader learns the great role Ross has in the development of sculpts for maquettes or action figures based on his version of characters.  This explains why so many of the figures based on his work are so accurate to the painted renderings.  We also learn Ross’s role in re-designing Batgirl and Batwoman–resulting in the singular look that became the current Batwoman.  And look for a number of “What ifs”–renderings that did not make it to a final form or comic book series.

Like Struzan, unfortunately Ross has encountered the same letdowns with the industry, less collaboration and more direction by the Powers That Be to punch out a final product, and similar bumps.  Yet his work reflects none of this.  Rough Justice includes extensive images of Batman, Superman and Captain Marvel, as well as images from Kingdon Come, Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, and Ross’s many anniversary edition over-sized coffee table editions.  Rough Justice does not include a lot of text, but what is there highlights Ross’s thoughts behind his work and process.  And along with the images Ross includes all the margin notes from the original art, indicating notes to himself or others, giving the reader yet another angle into his creative process.

Rough Justice is a good companion to The Art of Drew Struzan.  It’s a good reference work, a fine chronicle of Ross’s art, and its great presentation and superb images qualifies this as a nice coffee table book.

Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross lists for $30.00 but is available for much less at online retailers.

Review by C.J. Bunce

If someone were to ask you whether you prefer covers to books or movie posters or compact discs that were either (1) painted or (2) created via computer using compilations of photographs, which would you choose?  Do you know anyone who would prefer a photo cover to a cover painted by an artist?  Would you believe it that the powers that be, those folks who make all the decisions from On High, claim that focus groups and marketing studies show that consumers prefer photos to paintings?  Who and where are these test subjects, and what planet do these people hail from?

The comic book medium has realized what audiences have preferred for years, which is why they enlist the likes of Alex Ross, Mauro Cascioli and Adam Hughes to paint covers, it’s why the main covers of comic books used to entice an audience almost always have renderings drawn or painted and only rarely do you see a “photo incentive cover” as a limited edition item.  Were it true that we, the audience, preferred photo enticements to illustrations by artists, don’t you think comic book publishing would have figured that out by now when they create movie and TV adaptations?  I think the reality is that decision makers in marketing departments in the entertainment industry (outside of the comic world) are often out of touch with real audiences.  That distancing explains why so many movie trailers are made so poorly, too.  It explains why movie posters these days cease to grab our attention like they once did.

What was the last movie poster that caused you to stop in your tracks and want to go see a movie?  That, after all, is the point of a poster, isn’t it?

The original classic art by Struzan for the 1978 re-release of Star Wars

The Art of Drew Struzan at first blush is a coffee table book chronicling the work of the artist Time Magazine called “the Last Movie Poster Artist.”  Along with the books Drew Struzan: Oeuvre (2004) and The Movie Posters Of Drew Struzan (2004) you can see the entirety of more than 150 movie posters Struzan has produced during decades of painting for studios big and small.  And if you were going to pick one of the three books for a reference book on Struzan at a book shop, you might skip over The Art of Drew Struzan for one of the other books that has more movie posters featured.  But skipping this one would be a big mistake.

Original comp art by Struzan for John Carpenter's The Thing

From the introduction by Frank Darabont, director of such big films as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, (two films borg.com writer Jason McClain and I can’t stop talking about over the years), you know that you are beginning to read a very unique kind of book.  A bit from Darabont’s introduction:

“I have seen the future, and it sucks…. There’s no sugar-coating this.  Movie posters suck these days.  They’re going to suck even more tomorrow.  And as we shuck and jive (and text and Facebook) ever onward into the digital future, movie posters will just keep doggedly and willfully sucking all the more.  It’s a headlong progression of suckage, a symptom of the mass-produced everything-by-committee mindset of our culture….”

Amen, brother!

Struzan's comp for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, which did not make it to a final poster

What Darabont is speaking of is the advent of the digital creation of “art” via Mac utilities and the likes of Adobe Photoshop, where productions can design a cover or poster work far cheaper by having anyone on staff easily combine photos of actors and scenes into an image, without including any input from a trained artist.  It’s pseudo-art, images made to think we’re looking at a creative work, without considering the artistic thought that used to go behind such works.

Changes in marketing leadership ended Struzan's role in the Potter films mid-way through creating Chamber of Secrets

The text of The Art of Drew Struzan that accompanies the images found in its pages is all Drew Struzan as he explains not just the work of the artist, but the decline of the profession of making movie posters itself.  Struzan uses highlights of his projects from the beginning of public recognition of Struzan for his work on the international poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 to a poster for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008.  Better yet, he uses in-progress artwork never before made public to illustrate his creative process for each movie featured in the book, artwork that he calls “comps.”

If you were just flipping through the book at a bookstore you may pass this one because it is missing a lot of key subjects in Struzan’s past–images like his work on movies featuring the Muppets, for example, or Jurassic Park and E.T., the Extra-terrestrial, that are among his most notable works.  As you read through the book you understand how a lot of his early comps were never retained–the cost was too high for a struggling artist to pay for copies, or studios kept the comps.  So the existence of this compilation alone is a lucky thing to witness.

The comp for Hellboy by Struzan, which never made it to final poster

What Struzan reveals in this book is a story not just of someone who is the universally acknowledged king of movie poster painting.  That of course is true.  But he apparently is like a lot of classic artists of centuries past, who never received the full monetary benefits that his “benefactors” (here, the  filmmakers) were able to make from his work, and the “millions” audiences assume he made from this work.  This is a story of a struggling artist, barely a blue-collar life, in his view, at points in his career, although he was selected and admired for projects by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Guillermo del Toro.  This is also a how-to book of sorts for aspiring artists wishing they could be mentored by such a superb painter.

Struzan reveals a dwindling of artistic control for the artists as it happened over just a few decades for him, where “the suits” from Hollywood showed less and less respect for his artistry to the point that Struzan got fed-up and retired.

Not even this great poster would likely have made Waterworld succeed at the box office

Look for key featured Struzan works for movie posters that never made it to final form in movie marquees, such as Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Waterworld, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hellboy, and Pan’s Labyrinth.  And the amazing variety of different styled comps are evident as seen in the pages for Blade Runner, the Back to the Future films, the Indiana Jones films, and the Star Wars prequels.  The quality of the images included stands strong for those wanting the traditional coffee table book, too.

The Art of Drew Struzan retails for $34.95 but can be found less expensive at online bookstores.  And if you’d like to own the original art, many images are still for sale at Struzan’s website.

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