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Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History by Steve Holland

01/01/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History in the USA - or Buy Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History in the UK

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pub: Ilex. 192 page square-shape illustrated softcover. Price: GBP 17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-905814-39-8.

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I wonder what Brian Aldiss must have thought after commenting in the introduction about his dislike for comicbook art and that serious SF should steer clear of it and flicks the pages to find ‘Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History’ to be loaded with such images. Then again, Aldiss is very much old school. For my part, the genre of Science Fiction is big enough to encase all and no matter the medium, the range is from great to poor whatever the source. The worse crime is to be ignored and there is little in SF that doesn’t have some sort of reaction from any of us. Indeed, the worse reaction is to be ignored and SF is rarely bland. In fact, the biggest demonstration this book gives is how much SF has soaked into all our lives and if it isn’t directly read, then it is certainly used to inspire and certainly computer games would be bland with its look.

Looking at the Robert McCall painting for ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ this time made me think it a bit a misnomer after all these years. I mean, as majestic as the orbiting space station wheel is, it was hardly the centre of attention for the Jupiter Mission nor did the shuttle leave it with rockets blazing. Come to think of it, we didn’t even see the shuttle leaving only arriving at the station in a slow ballet. Yet, McCall’s painting has ended up symbolising the film in a way that makes you wonder if putting the Discovery and the monolith together would have enticed people onto seats. Oddly, the poster art was put upright for UK cinemas and was still as strong an image but probably more effective than one poster I recall where there was a blurry picture of the star-child’s head. It just goes to show how poster art can snare the cinema patron.

I should point out that although Steve Holland’s name is on the book cover, he is in fact only one of six authors who wrote this book. The others being Alex Summersby, Steve White, Toby Weidmann, Adrian Faulkner and Tim Murray. Between them, they cover the SF pulps, the later book and magazine covers, comicbooks, concept art, cinema art and, any gaps, with other media which includes computer games, record sleeves and toys, although with the later these are more Star Wars and Japanese anime. Although I would hesitate to call it comprehensive, mostly the small page count would never allow that and you would need several volumes to comprise that, it will give you a good grounding of what is out there. Indeed, I was making notes along the way of artbooks referenced that I haven’t got reading copies of which is always a good sign. Books such as these are there to inspire further reading and I bet if you leave such a book on the dreaded coffee table, your friends will no doubt browse and might understand your fascination themselves.

Author Steve Holland’s summing up on page 85 that SF might look like its dying but in fact has diversified across the various new fields open to it from computer games and such is well-founded. Brings a whole new dimension to world-building if you think about it, even if there needs to be a bit more work to go in shoot ‘em up games so not all aliens are out to get us unless we’re armed and prepared to fight back.

Alex Summersby’s examination of the history of SF comicbooks across America, Britain, France and Japan is pretty extensive. If you didn’t know much about it before, you will after reading this section and outside of Thor, mostly because of Jack Kirby, nary a super-hero insight. The examination of the artists involved in bringing the ‘TV21’ comic alive is also a demonstration of talent we’ve all applauded over the years. If there is a single omission then it’s the title strip from ‘Countdown’ comic by Jim Burns using technology based off of ‘2001’ which has to rank as a brilliant SF strip and sadly neglected over the years. Likewise, I would have thought because of its SF roots, that ‘Strontium Dog’ or even ‘Rogue Trooper’ from ‘2000AD’ might have had a bit more exposure compared to a certain Judge but that’s me being picky. We all have favourites over the years that need better exposure.

Let’s not leave the praise too one-sided. Considering how most of the major SF artists get their own title heading, it does seem odd that neither Peter Jones or Michael Whelan aren’t offered such luxury despite an extensive use of their art. If that’s the biggest niggle I have, I’m sure they can live with it.

The sample pictures shown here by permission of the publishers doesn’t even approach what is available to look through here. We have such artbooks every decade or so and it’s great to say, here’s another one for you to add to your collection.

GF Willmetts

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This book has 56 votes in the sci-fi charts

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