Star Wars Art: Comics
Star Wars and comics have a shared cultural history that not only transcends American popular culture, but also traverses an international stage spanning multiple generations. At the base level of the science fiction genre itself, Star Wars' penultimate achievements require little explanation, discussion, or further exploration. In a tragic twist of fate, however, the two conceptual patriarchs behind the vision and imagery of Star Wars, as well as numerous other science fiction epics, Ralph McQuarrie and Jean Giraud, both passed within a week's span earlier this year. Yet, one can hope that they saw the recent monograph published by Abrams as not only a testament to their influence on the design of the various films and the cross-pollination between cinema and sequential art, but also their impact on the evolving mythology associated with the Star Wars universe.
As heirs to both the pulp magazine traditions, Star Wars and comics have a natural kinship that escapes genre confinement. Be it in the realms of science fiction, swashbuckling piracy, old westerns, knight errant fables, or swords and sorcery, Star Wars and comics have shaped and been shaped by the other. Yet, as the original films have been remastered and newer trilogies and animated series have emerged with special effects and visualizations so far beyond George Lucas' capabilities in 1977, so too have comics evolved in the realms of art, page composition and panel geography, and the craft of storytelling. As such, Star Wars Art: Comics, perhaps unintentionally, is a fascinating parallel history of a medium growing and changing alongside the films themselves.
In terms of content, Star Wars Art: Comics is short on textual commentary. Following a brief foreword by writer and former editor Denny O'Neill and a overview of artistic changes within comics by Douglas Wolk, Virginia Mecklenburg, senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, provides the most significant and relevant contextual and critical review of the mutual history between comics and the film. Additionally, there is a wonderful transcript of the July 27, 1976, conversation between George Lucas, Charles Lippincott, Howard Chaykin, and Roy Thomas to create the first Marvel comic based on the film. From there, the remainder of the book is a collection of 180 pages of plates and 150 color illustrations all chosen by Lucas himself. If there is one minor criticism in this approach, however, it is that the beauty and value of the plates could only have been improved by short conversations with certain artists involved about the influence of the film on their designs and careers.
The assortment of plates is a veritable Who's Who of comic art. From opening illustrations by Chaykin, Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart, and David Lapham, to others by Amanda Conner, Eduardo Barreto, and Hiromoto-Sin-Ichi, Star Wars Art: Comics runs the gamut of private commissions, pencilled and inked interior pages on company illustration boards, painted published covers, manga, European, and American styles, and a host of digital, acrylic, oil, and other tools. Single entries by Tony DeZuniga, Joe Kubert, Sergio Aragones, Bill Sienkiewicz, Tim Sale, Jeff Smith, and Paul Pope run side-by-side with the numerous examples of Al Williamson, allowing readers to compare and contrast the style differences highlighted by Wolk. Standout color compositions by John Cassaday, Mike Kaluta, Jim Steranko, and Ryan Sook meet black and white commissions from John Romita Sr., Arthur Adams, Adam Hughes, and George Perez. Beyond these, there are numerous pencilled, early-stage pieces by Cully Hamner, Terry Dodson, and Dave Dorman, to mention only a few, of already published illustrations. Double-page spreads by Sam Kieth and Frank Quitely, and the three-page fold-out by J.H. Williams III, however, are some of the most memorable in an already overwhelming and stunning book for their sheer size and originality in theme. Quitely and Williams III fans should purchase this book for these two compositions alone.
Star Wars Art: Comics is an amazing collection and one not to be missed by both diehard fans of the franchise and audiences who appreciate the changing dynamics of sequential art and visual storytelling.-- Nathan Wilson