Where Have all the Artists Gone?

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Pan HorrorMy last couple of blog posts have been about science fiction and fantasy books (hardcover, paperbacks, ebooks) which feature photographic covers versus painted art covers. As I said, it used to be that paperback covers that featured photographs as opposed to painted covers were a rarity, some might even consider them a novelty. One of the publishing houses that used photographic images for their book covers was Pan Books. Pan has recently become part of the British based McMillan Publishers but they started out as an independent publisher.

Pan specialized in publishing paperback fiction and was one of the first popular publishers of this format in the UK. They were most famous for publishing Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels in paperback. Many of these editions of the Bond books featured photographs as their cover images. Who can forget the series of editions which featured images of scantily clad women draped around giant guns? Or the Pan Horror Anthologies which featured some early examples of photomanipulation.

Today that photomanipulation is made easier with programs like Photoshop. Photomanipulations become easier to accomplish which allows fantasy and science fiction to have believable photographs on their covers from artists such as Steve Stone.

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There are several reasons why this has happened but most of them have to do with economics, particularly the need for fast turnarounds.

So, if painted art is no longer found on the covers of science fiction books, where has it all gone?

There are three areas where painted art is still used almost exclusively. One is comic books, another is games – both board and video games — and a third is pre-production artwork for film and television.

Comic books seem an obvious place for artwork to continue to reign supreme. The broad, “comic book’ style of artwork is part of our modern visual vernacular. It has been co-opted by the Pop Art movement and by various advertising agencies. However, as a reader of comic books will know, today’s comics are not your father’s comic books.

The comic books of yesterday were printed in a cheap, four-color process on cheap paper. An artifact of the printing process was the “dot pattern” that made up the colors surrounding the black of the ink outlines. It was precisely this artifact that appealed to the Pop artists in the 1960’s who used it for their own ends.

4388270-new_avengers_31_coverToday the printing process for comic books has become quite a bit more refined. The paper is no longer low-grade newsprint but fine quality glossy paper. The printing process no longer has the obvious dots that used to be visible to the naked eye. This refinement has led to several advancements in the art with many comic books having the look and feel of painted pieces. Color is no longer limited to a small palette. Today’s comic pages boast a whole range of subtle colors.

And the covers! Oh, my! Some of the most beautifully rendered artwork can be found on the covers of many comic book titles. Look at this recent cover for The New Avengers #31 by Kev Walker. It is a beautifully rendered monochromatic image that employs subtle uses of red to offset the black and white. It is an astounding piece of work and a beautiful image in its own right.

Or take a look at this recent fully painted cover from a re-launch of a Star Wars title. It is by artist Alex Ross and it is a fully rendered take on the original Star Wars #1 cover by Howard Chaykin published way back in 1977.

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The printing process has come a long way since then and the artwork has come right along with it.

Alex Ross is an artist who needs a blog post all on his own and I will be getting to one soon (maybe two. He’s got a lot of great stuff!)

Many comic book covers are fully rendered paintings and with so many titles and so many issues the need for talented art to fill those places is greater than ever. Even some high profile book cover artists, like the award winning Don Dos Santos has painted covers for a number of comic book titles.

I could go on at length about comic book art and I likely will in a future blog post but next week I will be looking at some of the amazing fantastic art than can be found in the gaming industry and in Hollywood.

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