Book Review: Setting the Table

Oversized books

Setting the Table

Star Wars Art: Visions

introduction by J.W. Rinzler; foreword by George Lucas
Abrams, 176 pp., $40

Sci-Fi Art Now

by John Freeman
Collins Design, 192 pp., $29.99
Setting the Table

Whether you like the fact or not, George Lucas' Star Wars changed science-fiction and fantasy art forever. Like James Whale's Frankenstein or J.R.R. Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings, there's just a before and an after. Lucas always talked about his cinematic influences – Akira Kurosawa, John Huston, The Dam Busters – but in his introduction to Star Wars Art: Visions, he gives credit to painters like Saturday Evening Post cover artist J.C. Leyendecker and cartoonists like Flash Gordon penciler Al Williamson, who shaped his sensibilities. With this collection of art inspired by his tales of a galaxy far, far away, as Darth Vader said, the circle is now complete.

Forget the idea of back-of-sketchbook doodlings of Princess Leia in the gold bikini. John Mattos playfully apes Picasso in Pablo's Cantina, while the influence of Sir John Everett Millais' iconic Ophelia is as strong as the Force in Serge Michaels and Michael Malm's Padmé's Dream/Slipping Away. Some of the most successful works also serve as a commentary on Lucas' creation. Dave Nestler binds together Lucas' obsessions with space and speed in Double Cheeseburger With a Side of Crumb, a cheesecake-tinged mash-up of Tatooine and American Graffiti. Peter De Sève explores the Muppet link in Easy Being Green, It's Not when he puts the two great swamp-dwelling puppets – Yoda and Kermit the Frog – on the same log. More indirectly, H.R. Giger, whose eroticized nightmare designs for Alien violated the cozy world of the creature feature, pays his own homage. For the first time, he admits here that one of his most famous panels, 1980's Work No. 476: N.Y. City XVII (Crowley) was a fever-dream inspired by watching The Empire Strikes Back.

Because the Star Wars influence is so pervasive, it's hard to look at Sci-Fi Art Now and not search for those same visual clues. However, while Visions' contributors are primarily American, this edition draws heavily from British artists, many of them veterans of cult UK anthology comic 2000 AD, others familiar to literary sci-fi fans for their book covers – the perennial bread-and-butter for many genre artists. Unlike Visions, this collection serves as a how-to guide, with creator bios and explanatory paragraphs bundled with their works rather than collected glossary-style at the rear. That does leave a few images, like SMS' Edvard Munch-inspired Weltallschrei, a little crushed, but when a page explodes, as does Chris Askham's DayGlo collage Rise of the Robots, the effect is extraordinary.

The trade-off for this kind of book is that smaller images mean more new artists get exposure. By breaking down the work by themed chapters – from crinoline-draped steampunk to alien worlds that doff a pseudopod to H.P. Lovecraft – the breadth of both style and innovation within the genre blooms like a triffid. As legendary spaceship artist Chris Foss explains in his foreword, when it comes to sci-fi art, "We built a leviathan and now it's running us over."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More coffeetable books
Gift Guide 2016: Coffeetable Books
Gift Guide 2016: Coffeetable Books
Big books give heft to big success stories about women in business, Flatbed Press, UT's collections, Pan Am, and the Spurs

Robert Faires, Dec. 16, 2016

Epic Feats
Epic Feats
Coffeetable books that track monumental achievements on the silver screen and on the road

Robert Faires, Dec. 19, 2014

More Star Wars
<i>Star Wars</i> Memories
Star Wars Memories
In honor of Star Wars Day, Austin’s creatives talk about how the Force changed their lives

Richard Whittaker, May 4, 2018

Film Flam
Film Flam
The latest on 'Star Wars,' Drafthouse, and Kickstarter

Monica Riese, April 26, 2013

More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Richard Whittaker
Sci-Fi Film Festival Foresees a Hybrid Future for Its In-Person Return
Sci-Fi Film Festival Foresees a Hybrid Future for Its In-Person Return
Other Worlds comes to Galaxy Highland and beyond

Dec. 3, 2021

An astounding performance at the heart of this strange tale of identity

Dec. 3, 2021


coffeetable books, Star Wars, sci-fi, fantasy, Star Wars Art: Visions, Sci-Fi Art Now, John Mattos, Serge Michaels, Michael Malm, Dave Nestler, Peter De Sève, Peter De Seve, H.R. Giger, Chris Askham, SMS, Chris Foss

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle