You can tell the books I love the most because they’re falling apart. This week, I’ve taken a moment to browse once more through two of the tattiest volumes I own: The Book of Alien and The Art of The Empire Strikes Back. My reason for doing so is a sad one, because this week has seen the deaths of Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud and Ralph McQuarrie, two of the concept artists with whose work the books in question are filled.
I bought both books when they were first published, over thirty years ago. Both filled me with wonder at the time, and still do today. Back then, I was an ambitious art student and wannabe writer who spent all his time painting and drawing and scribbling down the strange ideas that filled his head (ideas that frequently involved spaceships or monsters, or both). It had never really occurred to me that you could actually make a living doing stuff like that. Moebius and McQuarrie taught me different.
I can see myself now, ripping open the padded envelope containing my newly-purchased Art of Empire book (I’d had to buy it mail-order from Forbidden Planet in London, the only place in the UK you could get such exotic imported material in those days). McQuarrie’s extraordinarily vivid paintings of Hoth snowscapes and Bespin clouds literally transported me to another world. The obsessively detailed concept drawings produced by Moebius for Alien did exactly the same thing, prompting me to check out the astonishing back-catalogue of comic art for which he’s better known.
These two men weren’t the first to design cool stuff for the movies. But they were among the first of the new wave of artists to become famous for doing it. Nowadays, the tie-in ‘Art of …’ book is standard fare for any big SF or fantasy movie, and no studio would even consider releasing a Blu-Ray edition without at least six hours of behind-the-scenes material. Back then, these guys were just doing their jobs.
They were doing something else too, namely inspiring me and countless others of my generation to pick up their pens and try, however feebly, to follow in their footsteps. I’m sorry they’ve gone.