If there is anything that’s guaranteed to flush out my inner geek, its science fiction and fantasy art on album covers. Long before the word “geek” came into more common usage, I was a schoolboy who saved all his pocket money to buy record albums and books. Many of them I purchased for the cover art alone, which I feel confident in suggesting is a weakness I have in common with other genre fans.
I discovered the art of Roger Dean through the albums of the progressive rock band, Yes. Certainly, I was a fan of the band, but Roger’s fantastical imagery made the band’s records even more special. Those islands floating in space, the organic, dragon-winged spacecraft, the bizarre plant life and trippy landscapes. What wasn’t to like? And I came to know the work of H.R. Giger through his concept art for the film, Alien. In fact, I was fortunate to be an arts publicist for many years, and the arts centre I worked for hosted a Giger exhibition, which completely made my brain explode with excitement. Other artists from the 60s onwards will be very familiar to most people, even if you’re not particularly a fan of science fiction and fantasy. Work by artists like Jim Burns, Rodney Matthews, Wayne Anderson, Nigel Suckling, Roger Venosa and the others in this book, have become part of the very language of contemporary fantasy and figurative art. Even if you don’t know these names, their work is instantly recognisable.
So it was with undisguised glee that I spotted on Facebook that the publisher of works by many of these artists, is running a fundraising campaign to launch a coffee table book, The Art of Big ‘O’, featuring their work. And funders can expect seriously cool rewards for parting with some of their hard-earned shekels.
I caught up with project organiser and book designer, Michael Fishel and asked him a few questions on behalf of AISFP.
Michael is 63 and lives Austin, Texas. He has been painting since 1968 and had some of his work published by Big ‘O’ as posters and art card sets in 1975, right alongside all of the other artists in the new book. He also worked for TSR Dungeons & Dragons as a book illustrator for books with with cover art by master fantasy artists like Keith Parkinson and Jeff Easley in the 1980s and has painted book cover art for authors H.P. Lovecraft and Richard Adams as well as having his paintings reproduced many times over through the years as posters, prints, calendars, greeting cards and jigsaw puzzles.
J: What promted this book project, Michael?
M: In the days before the internet, as a young aspiring artist books, wall posters, and music album record sleeves (outside of the actual paintings themselves, or a trip to a dusty museum, library, or the occasional magazine here and there) were just about the only means available for anyone who wanted to see and experience via a large format view the most visionary, innovative, colorful, original and quite literally most thought provoking, mind blowing graphic images that the art world had ever seen up to that point.
While posters were available in the 60s and 70s, their availability was limited, with relatively few full sized poster publishers in the world who were actually trying to make more widely available the exciting revolutionary new style of the period. Having had work published by a great publisher in California called Thorfa, I eventually came into contact with the UK’s Peter Ledeboers of Big ‘O’ Publishing, who contracted me to publish my work. Big ‘O’ then was a bold, brash, innovative printer of large over sized beautifully colored wall poster art that had such great vision and clarity to them that I instantly fell in love with the company. I first saw the posters of Big ‘O’ staring at me from a record store window around 1972 I believe. It was a Big ‘O’ Roger Dean poster of his cover art for the band Osibisa. It really floored me that day looking at it. Now, here was something entirely different indeed! You mean an artist could actually come up with his own originally designed text logo for a music group and then paint a mythical green watered jungle landscape inhabited by a red, flying, winged elephant hot on it’s approach to attack some startled mini-dragons perched on the shoreline and have that be the actual album cover for a band? Then have it mass produced for sale as a large poster so all the fans of the band could have it on their wall while listening to the music? And, people actually buying it? Wow! Yes, this was something entirely different indeed!
J: The artists you will have in the book have, for the most part (if not all?) had their own individual books. So why bring them all together in a single volume now? What makes this project so special?
M: What makes this book project so special to me is just simply the fact of compiling all of this great diverse art from what I consider to be the 20th Centuries Golden Age of album cover and poster art into one place. The personal stories of the artists here by interviews conducted by Nigel Suckling who is providing the text and editing the book makes it stand apart as well and I believe it adds an extra element to it that most of the individual artists books which focus mainly on the imagery sometimes lack and it just helps bind everything together I feel. This was a very important time in art history and having a book such as this that reflects that era will be a real treasure for everyone, young or old.
The idea for The Art Of Big ‘O’ book actually began as a seed germinating within me about 20 years ago. Just the thought of compiling and bringing together and documenting in one book all of the great artists and artwork from that special time in art and music history that I played a small part of myself was an idea just too exciting for me to ignore. The main problem that I was faced with in trying to find a little space for this project to grow in was the cost of such a project. I knew that this book would be highly desirable for a publisher to want to bring to print and then distribute and this in turn would no doubt alleviate my need for funding for it but, on the other hand an independent publisher will undoubtedly make sure that they are the ones in charge of almost all aspects of the creation of the book from that point forward and this was disconcerting to me. I knew from the beginning that deep down I had a love and an appreciation and an understanding with a distinct vision for the book that an outside publisher just might not understand or worse yet mismanage or misconstrue. Back in the 90s when I first began thinking seriously about printing The Art Of Big ‘O’ book digital printing was still pretty much in its infancy, at least for the average person anyway, but it sparked an idea in me that got me to thinking hey, when the technology of digital printing begins to improve and if the cost ever becomes more reasonable then I might just give it a shot if at all possible. Well, one thing for sure I’ve learned over the years is that time and technology never stop moving forward and recently I came to the realization that now this just might be the time to get busy and find out if I could get this book idea of mine up off the ground.
J: Of course most science fiction fans will know many of these artists, perhaps H.R.Giger best of all, for Alien and his work with Debbie Harry. Roger Dean did a lot of music album covers, notably for Yes, and Jim Burns was familiar for albums, books, and lots more. Do you think you are introducing them to a new audience, or is this for fans?
M: If I can introduce these artists and their art to new fans then that would be great! In reality though I’m afraid in today’s world of instant communication via the computer that might prove to be difficult, however, when almost anyone of any age can access any image imaginable instantly with a click of the mouse! I really feel as though this book’s true worth and main attraction, apart from the amazing visual experience of seeing the high resolution images of the artwork, will be that it helps the audience to bridge that gap in time and will allow them to understand better the artworks and artists place in that special era of time, sort of a time capsule glimpse if you will of the period, with their stories to go with it. Without a doubt this book will make for a superb addition to the collection of any fan (new or old) of the art and artists of that historic time that are included in the book to be sure.
J: Virgil Finlay is of course known for his fabulous illustrations for the Golden Age science fiction magazines. I honestly was unaware that he was working through the sixties. Would you say he was an inspiration to some of these later artists? And what was it about him that set him apart?
M: Yes, Virgil Finlay has always been a real favorite of mine too. Without a doubt his influence was felt strongly and can be seen in many of the artists from that time period. I see it clearly, albiet in a quite different style, in the work of many of the classic psychedelic poster artists of the that time; Martin Sharp who is in the book certainly is, to my mind, just in the sheer detail of his pen and ink work if nothing else, just to name but one artist. Virgil Finlay needs no introduction from me I assure you! Inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2012, Virgil Finlay in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s and early 60s produced some of the finest detailed pen-and-ink drawings of any artist during that period for the American pulp fantasy, science fiction and horror book and magazine audiences. His amazing illustrations have stood well the test of time not only for that era but will be admired for many many years to come. Big O published posters of his art from the 50s as well as the 60s.
J: The 12 inch album cover gave artists quite a lot of scope. Would you say that CDs have effectively destroyed the art of the album cover?
M: Sadly, I believe they did. Nothing can compare to those days of buying a new Yes double album from your record store bringing it home and opening it up and smelling that freshly pressed vinyl and then to marvel at the artistry of the large sized candy-colored fantastical images and logo designs from Roger Dean. In the time before the smaller formatted CDs the music and the art were joined together much more closely than they are now. Today it’s the videos that are the focus of most musical groups and while some are extremely original and creative they lose alot of the intimacy of savoring that delectable artwork that came packaged along with the album on a large view 12 in. cover. It’s a bygone era that unfortunately will no doubt ever return.
J: Why does the project need Indiegogo?
M: The book idea actually began to take root in earnest about a year ago when I first discovered these wonderful crowd funding websites on the internet like Kickstarter and Indiegogo (click link for the book’s project page). On these sites I can see miracles happening every day. I finally can see where it is possible for a large community of fans and the artists to come together as one in such a way that I have never seen before to produce extremely high quality affordable products. Whereas before in time gone by this was quite nearly impossible without some serious financial backing from large publishing houses, companies and corporations. I truly hope that The Art Of Big ‘O’ book will become such a miracle. I however as an artist myself realize full well that miracles (at least outside of my fantasy paintings anyway!) don’t just simply happen most times but instead require a lot of planning, preparation and hard work. For me to bring a book such as this to print it takes money but above and beyond that it takes a vision and I wanted to keep my vision for this book intact. As I alluded to earlier one of the best methods to keep my original dream for this book untainted was to avoid turning it over to a publisher and having them put their own stamp on it. The crowd funded website here on Indiegogo allows me to accomplish most of that by letting the fans contribute the funds themselves and even offer their own input to be a part of the printing. My goal with the help of the backers for this Indiegogo project campaign is to produce a book along with them which concisely illustrates and documents that so important time in our recent art history that will be treasured not only now but in future generations to come…And I’m thrilled to say we’re already well underway!
John Dodds is the author of The Kendrick Chronicles crime novels (Bone Machines and Kali’s Kiss ) and, under a pseudonym, JT Macleod, has written a collection of historical/paranormal/erotic/romance stories calledWarriors and Wenches, as well as the first novel in YA steampunk superhero series which he is shopping around agents.