Titan Books (2014), 160pp hardback, £24.99 cover price
I am not as familiar with Greg Spalenka’s work as I am with several other artists, but I know of it from his celebrated Sandman work (with Neil Gaiman — The Absolute Sandman volumes and The Absolute Death), the earlier Books of Magic comics, as well as numerous Magic The Gathering images. And now I know a whole lot more after reading about his remarkable career working with art colleges, doing digital designs for World of Warcraft, and early concept work on a whole host of hit family movies including The Golden Compass and Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Spalenka’s distinct Pre-Raphaelite style and varied career has also seen him doing work for theatre and ballet companies, for various US art colleges and for a variety of populist US magazines like Time, Sports Illustrated, New York Times Magazine, LA Weekly,Psychology Today and many more —oh yes, and NFL Trading Cards.
It’s clear this isn’t his only style, as can be attested so evidently by his work for children’s movies Escape From Planet Earth and The Ant Bully, many images from which also appear here.
In Visions From The Mind’s Eye, Greg Spalenka talks about some of his inspiration as a child, his early subscription to the Science Fiction Book Club where he discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs and an appetite for those Frank Frazetta covers that were classics of their time, and some of his very early memories as a student. Later, he talks about his experimentation with art materials, his discovery of Krylon Crystal Clear (look it up), his love of plain sketching with a pencil, his adoption of photographic techniques and the use of computers, and his early adventures with the classic Polaroid SX-70 (the one that printed instant photos —or approximations thereof— on small slides) which gave rise to what Spalenka cheerily terms “happy accident” technology.
Herein is an amazing selection and exploration of Spalenka’s work, covering many years and so many of his projects, recent and old. There are early sketches, photographic references and so much luscious art goodness that it’s difficult to categorise anything in here at all.
This is certainly a hugely visual book, 160+ pages of stunning imagery, beautiful artwork — some of it more haunting than others — and includes a very helpful index at the back which features all 82 spreads in miniature, with accompanying information about where and what the images are, who it was for, where you may have seen it, and what art materials he used to create them.
My only gripe (as a fantasy/horror/SF fan) is that I would have liked to see and read a lot more about his work on Sandman, his other stuff for DC and Vertigo Comics, his work for genre book publishers, and at least something about his work on the Magic The Gathering cards. Alas, while it’s clear this forms a very small part of his overall output, I don’t know what the score is with regards to copyrights and so forth, and maybe this could form the basis of another book entirely sometime in the next few years.
Regardless, this is a hefty book, a gorgeous piece of work, and something that will sit comfortably alongside anyone’s collection of large format coffee table books. Failing that, it’ll be a good place to start if you’re interested in building a collection of this style of art book.
* This review originally appeared on the BSFA website here