The name Drew Struzan might not be a household one, but if you saw an American movie in the last few decades then you’re probably very familiar with the work of Drew Struzan. Star Wars, Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner, Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing… the list goes on an on.
As a film poster artist in the ’70’s and ’80’s, Struzan’s work subliminally informed everything many of us would grow to associate with adventure and excitement in movies. Without even realizing that we were seeing the world through his eyes, his ubiquitous movie posters embodied the most exhilarating films we grew up with. His style is intrinsically associated to a specific type and quality of movie. Today Struzan’s skills continue to be utilized by savvy film makers like George Lucas and Guillermo Del Toro to brand and market their films, lending them a language of fun and daring which is synonymous with Struzan's work.
Before he begin working with movie advertisers, Struzan had a successful career illustrating album covers for artists as diverse as Alice Cooper, Earth, Wind and Fire, and the Bee Gees. But it wasn’t until he began working in film that Struzan really stepped into his role as the embodiment of a certain type of swashbuckling illustration. The gift he shares with the world is his innate ability to reveal the character and truth of his subject matter in a way that would be almost impossible to capture in a film still or photograph. Struzan’s use of texture and line invest even his most epic art works with an approachable humanity which attract viewers to the films. As Steven Spielberg notes "In one frame, (not 24 frames a second!), Drew can bring E.T. to complete life simply at a glance."
For some strange reason, today Struzan’s brand of work is now almost completely absent from current movie promotion imagery. The idea that a still or a photograph can capture the warmth and humanity of a great illustration imbued with Struzan particular vision is rather misguided, but as Guillermo Del Toro says; “Asking the studio about movie posters is like asking the Pope about condoms.” and it is pretty clear that marketing now is handled very differently than it was a decade or two ago. Today Struzan is still pulled out of retirement by directors like Del Toro to work on Hellboy (even when the studio refused to use his incredibly engaging posters) or George Lucas to imbue Star Wars: Episode 1-3 with the same spirit as the original Star Wars trilogy, but for the most part Struzan works primarily on is own surreal, dreamlike artworks.
A couple of years ago Erik P. Sharkey directed a documentary about Drew Struzan’s work; "Drew: The Man Behind the Poster” (if you’re in North America this documentary is available to watch on Netflix). It is a wonderful mixture of Struzan's own anecdotes, interviews with clients and peers, and even a small peek at his techniques and the stunning artwork he creates for his own enjoyment. All too often a documentary will use tools which detract from the truth of the subject matter in favor of elements which highlight the film itself, things like voice-overs or re-enactments by the film makers. Luckily Sharkey and the team behind this documentary allow their stars to shine for themselves, packing as much joy as possible into the hour and half.
Towards the end of the documentary is a wonderful little glimpse of Struzan attending Comic-Con International. In 5 minutes of footage Sharkey shines a light on why this event is so special to so many of us when he shows Struzan meeting his fans, interviews professional artists who have been influenced by his art, and accepts a special award. Throughout the documentary Struzan comes across as a remarkably humble man who simply loves his work and this is never so clear as when he incredulously addresses the audience of his panel; “This is really hard for me, I’m a guy who sits alone in my studio all the time. I see more people now that I’ve seen in years, this is amazing!” It is heartwarming to see this artist receive the gratitude and affection he deserves and it is one of those beautiful Comic-Con moments that we so rarely see captured on film.
“I had no idea that people literally around the world were looking at my stuff, and remembering it, and collecting it, and enjoying it. An artists dream was coming true. I mean, it’s neat to paint it and that’s self satisfying. The real reward is that other people see it, look at it, enjoy it, and it does all those marvelous things for them, because that really is the purpose of art…"