Karen Haber Reviews Art Books

Beyond Science Fiction: The Alternative Real­ism of Michael Whelan, Michael Whelan (Baby Tattoo 978-1-61404-018-7, $25.00, unpaginated, tp) July 2018. Cover by Michael Whelan.

“Here I Am”, Shaun Tan (I Feel Machine, Krent Able & Julian Hanshaw, eds., SelfMadeHero London 978-1-910593-55-4, $22.99, 128pp, tp) September 2018.

The Last Unicorn: The Lost Journey, Peter S. Beagle (Tachyon 978-1-61696-308-8, $19.95, 166pp, tp) November 2018. Cover by Thorsten Erdt.

In 2017, the Riverside Art Museum held a major retrospective of famed artist and illustrator Michael Whelan’s work. The show, titled Beyond Science Fiction, was curated by Bob Self of Baby Tattoo Books. The catalog of the show was published by Baby Tattoo as a Kickstarter hardcover limited edition, and a graphic-novel size paperback with two different covers. As the publisher notes, the book serves not only as a catalog of the paintings on display at RAM but also the first collection/retrospective of Whelan’s paintings published in two decades. Although the book lists its publication date as 2017, it really was published at the end of 2018, and this is the first I’ve seen of it.

Indeed, The Art of Michael Whelan was pub­lished in 1993, so a new review was way overdue. Beyond Science Fiction: The Alternative Realism of Michael Whelan features a welcome combina­tion of illustration work and personal paintings. The images – color checked by the artist – are featured one to a page where possible, with occasional two-page spreads. The latter can create viewing chal­lenges depending on where the gutter bisects the image: for example, “Something in My Eye” (1996) has its ghoulishly amusing image tempered by the unfortunate location of the gutter. The glossy paper stock is fine, although the perfect binding gives this volume the feel of a commercial paperback rather than a fine art book.

Some of Whelan’s most familiar and popular cover paintings (“The Snow Queen”, “The Summer Queen”, “The White Dragon”) are well-featured, despite the limitations of the book’s size, and the same is true for the artist’s more recent, deeply personal work.

As handsome a package as this is, I can’t help wishing these books had been published in a larger, coffee table format, with sewn-in binding, mak­ing some of the paintings more accessible. I also would have liked to see an artist’s chronology and bio included. However, it’s always a pleasure to see the work of Michael Whelan, a giant in the field of SF/F illustration and a deeply inspired fine artist.

Third place in the Shaun Tan trifecta this month goes to “Here I Am”, the anchor story in graphic novel anthology I Feel Machine.

In “Here I Am”, Tan returns to the graphic novel panel-story format he utilized so effectively in the best-selling The Arrival (2006), but here he provides text to accompany his subtly colored illustrations.

His charming science fiction tale of a young girl who feels very much at home in an extremely strange place reexamines the concept of home being where the heart is, and would work well as a stand-alone children’s book (hint, hint).

Stephanie Law’s detailed expressive black-and-white illustrations add a celebratory touch to the commemorative 50th anniversary edition of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn: The Lost Journey. Law’s work is a perfect accompaniment to this fragmentary origin tale, an early unfinished draft, of Beagle’s beloved fantasy, followed by Beagle’s wry commentary and reminiscences.

It’s good to see Tachyon continuing to produce the occasional attractive illustrated edition. (Note: this was reviewed from a proof copy, not the finished hardcover book.)

This review and more like it in the March 2019 issue of Locus.

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