From clients that never paid him on time to intense deadlines to days worth of work that resulted in gorgeous posters that studios never even used, 'The Art of Drew Struzan' is the story behind the story of, well, the art of Drew Struzan. It's page after gorgeous page of draft compositions and alternate posters that, until now, went unseen by the public at large. So if you've ever been a fan of the legendary artist's work, then I couldn't recommend this book enough. Not only is it full of never-before-seen art, but it provides succinct insight into an aspect of filmmaking that is woefully undervalued these days.
In conjunction with today's release of the book, publisher Titan Books gave Cinematical the opportunity to chat with the influential artist about his career, his retirement, and what he thinks of the current state of movie posters.
Cinematical: How are you enjoying retirement? Is it what you hoped for?
Struzan: No, not quite what I was expecting. [Laughs] I've come upon a definition for retirement and that's where you work twice as hard as you did before but you don't get paid for it. Between the book, the documentary, the letters, the emails-- all the things I'm having to do, I'm as busy as I've ever been.
Cinematical: Is that what your day-to-day is like or is it just because of the book? I hope you're still painting.
Struzan: Once the book comes out I hope it slows down quite a bit, though the documentary is coming out in a year or so, so I'm sure it will rush again. The purpose of retiring was to get back to what I wanted to do since I was a kid, which is painting what I want to paint. When I'm not doing interviews or writing books I am painting or drawing, so I'm keeping busy.
Cinematical: So does that mean you have a little gallery of your personal stuff set up in your studio for your friends and family?
Struzan: I wish I had room for a gallery, wouldn't that be fun? No, I paint 'em and I stick 'em in storage along with the thousands of illustrations, and now I'm starting to get quite a few paintings in there as well. I'm saving them for when I die, you know how that works. [Laughs]
Cinematical: Considering how much archival draft material is presented in the book, was there a point in your life when you realized you needed to start saving that stuff for a project like this? Was there some foresight to it or did you just happen to save it?
Struzan: [Laughs] Geez, I don't know... There was so little foresight to it I can't even answer the question. I suppose there was always the hope that someday they'd be worth something to someone. A lot of them I had reproduced, a lot of them I just did transparencies or digital shots of the art work. Of course the book was built on what I did have, but there's a whole lot more that I didn't have and obviously I couldn't make a book of because I didn't have copies.
So, no, I don't think there was any foresight. I just hoped that someday someone may appreciate them.
Cinematical: Is there any one particular piece you were exceptionally bummed to not have for the book?
Struzan: I lost a number of them. I don't think there's anything in the book about it, but probably the most famous one is the circus poster, the 1977 'Star Wars' re-release poster I did. That was lost from the day we turned it in. We never saw it again.
It became a real Sherlock Holmes mystery. People all over the world were keeping their eyes open and talking about it and trying to figure out who had it or what happened to it. Even in the 'Star Wars' book they talk about what happened to it.
Cinematical: Did you suspect that a billionaire art thief somewhere had it hanging in their underground gallery of stolen art?
Struzan: [Laughs] Well the fact is there was someone who was looking for it, who got on the track and pursued it and actually found it. After all those years we found it, I got it back and gave it to George Lucas.
There've been a couple of those. More than a few of them have disappeared over the years, but they're starting to show up now that they're becoming valuable. And a lot of them I'm getting back, which is very nice.
Cinematical: That's very cool. Was there any point in your career that you recall becoming aware of the fact that your art was doing that to people? That you were shaping popular culture and futue film geeks -- that you were making art people would want to track down?
Struzan: Far and away most of my career was spent quietly wishing for jobs. And then when I got them, I just worked on them. I don't really have any hobbies or outside interests, I was just working and painting, which I love to do, but that's all I was doing. It wasn't until the advent of computers and emails and all that stuff – I got me a website – and all of a sudden I started getting emails from people all over the world. East to West, North to South, I was getting all these emails from people just expressing how much they liked the work
Until that happened I absolutely had no idea. Because the movie industry, they don't go "Gee, thanks for the wonderful work, we're going to hang it in our studios and we're going to appreciate it and love you for !" Nah. You wait for 90 days to get a check and then you have to call and say, "Hey, are you ever going to pay for this?"
I can't tell you how many times a movie would come out, make it's money and go the way of DVDs and I still wasn't paid. So, yeah, I had no idea until email and all of a sudden people were so... I don't know what would motivate someone to write and say "Thanks for the work", but they were doing it and it wasn't until then that I realized people were actually enjoying the work. I spent most of my career not knowing.
Cinematical: That's unfortunate. I can't even count how many movies that, for me at least, your posters were the definitive image associated with the movie, even after the movie came out. But that was also during a time before marketing teams flooded the Internet with 50 clips and 50 Photoshopped posters of a movie before it hit theaters and when the "Drew Struzan poster" was actually done by Drew Struzan and not imitated.
Struzan: Well, you know, everyone should have their own style for sure. I was just being me. I was in a nice time in a nice place and it worked out well. I was lucky to come along at a time when the image was the movie, like you said. Nowadays everybody thinks he has the right to make his own movie poster and slap it up on the web and it wasn't that way before.
It was the stone age. [Laughs] People just paid me to paint a picture. It's an interesting thought to realize how much has changed. How old are you?
Cinematical: [Laughs] Well, I'm actually only 25...
Struzan: You're 25?! [Laughs] Well, there was a lot of my work that came out before you even did.
Cinematical: Now that you're two years into your retirement, can you imagine any projects taking you officially out of retirement? Or will you basically stay out of the business unless it's a favor for a friend, like the Comic-Con poster you did this year for Frank Darabont's 'Walking Dead'?
Struzan: Like you said, that was a kindness for a friend who was always good to me. He's not going to quit wanting my work just because I've retired. [Laughs] I think he said in the documentary, "His friends will only let him retire as far as we will let him." And that proved true. He called on 'Walking Dead' and I'm not going to turn down a friend, so that was the first thing I'd done since retirement.
So to answer your question, I have so many people who were good to me, like George [Lucas] or Steven [Spielberg] or Frank [Darabont] or [Guillermo] Del Toro... any of those guys, if they call, you know I'll be right there for them. I'll come out of the grave to paint for them if they want me to, but I'm not going to take on the studio deadlines and all that stuff anymore.
Cinematical: Yeah, it was disappointing – and I'm sure I don't have to tell you this – to read about some of the misery behind your art. The whole back-and-forth with the studios--
Struzan: That's the nature of the job. There's so much riding on a film and so little time to sell a product that no one knows about. They're very nervous and they have to be very secure about the poster and any of the advertising so people know what they're going to get and come see it. It's something that I didn't mind, actually. It was very pressurized and necessary to do the job, it's when it wasn't appreciated that it became difficult.
But on the other hand, that was understandable. I never meant to give the impression that it was bad. It's like any job, there are tough days and pleasant days, but overall, man, what a cool job to have. I always appreciated it, I always appreciated that I got to work from home. I didn't mind particularly, otherwise I couldn't have done it for forty years.
A lot of other artists try to do it just because they want to be a part of a huge movie – like you said, movies are a part of our lives – but when they get the chance they say once was enough and they'll never do it again. It's a very difficult job and I was just grateful to be eating so I kept on doing it.
Cinematical: Do you think there's a future for individual poster artists or has that boat sailed and they've been replaced by workshops filled with Photoshop designers?
Struzan: For now it sure has. Unless there's a director who particularly wants a piece of art, but even then you have to get it past a studio that doesn't understand it anymore. It's a new and difficult situation because the mentality has changed. The new guard only understands computers so it's difficult for me to think there might be a place for it, but I'm not a fortune teller. Maybe they'll say, "I want something that was made by a human being, that was made by hand so I can feel the art and soul of it." We're not there right now, but who knows, maybe there will be a revolution.
Cinematical: Are you familiar at all with the recent emergence of boutique art shops doing officially licensed, original posters? In particular, there's a theater in Austin called the Alamo Drafthouse that has its own art shop called Mondo Tees--
Struzan: Yeah, they actually called me.
Cinematical: Oh, really? What was that about?
Struzan: They wanted to know if I wanted to do some posters. [Laughs] It was just more of the same that I'm retired from. I think what that tells us is that there is a market out there of people who still would like to have art because art does talk to people's hearts and the stuff the studios are producing art that doesn't talk to hearts. So, yeah, there are people who are filling that gap and I'm glad for it, but them and the audience are at quite a different place than what the studio is trying to achieve. Will they ever come back together again? I have no idea.
Cinematical: Since I know that you have a big fanbase in Japan, do you have any crazy stories from around the world about fans, like the Star Wars circus poster guy, who have attempted to commission new originals from you or to track down old originals?
Struzan: There's all kinds of things. There was one guy in Japan who was a stunt man in Hollywood movies, he was this short guy and was actually one of the kids on the bikes in 'E.T.' and when I was in Japan he went to all efforts to try and meet me and get to know me. It was cool, it was kind of a fun time.
There's guys even here who have their own websites and are fans of my work and they search it all out and many times, come to think of it, because they know my work and can find it they go to Auction houses and they spot my work. Many times they've found stolen works and gotten them back for me. I wouldn't have known it otherwise because I can't keep track of everything, but they're so dedicated to their love of the work that they track it and find it and protect it.
I mean, they find stolen works and get them back for me! There's a lot of good people out there. Honestly it's still very surprising to me that people go out of their way for something like that. Because art speaks so emotionally to people, it's more than fanatical, it's just dedicated. I'm very happy to have done things that makes people's lives so bright and involved that they care to be a part of what I've done.
Cinematical: Are there any other artists you feel that way toward?
Struzan: Yeah, but they've all been dead for a couple hundred years. [Laughs] If I could find me a lost Van Gogh I'd very happy. I'd return it to him in a flash, yeah. [Laughs] Most of my heroes, because of my formal education in art, are historical champions and giants of art. They're the people I learned from.
I love so many artists today that I couldn't begin to enumerate them. I normally don't criticize other artists anyway, but some of them just intimidate me. Mike Mignola, Adam Hughes' 'Wonder Woman' stuff...if I start naming them we'd be here all day. There's so many fantastic artists out there today I'm just happy to be a part of their world.
Cinematical: Well, what's next for you?
Struzan: Well, day and day with my retirement...my first grandchild was born so I've been babysitting.
Struzan: Thanks. Now we have a second one, she's only about six weeks old, so a lot of time has been spent with that, which I didn't expect to do. But what I really wanted to do is just continue to be the artist. I'm still painting every day, I'm still sculpting, but what I'm doing instead of movie posters or commissions, now I hire myself to paint. I'm really into just creating and painting pictures that people haven't seen before. It's just what artists do, they create, they open new vistas for people to experience.
It still has one purpose and that's to beautify the world. That's my calling, that's what I was born for so that's I'm going to keep doing.
Cinematical: I'm very glad to hear that. Are there any techniques or new styles that you're exploring now that you may not have, say, ten years ago?
Struzan: Of course, hopefully I've grown some in ten years. [Laughs] Especially in the last few years, now that I'm freeing up and don't have the illustrator mentality I have the painting mentality, so I'm trying to weed out the old thinking and bring it new stuff. Everything I do is kind of a new experiment. You can't call it a style, really, because it's just something I'm attempting. I'm not copying anything that's come before, it's just coming out of my own creative impulse.
It keeps growing, a lot of it is available to be seen on my website, so you can kind of follow the changing processes if you look up the pictures. It's on there, it's still being shared, and I show in galleries or museums now and again, a picture or two just so people can see them. They're no good if people can see them. [Laughs] So the computer has proved to be very good because you can go on and see everything I've done. It's good so long as we don't abuse it. [Laughs]