The Early Bantam Era: John Alvin

December 16, 2011 at 10:40 am | Posted in Art, Regular Feature, Star Wars Books | Leave a comment
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This month in the Star Wars Cover Art series, I wrap up The Early Bantam Era with a look at John Alvin’s Star Wars Covers.


In looking back at The Early Bantam Era, cover artist John Alvin was very similar to Drew Struzan. Both were very influential artists in the movie industry with some of the most famous movie posters ever made. Together, they established the accepted norm of what a film poster should be. When designing book covers, they brought that same flair of collaborative art featuring the main characters and the action. John didn’t do as many Star Wars covers as Drew, but he did design the second trilogy of the EU: The Jedi Academy Trilogy.

Jedi Search

Jedi Search was the first volume in the Jedi Academy Trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson. It actually came out in between The Truce at Bakura and The Courtship of Princess Leia. Unlike the other two books, Anderson inherited a bigger responsibility in that his was the first trilogy to follow The Thrawn Trilogy. Zahn set the bar pretty high, thus it was no easy undertaking.

The cover was done by John Alvin (who would do all three covers for the Jedi Academy Trilogy) and it’s a rather nice cover. Of course it features the Big 3, but it also shows the main antagonist who is also a new character: Daala. In recent years, cover art rarely features the main villains, and all too often focuses only on existing characters who have more notoriety. Placing the gas giant Yavin Prime behind Daala makes it an iconic image for her. It’s balanced with a blue glow behind the heroes. Plus the way the Falcon is angled out of the clouds has a pleasing symmetry with Luke’s lightsaber. My one gripe here is how Luke’s hood appears a little unrealistic. It sits too high above his head, almost as if it were a stiff blanket draped on him instead of a cloak hood. Other than that though, it’s a solid image.

Left to Right: German cover, United Kingdom, and Polish cover.

With Jedi Search, there came a few wildly varying foreign covers. For instance, the Dutch version shows only Princess Leia and some unknown Jedi holding lightsabers (Luke’s new apprentices perhaps).  Showing other Jedi was a good idea, but fell short with only giving readers a look at their hands, and the blade colors are all the same creating a dull uniformity. Giving Leia the focus also seems unbalanced. A more sensible choice would have been Luke since he’s the leader of the Jedi Order at this moment and is the galaxy’s only real Jedi.

The Japanese cover also have a very different style that has Luke dominating the scene with his green lightsaber. Daala is also there but in subdued colors that could be seen to represent her smaller role to Luke. The reddish hue could be a hint to her villainous nature. In the background, there are X-Wings and another shot of the Falcon, which is flying over a rocky surface that is oddly merged with Luke. One thing I don’t like about the Japanese cover is how Luke and Daala’s faces look. With Luke, he appears younger than what I would expect at this point in time, and his face portrays that innocent farm boy look. As a reader who has finished reading The Thrawn Trilogy, you would expect a more gristled, veteran looking Luke. Daala, on the other hand, is just a personal preference. I prefer the way Alvin captured her: cold, impassionate, a statuesque pillar of the Empire. Here, she’s not quite as impervious looking. The pointing finger and angered glare just don’t express the same degree of subtle fear. Still, the cover has a nice vibrant color to it.

Rounding things out, there is the Russian cover which goes back to the Big 3 header style (as seen with the Thrawn novels). Below they’ve got an image, which I would assume is Cloud City or one of those weather stations Streen was hiding out on. Overall, it’s not the most exciting cover.

Dark Apprentice

Fans of Jedi Search had to wait four months for the next novel in the trilogy. Dark Apprentice foreshadowed a grimmer tale both in name and appearance. It also mimicked the name of The Thrawn Trilogy’s second novel, Dark Force Rising.

First off, the main cover is pretty good. The artist captured a really nice sunset background with one of the Massassi temples, Yavin, and a spaceship in flight. The colors look vibrant and stunning. Floating transparently over the star swept expanse of space is Exar Kun’s spirit, which adds a little bit of darkness to the cover and meaning to the title. Although it’s not very menacing for a Sith spirit, I like how it’s transparent with stars shining through, and how the cold vibe balances with the bright, warm colors of the sunset to the left. Below, the Big 3 get some action poses and are fairly well done with good details and likenesses. Luke is a little sad looking, but there are a lot of bad things happening and a lot of worries for him to be down about.

Foreign covers, left to right: United Kingdom, Germany (note image is distorted do to resizing, couldn't find a larger image), Poland.

There is a bit more variation with this novel than the previous one with foreign covers. Even the ones that use the original artwork add some small tweaks that work in their favor. For instance, the German cover does away with the unsightly gray borders and adds a nice blue background coloration that blends in with Exar Kun’s spirit. Overall it looks better. The UK also does away with the gray, but they opt for a circular design that tosses in Ackbar, a Star Destroyer, and almost pushes Luke and Exar Kun off the page. But the Polish cover tops them all with a fully drawn Javin and space scene. It doesn’t change the main scene any, it just adds to it and makes it appear complete.

The Japanese cover goes for a completely reworked design. Han is dropped, Luke, Leia, and Kun have a different appearance, and Ackbar gets a prominent spot. The background design is nowhere near as good as the original, but the character designs are spot on.

The Russian cover has another lackluster scene. I think the interior is showing the Jedi temple, but it’s not very appealing.

The German paperback re-release is even worse. They botched the cover by zooming in too far. The coloring is very heavy in dark colors which makes the whole image distorted. The left side of the image is even cut off. It’s hard to believe they would even print a cover like that.

Then there’s the Dutch cover. Luke is the main subject…and he looks off. It doesn’t look like Mark Hamill. Now IF it had looked like Mark Hamill, it might not have been too bad of a cover, but as is, it just doesn’t quite cut it.

Champions of the Force

As the cover states, Champions of the Force was “the explosive conclusion to the blockbuster saga.” Regardless of readers’ opinions, it certainly did end with a few explosions.

The cover is a half and half mix of good and bad art. First, let’s start with the bad. Han, Leia, and Luke all have faces that don’t quite fit their real life counterparts. They feel off and badly colored. Leia’s is the closest to being right, but her outfit looks bad. It’s not suited for action. The style of the dress is one of political pageantry or bad 70’s casual wear. But enough of the negative, let’s take a look at the positive aspects. Luke’s pose is action oriented and well done. Best yet, the background image is outstanding. A spacey sun-shot outlining a Star Destroyer and featuring the Jedi students on top of the temple creates a wonderful array of color and a splendid representation of the subject matter. This is the image all of the readers will visualize at the end of the novel: the triumph of battle; a new Jedi order.

Now when the foreign covers are taken into perspective, there’s another mixed batch. The Dutch went off on their own with Han this time. It’s a good illustration of Han but this wasn’t a Han Solo novel. The Russians went with another scenery shot, one that’s unidentifiable (I guess that’s a Massassi temple?). The Japanese cover, however, is a bit better. I like the way the characters are arranged, I like the ships, I like R2 and C-3PO, and the character illustrations aren’t too bad. But the coloring is really bad. Luke looks like a Force ghost, and Leia looks like her image has been bleached. The rest is good though.

Then there’s the German covers. First, they went with awful coloring. The characters are rearranged, which gets rid of most of the exquisite background. Luke is dropped while Chewie and 3PO are added. The next version shows a full shot of the cover art, but uses a startling neon green for the lettering. The third version shifts the image to show off the right side and in doing so cuts off a lot of the artwork.

Of the foreign covers, I think the Hungarians did it best. On the plus side, there’s no ugly gray border. However, they did shift the image which gets rid of Han and Leia (and in the full cover art, it also excludes 3PO and Chewie). Yet Han and Leia really don’t add a lot to the cover to begin with, so the shift actually works in its favor. Unlike the German cover, this shift doesn’t cut off the temple scene in the background. Overall, it looks pretty good. It emphasizes Luke without taking away from the background image, which is truly the best part of the cover art in this case.

Last but not least is the trilogy hard cover which collects all three books. It’s simply a combination of all three covers, so nothing really new. I think the biggest flaw is the hard edge right in the center from Daala’s scene. A softened edge would have looked better. Combining all three images also put a lot of redundancy into the cover. In total, there are three Han’s, three Leia’s, and two Luke’s. Having the same characters in different outfits appear several times on the same cover doesn’t add anything to it, and leaving that redundancy out could have made it a better cover.

Overall, John Alvin’s contributions to the novels helped illustrate a fledgling Expanded Universe. His covers were not without flaws, but they managed to capture the essence of Star Wars. In looking back at the art and how it stands with more recent work, Alvin’s style contains something that has been strayed away from. Newer novels tend to focus on a single element or character rather than portraying scenes from the novel itself. For that, Alvin’s cover work deserves some praise.

John Alvin

Aside from the Jedi Academy Trilogy, John Alvin also worked on Star Wars posters and the children’s book Queen in Disguise. Beyond Star Wars, his primary work focused on movie posters. John was born on November 24, 1948 in Hyannis, MA to a military family. Like Drew Struzan, he also went to the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, but in 1971.

His first official movie poster was Blazing Saddles in 1974. The success of that poster led to other films including Young Frankenstein, E.T., Spaceballs, Blade Runner, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, and Pirates of the Carribbean.

Sadly, John died of a heart attack on February 6, 2008 at age 59. Although his life ended abruptly, he left behind a legacy of movie poster artwork. Between him and Drew, they set the expectation of what a movie poster should be, and their artistic styles made them the best in the business.

You can find out more about John on the official John Alvin website: http://www.johnalvin.com/

Written By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.
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