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REVIEW: Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio

REVIEW SUMMARY: A visual feast of eye candy.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Collects the artwork of John Picacio and provides insight into his artistic process.


PROS: Visually stunning book; high-quality production; images have much to offer on many levels (content, color, texture, symbols, aesthetic, etc.); I…can’t…stop…looking…at…it…

CONS: The behind-the-scenes commentary on the individual pieces was informative and fun – I wish there were more of that.

BOTTOM LINE: Visually stunning.

The Resurrection Man's LegacyI’ve been a fan of John Picacio’s artwork for some time so call me jaded if you must, but there is no denying that the guy’s got talent. One look at Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio will prove my point. It’s a 200-page portfolio snippet of genre fiction’s newest up-and-coming star. Indeed, it could be argued that Cover Story proves that he’s already arrived.

As an admirer of his work, I was smug in the belief that I could recognize Picacio’s unique style on sight. Cover Story shows that he is not so easily pigeonholed. Although his talent is immediately obvious, his style actually encompasses a wider range of capabilities: illustrations, paintings, shadowboxes, mixed media – multiple forms of expression each yielding multiple levels of fascinations. Images of all of these appear here. The many sketches included offer a glimpse at some of the pictures’ conception. Further, some images appear as Picacio intended, a “Director’s Cut” unveiled for the first time. Taken together they offer a representative collection of Picacio’s work.

A Canticle for LeibowitzAnd what a collection it is. This book is simply fantastic; a visual feast on which your eyes will linger without concept of passing time and on which your thoughts will still be lingering long after your eyes have finished. The reason? The same sense of wonder that draws me to genre fiction is to be found in Picacio’s work. He does not simply depict some fantastical-but-static scene from the story attached to the work. (He reads as many books for which he is commissioned to do covers as publication schedules allow.) Instead he hints at wonders – an emotional pose here, a symbolic item there – and leaves the viewer to bask in the wondrous recesses of imagination. It’s the same advantage I find that reading has over film.

Her Smoke Rose Up ForeverPicacio’s effective use of color is interesting. Many images use minimal gradients in favor of a color fill approach. A handful of the images are even monochromatic thus creating a sort of peaceful effect. Instead of diluting the images as one might expect, this draws attention to the startling detail and many varied textures the images contain. The lasting impression is that they work on multiple levels; just when you think you are ready to move on, you marvel just a little bit more on how this bit of smoke cradles some figure or how the use of shadows creates a feeling of loneliness. It’s powerful stuff.

Budayeen NightsThere really is not a bad image in the whole book but I feel a need to call out my favorites. These would be the book covers for The Resurrection Man’s Legacy by Dale Bailey (stunning and thought-provoking), Live Without a Net edited by Lou Anders (creepy and beautiful), Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr. (ethereal and touching), the 2004 HarperCollins/Eos edition of Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress (way cool), Adventure, Vol. 1 edited by Chris Roberson (perfectly-captured pulpy goodness), the 2005 HarperCollins/Eos edition of A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (suitably divine) and Budayeen Nights by George Alec Effinger (compelling angles and lines and simultaneously mystical). There is also a beautiful cover image for a Bengali lullaby CD called Ami Tomake, a touching vision that was created on September 11, 2001.

(You’ve no idea how difficult it was to pick those few. I do notice that my preferences lean towards the monochromatic blues. Psychologically, that’s supposed to mean cold and depressing, yet it also produces a peaceful effect. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I do know that these images resonate with me in a different way than the others.)

Live Without a NetSome comments are worth mentioning on the production of the book. MonkeyBrain Books has done an outstanding job in the book’s production by using thick, high-quality paper and an appropriately sturdy cover. That’s good because this is a book that you don’t want to get messy because you’ll be glancing back at it for years to come. It collects the artwork in an engaging layout (Picacio also did the book design) that makes it easily consumable and immensely enjoyable. And if that weren’t enough, they have also included an introduction by Michael Moorcock (whose 30th anniversary edition of Behold the Man featured a Picacio cover), a great interview conducted by Joseph McCabe and a visual index.

This is one visually stunning book that genre fans are sure to enjoy.

See also: John Picacio’s website and blog; Revolution SF’s Cover Story picture gallery.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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