Drew Struzan might be the name you first think of when someone mentions movie poster artist, but few can argue that the work of John Alvin is not a equally iconic. Alvin’s art has be collected in great effort into one tight package in The Art of John Alvin by his wife Andrea Alvin. The high quality coffee table book collects the late artist’s film poster art in their final form and in the earliest stages when he was just starting to figure out the layouts for some of the posters that would go on to be some of the most iconic of all time.
An introduction gives a brief overview of his life and his earliest experiences painting images from the films that made him fall in love with the art, like 1954’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and 1960’s Spartacus. It details his life, marriage, and sudden death due to a heart attack in 2008. Andrea Alvin’s goal with the book is to show the long lost process behind the drawn movie poster, something that has sadly faded away into a world filled with clunky photoshopped posters of floating heads.
The book then goes onto to detail how became involved with his biggest film projects. His first two were Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein in 1974. Alvin would receive input from Brooks and return with two of the seventies’ most popular comedy posters. His next works included the poster for Brian De Palma’s 1974 rock opera Phantom of the Paradise, the 1978 Star Wars concert promotional materials, and early work on the teaser posters for Return of the Jedi from when it was still titles Revenge of the Jedi.
The next two chapters focus on what are arguably the most popular of the legendary artist’s career; 1982’s posters for Blade Runner and E.T. The Blade Runner work is stunning and there are an unexpected number of finished pieces for the film. As beautiful as the colored posters are, the real treat here the early black and white graphite versions, which really make the noir elements of the film apparent in just a single image. With E.T. it is really fascinating how many iterations the poster went through before the final image of the fingers touching finally stuck. Even the font of the title was scrutinized over. The final two images of the chapter are full-page spreads, depicting moments from the finale of the film and they are nothing short of beautiful.
The book similarly examines the art of films like The Goonies, Short Circuit, Legend, Willow, and the spectacular work for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It even covers some of Alvin’s very comic booky posters for Tim Burton’s Batman that was ultimately never used. Alvin did kind of get to tackle superheroes in a way when he created the gorgeous poster for Sam Raimi’s cult classic Darkman. In the late 1980s and through 1990s Disney would have two main posters for their animated features, one that would be bright and colorful to appeal to children and more artistic posters for older audiences, which were often Alvin’s responsibility. The Beauty and the Beast posters are the standouts of the Disney sections.
The most interesting section of the entire book is the comprehensive collection of unused poster designs for Jurassic Park. The simple official poster that ended up being used to promote the film is one of the most famous posters in film history, but Alvin did extensive work on the film’s potential promotional material. Incorporating footprints, skeletons, DNA, and other images, the chapter is a beautiful collection of what could have been.
The Art of John Alvin is a wonderfully produced, filled with amazing painting and drawn artwork and easily digestible commentary on the process of poster making and promoting films. It is a great art book and would be an excellent addition to any collector’s shelf.