You may not know Drew Struzan’s name, but you absolutely know his work. Most movie posters these days are an amalgamation of retouched photographs that give the viewer a basic sense of what the film is about, but the images are only memorable because they so closely resemble other posters. From the mid-1970s through the mid-2000s Struzan was the must-have illustrator for everyone from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to Frank Darabont and Guillermo del Toro because of his ability to tell a story with a single image. Struzan was recently asked to come out of retirement so that he could create a poster for the highly anticipated sequel Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which was revealed at last month's Disney D23 Expo. And though this artwork was just a promotional limited-edition poster and not the official one-sheet, it has fans hoping that the legendary artist is back at the easel, working his Jedi magic.
Following in the footsteps of the greats like Saul Bass and Bob Peak, Drew Struzan began making art at a young age and never stopped. As a teenager, he enrolled at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, where a counselor told him that he could either be an illustrator or a fine artist. Struzan—who was living as an actual starving artist—chose the former because the career opportunities were more lucrative. During college he sold his assignments to other students so that he could pay for classes, and he resorted to only eating two days a week—the days when he visited his then-girlfriend, Dylan. Soon, Drew and Dylan had a baby and were living off of only a few thousand dollars a year. Struzan often chose to buy art supplies before food so that he could continue to paint for pay.
Eventually, Struzan landed a job at a studio creating illustrations for album covers for musicians including Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, and Carole King. People began to recognize his style, and with the release of Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare in 1975, Struzan got a phone call with an offer to create movie posters with an advertising agency. He began working as a freelance illustrator, imitating the artistic styles of iconic artists like Norman Rockwell while still developing his own style.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, Struzan’s career grew exponentially. He collaborated with an artist named Charlie White on a poster for a little film called Star Wars in 1977. That was also his introduction to the art of airbrushing, which would become a part of his signature. In the years that followed, Struzan created over 150 posters for films that became as memorable as the artwork that represented them, including E.T., Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Muppet Movie, First Blood, Blade Runner, Coming to America, Hook, Angels in the Outfield, the Back to the Future trilogy, Hocus Pocus, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Big Trouble in Little China, and Hellboy.
Beyond movie posters, Struzan also designed and painted artwork for logos, postage stamps, book covers, collectibles, and various other products and properties. And though he officially retired in 2008, he continued to take on special projects, including the poster for the Batkid Begins documentary, a few collaborations with Mondo, and his triumphant return to a galaxy far, far away.