Drew Struzan Makes Any Movie Better

struzan_self-portraitDrew Struzan is the recipient of the 2016 Sergio Award, presented by CAPS, the Comic Art Professional Society, a Los Angeles based organization of cartoonists and comic book artists. Founded in 1977 by Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier and the late Don Rico, CAPS serves as a networking and social group and a charitable organization that raises money to assist cartoonists in need.

The Sergio Award, named for and designed by Aragonés, is presented annually to someone who has had a positive impact on the field of cartoons and comics. While Drew Struzan has only done a few comic book covers, his work has influenced innumerable artists.

Struzan began his career as an advertising illustrator, which eventually included album covers, before finally becoming the most distinctive and acclaimed illustrator of movie posters, best known for his work on the Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter franchises. Long before he got to those iconic images, he made a whole lot of other movies look great, including some pretty terrible ones. Let’s take a look at a half-dozen:

All's Fair poster artAll’s Fair – This 1989 comedy stars George Segal, Sally Kellerman and Robert Carradine, with Lou Ferrigno as “Klaus.” The LA Times said “All’s Fair is such a dismal comedy that not even Sally Kellerman’s style and panache can salvage it.” IMDB gives it a rating of 3.6 out of 10. The plot: a group of business executives play war games over a weekend retreat, which turns into a battle of the sexes. Struzan’s painting looks more fun than the movie.

'Meatballs III: Summer Job' poster artMeatballs 3: Summer Job – The first installment of the Meatballs franchise was a mildly entertaining Bill Murray movie about PG-rated shenanigans at a coed summer camp. By the time we get to Meatballs III, the story’s getting pretty desperate indeed. Rudy, the sensitive kid from the first film, has somehow turned into Patrick Dempsey, now working at a beach resort where the ghost of a dead porn star (Sally Kellerman again) wants to earn her salvation by helping Rudy get laid. This is the kind of movie that USA used to run in the middle of the night, but most of them don’t have great poster art.

'A Small Town in Texas' poster artA Small Town in Texas – A 1976 entry in the “corrupt southern town” genre was described by Roger Ebert this way: “It’s an OK movie with some good chase scenes and stunt driving (I’d never seen a car plow into a pile of ice blocks before), but I had to keep assuring myself I hadn’t seen it before.” Timothy Bottoms returns from prison intending to take his sweetheart, Mary Lee (Susan George), and their son away to California; trouble is, when he gets home he learns that Mary Lee has taken up with Sheriff Duke (Bo Hopkins), the crooked cop who put him away. Conflict ensues. Struzan deftly illustrates all of this using a classic western motif, the “High Noon” standoff.

'Sunset' poster artSunset – Director Blake Edwards directs an attempt at a satirical Western comedy-thriller. The plot: In 1927, legendary lawman Wyatt Earp (James Garner) comes to Hollywood to serve as an advisor to a film studio making a movie about his life, starring silent screen cowboy star Tom Mix (Bruce Willis). The aging cowboy and the young actor stumble upon a murder and set off on a series of misadventures to try to solve the mystery. Sunset has a “17% Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is largely forgotten today. Struzan’s portraits of a Willis, Garner and a gorgeous 1920s car remain terrific.

'Police Academy 4' poster artPolice Academy – Struzan’s art adorned the posters for the first four installments of the franchise, making the increasingly tired movies look more entertaining than they were. For a representative sampling, here’s his work from Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol. In this one, Steve Guttenberg cashes a paycheck by slogging through a plot in which he and his crew of oddball cops are assigned to train an even more oddball bunch of civilian volunteers. This film has a 0% rating and some really brutal reviews, but it also has a nice Drew Struzan poster.

'Sextette' poster artSextette – How to explain this one? Back in the early 1930s, Mae West was a sexy comedy star best known for firing off double-entendres, usually toward W. C. Fields, like the classic “is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?” She was also noteworthy for being one of the very few women who wrote her own movies, and is credited with single-handedly saving Paramount from bankruptcy. Forty-plus years later, 85-year-old Mae West wrote herself another movie, but despite a parade of celebrity cameos including Ringo Starr, Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Dom DeLuise and Regis Philbin, nobody wanted to watch a “sex symbol” the age of their great-grandmother totter around still trying to be a sexpot. This was her last film, and it is staggeringly bad. But look at that poster!

If you want to see Drew Struzan’s work on some really good movies (as well as a few more stinkers), visit his portfolio site at DrewStruzan.com.

10 Comments

  1. Edo Bosnar

    Well, I don’t know if he makes the movie any better (as in more palatable to watch in case of the really bad ones) but his posters are certainly something to behold.
    I like your theme of bad movies with absolutely lovely posters. Most of these I haven’t even heard of, much less seen (I knew there was a Meatballs 2, but not 3). Also, Sunset sounds like it should be a good movie – at least based on the description. Oh, well.
    One thing I like about his work is that he captures the likenesses of the various actors perfectly, but it doesn’t have that kind of off or creepy look that is often the case when illustrators draw real people.
    By the way, your link to Struzan’s site gets me one of those “404 Not Found” pages. It’s easy enough to Google it, but you should maybe fix that…

  2. Simon

    Well, don’t judge a book by its cover or a film by its poster. We all know that, so why are so many people acting as if they didn’t? Also, nothing against Struzan, but…

    – “Drew Struzan has only done a few comic book covers”

    So, just as today’s “Comic Book” Resources is about TV and movie ads, today’s “Comic Art” prize goes to a movie adman? Heh. What next, a Nobel of Literature for a songwriter?

    1. Hah.

      We’re giving him the award primarily for his contributions as a teacher, mentor and inspiration to many comic artists. A surprisingly large number of cover artists will point to him as a major influence, and you can see it on the wall at any comic shop. He’s earned the award.

      1. Simon

        Why not. Though it still sounds kinda strange to me, as covers ain’t comics, just like paper ain’t fish.

        And by the influence yardstick, why not Barron Storey, who taught or influenced Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave McKean, Kent Williams, Bill Koeb, Al Columbia, David Mack, Ashley Wood, Ben Templesmith, Brett Weldele, etc. — and all those incredible comics they actually did?

    2. Le Messor

      Well, my first judgement of any book is ‘is this worth my time to read?’, so I kind of HAVE to judge it by its cover.

      And, come on… a literature prize to a songwriter? Next you’ll be suggesting they give one to a comic book. Or a ‘word of the year’ prize to an emoji! Let’s not get silly here.

    3. For the record, the Comic Art Professional Society is not only for comic book artists; it includes artists, writers, colorists and letterers for all kinds of cartoon and comic art, including comic strips, editorial cartoons, and advertising art. I myself was able to join on the basis of my work illustrating textbooks. The criteria is that the members work in print media, not animation, though we have expanded “print media” to include webcomics, as long as it’s static art. Drew Struzan would more than qualify for membership just on the basis of his posters for films like “An American Tail,” the Muppet films, the Hellboy movies, and “Duck Tales,” among others.

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