|Martin Asbury's superb one-off art for TVTIMES magazine heralding STAR WARS UK TV premiere in 1982. Image: courtesy Martin Asbury.|
STAR WARS: ART BY MARTIN ASBURY
By Scott Weller
“THE FORCE COMES TO ITV”
If you’re from the US you may not yet know the name Martin Asbury, but his work is certainly very familiar if you were a British child growing up in the seventies/eighties and reading the ever popular television listings/youth magazine LOOK-IN. Launched at just the right time, in which teenage magazines were becoming more successful and more defining for their readership, LOOK-IN made its confident, colourful debut in 1971- the brainchild of writer/editor Alan Fennell (an important figure in teenage magazine publishing and who just happened to be a regular writer of the Gerry Anderson science fiction/adventure puppet TV shows of the sixties)- and lasted until the early nineties, where it was billed as the Junior Magazine to it’s senior adult/family TV listings magazine TVTIMES (published by the Independent Television Publications company)-the major difference being that LOOK-IN was packed with superb colour and B/W comic strips on all the popular TV series that were en vogue on the ITV channel at the time-both American and home-grown British fare. Asbury, along with two or three others, would be one of the principal artists to work on the weekly magazine and would provide an indelible, long standing contribution to the title that remains iconic, providing a unique house style of fast moving and film-like cinematography artwork for his TV show adaptations- his visuals not only helping to define the magazine’s house style for nearly three generations of children but helping to cement the classic shows further in the minds of its readers- all of the series he adapted certainly benefiting from his input and, at times, with artwork and excitement beyond what was and could be established within the TV shows weekly budget parameters of story telling. Of all the strips Asbury did for LOOK-IN, however, my two favourites from it’s seventies/eighties golden era were also two of my favourite TV shows of the time anyway-the Lee Majors actioner THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN (a strip so successful that it ran over the five years that the show was on UK television) and the 1980-81 TV epic “inspired” by STAR WARS- BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (and lets not forget some of Asbury’s other excellent sci-fi work for the magazine, like the brother US Glen A. Larson show, BUCK ROGERS IN THE TWENTY FIFTH CENTURY, either-Colonel Wilma Deering never looked more sexy and sassy!!).
For me, and I’m sure millions of others, the golden era of LOOK-IN was during the seventies, between 1975 and 1979- not only was this the era when my dad pretty much got the magazine every week for me to savour, but it was also the exploding megastar era of such growing up teenage icons as Farrah-Fawcett Majors and CHARLIE’S ANGELS, of Travolta and Newton-John and GREASE, of Smurfs and Benny Hill, of Abba and Showaddywaddy. And then, in December 1977, after a PAINFUL six months wait from it’s original US release, along came that little film called STAR WARS-probably the perfect film to be showcased inside the magazine-it had it all: colour, excitement, amazing and attractive lead young heroes and a heroine character, and a plot that was timeless and accessible for kids of all ages to enjoy. LOOK-IN rode the crest of the STAR WARS wave and enjoyed great success with its issues devoted to the film, going on to give at least seven exclusive covers and inside spreads to the Classic Trilogy between December 1977 and Summer 1983. Anything with STAR WARS on it was a bona fide must have anyway for me, but with LOOK-IN it was a match made in heaven!! By the time STAR WARS made its British Television debut on the ITV channel on Sunday October 24th 1982 (7.15pm to 9.30pm for completism!!), LOOK-IN would certainly cover the momentous premiere in it’s pages, but it’s grown up mother publication, TVTIMES, would excitingly go one step further…
Not only would there be an exclusive TVTIMES cover to celebrate its televisual arrival (for the week of 23rd-29thOctober 1982), but an exclusive series of articles linked to the film would appear within it’s pages, too (including interviews with Carrie Fisher, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew and Anthony Daniels, and a very special competition with lots of PALITOY STAR WARS toys up for grabs). The magazines then editor (name unknown), working with his editorial team in association with LUCASFILM, had already gotten permission to use one of esteemed US artists Boris Vallejo’s stunning pieces of character art linked to the COCA-COLA US store released posters of 1980 linked to THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but for this special issue they also wanted to do something even more grand, something intrinsically linked to what TVTIMES would uniquely do and yet was keeping in the spirit of STAR WARS and its premiere for thousands of young readers who would be keenly looking at both TVTIMES and LOOK-IN that week for anything regarding the film and its premiere. Presumably aware of Asbury’s exciting work through LOOK-IN’s editor, Colin Shelbourn, the artist would be commissioned to create a wonderfully evocative colour spread, literally appearing straight after the magazine’s contents page, introducing old and new fans alike to the films primary characters (heroes and villains) and also, in an even more original idea for the time, and long before anything done in the 2000’s by DARK HORSE comics, illustrating the mysterious story setting opening title crawl for the film, showing the interception of the DEATH STAR plans by Rebel forces, the Rebel Alliance’s first victory against the evil Galactic Empire and the build up to Darth Vader’s pursuit of Princess Leia’s ship above the desert world of Tatooine.
Asbury final results were more than impressive-doing so good a job on the eventual colour spread (reproduced above), written by a TVTIMES editorial writer who is unknown at present, that, even now, I wish somebody would film that page and do it the justice it deserves-I can safely say it’s the one sequence that every STAR WARS fan wants to see turned to reality someday and Asbury’s visuals were the perfect treat to fill in that unseen beginning of STAR WARS, with its fast storytelling and great angles (love that threatening Vader image at the end), showing the artists’ hallmark symbiotic penchant for drawing fast paced action that I always thought was terrific.
With his one and only piece of STAR WARS work now published, Asbury’s work on LOOK-IN would carry on a little while longer before the title sadly died a death in the early nineties after it had become a different kind of publishing animal (the victim of a required format change which rapidly killed the comic strips off, with many of the selected series now being adapted weak in comparison to what had been on television ten years before, and an editorial policy that resulted in a lot of the strips being confined to black and white status where they lost some of their impact)- a pot pourri that ultimately didn’t totally satisfy its target audience who had become a new type of readership to those who had originally bought it in 1971. A readership who were even more interested in things beyond television, with greater emphasis on films, music and celebrity entertainment than the old magazine, with a new style that couldn’t quite capture the lightning in a bottle a second time around. Though LOOK-IN had diminished, Martin Asbury’s talents as an artist certainly hadn’t during this upheaval period, instead he moved on from his television adventure artwork and launched into a new era as an exceptional storyboard creator for many major league film and television projects shot in the UK, including the much under-rated ALIEN 3, BATMAN BEGINS, TROY and the highly notable and iconic assignment of working on the JAMES BOND movie series-six films and counting so far, with his all-important penciling skills having successfully helped to re-invigorate the franchise with Pierce Brosnan’s debut film, GOLDENEYE, in 1995, through to Daniel Craig’s own baptism of fire with the role in his premiere outing, CASINO ROYALE, in 2006) and beyond. Asbury’s work would become crucial with regards to the plotting and directing of all the important action unit photography, his storyboards providing the cogs from which everything on the adrenaline front could be brought to life- his dynamic storyboards filling all the necessary requirements, and much more, when needed to help the long standing production team pull off all the incredible stunt fests we have thrilled to over the years. One only has to look at the recent Blu-ray release of CASINO ROYALE and its special documentaries on stunt filming to see all the thousands of incredible pieces of work that Asbury did for the project in the months leading up to the filming, and just how many of the boards he created came to life onscreen exactly as he’d drawn them. If that isn’t the ultimate accolade to an artist of Asbury’s standing, then I don’t know what is!! A magnificent achievement.
Whatever Martin has lined up for the future art-wise- especially if it’s on the action/adventure front- I for one certainly can’t wait to see it!!
To see highlights of Martin’s work, check out his great website (which includes a lot of his LOOK-IN TV series work as well as this excellent STAR WARS piece) at: http://www.martinasbury.com
He is also selling some of his original LOOK-IN art (as well as duplicates) and making available prints of his STAR WARS TVTIMES piece, too - check it out at his site to see a portion of its full colour glory (prints are available at approximately the original piece’s size-430mm x 775mm) at very good prices. The site is well worth a look.
To find out more about LOOK-IN magazine in general, and enjoy a wonderfully nostalgic selection of the superb comic strips from its iconic seventies period, head over to: http://www.lookinarchive.com
With special thanks to Martin Asbury for all his kind help and encouragement with the creation of this article.
Additional thanks to Chris Baker.