Les Ed­wards

A pain­ter who brings the macabre to life, Les has won awards for his dark arts… as two dif­fer­ent people

ImagineFX - - Les Edwards -

Les Ed­wards is tak­ing stock of his 40-year ca­reer in art. “I don’t know about pas­sion,” he says, “but I’m cer­tainly quite ob­ses­sive. And I don’t know what I’d be like if I didn’t have art to ab­sorb that ob­ses­sive side.”

A look at his finest hor­ror art and we shud­der to think. But ob­ses­sive is def­i­nitely the word. It’s in the del­i­cate play of dark and light that’s more de­monic aura than sim­ple sun­rise in List of Seven; it’s in the mo­men­tum of his ma­ni­a­cal Croglin Vam­pire as he peers into the viewer’s room hell bent on ter­ror. His ob­ses­sive de­tail to drama is in ev­ery cav­ernous en­vi­ron­ment and su­per­nat­u­ral por­trait that he paints.

And it’s been his com­pan­ion since the be­gin­ning. Watch­ing the film 20,000 Leagues Un­der the Sea in 1954, Les first set eyes on the Nau­tilus, Cap­tain Nemo’s sub­ma­rine. “Last year I fin­ished build­ing a model of the Nau­tilus that took me nearly two years to com­plete. So there’s an enthusiasm last­ing nearly 60 years there... Is that ob­ses­sive?”

a golden glow

The Bri­tish artist has worked pro­fes­sion­ally since he left art col­lege in the early 70s. Al­though dis­cour­aged by his tu­tor to pur­sue art, Les hit the ground run­ning and joined the Young Artist agency in Lon­don. In the 70s and 80s Young Artist rep­re­sented the likes of Jim Burns and John Har­ris, a gen­er­a­tion of artists ea­ger to make their mark on the books, cards, posters and pri­vate col­lec­tions of the day. Les spe­cialised in hor­ror, bring­ing form to a surge in lit­er­a­ture with shad­owy demons and vi­o­lent in­san­ity.

“Ah, the golden glow of nos­tal­gia,” he half jokes. “We def­i­nitely had a great deal more artis­tic free­dom, and art ed­i­tors ac­tu­ally had some clout and could make de­ci­sions. They could also com­mu­ni­cate!” Things were more easy­go­ing and artists could fall into a ca­reer, so the rose-tinted story goes. The flip side is that Les has got noth­ing but re­spect for artists to­day. “Young people start­ing work

these days seem to be un­der a lot of pres­sure, but then, I still feel just as in­se­cure. You never quite know where the next job is com­ing from – or if there will be one.”

Things have changed. Hor­ror isn’t the niche, anti-es­tab­lish­ment ir­ri­tant to out-oftouch politi­cians and ter­ri­fied sub­ur­ban­ites it once was. Les fears that it’s been co-opted by teen girls, game pro­duc­ers and the main­stream Satur­day night cin­ema crowd. You don’t need to seek it out in ob­scure mag­a­zines and banned video nas­ties any­more: take a walk and you’ll prob­a­bly see it on a bill­board. For the artists that made a crim­son splash in the 70s and 80s, there was a lack of weird tales to elec­trify their imag­i­na­tion when they were grow­ing up. Their night­mar­ish vi­sions came first, the mar­ket fol­lowed.

De­mon seed

“I first en­coun­tered Bat­man in a se­rial,” Les says of his beloved se­ri­alised films, which ran at the lo­cal Satur­day mati­nees when he was a nip­per. “It was years be­fore I re­alised he was a comic book char­ac­ter.” For the price of six old pence he watched car­toons, a com­edy short, the main film and then a se­rial: an in­stal­ment of a genre film.

I ab­so­lutely loved the se­ri­als be­cause they of­ten had a sci-fi theme or fea­tured a mys­te­ri­ous masked vil­lain

“I ab­so­lutely loved the se­ri­als be­cause they of­ten had a sci-fi theme or fea­tured a mys­te­ri­ous masked vil­lain. I re­mem­ber watch­ing The Un­der­sea King­dom, The Lost Planet, The Fling Disc Man from Mars, Zorro’s Fight­ing Legion, and my favourite Cap­tain Video: Mas­ter of the Strato­sphere.”

When he got home he’d spend hours draw­ing what he had just wit­nessed. Or there was al­ways one of his par­ents’ books ly­ing around. “They were of­ten un­suit­able for young­sters, and ex­posed me to grownup lit­er­a­ture at an early age. Then there were comics, which were re­ally quite dull with the ex­cep­tion of the won­der­ful Ea­gle, the men­tion of which ren­ders most male Brits of a cer­tain age misty eyed.”

At the age of 10 Les’s pal in­tro­duced him to Fa­mous Mon­sters of Film­land, the genre mag­a­zine edited by SF fan-leg­end For­rest J Ackerman. “It was full of stills from films that we weren’t al­lowed to see. At about the same time I dis­cov­ered gothic au­thor Edgar Allen Poe, as there was a copy of Tales of Mys­tery and Imag­i­na­tion in our book­case. So I had both vis­ual and lit­er­ary in­flu­ences work­ing on me.” His course was set.

Cin­e­matic stuff

Les’s art­work for films in­cludes art for John Car­pen­ter’s The Thing, and work for hor­ror writer/di­rec­tor Clive Barker. His re­la­tion­ship with Clive started as many do in this in­dus­try: at a con­ven­tion. Games Work­shop was pub­lish­ing a collection of Les’s art called Blood & Iron in 1989, and was look­ing for some­one to write the book in­tro. “As a big fan of Clive’s collection of short sto­ries Books of Blood, I sug­gested him,” re­calls Les. But then body hor­ror film di­rec­tor David Cro­nen­berg and a gang of de­monic alien freaks got in the way…

Clive’s un­der­ground film Night­breed, which fea­tured Cro­nen­berg in an act­ing role, was sap­ping all his time, so hor­ror afi­cionado Kim New­man got the in­tro gig. “Clive re­mem­bered me though,” says Les, “and when it came to do­ing a graphic novel of his short story Son of Cel­lu­loid he sug­gested me for the job. We fol­lowed that up with Raw­head Rex and I also did the poster for Night­breed. I liked the movie so it’s a bit of a shame that it seems to have

al­most dis­ap­peared. I know there are plans to bring out a de­fin­i­tive ver­sion, but it hasn’t hap­pened yet as far as I know.”

Jekyll and Hyde

Wad­ing through blood and guts can take its toll, and with hor­ror com­mis­sions flatlin­ing Les took a trip to the light side. He in­vented an al­ter ego: Ed­ward Miller. He could start from scratch, and with this up­right and re­spectable-sound­ing pseu­do­nym came a new au­di­ence from be­yond the fringes.

“Much as I en­joy work­ing in hor­ror, it came to the point where clients wouldn’t con­sider me for any other work,” says Les, “so I in­vented Ed­ward in or­der to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. While no one knew we were one and the same, it worked well. Ed did any­thing but hor­ror to start with, but then slowly be­gan to grav­i­tate to­wards fan­tasy cov­ers.”

Then some­one spilled the beans. “I have a good idea who. I was a bit wor­ried that clients might feel they’d been hood­winked. But no one cared very much,” he says. Since then Les and Ed­ward have co­ex­isted hap­pily, “as long as I can re­mem­ber who I’m sup­posed to be on a par­tic­u­lar day. I don’t feel par­tic­u­larly schiz­o­phrenic… but I’ll ask Ed what he thinks.”

Un­cer­tain times Back in the artist’s cher­ished bloody pulp throne, things are a lit­tle strange at the mo­ment. Al­though the pub­lic face of hor­ror can be seen on prime time TV shows like The Walk­ing Dead, and in end­less lit­er­a­ture with an eye on film adap­ta­tions, Les still sees people look­ing down their nose at him. “I know some writ­ers who would use the word ghetto rather than niche,” he says. “There’s still a ten­dency for fans of one genre to be a bit

I find the dis­tinc­tions be­tween sci-fi, fan­tasy and hor­ror a bit tire­some and ir­rel­e­vant

sniffy about an­other. I find the dis­tinc­tions be­tween sci-fi, fan­tasy and hor­ror a bit tire­some and ir­rel­e­vant.”

Yet don­ning those rose-tinted glasses, there was a dis­tinct hor­ror genre that re­ally did scare the hell out of people. Not so to­day. “How can you be sub­ver­sive if ev­ery­thing’s ac­cept­able?” Les asks. “It’s every­where, no longer con­fined to a niche. If such im­agery is com­mon­place it makes it a lot harder for writ­ers and artists to shake people up. I’m sure hor­ror will sur­vive, but its nat­u­ral state is as a mi­nor­ity in­ter­est and the boom of the 70s and 80s was some­thing of an aber­ra­tion.”

list of seven A fit­tingly eerie cover for Twin Peaks co-writer Mark Frost’s first novel.

Crea­ture of Havoc

Les painted this cover art for the reis­sue of one of the more cel­e­brated Fight­ing Fan­tasy game­books.

Grave­yard Shift

This is the UK poster art for the Stephen King film based

on the au­thor’s short story.

City Jit­ters

Com­mis­sioned as a book cover, this piece was also used as an al­bum cover.

Night­breed

Les’s poster art for the 1990 cult hor­ror film, writ­ten and di­rected by Clive Barker.

Croglin Vam­pire

A mas­ter class of im­mi­nent threat, this piece has adorned many a hor­ror an­thol­ogy.

Pel­i­can Cay

Yet an­other stun­ning book cover from Les, pro­duced for a collection

of sto­ries by David Case.

Love­craft in Bri­tain

Here’s Les’s cover for the Bri­tish Fan­tasy So­ci­ety book.

The Crew

Les’s art ac­com­pa­nies Robert McCam­mon’s 1980 novel The Night Boat.

Vault of the Vam­pire

Nope! He’s not Drac­ula. It’s the cover il­lus­tra­tion for a Fight­ing Fan­tasy game­book, fea­tur­ing the charm­ing Count Hey­drich.

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