Jerry Weist, Bradbury, An Illustrated Life: A Journey to Far Metaphor (William Morrow, 2002)

In your hands you hold not only a history of Ray Bradbury for the last eight decades, but also a history of editorial art during the past sixty years. The giants of picture-making have illustrated his work, from Hannes Bok and Lee Brown Coye all the way to Charles Addams. Frank Frazetta, Tomi Ungerer, James Bama, Al Hirschfeld, Doris Lee, the Dillons, Edward Gorey, Folon, and yes, Picasso have visualized his unique worlds.
-- from the forward by Donn Albright

At Green Man we try to write our reviews with some respect for language, so it worried me when I first received this book and found myself spitting out profound commentary that began with the brilliant phrase "Duuuude. This is cool. This is so cool. Honey, look at this, this book is just waaaaay cool." Perhaps not my finest moment as a speaker of English, but in my defense, Bradbury: An Illustrated Life has provoked a similar reaction in everyone that I've shown it to so far.

This is one of those books that I always end up reading in stages. Stage One began when I opened the package, extracted the heavy coffee table tome, laid it on my lap, held the book and stroked it reverently for a few minutes; at this point the babbling began. Stage Two had me flipping through the book quickly, ooh-ing and ah-ing at the colorful pictures. Stage Three involved a cozy blanket, a cup of cocoa, and a good thorough read. And Stage Four; well, Stage Four is going to take place over time, as I return again and again to pore over the amazing visual record of a writing career that spans sixty incredible years.

An Illustrated Life is not an in-depth biography of Ray Bradbury. It is an intricate look at his writing career, at the imagery and metaphor inherent in his work, and which has been used to illustrate his work. It is, as it was subtitled by Bradbury himself, a "journey to far metaphor." Metaphor has been the bedrock of Bradbury's work -- an Illustrated Man, burning books, a dinosaur who hungers for a mate he can never have -- and many fine artists have illustrated Bradbury's metaphors for the covers of his books and the pages of the magazines that have carried his tales.

Author Jerry Weist, a longtime friend and fan of Ray Bradbury, has divided Bradbury's life into eight chapters. Chapters One through Three cover Bradbury's development from a young fan, through his first published work in science fiction pulp magazines and eventually the publication of his novels. Chapter Four tells the story of Ray Bradbury and his connection with EC Comics in the '50s. Chapters Five and Six follow his career in radio, television, film, and the theater, and Chapter Seven explores his own artwork. Chapter Eight finishes with a look at Bradbury's poetry and his most recent work.

This book is a spectacular treat for the eyes. While the text is fascinating -- reminiscences of experiences with Bradbury by friends and colleagues Forrest J. Ackerman and Robert Madle, excerpts from Francois Truffaut's journal written during the filming of Fahrenheit 451, and Weist's own very clear, concise, and charming narrative -- the glory of this book lies in the artwork.

The first chapter contains photos of Bradbury and friends in the early days; my favorite is a picture of Ray and Forrest Ackerman in Halloween costumes, with Bradbury's made for him by Ray Harryhausen himself! This chapter also includes examples of comic strips and colorful illustrations and film posters that influenced the young Bradbury. Panels from Buck Rogers, Prince Valiant, and Tarzan sit side by side with luscious covers from early issues of Amazing Stories and Bradbury's own fanzine, Imagination!

An Illustrated Life is rich with vibrant art by the best of the best in illustration. Herein are found cover art by Michael Whelan and cartoons by Ray Bradbury, comic pages by Wally Wood and paintings by Frank Frazetta. Pick a favorite Bradbury novel -- Something Wicked This Way Comes, perhaps? You'll find the original cover art by Gray Foy, as well as examples of cover artwork from the many foreign and domestic reprints of the novel, and even posters for the theater and film versions of the work. Paintings and sketches by Bradbury's favorite, Joseph Mugnaini, left me breathless.

So much of this artwork will be unfamiliar to modern fans; I found myself exclaiming again and again as I looked through the pages and saw earlier covers remembered from my childhood. One could while away an afternoon just picking a favorite from the variety of covers for each volume! I have to admit that Bradbury and I have tastes in common; Mugnaini 's designs are by far my favorites, though my single most beloved image is the Charles Addams illustration of Bradbury's story "Homecoming," which later became the cover art for the 2001 release From the Dust Returned.

I should also mention the many film stills from productions of Bradbury's work, such as Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes, more stills from the television show Ray Bradbury Theater, and pictures taken at the many staged productions (both professional and amateur) of Bradbury's works. This is a big, thick, heavy coffee table book, printed on thick low-gloss stock, with each colorful image lovingly and painstakingly displayed to the very best advantage; even the oldest, grainiest photos are vivid and do not lose too much detail in the restoration. What a beautiful creation Jerry Weist has produced here.

Bradbury, in his introduction to An Illustrated Life, mentions that his epiphany on metaphor in his work came to him while viewing a traveling Tutankhamen exhibit and comparing it with his designs for the Martians in his stage version of The Martian Chronicles. The similarities alerted him to his ongoing use of metaphor. This book should help fans of Bradbury, both new and old, to explore this same theme within Bradbury's writings. It's filled with interesting tidbits about the Grand Old Man and his work, and entrancing pictures that will provide hours of pure bliss for lovers of science fiction artwork.

And it's way cool.

[Maria Nutick]