The career of Les Edwards, otherwise known as “Edward Miller,” has taken an interesting path through horror to SF/F through the medium of “the New Weird.” Edwards already had a considerable body of work behind him in the 1980s and 1990s, including posters for movies like Nightbreed and The Thing, illustrations for the Clive Barker graphic novels Rawhead Rex and Son of Celluloid, and cover art for Metallica’s single “Jump in the Fire.” And now his dark cover art is among the most recognizable in SF. We talk to Edwards about his work and his alter ego Edward Miller, and take you on a tour of his most inventive art, after the jump. Despite this success, Edwards is most known for, and hugely popular because of, the success of China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, for which he did the cover. That iconic art re-launched his career by wedding the horror elements he was known for with complex, some would say avant garde, SF and fantasy elements. (In the Czech Republic, the covers of books in Laser Books' New Weird imprint are all by Miller.)
Along the way, he’s never lost a feel for the tactile elements of paint: all of his paintings have that sense of having been worked on, of the paint having been literally layered on and smoothed over and then roughed up again. A painting by Edward Miller has texture and depth. Slickness and seamlessness is not, to our benefit, part of Miller’s repertoire. It is because of these qualities that he has won seven British Fantasy Awards and been a World Fantasy Award finalist three times. Despite his meticulous and inspired approach to his work, Edwards considers himself a “gun for hire.” For Edwards, this can be rather pleasant — when he gets to work with authors he admires:
I'm always convinced that the next project is going to be the best. Obviously there are certain authors who I'm pleased to be associated with, however slight the association might be. What I have become more and more pleased about is that my job gives me the opportunity to hang out with other creative people with similar interests. One of my favourite occupations is to sit with a bunch of writers and just listen. As my main method of expression is pictures rather than words it's always interesting to be with a group of people who use language as an art form; especially when the wine begins to flow.
Edwards’ visual sense was influenced by SF movies and serials from an early age:
For some reason my parents took me to see films like The Conquest of Space or Satellite in the Sky. I don't know if I'd already expressed an interest in space travel or if they just thought the movies would be educational but they certainly impressed me and the visual elements naturally came out in my drawings. There was also a movie serial called Captain Video which obsessed me for some time when I was about 6. Most of my toys and games had a Science Fiction theme. In the 1950's in the UK there was a weekly boy's comic called the Eagle which is fondly remembered by most Brits of a certain age. The main strip was called Dan Dare. It was beautifully drawn by Frank Hampson and the hero was the chief pilot of Spacefleet who spent his time rocketing around the Solar System protecting the Earth from various threats of invasion, usually with a swift left hook. Imagine a kind of British version of Flash Gordon with a stiff upper lip and an RAF uniform. Hampson's style was very meticulous and the comic was printed on good quality paper which was very unusual at the time so the whole thing had a very sumptuous and sophisticated feel. I was probably too young to appreciate the artwork to begin with but the strip featured spaceships and aliens and ray-guns so that was good enough for me. Somewhat later another artist began a strip in the centre pages of the Eagle which featured the adventures of a Roman Centurion, Heros the Spartan. It was drawn by Frank Bellamy and was much more oriented to what we would now call Fantasy, although there really was no such genre at the time. It was done in a very dramatic style with dark rich colours and featured monsters and magicians and was very much a kind of proto Sword and Sorcery. So I had both these influences going on at the same time but, purely in terms of style, it was the work of Bellamy with Heros that had the greater attraction for me. Where Hampson was very precise and considered, using a good deal of photographic reference, Bellamy's approach was much looser and more flamboyant. Bellamy is the first artist I remember trying to copy.
Edwards/Miller doesn’t see a real divide between fantasy and science fiction:
I know there are people who feel that Fantasy and Science Fiction are completely separate genres and never the twain shall meet. I've never felt that way in the least and I frankly find the idea ridiculous. There's a ludicrous kind of snobbery at work; ‘My genre is better than yours: Ya Boo!. I read Fantasy, SF and Horror and a bunch of other stuff too. Surely the real question is, not ‘What's the genre?’ It's ‘Is it any good?’, and even as committed fans we should have the courage to say that a lot of genre fiction, and art for that matter, is just not very good. Let's fly the flag for the quality stuff regardless of where it sits on the bookshelf. So the answer to the question is that I'm happy to work in any genre, if we must have such distinctions. My general rule of thumb is, if it's weird and it's good then I'm for it. Edward Miller was born precisely because of the tendency of some people to pigeonhole artists into one genre. As Les Edwards I was known for working in a particular field and found it increasingly difficult to find any other work. I was very happy doing this work but any creative person wants to stretch himself and so Edward Miller came into being in order to explore a different style of painting and, originally, a completely different area of work. At first Edward's work was not Fantasy or SF oriented at all and it was only after a few years that the fantastic elements began to creep in. I suppose I couldn't help myself.
You can get more Les Edwards in his online gallery.