In memoriam: Star Wars artist Don Ivan Punchatz

With just an hour to go before laser beams start shooting out of the TD Garden's ceiling in time to "The Imperial March" at tonight's "Star Wars: In Concert" extravaganza, let's have a quick moment of silence for a man who made a huge contribution to the Star Wars legacy, and sci-fi in general.

Artist Don Ivan Punchatz, sometimes referred to as "The Godfather of Dallas Illustration," died on October 22 in his home state of Texas at age 73. An artist with a flair for the surrealistic, he brought his "elegantly weird" touch to an Empire Strikes Back illustration that ended up appearing in an Art of Star Wars book [edited -- scroll down for comment by Punchatz's son, Greg], not to mention a host of other nerdly endeavors, including the covers for Frank Herbert's Dune, the Harlan Ellison-edited collection Dangerous Visions, and Isaac Asimov's Foundation. His work also graced the pages of Time magazine, National Lampoon, and National Geographic -- and he wasn't above lending his talents (and teeth marks) to album art for underground Texas bands, either.

Quoted in this New York Times obituary, sci-fi author Ray Bradbury (whose work was also illo'd by Punchatz), said the artist's "ability to touch men with acrylic and melt them into beasts, or touch beasts with oil and ink — and: voilà! they are senators or brokers — is endlessly stunning."

But, surprisingly, that's not the money quote in the NYT obit. That honor goes to the final graf, which talks about another iconic Punchatz piece: his box cover for Doom. [Though, Greg Punchatz says, the quote is false -- see his explanation below.]

Mr. Punchatz was never an expert at the business side of illustration. In the early days of video games he was hired to create the packaging for a new game, and when offered a flat fee or a percentage of the game’s profits, he opted for the fee. The game, Doom, became a runaway best seller. “So how was I to know,” he said, “this thing called Doom would make a jillion smackers?”

There are at least two great image-heavy Punchatz galleries currently floating around online. Check 'em out:

-"DON IVAN PUNCHATZ (1936-2009)" [at Spectrum, for whom Punchatz had served on the advisory board]
-"Don Ivan Punchatz: The Realistic Look of Magic" [at]


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