Blade Runner 2019: Vol 1: Artist’s Edition – Comic Review

Where would we be without the artistry in comic books? The obvious answer, of course, is a book!

It’s not supposed to be a flippant remark, considering how the best authors can paint a story with their words, allowing readers to switch on the projectors in their mind and vividly dream the scene unfolding beyond their imaginations. But comic book art is something special – an entire skillset that I’m not remotely talented enough to try but can only admire from afar. For an artist to be completely immersed in the world they’re envisioning, they’re carrying a significant weight on their shoulders. The writer can set the scene, but the artwork can make or break a comic.

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Given the magnitude and scope the Blade Runner Universe entails, by no means is it an easy feat. Here, in its comic book glory, Spanish artist Andres Guinaldo is following in the footsteps of the late, great Syd Mead – a visionary and pioneer of Blade Runner’s architecture and landscape which has subsequently re-defined the genre. That alone is enough to cause trepidation. But thankfully, it’s a task that Guinaldo has embraced wholeheartedly, and it shows in every single frame.

The Blade Runner 2019: Artist’s Edition is essentially a celebration of Guinaldo’s impeccable work on the franchise. And just like when studios release black and white versions of Logan, Mad Max Fury Road or Parasite, think of this edition sitting alongside that same cinematic mindset, revisiting familiar stomping grounds but with a new artistic eye.

The story is fundamentally the same – the first four chapters edited together into a seamless narrative, so don’t expect a ‘director’s cut’ of any sort! But in revisiting its humble beginnings (which has already spawned a sequel) it showcases how far the franchise has come. The dream, of course, would be the eventual transition into an animated series (which would sit alongside the animated short Blackout 2022) or possible TV series. But it is a frank reminder of the possibilities of how – as signalled by writers Michael Green and Michael Johnson – there are still plenty of stories to be told.

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But its impact is greatly felt in that ‘devil in the details’ of its black and white form; you immediately pick up on the meticulousness and calibrated depth of each line. The panels are still brilliantly cinematic, and the euphoria engrained means you can ‘hear’ Vangelis’ epic score with every page turn. This is an edition presented with an engaging, raw and absorbing honesty, passing the Voight-Kampff test where there is nothing to hide. Some panels (especially when Ash’s story has emotionally evolved in subsequent issues) still retain that harsh, cold, and visceral brutality. Other panels capture the emotional weight of its story as faced with the choices each character makes. But under its simple aesthetic, they leave nothing to the imagination and manage to strike deeply at its unfiltered core.

And as mentioned in earlier reviews of the series, Guinaldo is very attuned to the franchise. The nostalgic references are comforting but true to the comic’s foundation; it’s not about presenting those frequent trips down memory lane. Where the references are not an intrusive obstacle, it’s an impressive balance between the old and the new. By doing so, he stamps his own application in the process that truly represents a befitting successor to Syd Mead’s influence and work.

The appreciation of the work is taken to new heights by the edition’s incorporation of its behind the scenes, with an interview with the artist in question by writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson, and early drawings and sketches (thumbnails). Even at its early stage, you sense the quality, but what’s even more impressive – a sign that probably goes against the grain for most artists – is Guinaldo’s comfortable faith in not using any digital applications. Every drawing he does is analogue – pen and paper. For something so incredibly ‘old school’, the reward of his craftsmanship is astounding, which makes this edition so worthwhile.

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Yet somehow, that essential detail adds another artistic layer to Blade Runner’s authentic world-building. The texture from those sketches adds to the gritty imperfectness of capturing a city crumbling under the weight of pyramid systems, societal inequality and neon-soaked environments. And as a reader, it’s the comfortable ease it exudes which completely immerses us in its world again and again.

Comic books – like any form of entertainment – are collaborative experiences. The success of Blade Runner 2019 is a function of the combined force of Green and Johnson’s writing, David Leach’s editing, Jim Campbell’s lettering, and Marco Lesko’s colouring. But what has been clear is Guinaldo has made himself inseparable from the cause. As one of the defining artists of this generation, he has helped encapsulate Blade Runner for a new audience. Long may that continue.

Blade Runner 2019: Vol 1: Artist’s Edition is out on 27th January from Titan Comics.

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