Mel Odom was born in 1950, making him the youngest of the illustrators I've profiled so far (and only the second who is younger than I). He drew early and well (see below) and used his art to sustain him through school.
Mel Odom - Age 6
He majored in Fashion Illustration at Virginia Commonwealth University and did graduate work in England. He spent nine months birthing a portfolio in 1974 and moved to New York in 1975 to break into the art market.
His work found an early home in the gay magazine, Blueboy, and shortly thereafter in Playboy (see left). The frank, unfettered sexuality of his art has a powerful appeal, whether it was a 1977 fashion piece like "Gold Ray" at right or the almost confrontational "Arrangement" from a 1979 Blueboy below.
Assignments outside of the erotic field were just as numerous. His work has an inherent fantasy feel to it and art directors in the field were quick to place his covers on their books. The sf magazine Omni was also a client. He did sleeves for CBS records. Playboy named him Illustrator of the Year in 1980 and he won the Society of Illustrators' Gold Medal in the Editorial class in 1982, and the Silver Medal in the Book class in 1987. His pencil, Peerless dyes, and gouache technique is very distinctive and he seems to be totally in command of every nuance.
Guy Gavriel Kay
The Darkest Road
Sunglasses After Dark
Means of Evil
Shwartz & Greenberg
Sisters in Fantasy
And mostly these commissions were part of a series. There are at least four covers in the Kay series, three in the Hazel, two for Nancy Collins books, a half dozen at least for Ruth Rendell titles (though mainly hardback dust jackets) and two so far in the Sisters in Fantasy series. Also in hardcover, he did a pair of Anne Rice djs for two of her "Anne Rampling" novels.
Most important for me personally is his cover to Jonathan Carroll's Sleeping in Flame. This is the cover that introduced me to Carroll. I bought it for the Odom dj and was intrigued enough by the image to start reading the story. Carroll is now one of my most favorite authors (yes, I do too read!).
What strikes me as the most amazing aspect of these covers is the focus on the faces. Mel is so sure of himself and so talented that in many cases, the entire design is a face. Even in those images with more of the figure depicted, it is still the faces, primarily the eyes, that command our attention. Look at the Nancy Collins book above. I did not trim the title off. That is the front cover of the book, as issued! They trusted the image to communicate to their intended audience. That's a mighty brave stance for an art director to take and a mighty great compliment to Mel Odom's talent.
With his obvious enchantment with exotic and erotic faces, it will come as no surprise to you that he is also a mask maker. In the tradition of W.T. Benda (1873-1948), another illustrator whose passion was masks and author of the seminal book, Masks, Odom is fascinated with the power and the liberating qualities of the mask.
Both First Eyes and Dreamer, the two books (so far) on Odom have sections on masks. Tellingly enough, despite many photographs of Mel in First Eyes, there are none of him wearing one. The supercharged eroticism of his work is not something he hides from. It's the beauty that matters. Like the illustration below for an article on Homosexuality in Japan, it's the true and honest emotions of the faces that counts.
And just when most illustrators would be content to settle into a complacent career, Odom took his love for masks and found a commercial outlet that allowed him to cater to the love of fantasy in us all. He created a doll. Not just any doll, but the first doll to challenge Barbie in one segment of the market. It's the Gene Marshall doll (based on real life star Gene Tierney) - on canvas at left and in real life at right.
The photo at right is from the recent book, Gene Marshall Girl Star, which follows her career as a 1940's starlet. It's playacting fantasy at its best and the dressup costumes are far more exotic than Barbie could ever get away with.
The portrait at left is from Editorial Illustration - Step
by Step Techniques by Jill Bossert. It has a marvelous photo
of Mel and a fascinating 23-step photo essay of how he creates
an illustration. Following the demonstration is an eight-page
portfolio of his work. This seems to be the closest we're going
to get to a long-overdue new book on him.
I hope Mel stumbles across this page because I'd love to get him to sign my copy of Sleeping in Flame. He did! He found the page and signed my book. How cool is that?!To learn more about this artist, see:
|First Eyes||Mel Odom, Genko Sha 1982|
|Dreamer||Edmund White, Penguin 1984|
|Editorial Illustration Step by Step Techniques||Jill Bossert, RotoVision 1996|
|Gene Marshall Girl Star||Mel Odom, Hyperion 2000|
|The Vadeboncoeur Collection of Knowledge||Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 2001|
Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page written, designed & © 2001 by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. Updated 2011.