The Star Wars Space Armies of John Mollo

John Mollo Starwars costume sketchs
(1) Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith – evil figurehead of the Imperial Forces. (2) A member of Darth Vader’s Guard Corps. Notice the Vader style helmet. (3) This Imperial AT-ST pilot wears armour in the style of the Stormtroopers.

Just in case you’ve been living under an icy rock in a galaxy far, far away you may of not noticed one of two things. Firstly Sci-Fi-O-Rama hasn’t published any new material for eons, and secondly there’s a brand new new Starwars Film out. So then, in an effort to bound the two together here’s a rare gem I’ve managed to unearth featuring the original trilogy’s Oscar winning Costume designer John Mollo.

What follows is a selection of Mollo’s costume designs and notes for ‘Starwars: A New Hope'(1977) and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980).

“The first Darth Vader was wearing a motorcycle suit, and a sort of opera cloak, and a Nazi steel helmet, and a gas mask, and a medieval breast plate, all from different departments, all brought in together and put on, and it seemed to work”

John Mollo Starwars costume sketchs
(1) The design for the uniform of General Veers – again with a Vader-Style helmet. (2) An Imperial crewman, one of the lowlier members of the Imperial caste-system. (3) An Imperial Officer. The echoes of the German WWI are strong.

All drawings are rendered in an weighty rudimentary fashion that really signals the utilitarian ‘used-future’ aesthetic of which the Starwars films are so synonymous with. There’s something of an everyday feel here that is forever Starwars, suffice to say they really pack a punch.

On the Empire: “We agreed early on that the army should have a booted look, like the Germans in 1939, but actually their tunics look more like the 1914-18 ones. They’re cut longer. You try not to make the connection too obvious”.

John Mollo Starwars costume sketchs
(1) Princess Leia Organa – attired for survival on the snowy wastes of Hoth. (2) A Crewman of the Rebel Alliance, dressed for the Icy conditions on Hoth. (3) Rebel Generals are dressedalike. Note the goggles, worn by Imperial Generals also. (4) The original design for Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness).

“George wanted Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) to look like a cross between a monk and a samurai knight. It’s never really the principals who pose the problems, so much as the practical stuff for the extras. I remember, for the rebel pilots who have air hoses on their chests, we suddenly went out and got bath overflow pipes for them from the ironmonger’s outside the studio. We bought fifty, and he looked rather surprised.”

John Mollo Starwars costume sketchs
(1) Luke Skywalker in his combat outfit, his light-sabre slung from his belt. (2) The familiar garb of Han Solo, retained from the first film. (3) The bulky attire worn by the men who fly the X-Wing fighters, the Rebel Pilots. (4) The Rebel Snowtrooper, burdened with the equipment for sub-zero survival.

“Uniforms are really difficult to make so that they look good. It’s very easy to make them look bad, Basically, George wanted the Empire to look like Fascists, and the rebels like casual Americans. The storm troopers are in white instead of black so it’s less obvious. Their headgear is a cross between a flying helmet and a gas mask. Their costumes are guite flimsy, really.”

All images, caption notes and quotes hark from an interview with John Mollo conducted by Nicholas Leahy (1980 I’m guessing) and featured in the 23rd edition of Starburst Magazine.

Starburst is a long running British Sci-Fi publication that began in the late 70’s and exists now in both digital and print format, Each issue is bursting at the seams with Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy treasures with particular focus on TV and Movie. To be honest browsing through fifty or so publications acquired I was stunned at how many features concerned material I’d never heard of.

Watch this space.

Russ Nicholson (2) Interview

Russ Nicholson - Warlock of Firetop Mountain

Russ Nicholson - Warlock of Firetop Mountain

Russ Nicholson - Masks of Mayhem

Russ Nicholson - Masks of Mayhem

It’s been a while since I’ve posted and out and out fantasy feature so I thought I’d do something special and add a interview into the mix, a Sci-Fi-O-Rama first! The artist in question is Russ Nicholson a personal favourite of mine whose work I’ve admired since childhood and first reading the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks he’s synonymous with. Those books were a huge phenomenon during there peak in the mid 80’s, selling millions worldwide with the series eventually reaching over 50 titles before winding up in the early 90’s. The basic premise of a Fighting Fantasy book was a self-contained single player role-playing adventure where one would explore an Illustrated Fantasy/SF game world by reading numbered paragraphs and then making choices and rolling dice to determine battles etc.  A typical book would involve a perilous quest split into 400 sections and there would often be only one true way though it, sounds fairly straight forward, it wasn’t… I used to cheat most of the time!

I could go on about the books, but another time I think, I’ll add some more notes and links in the footer of this post… On final point I’d like to make Is that in retrospect it’s probably fair to say also the Fighting Fantasy series shares a genetic tie with the work of J K Rowling, they could be considered the Harry Potter’s of their day encouraging many 10-16 years old into reading, I know they certainly did for me…

So back to Russ and the above examples, what’s most striking if your not familiar with is work is the insane decorative intricacy,  lines wash up and down the page in a gracefully proportioned manner, a style reminiscent of the classic Aubrey Beardsley. For me though the overriding, enduring factor of Russ’s work are his beautiful characters and the fantastic costume & armour they adorn… Prospective Games Artist’s could well take note….

So onto the interview:

1. What sparked you into following a career of Fantasy Illustration ?
Even from a young age I was always interested in Art, and especially drawing. I adored illustration and liked comics as much for the artwork as the subject and soon began to identify, and where possible, name certain illustrators. At home my liking for art and mythology and fairy tales and legends, if not comics, such as books like the Lang Red Fairy Tale Book was encouraged even at an early age [around 5] what I couldn’t understand in the words I understood in the pictures.
At college I did little fantasy work, but my interest continued to grow. My work was also a little darker then, involving a more Gothic monster approach with dark blood and my gods were such as Aubrey Beardsley, Harry Clarke, Edmund Dulac  and Sydney Sime though I’d little reference to there work; books about them were rare. When I began working professionally I had little choice in what jobs came my way and much of my early fantasy drawings I showed around were considered to be aping Rackham, etc. My fantasy work was not appreciated at that time, so I was drawn, if you parden the pun, to the growing Fantasy and SF and Comic Fanzines that sprang up in the 70’s, and it is there I was able to explore ideas through little spot doodles that I did all the time.

2. What’s the most Satisfying part of Illustrating, what do you enjoy most ?
That’s an easy one. The act of drawing, of creating, the markmaking on paper, and with ilustrating of books, the ability to visualise and create a ‘world’ from a few descriptive lines, which where possible, I can add little touches in the hope of breathing life into the work. My drawing is not always successful but when it is the work gives me pleasure.
Unfortunately some commisioned work is tightly controlled by an editor, or other, for one is not given a full copy of the text and you have to hope that what you ‘create’ suits the totally ‘story’.  The exception is my work on the book Steve Jackson’s ‘Trolltooth Wars’ where I was allowed to design the layout [within certain perameters] and choose the pictures I wanted to do – which I did to try and heighten the reading quality of the book. Whether I succeeded or not is not for me to say, but I know looking back in certainly places I allowed myself to be too literal to the text, and much of it I would have liked to have done in colour. I was also allowed, to a certain degree, freedom with the ‘Forbidden Lands’ Series where I worked in very close harmony with its two authors Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson.

3. What media to you work with?
I adore working in pen and ink, also oil pastel – when the medium is right [there’s a lot of poor quality pastels out there], acrylics, oils [very rusty now], and especially enjoy using watercolour and coloured pencil, but do suffer from being impatient. I also love the subject of  Printmaking especially linocut, lithography and wood engraving but again I’m very rusty now. Occasionally I like to practice to draw with my Wacom tablet and would love to do more.

4. What’s your particular process in creating an Illustration from  Scratch? do you thumbnail sketch, or draw directly?
Oh that varies. When I teach, I stress the importance of planning and preparation following what I call the ‘Design Steps’. Personally I do both, it depends on the task and my state of mind for the creative process is not always on tap, as they say. What I do is think, I don’t mean always consciously, but rather I let my mind ponder the subject and try to internally visualise the ‘picture’ until I can sit in front of the paper or board and begin this can take a week or longer. In the interim there is also the boring matter of checking reference, etc. if required

5. Your Illustrated Characters often are adorned on in highly elaborate costumes / armour –  is there a particular source of inspiration for this? certainly looks like one of the elements you enjoy most…
You’re right, I do enjoy that aspect of my work. I reach within to find my ‘child’ and sometimes I’m lucky and up he pops and says, ‘hi, want to play!’ that with my experience of life, the Universe and everything makes it all happen. My fascination reaches from the past to the future from the ‘known’ to the ‘unknown’ my mind travels for thousands of leagues and countless star miles and from all epochs of time [corny, but sadly, true, laugh]. More prosiacally, it also partially derives from my insatiable interest in weapons, battles, costumes, and fantasy of all types -and from all ages, something that has never left me.

—  Many thanks Russ!!

Ok so a few more notes on Fighting Fantasy, you may well be interested to know that it’s just been relaunched by wizard books with brand new titles, a coming iPhone APP and DS Game…. head over to the excellent for much more info!

If it’s information on the original Puffin series of Fighting Fantasy then these sites are great too:

A Wiki list of all the gamebooks with links:

Per Joner’s Fighting Fantasy Review Archive
Notes on the Scanned images** Top two from FF01 “Warlock of Firetop Mountain” Lower two from FF23 “Masks of Mayhem”

And finally here’s a sample of Russ’s recent work commissioned by Callum Mcendrick @