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I’ve meant to do an art post about the works of Glen Orbik for a while now. And I’m shocked that I’m posting it now because of his sudden and rather unexpected death on Monday, May 11, 2015, at the age of 52. I hadn’t known about his fight with cancer—the life of a cover artist doesn’t get half as much publicity as their illustrations do. Orbik was a renowned painter and professor at the California Arts Institute, and his passing leaves a gaping void in the field.

Glen Orbik got his start in the 1990s and early 2000s doing covers for Marvel and DC Comics; he developed a very specific retro-pulp style that was used to good effect for Howard Chaykin’s American Century, a 1950s noir series published by DC’s Vertigo imprint. It was that pulp style that caught the eye of a certain paperback publisher, Hard Case Crime; Orbik illustrated over two dozen covers for Hard Case, including works by major authors like Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and Gore Vidal. While he did cover art for a number of other publishers, I think it’s his work for Hard Case Crime that was some of his most successful and most recognizable. (Killer Covers has a good gallery and a note from HCC’s Charles Ardai.) Orbik’s art is a throwback to a vibrant, lurid, and less subtle era, the type of cover art that dominated the early 1950s. Yet he brought an elegance to it—combining the elegance of the ’50s with the pulp genre’s sensationalism. His use of vibrant colors nails the palette of the period. A number of good artists can capture the feeling of the ’50s, but Glen Orbik was one of if not the best.