Since he was a small boy, Ray Bradbury has been a collector. At age three, he started going to the movies, collecting images from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, storing them in his mind for future use. He loved the daily comics and in the 1930’s began cutting out and pasting into a scrapbook -- Tarzan of the Apes, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. As he began to write and his fame grew, he made friends with the many illustrators of his stories and proudly displayed their work in his home.
But if you asked him, he would tell you what he really collected were metaphors.
We think of metaphors as words, but for Bradbury, they are the images he had been collecting all of his life. Twenty years ago, while producing a stage production of The Martian Chronicles, he visited a display of treasures from King Tutankhamen’s tomb at a museum nearby and realized that the golden masks worn by the Martians in his play were the same as King Tut’s. Bradbury writes in his introduction
“So I realized I’d been saving King Tut metaphors, seen in newspapers when I was three, and now reborn on stage here in Los Angeles. This made me review my life, to find more images collected from the age of three onward.”
One can only imagine how many metaphors Bradbury has collected in those eight decades. But author, artist and Bradbury fan Jerry Weist has made a grand attempt to show us in a coffee-table book lavishly illustrated with the images of Ray Bradbury’s life. Not only does he include the various U.S. and foreign covers of Bradbury’s books, but also the original works of art they were adapted from. Also include in Weist’s book are movie stills, original daily comics, pulp covers, and many more of Bradbury’s “metaphors.”
As Weist explains in his preface, his book is “not only a history of Ray Bradbury for the last eight decades, but also a history of editorial art during the past sixty years.” But this may be his book’s downfall.
Anyone picking up a coffee-table sized book would expect it to be filled with illustrations, and certainly in that respect, Weist does not disappoint. But what may be disappointing to Bradbury fans is the lack of input by the great master. As mentioned, Bradbury did write the Introduction, but after that, it appears he left Weist on his own to scour through eighty years worth of photo albums and scrapbooks. Weist had text to write, and instead of picking Bradbury’s brain, he picked through his archive and came up with interviews and journal entries of people associated with Bradbury sometime during the last eighty years. One remarkably tedious part of the book concerns the movie adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, where Weist copied verbatim director Francois Truffaut’s journal entries dated January 10 - June 21, 1966, not all of which actually dealt with the movie. He filled up sixteen pages with this nonsense. The worst part was once he ran out of stills from that movie, he included stills from other Bradbury movie adaptations, never bothering to provide much text about them other than one-sentence photo captions.
If you are looking for a Ray Bradbury biography, Bradbury: An Illustrated Life may not be your best choice. But if all you are interested in is a chronological view in pictures of Bradbury’s professional life, this book is perfect. What Weist lacked in text, he made up for in illustrations.