From Star Wars to BioShock, the varied career of Fred Gambino has ventured into several interesting areas of the entertainment industry: film, television, video games, books, music… and that’s just in the last 14 years–or roughly half of the man’s three-decade-long career–which is the time and work collected here, in Titan Books’ Dark Shepherd: The Art of Fred Gambino.
Fred Gambino had a full and storied career before the work collected here even came about, so much so that a previous book, titled Ground Zero, was already released chronicling his illustration work up to that point. Luckily for us, that was also right around the time Gambino took up the demanding job of concept artist and began working almost exclusively in digital media. Since then, as chronicled more in-depth within the book’s pages, his career has taken him across the world, working for several film, television, and video game production companies. I’d say he’s earned another book about his work.
This book does collect “The Art of Fred Gambino”, and in that respect, it is technically an artbook, but in the entirety of its execution, Dark Shepherd is unlike any artbook I’ve ever read and will either stand out as a one-time exceptional piece of eye candy or be seen as the artbook that began an entirely new genre of work.
First, because of how varied Fred Gambino’s career has been, both this book’s prose and its feel are uniquely inspired by his experience; yes, it feels like a collection of artwork, at times, but it also has a tangible veneer of what could easily be read as the beginnings of a video game or a film. Because it is almost entirely concept artwork, it just inherently communicates the thought that you’re experiencing the origin of a larger piece of work.
Second, you actually are seeing the emergence of a larger piece of work. The “Dark Shepherd” part of the book’s title refers to what is the single-most unique section of this collection. Dark Shepherd is an original story idea–one which, in a bit of a meta moment, Gambino explains and shows the conception of–that the artist has been working on and decided this was a good place to release it. So, yes, this does collect quite a bit of artwork from the last 14 years of Fred Gambino’s career, but the first half of the book is wholly devoted to this new story with its original artwork. As I read through the engrossing story, complemented by spectacular imagery, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was reading through the most artistically developed graphic novel I’ve ever read… that is, until I reached the part of the book where you get to read the concept construct of an actual graphic novel Gambino put together for the story.
Therein lies what makes this artbook unlike the typical artbook I’ve read: it’s not really an artbook. I mean, it is; clearly it is… but it isn’t just an artbook. I love artbooks, so know that I don’t intend to sound as though I’m saying being “just” an artbook is a bad thing. Not at all; I’m just saying Dark Shepherd manages to be a great artbook, while elevating itself to something altogether different. It’s something I’d love to see happen more, but it’s also something that you realize may have just been a one-time instance of all the pieces coming together at the right time, allowing this confluence of concepts to occur.
As an artbook, the printing, binding, and presentation are, of course, great. If you have any experience with artbooks from Titan Books, you know the quality you’re getting when they sell an artbook. What else really allows Dark Shepherd (or any artbook) to really excel as an artbook (outside of the fact that the art is fantastic, duh) is the insight given by the artist. In this instance, not only does Gambino go into some good detail about the tools he uses (MODO, PhotoShop, etc), but he also gives some reassurance to concept artists and aspiring concept artists that it’s an excellent career choice.
All in all, I could not recommend this artbook more. Going in, I was wary, because I’m typically more fond of practical arts (like those Gambino had done before moving almost fully digital); in fact, perhaps my favorite piece in the entire book is a speed painting Gambino did titled “The Messenger”, and it’s largely because of that painting’s more practical arts characteristics. His work showcased here and in the various projects he’s done in the past decade and a half go a long way to illustrate how terrific digital artwork can be in the hands of a talented artist. I do love digital artwork; don’t get me wrong. I just wasn’t sure if this artbook would draw me in the way it would someone who prefers digital artwork over practical pieces, and it more than won me over. If you’re a lover of digital artwork, or any artwork, or especially if you have any interest in entering the concept arts industry, absolutely check Dark Shepherd out.