(1959-2019) American artist of Native American (Muscogee Creek-Cherokee) descent who entered the field of sf Illustration in the late 1980s after serving in the United States Army and working as a journalist. After initially doing covers for juvenile sf novels published by Ballantine Books, he came to specialize in painting covers for numerous Star Trek novels, with occasional covers for other books. His typical covers, unsurprisingly, foreground realistic portraits of popular Star Trek characters against stylized backgrounds that often feature a starship; later Star Trek covers may offer nothing but larger images of series stars. Other franchises illustrated by Birdsong include Star Wars and the Cyberpunk Role Playing Game Shadowrun (1989). His non-franchise covers, while more variegated, still emphasize human figures; a rare departure from this pattern was his cover for David Feintuch's The Still (1997), showing only a knife stuck into a ragged map. He became inactive after 2008. He also illustrated several children's books.
Birdsong's work was always competent, and his emphasis on portraiture surely reflected the preferences of his franchise publishers, since they are selling books to readers who are more interested in revisiting familiar characters than in experiencing the kind of Conceptual Breakthrough that the works of other artists may convey. Even if one acknowledges those confining parameters, however, it remains difficult to muster any enthusiasm for Birdsong's artistry; even on those occasions when he has been freed from the constraints of the Star Trek franchise, his work still seems rather routine. It is surely significant that, after a twenty-year career involving more than 100 covers, he was never nominated for an award, no collections of his work were published, and he was not deemed worthy of an entry in Jane Frank's comprehensive Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists of the Twentieth Century (graph 2011). [GW]
born Muskogee, Oklahoma: 14 July 1959
died 4 June 2019
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