Illustration by Robert Bailey
You would think that witnessing a plane crash at a young age would make a person averse to flying for the rest of his or her life.
But that’s not the case for Robert Bailey. As a child in Stoke-on-Trent, England, he watched a fighter jet crash. Instead of being scarred by the incident, it sparked in him an intense interest in aviation.
After moving to Canada – he now calls Spruce Grove home – he became one of this country’s most famous aviation artists. His work depicted scenes of epic Second World War dogfights. To get away from the easel, he lands virtual planes on his flight simulator game. He’s been in WestJet’s Calgary training centre and has “flown” the same flight simulator the airline uses to train pilots. He was a backseat rider in a fighter jet.
But, over the last decade, Bailey has transitioned from painting warplanes to creating stellar scenes filled with X-Wing fighters. For nearly a decade, he’s been making officially licensed Star Wars art. He’s so busy doing Star Wars images that he puts in 10-hour days, six days a week.
“Eighty to 90 per cent of my work is Star Wars,” says Bailey. “My fans want Star Wars. I spent that other portion of time working on other things to keep me sane.”
He’s a big draw at conventions; he’ll be a featured guest at the Red Deer Comic & Entertainment Expo, which takes place June 11 to 12.
Organizers of this new Red Deer fest wanted to make a major splash, and were able to bring in A-Lister Chloe Bennett (of Agents of Shield fame). They intentionally set it in the dead zone between early spring’s famous Calgary expo and the Edmonton event, which goes in the autumn. The organizers hope that the Red Deer fest will attract pop-culture enthusiasts from both of Alberta’s major cities.
“I’m very pleased that I’ve been invited to this first-time event,” says Bailey. “Hopefully it draws the fans from both Calgary and Edmonton. I have seen fans prepare their costumes for both the Calgary and Edmonton Expos, so this event gives them the chance to do it again.”
So, how did Bailey go from propeller planes to light-speed drives? Nearly 10 years ago, not so long ago and not so far away, he was contacted by Star Wars creator George Lucas, who was a major enthusiast of wartime memorabilia and art. It was Lucas who suggested that Bailey become a Star Wars artist; that, with an official license from the head of the franchise himself, it could boost the Alberta artist’s career into a new galaxy.
But, here’s the rub: Bailey wasn’t a big fan of the science-fiction franchise. He had a bad feeling about this.
“I didn’t know very much about Star Wars,” he said. “I was flying blind. I didn’t know the stories or characters, so basically I did what amounted to a three- or four-year university course on Star Wars.”
But, some of the perspectives were similar to the work that he was doing on war scenes. Dogfights, like the imaginary space battles, require pilots to understands that attacks can come from above, behind, in front or below. The battlefield is a 360. For Bailey, it was a case of draw or draw not, there is no try.