Originally released as a hardcover collection in England via Knockabout Publishing in 2007, Yesterday's Tomorrows, despite some delays in 2010, has finally made it to the United States in softcover trade format from Image Comics. Amassing a varied sampling of graphic designer Rian Hughes' illustrations from the 1980s and 1990s, the book reprints two classic tales from Grant Morrison's early career as well as sequential explorations in the detective, noir, and science fiction genres.
For audiences unfamiliar with Hughes, his art combines retro or vintage stylings and atmospheres akin to AMC's Mad Men with a decisively romantic futurism reminiscent of 1950s era American advertising. Utilizing flat and bold color schemes, there is both a nostalgia and optimism in Hughes' work that betrays neither a simplistic pastiche of the past or wide-eyed, candy-coated hope for the future. Yet, Hughes does not fall into the trap of overt cynicism bred by post-apocalyptic, dystopian nightmares of science gone awry or fear that fed just below the surface at the dawn of the Atomic age and encapsulated the Space Race of the postwar decade. From the lifestyle portrait cover alone, readers will be transported into a world that is all too familiar from the line work and color palettes of contemporary artists such as Darwyn Cooke, Mike Allred, or Cameron Stewart's more cartoon-esque renditions, or Cooke and Gabriel Bá's distinctive use of pastel colors to establish mood; however, Hughes is the early forerunner of this style, harkening back to the European tradition of ligne claire blended with Jack Kirby inks. Even more fascinating is that Hughes controls all aspects and stages of his own art and design, including layouts, lettering, and font or typeface, in the process creating a signature form that has been aped by numerous artists.
Following a foreword by British music journalist David Quantick and introduction by critic and commentator Paul Gravett, Yesterday's Tomorrowscollects five strips in addition to a sketchbook of conceptual drawings, roughs, and other Hughes projects. Although neither the Chris Reynolds penned "The Lighted Cities" or the Tom DeHaven scribed "Goldfish"—a story adapted from a Raymond Chandler original—are particularly strong in narrative abilities, Hughes more than makes up for these deficiencies in his visual storytelling. Uninhibited by the confines of the detective or noir genres of heavy chiaroscuro black and white line art, which have become overtly abused in recent years and are perhaps the most iconic tropes associated with the literary field, Hughes instead shows his diversity in these two strips. Casting "Lighted Cities" in an off-mustard, distressing tone which makes the black linework much more evocative, while crafting a palette rooted firmly in cooler greys and its associated shades for "Goldfish," Hughes, like Kirby's exaggerated perspectives or Richard Corben's distorted anatomies, finds comfort similar to contemporary artist Frazer Irving in selecting the "wrong" colors for a sequence. As a result, Irving, like Hughes before him, produces technically inac