Central & Eastern Europe / Retrofuturism / Illustration

Station to Station

Yevgeni Voishvillo and Yuri Kiselev: two of the best sci-fi illustrators you’ve probably never heard of

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Browsing second-hand bookshops in Tallinn and Vilnius I came across two Soviet-era children’s books dealing with the future of space exploration. To Other Planets (originally published in 1959, although my Estonian version dates from 1962) and Station Moon (originally published in 1965, reissued in 1974), were both written by Pavel Klushantsev and illustrated by Yevgeni Voishvillo and Yuri Kiselev.

Klushantsev is a well-known figure; a pioneering director of documentaries and sci-fi films whose 1962 feature Planet of Storms exerted a significant influence over film-makers on the Hollywood side of the pond.

Klushantsev’s popular-science books sold well throughout the Soviet sphere and were translated into many of its non-Russian languages. We know less about Voishvillo and Kiselev, although they enjoyed long careers in book illustration, collaborating on many of Klushantsev’s other books.

Despite being produced by the same team, each book represents a different visual style: Station Moon is loosely drawn and woozily coloured; while To Other Planets is more crisply executed, and stands among the best examples of space-travel illustration of any era.

Both books belong to a bygone age of relative optimism in which it was not only assumed that the colonization of space lay in the near future, but that it would be a supra-national enterprise – just one of the illustrated spacecraft sports a discreet red star; otherwise, state symbols are conspicuous by their absence.

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© Jonathan Bousfield