Renowned illustrator Roger Kastel, famous for his iconic Jaws movie poster and contributions to book cover art, passed away at the age of 92. The artist leaves a legacy of influential artwork in various fiction genres, including romance.
A Legend in The Illustration Industry
Legendary illustrator Roger Kastel passed away this month on November 8, 2023, at age 92. He left an indelible stamp on the romance genre with his eye-catching covers.
Like many commercial artists of his time, Kastel was a prolific creator of paperback artwork.
His creation for the paperback edition of Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel, Jaws, and the poster for the 1976 film made Kastel a household name.
Early Life and Career
Roger Kastel was born to Karl and Anna Kastel in White Plains, NY, on June 11, 1931. At fifteen, he landed his first paid job as an industrial cartoon artist. After attending high school, he commuted to Manhattan to attend classes at the Art Students League.
When the Korean War came out, Kastel enlisted in the Navy for four years. He was stationed in Hawaii and California, where he later met and married Grace Trowbridge, who would be his wife for 66 years until his death.
After the war, the couple moved to New York, the epicenter of the American art world. Kastel did freelance work for various art studios and ad agencies throughout New York while continuing his education at the Arts Students League, studying under the best teachers of the era.
He produced his first paperback book cover for Pocket Books in the mid-1960s, marking the start of a long-standing relationship with the publisher.
The family settled in the suburbs with their children in 1970. By the end of the decade, Roger Kastel’s posters for several prominent films had made him a global pop culture mainstay.
In addition to posters, he created almost 1,000 book covers during his seven-decade-long career.
Kastel retired from the commercial art industry in 2013 when he and his wife moved to Milford, MA. He continued to paint as a fine artist, exhibiting his work at art shows and galleries.
The Iconic Movie Posters
Kastel created a vast catalog of genre fiction covers, including romance. However, his biggest claim to fame is his work on movie posters, notably Jaws. When Steven Spielberg adapted Jaws for the big screen, the poster featured Kastel’s original book cover art.
The poster perfectly captures the essence of Jaws, featuring a giant great white shark emerging from the ocean’s depths while a lone swimmer appears helpless in the foreground. The piece is recognized as one of the best movie posters ever, as it was an integral part of the film’s marketing campaign.
Despite the poster’s popularity, Hollywood was stingy—both in acknowledging Kastel’s role in the importance of the impactful marketing campaign and financially compensating the artist for his efforts.
Mr. Kastel said that Bantam had credited him with helping with book sales. But Universal Studios, which produced the “Jaws” film? Not so much, Mr. Kastel said.
“I’ve never heard from anyone in the movies,” he told The Post. “What really bothered me was that they used the image for merchandising. You see that poster on everything.”NY Times: Roger Kastel Obituary
Roger Kastel also created a memorable poster for 1980’s Star Wars Episode IV: The Empire Strikes Back, which was an homage to the romantic Gone With the Wind poster.
In addition to Jaws and The Empire Strikes Back, Kastel also produced posters for films such as The Long Goodbye and The Poseidon Adventure. These works made him one of the most sought-after artists in the industry. His distinct style, characterized by bold colors, vibrant composition, and a keen eye for detail, earned him numerous accolades.
Comics and Paperback Book Covers
Although movie posters may have made Roger Kastel famous, the world of book illustration was far more lucrative.
In 1975, Kastel created the poster and cover art for Issue #1 of the legendary Doc Savage comic book series.
Kastel was an innovator in paperback art design for various fiction categories, including romance. In the late 1970s, he was among the first artists in the genre to utilize the stepback cover design. One example is his work for Janet Dailey‘s Touch the Wind.
Kastel worked for all the big-name publishers, such as Avon, Simon & Schuster, Bantam, Harlequin, and Berkley. He spent over seven decades as a professional artist, illustrating about 1,000 book covers for various houses.
During his career, he won numerous awards for his art, which has been featured in books, magazines, galleries, and museums worldwide.
Roger Kastel’s passing marks the end of an era in the illustration industry. His 20th-century commercial art was culturally significant and influenced future generations of artists and designers. The diverse range of his movie posters and book covers demonstrated his versatility and creativity. Kastel’s artwork is part of Americana.
According to the official Roger Kastel website, the artist left behind his wife of almost seven decades, a daughter, and a son. He is also survived by many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews.
Kastel’s favorite charity was The Artists’ Fellowship, Inc., which assists professional artists in times of emergency, disability, or grief.
You can access our Roger Kastel page to read more about him and his romance cover art.
Roger Kastel Covers
Are you a fan of Roger Kastel’s art? If so, what are your favorite Kastel covers, posters, or paintings?
As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.
- Magster.com: Matthew Kastel Talks About The Art of Roger Kastel
- NY Times: Roger Kastel Obituary
- Paperback Palette Blog: Roger Kastel Much More Than Jaws
- Roger Kastel Official Website