Blabworld #1


By various, edited by Monte Beauchamp (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-746-4

For decades Monte Beauchamp’s iconic and innovative narrative and graphic arts magazine Blab! has highlighted the best and most groundbreaking trends and trendsetters in cartooning and other popular creative fields. Initially published through the auspices of the much missed Dennis Kitchen’s Kitchen Sink Press it moved over to Fantagraphics and now it has resurfaced, reformed in a snazzy hardback annual format from Last Gasp.

As ever there is an eclectic and eye-popping mix of strips, articles and features on show and Blabworld #1 opens with a gloriously enchanting sequence of paintings describing everything you wanted to know about ‘Slime Moulds’ crafted by Geoffrey Grahn, after which Kari Laine McCluskey enchants and disturbs with a series of toy and doll photomontages entitled ‘Colloidion’.

Greg Clarke delivers a droll and dry assault on the obsessive ownership mentality with ‘The Neurotic Art Collector’, Bill North examines youth’s most popular graphic symbol in ‘Skull!’ – an article tracing the use of the memento mori in popular publishing with loads of cool covers to ogle and covet – and Nora Krug relates in unique cartoon manner ‘Quicksand: The Tumultuous Life of Isabelle Eberhardt’, before cover artist Shag delivers another magically hip gag on the consumer society.

The major central portion of this volume is devoted to magnificent artworks in a variety of media from a stellar collection of artists grouped together under the umbrella theme of ‘Artpocalypse’:

Ron English contributed ‘The Creation of Evolution’, Ryan Heshka depicted ‘The Rapture’, Owen Smith showed ‘Fin’ and Jean-Pierre Roy revealed ‘No Secrets Left From Us.’ ‘Beyond the Fence’ came via Martin Wittfooth, Kathleen Lolly showed ‘Knowledge Dies Too’ and Andy Kehoe painted ‘When the Last Leaf Falls’. Andrea Dezso contributed ‘Strangely Normal’, Natalia Fabia ‘Hooker in the Apocalypse’, Karen Barbour ‘Lamentations Over the Merciless Void’, Edel Rodriguez ‘Farewell to Grace’ and Fred Stonehouse ‘Dream of St. John’.

‘Well-Matched Lovers’ by Marc Burckhardt is followed by Femke Hiemstra’s ‘Hayano & Koheu’, Calef Brown’s ‘Endtime Tigerbird’, Larry Day’s ‘Rapture in Birdville’ and underground commix legend Spain Rodriguez delivers a glimpse of ‘2012’.

Lowbrow art virtuoso Mark Ryden displays his ‘End of the World’, Yoko D’Holbachie contributes ‘Final Farewell’, Gary Basemen ‘Another Average Day’, Alex Gross ‘Jozaikai (Purgatory)’, Sue Coe ‘Revenge of the Swine’, Sofia Arnold ‘Smoke Cave’ and Gary Taxali illuminates both ‘End World’ and ‘Rapture’.

‘Armageddon Flub’ by Travis Lampe, John Pound predicts ‘All Things Must Fall’, Kris Kuksi conducts ‘An Opera for the Apocalypse’ and Ryan Heshka returns to deliver a ‘Flaming End’ (as well as the mesmerising back cover).

Michael Noland reveals the ‘Revelation Roaches’, Teresa James collects ‘Weapons of Divine Power’, and Tom Huck a ‘Pile O’ Poon’ before Joe Sorren wraps it all up with ‘The Secret Collapse of Miss Lorraine’.

After the art show Sergio Ruzzier takes up the comic strip baton with a mercurial watercolour saga entitled ‘The Life of an Artist’, designer Steven Heller explores the hypnotic cover art of R. Crumb in ‘Covering Weirdo’ whilst James Lowe relates the astounding history of ‘Propaganda Caricature Art of World War II’ in ‘Axe the Axis!’ before Mark Landman amuses and offends with the story of ‘Fetal Elvis’ Art Empire’.

Steven Guarnaccia adapts Julia Moores poem ‘Lament on the Death of Willie’, Mark Todd details the sordid horror of ‘The Dreaded Mothman of West Virginia’ and ‘Ballpoint Bravura: Drawings by CJ Pyle’ spotlights the incredible dexterity and imagination of the rock drummer turned graphic craftsman with superstar Peter Kuper dramatically closing out this first fantastic happening with his appropriately apocalyptic strip ‘Four Horsemen’

There has never been a more vibrant and exciting time for lavish imaginative art and cutting edge graphic narrative and this superb catalogue of marvels is sure to become a watchword for what to watch out for.

© 2010 by the respective creators and contributors. All rights reserved.

Will Eisner Color Treasury


By Will Eisner, written by Catherine Yronwoode (Kitchen Sink Press)
ISBN: 0-87816-006-X

It is pretty much accepted today that Will Eisner was one of the key creative forces who shaped the American comic book industry, with most of his graphic works more or less permanently in print – as they should be. But as far as I know at least one of his milestones has generally escaped public attention.

From 1936 to 1938 Eisner worked as a jobbing cartoonist in the comics production firm known as the Eisner-Eiger Shop, creating strips to be published in both domestic US and foreign markets. Using the pen-name Willis B. Rensie he created and drew the opening instalments of a huge variety of characters ranging from funny animal to historical sagas,

Westerns, Detectives, aviation action thrillers… and superheroes – lots of superheroes …

In 1940 Everett “Busy” Arnold, head honcho of the superbly impressive Quality Comics outfit, invited Eisner to take on a new challenge. The Register-Tribune newspaper syndicate wanted a 16-page weekly comicbook insert to be given away with the Sunday editions. Eisner jumped at the opportunity, creating three strips which would initially be handled by him before two of them were handed off to his talented assistants. Bob Powell inherited Mr. Mystic and distaff detective Lady Luck fell into the capable hands of Nick Cardy (then still Nicholas Viscardi) and later the inimitable Klaus Nordling.

Eisner kept the lead strip for himself, and over the next twelve years The Spirit became the most impressive, innovative, imitated and talked-about strip in the business. In 1952 the venture folded and Eisner moved into commercial, instructional and educational strips, working extensively for the US military in manuals and magazines like P*S, the Preventative Maintenance Monthly, generally leaving comics books behind.

In the wake of “Batmania” and the 1960s superhero craze, Harvey Comics released two giant-sized reprints with a little material from the artist, which lead to underground editions and a slow revival of the Spirit’s fame and fortune via black and white newsstand reprint magazines. Initially Warren Publishing collected old stories, even adding colour sections with painted illumination from such contemporary luminaries as Rich Corben, but with #17 the title reverted to Kitchen Sink, who had produced the first two underground collections.

Eisner found himself re-enamored with graphic narrative and saw a willing audience eager for new works. From producing new Spirit covers for the magazine (something the original newspaper insert had never needed) he became increasingly inspired. American comics were evolving into an art-form and the restless creator finally saw a place for the kind of stories he had always wanted to tell.

He began crafting some of the most telling and impressive work the industry had ever seen: first in limited collector portfolios and eventually, in 1978, with the groundbreaking graphic novel A Contract With God.

If Jack Kirby is the American comicbook’s most influential artist, Will Eisner is undoubtedly its most venerated and exceptional storyteller. Contemporaries originating from strikingly similar Jewish backgrounds, each used comic arts to escape from their own tenements, achieving varying degrees of acclaim and success, and eventually settling upon a theme to colour all their later works. For Kirby it was the Cosmos, what Man would find there, and how humanity would transcend its origins in The Ultimate Outward Escape. Will Eisner went Home, went Back and went Inward.

This fictionalised series of tales about the Jewish immigrant experience led to a wonderful succession of challenging, controversial and breathtakingly human stories for adults which changed how comics were perceived in America… and all because the inquisitive perfectionist was asked to produce some new covers for old stories.

This glorious oversized hardback (still available through internet retailers) features two full Spirit adventures, fully re-coloured by the master (who was never particularly pleased with how his strips were originally limned), pencil sketches and a magnificent confection of those aforementioned covers – plus some really rare extras.

The eerie 1948 chiller ‘Lorelei of Odyssey Road’ leads off this tome followed by a barely seen science fiction Spirit story. ‘The Invader’ – produced in the 1970s as the result of a teaching gig Eisner had at Sheridan College in Canada.

Eisner created the first page in class to show students the fundamentals of comics creation, and after months of coaxing was convinced to complete the tale, which was published in an extremely limited edition as the Tabloid Press Spirit in 1973. The action and sly, counter-culture comedy is impressively compact and well coordinated: ‘The Invader’ comfortably fits 57 panels into its five pages whereas the old eight-page yarns used to average a mere 50 frames…

Following two gloriously lush wraparound Kitchen Sink covers (complete with a pencil rough) and the hilarious cover to underground anthology Snarf #3, the single page Warren pieces commence. Originally seen on issues #2 through 10 they have all been re-mastered by Eisner and are simply stunning.

After these come the fully-painted wraparounds (all magnificently presented as double-page spreads) that graced the Kitchen Sink Spirit issues #18,-24, #27-29 and #31 and then the rare 1977 Spirit Portfolio is reproduced in the same generous proportions: eleven stunning paintings encapsulating key moments in the masked detective’s astonishing career.

‘The Hideaway’, ‘The Scene of the Crime’, ‘The Women’, ‘The Duel’, ‘Dead End’, ‘The Convention’, ‘The Rescue’, ‘The Chase’, ‘The Capture’ and ‘The City’ plus the portfolio cover are followed by the contents of 1980’s ‘City: a Narrative Portfolio’ a series of evocative black line and sepia ghetto images with obverse blank verse and cameo images dealing with the eternal themes that shape man as a metropolitan dweller. Once more including the cover image, ‘The Spark’, ‘The City’, ‘Predators’, ‘Mugger’, ‘Family’ and ‘Life’ are powerfully moving and magically rendered one-frame stories that presage his growing use of the urban landscape as an integral character in his later works.

With a fascinating biography and commentary from historian and publisher Cat Yronwoode this book is a lavish treat for Eisner aficionados, but the treats still aren’t exhausted: there are also rare colour works and illustrations from Cosmos magazine and Esquire, plus poster art, unpublished Spirit paintings and a preview of his then forthcoming book Big City

Will Eisner is rightly regarded as one of the greatest writers in American comics but it is too seldom that his incredible draughtsmanship and design sense get to grab the spotlight. This book is a joy no fan or art-lover can afford to be without.
© 1981 Will Eisner. All rights reserved.

Fire & Water: Bill Everett, the Sub-Mariner and the Birth of Marvel Comics


By Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-166-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: 9/10 Perfect for art lovers, Marvel Zombies, wannabe illustrators and lovers of pure comic magic

There’s currently a delightful abundance of beautiful coffee-table art-books/biographies celebrating the too-long ignored founding fathers and lost masters of American comic books, and this fabulous tome highlights the astounding wizardry of one of the most accomplished draughtsmen and yarn-spinners of that incredibly fertile early period.

As always you can save time and trouble by simply buying the book now rather than waste your valuable off-hours reading my blather, but since I’m going to froth on anyway feel free to accompany me as I delineate just why this tome needs to sit on your “favourites” shelf.

This lavishly illustrated, oversized tome traces the tragic life and awe-inspiring body of work of possibly the most technically accomplished artist of the US comicbook industry: a man of privilege and astonishing pedigree (he was a direct descendent and namesake of iconoclastic poet and artist William Blake) haunted by illness, an addictive personality and especially alcoholism, but a man who nevertheless raised a family, shaped an art-form and left twin legacies: an incredible body of superlative stories and art, and, more importantly, broken lives saved by his becoming a dedicated mentor for Alcoholics Anonymous.

William Blake Everett was born in 1917 into a wealthy and prestigious New England family. Bright and precocious he contracted Tuberculosis when he was twelve and whilst recuperating in Arizona began a life-long affair with and battle against booze. For the rest of his chequered life “Wild Bill” vacillated between magnificent artistic highs and heartbreaking personal lows, covered with chilling frankness in this excellent biography, written in conjunction with the artist’s surviving family.

Although telling, even revelatory and concluding in a happy ending of sorts, what this book really celebrates is not the life but the astounding legacy of Bill Everett. A gifted, driven man, he was a born storyteller who had the sheer naked ability to make all his own worlds real; and for nearly five decades his incredible art and wondrous stories, which began in the heydays of the Pulps (see also Spicy Tales Collection) enthralled and inspired successive generations of fellow dreamers.

His beautiful artwork featured in a variety of magazines before his fortuitous stumbling into the right place at the right time secured Everett’s place in history forever with his creation of the first anti-hero in comics.

Yet even before the advent of the mutant hybrid Sub-Mariner who, along with his elemental counterpart The Human Torch, secured the fortunes of the budding Marvel Comics (covered in a fascinating and detailed account which clears up many controversies that have raged amongst fans ands historians for decades) Everett was a valued and admired writer/artist/letterer/designer whose early seminal triumphs are lovingly covered here in many reproduced strip extracts, sketches and an utterly invaluable collection of original art pages.

Bill Everett was a jobbing cartoonist who drifted into the new world of comicbooks: a budding industry that combined his beloved drawing with his other compulsion – making up stories. The first chronological art selection here features a plethora of his compelling and irresistible covers for Amazing Mystery Funnies, Blue Bolt, Target Comics, Amazing-Man Comics, Victory Comics, Heroic Comics, and the landmark Motion Picture Funnies Weekly (for which he produced not only the pre-Marvel/Timely Sub-Mariner, but also the all-important back cover sales pitch) and many designs and roughs for unpublished titles, interspersed with pages and spreads from early creations Amazing-Man, Dirk the Demon, Skyrocket Steele, Music Master, The Chameleon, Hydroman, Sub-Zero and of course Prince Namor.

The early days of Marvel Mystery Comics and the Sub-Mariner’s own feature title are thoroughly represented with many pages of original art starring not only his aquatic antagonist but also The Fin and Human Torch, and this section is also full of delightful sketches from his four years of service in the Army Corps of Engineers.

The industry had changed radically by the time Everett mustered out: superheroes were on the wane and other genres were rising in popularity. Returning as a freelancer to Marvel/Timely, Everett worked again on Sub-Mariner and even created the sexy spin-off Namora and stillborn kid crusader Marvel Boy, but it was with the series Venus that he moved in a new direction: glamorous, glorious horror.

For over a decade he brought a sheen of irresistible quality to the generally second-rate chillers Timely/Atlas/Marvel generated in competition with genre front-runners EC Comics. It’s easy to see how they could compete and even outlive EC, with these lush and lurid examples of the hundreds of stunning covers and chillingly beautiful interior pages selected from such titles as Mystic, Menace, Astonishing, Adventures into Weird Worlds, Uncanny Tales, Suspense, Marvel Tales, Spellbound, Mystery Tales, Men’s Adventures and others. My only quibble is that unlike the companion volume featuring unsung genius Mort Meskin (see From Shadow to Light) there are no complete stories collected in this otherwise perfect primer.

Despite being unacknowledged as a master of terror, this period was probably Everett’s most technically adroit, but he also excelled in the other genre-ghettoes of the period. His ability to freeze manic action and convey tension into a single image made him the perfect choice for lead cover artist in the burgeoning military comics fields as can be seen in examples from Man Comics, Navy Tales, Battlefield, Navy Action, Navy Combat and others.

Everett truly excelled in the lush, stylistic depiction of action and horror themes – as well as the seductive delineation of sexy women, although he was equally effective in less histrionic arenas such as merchandising art, wholesome western, romances, cartoon and Bigfoot comedy styles, represented here by pages and covers from such diverse publications as Marvin the Mouse, Nellie the Nurse, Cracked, Jann of the Jungle, True Secrets, Girl Confessions, Bible Tales For Young Folk, Tales of Justice, Quick Trigger Western, Yellow Claw, Sports Action, Pussycat and so many others.

His final creative period follows his return to Marvel after time in the commercial art world and covers the creation of Daredevil, unsatisfactory runs on the Hulk, Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner, Rawhide Kid and others as well as his stints inking Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, Ross Andru, Herb Trimpe, Dan Adkins and Barry Windsor Smith, before, clean and sober after decades, he produced a landmark run on his signature Sub-Mariner.

Tragically, decades of smoking and alcohol abuse had taken its toll, and only four years after turning his life around he died of complications arising from heart surgery, just when he seemed on the cusp of a brilliant creative renewal as remarkable as his meteoric rise in the 1930s and 1940s.

Evocatively written by biographer Blake Bell, with dozens of first hand accounts from family, friends and contemporaries; the sad, unjust life of this key figure of comics art is lovingly recounted here with hundreds of artistic examples from school days, army service, commercial and cartoon illustration and many intimate photographs supplementing the treasure trove of comics images. By tracking Everett’s early career as a pulp magazine illustrator, through his pioneering superhero art to the moody masterpieces of the 1950s and the Pop Art comics renaissance of the his later years, Fire and Water offers an opportunity to revel in the mastery of a truly unique pillar of America’s sequential Art establishment.

Most importantly for collectors and art-fans there is a overwhelming abundance of beautiful comics magic; from compelling page layouts, sketches and compositions to bold, vibrant pencils and slick luscious inking, and for we comics cognoscenti, the jackpot of never-before-seen unpublished pages: penciled, inked and camera-ready art-boards, as well as illustrations, family pieces and examples of his non-comics career

Brilliant, captivating, and utterly unmissable, this is the book Bill Everett deserves – and so do you.

© 2010 Fantagraphics Books. Text © 2010 Stephen Brower. All art © its respective owners and holders. All rights reserved.

Too Soon?: Famous/Infamous Faces 1995-2010


By Drew Friedman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN 13: 978-1-60699-537-6

Technically, this isn’t a graphic novel or trade collection, it’s a picture book – but it is an absolutely stunning one, collecting some of the best and most trenchantly funny illustrations by a contender for the title of America’s Greatest Living Caricaturist in a lavish, full-colour hardback.

Drew Friedman began drawing commercially in the late 1970s. His meticulous, stippled monochrome satirical and socially biting cartoons of celebrities – and the rare comic strip – appearing in RAW, Screw, High Times, Weirdo, Comical Funnies, Heavy Metal, National Lampoon and the Holy of Holies MAD Magazine.

Gradually he moved into the publishing mainstream, and the phizzogs and foibles of the Rich and Famous gathered here are culled from a number of eclectic sources including Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, GQ Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, Village Voice, Mojo, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times, The Weekly Standard, Blab!, Maximum Golf and even the gun-totin’ sports organ Field & Stream among many others – an hilarious cavalcade of covers and spot illustrations by a master of the graphic ideal moment.

After a funny and extremely informative potted history the mostly painted (but with occasional pen, wash, tone and even charcoal examples), staggeringly cruel, cutting and insightful images are unleashed, beginning with a section covering political and business highflyers.

The period 1995 to 2010 turned up an unenviable horde of risible leaders and manipulative malcontents and included here are 107 cartoon snapshots of such luminaries as the Clintons, Monica Lewinsky, Helmut Kohl, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Al Gore, Ross Perot, Sarah Palin, “Mayor Mike” Bloomberg, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Dick Cheney and many other domestic demagogues as well as such international ideologues as Tony Blair, Yasser Arafat, Mother Theresa, Jacques Chirac and Osama Bin Laden among many others.

The second section deals with Showbiz types ancient and modern, an includes a couple of astonishingly grand panoramic gatefold fold outs amidst the 140+ illustrations featuring super-stars and should-have-beens from sports, music, acting, the media and that nebulous twilight world of people who are famous without actually doing or achieving anything.

The roster includes Tiny Tim, Dean Martin, Sinatra, John Lennon, Michael Jackson (lots of him at various stages of his life-long metamorphosis), Tommy Lee, Madonna, Fred MacMurray, Judy Garland, Jackie Chan, Bob Dylan, Brando, De Niro, Woody Allen, Stallone, Will Smith, Tiger Woods, Mike Tyson, Jack Nicholson and so many others. The volume also includes some book and CD covers and private commissions, and also a fresh selection of the artist’s favourite artistic subjects: sideshow freaks and obscure Jewish and vintage comedians.

Friedman is a master craftsman who can draw and paint with breathtaking power, and his work is intrinsically funny. It’s relatively simple to make Blair, Bush or Bin Laden look like buffoons but try it with Rod Serling, Marilyn Manson, Mother Theresa or Salman Rushdie…

His caricatures are powerful, resonant and joyful, but without ever really descending to the level of graphic malice preferred by such luminaries as Ralph Steadman or Gerald Scarfe. Too Soon? is a book for art lovers, celebrity stalkers and anyone who enjoys a pretty, good laugh.

© 2006 Drew Friedman. All Rights Reserved.

You can see sample pages on the arts website www.Drawger.com

From Shadow to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin


By Stephen Brower with Peter & Philip Meskin (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-358-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for art lovers, wannabe illustrators and lovers of pure comic magic  9/10

There’s currently a delightful abundance of beautiful coffee-table art-books/biographies celebrating the too-long ignored founding fathers and lost masters of American comic books, but few have been as well anticipated and hungered for as this magnificent tome highlighting the troubled life and stunning ability of Morton Meskin, one of the guiding spirits of the industry and a man clearly unaware or unwilling to admit just how influential he actually was.

Rather than waste your time being overly specific (just buy the book – it’s extremely informative and truly wonderful) let me just state that Meskin is the kind of creative force that no real fan of the medium can afford to be ignorant of. This lavishly illustrated, oversized tome traces his life and awesome body of work from school days and early career as a pulp magazine illustrator, through his pioneering superhero art for MLJ, DC, Standard and others through the leaner years and appalling treatment by editors in the 1960s through to the superb advertising art of his later life.

A quiet, diligent and incredibly prolific artist (the text contains numerous accounts of “races” with Jack Kirby, vying to see who could produce the most pages in a day!) Meskin’s manner and philosophical approach influenced dozens of major artists – as the testimonials from Kirby, Steve Ditko (a young student from Meskin’s days as a teacher), Jerry Robinson, Joe Kubert, Alex Toth, Carmine Infantino, George Roussos, Will Eisner and so many others attest over and over again.

Evocatively written by creative/art director, designer, educator and biographical author Stephen Brower, with dozens of first hand accounts from family, friends and contemporaries; the sad, unjust life of this major figure of popular art is fully explored and gloriously justified by every miraculous page of his work reproduced herein. As well as dozens of full colour reproductions from his breathtaking Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, Vigilante, Johnny Quick, Seven Soldiers of Victory, Wildcat, Starman, Fighting Yank, Black Terror and particularly Golden Lad and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet superhero action-adventure delights are lesser known gems of crime, horror, historical and mystery tales.

His prolific days at Simon & Kirby’s S&K Studios producing content for Headline, Crestwood and Prize Comics are well represented with many striking examples of his 1900 or so pages of mystery, psycho-drama, western and romance work, as well as Meskin’s latter days at DC, turning mediocre, fright-free mystery yarns and anodyne science fiction tales into stunning exercises of minimalist tension and drama.

Most importantly for collectors and art-fans there is a huge amount of space devoted here to the artist’s unique manner of working; from compelling page layouts and compositions to bold, vibrant inking, and for we comics cognoscenti, the visual El Dorado of never before seen unpublished pages.

There are dozens of penciled, inked and camera-ready art-boards – many shot from actual original artwork – including assorted genre-works (humour, horror, westerns, romances, covers), legendary features such as Boy’s Ranch, Fighting Yank, Black Terror and Captain 3-D) and even complete unpublished stories including a whole Golden Lad superhero romp, a nautical epic from colonial days starring Bill Blade, Midshipman and a positively electric gangland reworking of Macbeth.

Eventually Meskin left the industry, as so many unappreciated master artists did, for advertising work where he found appreciation, security and financial reward, if not creative contentment, and the latter portion of the scintillating tome is filled with not only an amazing selection of magnificent illustrations, sketches, ad layouts and storyboards but also the purely experimental art – painting, prints, collage and lots of lovely drawings in every medium possible – that clearly kept this obsessively questing artisan’s passions fully engaged..

Brilliant, captivating, utterly unforgettable and unknown, Meskin’s enforced anonymity is finally coming to an end and this magical chronicle is hopefully only the first step in rediscovering this major talent. Buy this book and lobby now for complete collected editions of Mark Merlin, Vigilante, Johnny Quick, Golden Lad and all the fabulous rest…

© 2010 Fantagraphics Books. Text © 2010 Stephen Brower. All art © its respective owners and holders. All rights reserved.

How to Draw Disney’s Mulan


By uncredited (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-038-3

I haven’t covered a “How To” book for ages and as this one’s entertaining, wonderfully fit for purpose and readily available it would well serve any budding artists and prospective animators to seek it out and absorb…

Following a brief précis of the story – involving a young girl who rose to prominence in the army of legendary Ancient China – the instructional portion begins with Equipment and Techniques, Designing Characters – animal and human, comedic, villainous and heroic. Costume Design, Staging the Action and Use of Props. This large scale, slim book concludes with a test – Creating a Scene: providing a chance to use the knowledge gained to have fun and practice.

Brilliantly colourful and with clear concise instructions covering the undeniable basics that every artist of any age needs to master, such as stylisation and basic anatomy, and including detailed step-by-step breakdowns and model sheet for every major character from the films this is an indispensable aid and a tremendously inspiring introduction for the aspiring Artist of Tomorrow.
© 1998 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Autumn’s Come Undone


By Shag (SCB – Baby Tattoo Books)
ISBN: 978-0-9793307-3-5

A mystery-man of few words, Josh Agle, the artist currently known as “Shag”, has produced numerous collections of sleek and stylish paintings that are the very epitome of “retro”.

Considered a leading light of the American “Lowbrow” or “Pop Surrealism” art movement his mannered, maddeningly meticulous constructions of 1960s imagery and palettes are mind-warping and oddly comforting at the same time: stirringly reminiscent of the animated credits for TV shows like “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie” and films such as “The Pink Panther” and “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines”.

This latest memorable collection, full of doe-eyed, bouffant-ed beach cuties, slick, dark-suited men with horn-rim glasses and thin ties, whales and whalers, beasts, devils and Victoriana viewed through a Baby-boomer’s lens gathers works from his latest gallery tour and provides yet another peek into the mind of a true – if sardonic – cultural archeologist.

Accompanied by poetry and quotations this is an engrossing treat and, I’m sure the beginning of the art-poster and greetings card “next big thing.” Catch the wave before it catches you…
© 2009. All rights reserved.

Conceptual Realism in the Service of the Hypothetical


By Robt. Williams (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-299-9

Robert L. Williams II has been a rabble-rouser and cultural iconoclast since he first gained public attention with his outré celebrations of grotesque Hot Rod illustrations, and shocking underground comix work.

He was born on 2nd March 1943 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and started his education at the Stark Military Academy. The boy spent his youth shuttling between New Mexico and Alabama, and was always painting and drawing. He became obsessed with car culture at an early age, and was purportedly given his first automobile at age 12. In his teen years he became a builder and driver of Hot Rods: pared down, souped-up vehicles customized for racing and display. Williams was apparently a difficult kid and always in trouble with local authorities.

In 1963 he moved to Los Angeles, attending City College, where he worked on the school’s paper The Collegiate before transferring to The Chouinard Art Institute, and quickly moving on into commercial art, working as an illustrator for cult car maven “Big Daddy” Roth and his brand/mascot Rat Fink.

By this time painting in oils for his own creative pleasure, Williams drifted into the Zap Collective: a loose-knit congregation of like-minded artists arguably the driving force behind the Underground Comix movement which revolutionised graphic narrative during the 1960s and 1970s which included R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, S. Clay Wilson, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscosco and Spain Rodriguez. In 1970 Williams published his signature anti-hero in the eponymous Cootchy Cooty Men’s Comics and Zap Comix #5, combining shocking, tasteless imagery of sex and violence to shake up the establishment. Cootchy Cooty still occasionally resurfaces in the artist’s paintings…

In 1979 many of his paintings were collected into a book that has become (utterly contrary to William’s explicit wishes) the name of the modern gallery-art movement dedicated to cultural examination through co-opted and re-found popular arts imagery. The Lowbrow Art of Robt. Williams was a groundbreaking book, at odds with the elitism and snobbery of “capital A art”, capable and prepared to back up its artistic arguments with keen intellectual vigour and insight.

He embraced the 1980s Punk movement (see his next book The Zombie Mystery Paintings) and as he followed his muse and formulated his creative philosophy he founded the art magazine Juxtapoz in the early 1990s (which has since launched the careers of many Pop Surrealist and Lowbrow artists). He has been controversial for decades due to his repeated use of sexual nudity, commercialism, ultra-violence and all manner of moral turpitude: a practice he explained (but felt no need to defend) in the book Visual Addiction, wherein his Rubberneck Manifesto declared “Something dead in the street commands more measured units of visual investigation than 100 Mona Lisas!”

Williams uses his classical painting skills and careful recapitulation of visual elements from our shared modern cultures to lure in the viewer, and to smash his point home with telling force. As with all “Lowbrow” artists he rejects in turn High Art’s rejection of skilled performance: restoring value to the mastery of techniques denigrated for decades as “mere craftsmanship” by critics and modernists. His pictures look like what they’re supposed to: it’s the motivation and message that are occluded, “all the better to bite you with…”

This spectacular oversized art book – a softcover edition of the incredible hardback released at the end of 2009 – collects recent works seen at his 2009 show Conceptual Realism: In the Service of the Hypothetical which toured California and New York, a delightful, magnificent package of social commentary, plaintive questing and mischievous mickey-taking encapsulated in 25 new paintings, and four fascinating sculptures (regrettably still works in progress at the time of going-to-press) each accompanied by revelatory essays, sketches, visual notes and underpaintings, and a another brief and challenging treatise from the artist himself: all preceded by a telling introduction from Tattoo artist and advocate Don Ed Hardy.

All art intends to make contact and connection: here is another powerful book from an unrepentant and unstoppable communicator – one whose works have always had the force and immediate influence of a swift smack in the mouth. Love it or leave it. You simply can’t ignore it.

© 2009 Robert Williams. This edition © 2009 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Pim & Francie: the Golden Bear Days (Artifacts and Bone Fragments)


By Al Columbia (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 9781-60699-304-0

Al Columbia is an incredibly innovative creator who has been pushing the boundaries of what we call narrative art since his earliest days in the industry, and one who has always seemed to generate the wrong kind of “press”. From the days when he assisted and then succeeded Bill Sienkiewicz on Alan Moore’s experimental and unfinished Big Numbers, through Doghead, From Beyonde and the astonishing The Biologic Show Columbia has sought out new ways to tell stories and never shied away from potentially controversial scenes, imagery and even styles of working; equally conversant with highly observed photorealism and the eccentric and economical symbolism of animated film. He has rather unfairly gained a reputation for not finishing what he’s started…

His later works, especially in this oddly disturbing hardback collection, are clearly based on the early cinematic imagery currently in vogue with the West Coast art movement known alternatively as Lowbrow or Pop Surrealism, but although the content may appear similar the intent is radically different. The line and design similarities to the landmark Fleischer Brothers cartoons here create a subtle sense of trusted familiarity that the antics and situations expressly and terrifyingly contradict and overwhelm.

Pim and Francie are pixy-ish waifs resident in a 1920s halcyon neverland, and first appeared in the chilling short story ‘Tar Frogs’ (originally published in Britain’s ‘90’s lifestyle driven Deadline magazine and then retooled for The Biologic Show #0 in 1994). They resurfaced in the still uncompleted Peloria Part One (The Biologic Show #1 in 1995) and most recently in Mome #9 (Fall 2007).

In a collection that appears more sketchbook than story, and which calls itself a “broken jigsaw puzzle”, grisly, grotesque images and characters cavort and proceed through a familiar wonderland of fairytale Americana, but look more closely and you can see a story unfolding: a tale of two rascals and perils beyond imagining…

Columbia’s nightmarish, recondite scenario hints at a deeper profundity but his beautiful, clear, dark drawings are open, simple and fiendishly accessible to even the youngest reader so beware who you expose to these amazing astonishing adventures. Appetising, intriguing and addictively profane, this is a delightful excursion to a very wrong place.

See you there…
© 2009 Al Columbia. All Rights Reserved.

All and Sundry – Uncollected Work 2004-2009


By Paul Hornschemeier (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-285-2

In his relatively short artistic career Paul Hornschemeier has produced relatively little work, but all of it has been of phenomenal quality and boldly dedicated to deeper themes and compelling expansions of the medium of graphic narrative. Its also manages to be funny sad and pretty all at once. Don’t take my word for it: acquire The Collected Sequential, The Three Paradoxes. Let Us be Perfectly Clear and the incredible Mother, Come Home and see for yourself.

While you’re at it, the perfect accompaniment for that enviable investigation is this delicious collection of art and ideas ranging from the broadest sketches, prose and ideas to fully finished and coloured strips and stories gathered from such disparate sources as the experimental strip anthology Mome to the back up strips produced for Dark Horse’s comic interpretation of Michael Chabon’s brilliant novel The Escapist.

Also included are assorted commercial illustrations from magazines such as the Wall Street Journal, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung and Nickelodeon Magazine, Penguin Books and many others, designs and typography for the numerous foreign editions of his creations and many other visual treats from this always enchanting and thought-provoking creator.

If you want – or need – a peek inside the head of a truly creative force, or just love great drawing and fine amusing, sad whimsy this is a book you must have.

© 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 Paul Hornschemeier. All Rights Reserved. The Tick © & ™ Ben Edlund; The Worst Comic Book Heroes That Never Existed written by an © Michael Kupperman; The Escapist © & ™ Michael Chabon