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

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

Fushigi Circus – the Art of Mark Ryden

By Mark Ryden (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-720-4

Ever heard anybody say “That’s not art, it’s just a pile of…?”

Well, the Modern Art scene gets more interesting every day for adherents of narrative imagery and representationalism as craft, skill and imagination return to the forefront of bankable talents. Here’s another sumptuous collection from a well-respected artist whose particular contribution to the Lowbrow or Pop Surrealism movement centres on sumptuous, richly-hued paintings which blend the icons of childhood with startlingly disturbing, often sexually charged images of innocence and innocents: wide eyed, searching, ineffably sad or mysteriously resigned to a fate we can only suppose.

The visual components of each painting are carefully selected and positioned, but always with the intention of leaving the viewer unsettled…

Mark Ryden comes from a long line of artists and worked for the last decade as an illustrator, producing book covers for the likes of Stephen King and record covers for Ringo Starr, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Michael Jackson. His work is reminiscent in style to classic Salvador Dali.

Ryden was educated at the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, graduating in 1987 with a Batchelor’s Degree in Fine Art. And that’s where his first one man exhibition “The Meat Show” debuted in 1998.

He came to prominence with regular features in Lowbrow art magazines such as Juxtapoz and has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles and Santa Ana. Recent shows have included the retrospective “Wondertoonel” and the quirky tour de forceThe Tree Show” – paintings and sculptures to 2007-2008.)

Like many contemporary artists Ryden works across many media, illustrating the guitar of Metallica front-man Kirk Hammett, producing tattoo art for Aerosmith’s “Pump” album and designing custom action-figures for Michael Leavitt’s the Art Army.

Ryden’s incredible virtuosity with pigments would have made him a star whatever he concentrated his efforts, but the eye-popping creepy explorations of beauty, childhood and popular culture which can be found in his book collections the Art of Mark Ryden: Anima Mundi (2001), Bunnies and Bees (2002), Wondertoonel Paintings (2004), Blood Show (2005), The Tree Show (2009) and this glorious high-end hardback have won him a devoted following among folk who respond well to fantasy and social enquiry: i.e. people like you…

Fushigi Circus was originally released in 2006 for the Japanese market and this beautiful Cloth-of-Bronze, bound hardback collects fifty five of his early works, featuring, of course, chilling, teary-eyed moppets, scary babies, fluffy cuddly monsters, Gothic horror spoofs and his series of brilliantly observed, witty celebrity paintings ranging from the most nightmarish Teletubbies ever envisioned through Sarah Michelle Geller and Leonardo DiCaprio to Björk and Jimi Hendrix.

Now released for the English speaking world – although sans English text and some of the pictures appear a mite small for my tired-yet-eager old eyes – this lovely volume is bound to win the creator many more fans – especially among the eccentric pool of addicts that make comics and cartoons their vice of choice.
© 2006 Mark Ryden/PIE BOOKS. US edition © 2009 Mark Ryden/Porterhouse. All Rights Reserved.

Creatures of Habit – the Art of Joe Ledbetter

By Joe Ledbetter (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-718-1

When you were a kid watching cartoons did you ever imagine that one day you could justify your simple pleasures by telling the nay-sayers and terminally unhip that you were a student of serious, capital “A” Art?

It’s happened twice in my lifetime: first in the mid-1960s when Pop Art stormed the bastions of haughty institutionalised snobbery and Stan Lee briefly re-dubbed his fledgling House of Ideas “Marvel Pop Art Productions” and it’s happening again now with the West Coast-led “Lowbrow” or Pop Surrealist Movement.

This highly colourful, multi-media, exceedingly commercialised new trend (as well as the art itself, many creators sell Designer original art apparel and especially toys based on their creations) blends baby-boomer memories of cartoons, comics, television, toys, monster-movies and a million other empty, unforgettable delights into a high gloss, stunningly lavish exploration of modern culture.

A major exponent of the last few years is Joe Ledbetter.

In truth Ledbetter, although highly popular, prolific and much sought after, is only on the periphery of the movement, and a close examination of this beautiful hardback collection of his paintings from 2004-2008 will show why and how he usually follows his own instincts. Adopting the techniques, style and form of cute animal animation, Ledbetter is less interested in examining society and the nostalgia it has generated, and more with revisiting the themes that permeate his source material.

In cartoons kids see that looking distinctive, being mighty and constantly proving your mettle is all that counts. Ledbetter, with his highly stylised, recurring cast of characters; a big-eyed, floppy-eared, rainbow coloured, many-tentacled, fuzzy repertory company combines startling design and composition with a sly, wry inquiry that gently asks the observer to think while awash in a tide of practically tribal, if not heraldic, combative imagery.

Surreal, yes, Absurd, of course, and so very subtly Subversive: rendered with superlative craftsmanship and always at the intersection of graphic design and the elevated Gallery Culture of art, there’s a keen eye and a chiding questioning behind all these superbly punchy and dynamic images. Ledbetter is making the popular street iconography of the 21st century in just the same manner as Vaughn Bodé did with his comic strips in the latter half of the 20th.

It’s the art of the Everyman and you will be seeing it everywhere: when he’s Joe Public you’ll be glad you picked up this magical Ledbetter collection as the wave started to crest…
© 2009 Joe Ledbetter. All Rights Reserved.
To see more images go to