The Marvel Art of Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian


By John Rhett Thomas, Roy Thomas, P. Craig Russell, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Alex Toth, Walter Simonson, M.W. Kaluta, Tony DeZuñiga, Richard Corben, Boris Vallejo, Earl Norem, Joe Jusko, Michael Golden & many & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2382-2 (HB)

During the 1970’s the American comic book industry opened up after more than 15 years of cautious and calcified publishing practises that had come about as a reaction to the censorious oversight of the self- inflicted Comics Code Authority. This body was created to keep the publishers’ product wholesome after the industry suffered their very own McCarthy-style Witch-hunt during the 1950s.

One of the first genres revisited was Horror/Mystery comics and from that sprang pulp icon Conan the Barbarian, via a little tale in anthology Chamber of Darkness #4, whose hero bore no little thematic resemblance to the Cimmerian. It was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry (now Windsor-) Smith: a recent Marvel find, and one who was gradually breaking out of the company’s all-encompassing Jack Kirby house-style.

Despite some early teething problems – including being cancelled and reinstated in the same month – the comic book adventures of Robert E. Howard’s brawny warrior soon became as big a success as the revived prose paperbacks which had heralded a world boom in tales of fantasy and the supernatural.

After decades away, and despite being fully owned by CPI (Conan Properties International), the brawny brute returned to the aegis of Marvel in 2019 and made himself fully at home. As well as his own title and in-world spin-offs, many collections celebrating “the Original Marvel Years” – due to the character’s sojourn with other publishers – have been released. This one is indubitably the most pretty to look upon.

The first time around, Conan broke many moulds, including being able to sustain not just his general audience boutique of titles and a newspaper strip, but also easily fitting Marvel’s black & white magazine division, offering more explicitly violent and risqué fare for supposedly more mature readers. For this market he debuted in Savage Tales #1 (1971) before winning his own monochrome title. Savage Sword of Conan launched in August 1974, running 235 issues until its cancellation in July 1995.

Throughout its life SSoC offered powerful stories, features on all things Robert E Howard and some of the most incredible artwork ever to grace comics pages.

All of that is covered by legendary Hyborian Scribe Roy Thomas in his Introduction and the page-by-page annotations of compiler John Rhett Thomas, but what’s really of interest is the painted covers, pin-ups, portfolios and extracts of story sequences by a stunning pantheon of internationally acclaimed artists which include John Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, Alex Toth, Neal Adams, Tony DeZuñiga, Jim Starlin, Frank Brunner, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, Mike Zeck, Walter Simonson, Tim Conrad, Val Mayerik, Richard Corben, Steve Leialoha, Vicente Alcazar, Dick Giordano, Gene Colan, Pablo Marcos, E.R. Cruz, Rudy Nebres, Kerry Gammil, Nestor Redondo, Ernie Chan, Gene Day, Pat Broderick, Bill Sienkiewicz, Armando Gil, Gary Kwapisz, Adam Kubert, Dale Eaglesham, Dave Simons, Mike Docherty, Rafael Kayanan, Andrew Currie and P. Craig Russell, who also provides a picture-packed Afterword and appreciation of the mighty magazine and it’s star. I’m sure there are plenty more artists I’ve missed here, but you get the picture. Everyone and his granny wanted a shot at Conan…

Cover artists providing pulse-pounding paintings include Buscema, Adams, Starlin, Conrad, Sienkiewicz, Mayerik, Boris Vallejo, Earl Norem, Bob Larkin, Joe Jusko, Joe Chiodo, Michael Golden, Steve Hickman, Doug Beekman, David Mattingly, Dorian Vallejo, Nick Jainschigg, Ovi Hondru, Michael William Kaluta, George Pratt, Julie Bell and more, making this bombastic compilation a must-have bestiary of how to have cathartic fun and get paid too…

Groundbreaking, gripping, graphic wonderment, this astounding hardback and digital delight is every fantasy fan’s dream come true – and you know gift-giving season is just around the corner, right?
Conan the Barbarian published monthly by MARVEL WORLDWIDE INC., a subsidiary of MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT LLC. Conan © 2020 Conan Properties International LLC.

Problematic: Sketchbook Drawings 2004-2012


By Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-594-5 (HB)

Some creators in the world of comics just defy description and their collected works are beyond the reviewer’s skills (mine certainly) to elucidate or encapsulate. Some are just so pedestrian or mind-numbingly bad that one simply can’t face writing about them. Others are so emphatically wonderful that no collection of praise and analysis can do them justice.

At the apex of that tricky funnybook pyramid is Jim Woodring: a position he’s maintained for years and appears capable of holding for years to come. Woodring’s work is challenging, spiritual, philosophical, funny, beautiful and extremely scary. And, even after reading that sentence, you will have absolutely no idea of what you will be seeing the first time you read any of it.

Moreover, even if you have scrupulously followed cartoonist, animator, Fine Artist, toy-maker and artistic Renaissance Man James William Woodring through an eccentric career spanning his first mini-comics in 1980; groundbreaking Fantagraphics magazine series such as Jim (1986), notional spin-offs Frank and Weathercraft, Tantalizing Stories, Seeing Things, Congress of the Animals or more mainstream storytelling such as Star Wars and Aliens tales for Dark Horse, you’ll still have no idea how you will respond to his work.

Woodring delivers surreal, abstract, wild, rational, primal cartooning: his clean-mannered art a blend of woodblock prints, Robert Crumb style, wry humour and eerie conviviality, Dreamscape, religious art and monstrous phantasmagoria. His works form a logical, progressional narrative pockmarked with multiple layers of meaning but generally devoid of speech or words, magnificently dependent on the intense involvement of the reader as a fully active participant.

So you can imagine what his first formative thoughts, passing observations and moments of wild unfettered graphic whimsy must be like…

This stunning hardback or digital compilation opens the gates of dream just a crack wider than is safe, offering selected graphic snippets from the artist’s sketchbooks covering a superbly productive period following the millennium and offering a few choice views of other graphic avenues he might have pursued if the world of harnessed hallucinations had not exhibited such a strong hold…

In his ‘Introduct’, Woodring describes his abandonment of traditional graphic tomes for diminutive “Moleskine” doodle-pads: using the flimsy palm-sized books to capture ideas roughly, quickly and with intense immediacy. The gimmick clearly works. The material collected here – mostly enlarged 140% up from the originals – simply buzzes with life and energy….

Many Frank regulars show up, including the eponymous Krazy Kat-like ingénue himself, and there are absolute torrents of bizarre, god-like household appliances, vulture-things, frog-things, rhino-things, plant-things and unspeakable Thing-things, all resident in the insanely logical traumic universe of his sensoria.

There are snippets of reportage, plenty of designs and even roughs and layouts from finished stories. Woodring also proves himself a pretty sharp pencil when it comes to capturing the weird moment of reality we all experience, a keen caricaturist and a deliciously funny “straight gag-man”, glamour artist and capturer of friends in idle moments – just like all of us sad art-school escapees who break into a cold sweat whenever we realise we’ve left the sketchbook at home and there’s only beer-mats and napkins to draw on….

Woodring is not to everyone’s taste or sensibilities – for starters, his drawings have a distressing habit of creeping back long after you’ve put the book down and scaring the bejeezus out of you – but he is an undisputed master of the form and an innovator always warping the creative envelope.

As such, this welcome peek into his creative process and conceptual/visual syllabary offers encouragement and delight to artists and storytellers of every stripe, as well as being just plain wonderful to see.

All art-forms need such creators and this glorious hardback monochrome tome could well change your working and reading habits for life.

Go on, aren’t you tempted, tantalized or terrified yet? What about curious, then…?
© 2012 Jim Woodring. This edition © 2012 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Bogart Creek volume 2


By Derek Evernden (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-98890-390-3 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-98890-397-2

Welcome to September, start of Autumn and notionally a season of mellow fruitfulness. Sod all that though, let’s kick off with some much-needed hearty chuckles, thanks to a second helping of quirkily Canadian observational comedy…

Cartoonist Derek Evernden has a skewed, devious way of looking at the world and its many potentialities; probably the result of growing up in a small, quiet, very pleasant place. Everyone knows early and repeated exposure to that kind of environment twists your brains…

You know that old line about writing/drawing what you know? Evernden grew up in actual Bogart Creek, Ontario, so let’s all hope at least some of this stuff is just made up, right? He’s Canadian, so must be polite and sympathetic, but clearly, he’s also the other sort of Canadian: someone with a lot to laugh at, plenty of time to take notice and probably perfused with that slow-burning, ever-mounting rage everyone gracious and well-mannered has boiling inside, because of the nonsense the rest of us get up to…

Bogart Creek is a daily single panel gag delivered in a variety of artistic styles; viewing the world – especially popular culture – with a mordant, cruelly satirical eye. It deftly delivers charmingly rendered and seditious examples of how reality actually operates, through popular themes like murder, philosophy, crime, history, vengeance, psychiatry, cryptozoology and the natural world. Think of it as a school for smirking realists…

Like all of us, Evernden is a child of mass-culture, inspired by movies, fashion, sports, popular culture, the media and anything else passing strangers might discuss at a water cooler or bus stop in deference to social convention…

The strip is also hopelessly mired in painful punning on a mega “dad-joke” scale; absurdist revelation and surreal slapstick. The creator has mastered the art of wedding funny notions to effective dialogue and efficient, smart cartooning. Evernden proudly admits his debt to and influence of Gary Larson’s The Far Side, but he can’t keep blaming that poor guy for all of this new stuff in this second collection of infectious, debased hilarity…

On prominent display here are monochrome and full-colour japes and jests concerning home-schooled surgeons, morgue sports, school days, lab animals, manufacturing and the job market, animal amusements, protesting, historical moments, fat-shaming, driving, monsters, inventors, bucket lists and Christmas. There’s also a frighteningly large number of gags aimed at (and scoring palpable hits on) superhero, sci fi and horror movies, balanced by a delightful concentration on the sheer arbitrary lunacy of modern life…

Smart, inventive, cruelly witty, instantly addictive and cheekily outrageous, this is a collection (in paperback or digital editions) to restore any weary adult in need of tension release and a therapeutic schadenfreude. We’ve all been proverbially up the creek before, but at least now you have a jolly tome to paddle back to reality with.
Cover illustration, book design and cartoons all © 2020 Derek Evernden. All rights reserved.

 

Canciones – Federico García Lorca Drawn by Tobias Tak


Adapted and translated by Tobias Tak (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-274-8 (HB) eISBN 978-1-68112-275-5

These days a seemingly infinite variety of subjects fit under the umbrella of modern graphic novels – everything from superheroes, sci fi and the supernatural to philosophy, journalism and education. Thanks to its global reach and outlook, NBM are at the forefront of this welcome revolution, bringing a range of visions to the English-speaking table that apparently daunt most mainstream publishers here and in America.

Today’s book is a perfect case in point: a sequence of visual adaptations of one of the world’s most celebrated modern poets, brought to scintillating life by a renowned scholar and a multidisciplinary artist. The result is an utterly enticing hardback treasure, and there’s not a single tragic supervillain in sight…

Federico García Lorca was born in 1898 and died in 1936: winning acclaim in Spain and across the world for his plays, music and poems during a life both dramatic and perilously brief. A strident socialist reformer, he was executed on the orders of fascist dictator General Franco, but his works and observations remain relevant and challenging to this day.

Here, Boston University-based official translator and Lorca expert Christopher Maurer (The Collected Poems of Garcia Lorca) offers crucial background in his Introduction ‘Cloudscapes’, whilst Holland’s cartooning national treasure Joost Swarte (Horst Serie; Modern Papier; Jopo de Pojo; Modern Art) ponders the cultural and creative similarities between the poet and his visual interpreter before the bilingual wonderment begins.

We lost Tobias Eduard Tak (Tante Leny; Gaboon’s Daymare; Upside Down; The Spirit of Saturn) far too early. The Dutch choreographer, dancer, singer, author and illustrator was born in January 1954 in Voorburg and studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the Hague. Graduating in the late 1970s, he moved to London and began contributing to comics publications across the world, as well as successfully pursuing stage creative disciplines. Delivered in Dutch and Spanish, Canciones was his last completed work. “Tobi” died in Amsterdam on January 7th 2020.

Lorca’s most popular work, Canciones is a collection of Andalusian folk songs and ballads, which lend themselves easily to Tak’s lifelong fascination with dream states and fairy tales.

With English replacing Dutch text on these vividly intoxicating pages, and the Spanish lines cunningly woven into the gently meandering designs, twenty fanciful moments of wistful rumination and longing are yours to share. Preceded by an enchanting ‘Preludio/Prelude’, ‘Song of November and April’, ‘The Deceiving Mirror’, ‘Conch!’, ‘It’s True’, ‘Fable’, ‘First Anniversary’ and ‘Second Anniversary’ carry us through a bizarre and beguiling voyage of discovery with fantastical creatures and characters tirelessly looking… but for what?

The search shifts to ploys of conquest as we learn what is said ‘In a Girl’s Ear’ and experience despondency from the ‘Song of the Barren Orange Tree’, after which the hunt for truth and contentment resumes in ‘Debussy’, ‘The Mute Boy’, ‘Schematic Nocturne’, ‘A Song Sung’, ‘Riverside Songs’ and ‘The Moon Comes Up’.

Temptation comes calling on ‘The Street of the Mute’, leading to painful introspection and fresh insights in ‘Foolish Song’, ‘Farewell’ and ‘Song of the Departing Day’ before we arrive at a deeply personal Mise en Abyme (just look it up: it’s never too late to learn things) in concluding ode ‘In Another Manner’

Wild, near-hallucinogenic vistas and characters blend history with mythology to depict ephemeral situations and timeless moments in this evocative picture hymnal dedicated to the human condition. It’s a beautiful achievement and the ideal gift for the sensitive ones in your life.
© 2017 Tobias Tak/Scratch Books. Foreword © 2017 Christopher Maurer. Introduction © 2017 Joost Swarte.

Canciones – Federico García Lorca Drawn by Tobias Tak will be released on August 19th 2021 and is available for pre-order now

Little Paintings


By James Kochalka (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-017-9 (HB)

James Kochalka is a prolific and always entertaining giant of comics creation, whose vast, sublimely surreal, enticing works range from kid-friendly romps such as the Glorkian Warrior and Johnny Boo series, to self-examining daily journal strip American Elf and the indescribably fun SuperF*ckers (and that’s my censorious edit there, not his…)

The author, artist, animator and rock musician is utterly wedded to the energies of creativity and this tantalizing tome gathers hundreds of mini-paintings he knocked up to sell at various conventions between 2001 and 2007. All the old familiar face are there: cats, ghosts, robots, monsters, aliens, bathrooms, birds, chicks and dudes, animals, cats, mushrooms, landscapes and weather, cats, machines and random images, all apparently arranged in no particularly order and inviting your response. Did I mention, there’s cats?

There is a narrative here, but it’s completely generated by the viewer who can’t help but create a story around the hundreds of thumbnail paintings of gloriously hued things and folks and stuff, and a lot to read in if you’re willing to take some time.

Go on, you know you want to…
© James Kochalka 2011. All rights reserved.

Mindviscosity


By Matt Furie (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-370-7 (HB)

Matt Furie was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1979. After studying at Wesleyan University, he became an artist for pay, creating characters, strips (that eventually became the 2016 graphic novel Boys Club) and children’s book The Night Riders.

Boys Club inadvertently made him a figure of global controversy after one of his characters became a universal meme and was appropriated against his wishes by some very nasty people. If you need to know more you can search for Pepe the Frog online or watch the 2020 documentary Feels Good Man. I’m pretty sure Furie has had enough of the entire affair, so let’s move on.

What we have in plush hardback Mindviscosity is a collection of designs, studies and full, multi-character paintings of incredible monsters, beasts and unnatural wonders displaying fantastic imagination along the lines of Dr. Seuss and Basil Wolverton, rendered in a variety of styles and media: a joyous bestiary of happy horrors, celebrating otherness in a garish parade of surreal collations. Be warned though, there’s so much that kids will love here, but some of the situations are rather mature in content so either police this material or be prepared to answer some tricky comments on the birds and the beasts and where monsters come from…

Quirkily inclusive, brashly optimistic and preceded by appreciative Foreword ‘Matt’s World’ from John Lee of PFFR, this is a superb showcase of Furie’s painterly skills and narrative gifts making him in so many ways this generation’s Bosch or Bruegel. Here, truly, every picture tells a story…
© 2020 Matt Furie. Matt’s World © 2020 John Lee. This edition © 2020 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All rights reserved.

A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola


By Ricardo Cortés (Akashic Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61775-134-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Potent, Punchy and Thought-Provoking Fodder to Ponder and Enjoy after Overindulging… 9/10

The astounding power of graphic narrative to efficiently, potently and evocatively disseminate vast amounts of information in layered levels has always been best utilised in works with a political or social component. That’s seldom been better demonstrated than in this stunning and scholarly work from Ricardo Cortés.

Born in 1973, illustrator/artistic intellectual activist Cortés has had a sublimely seditious career thus far. He made waves in Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Post, The Village Voice, San Francisco Chronicle, and been challenged on CNN and FOX News after his controversial children’s book Marijuana: It’s Just a Plant – written by Marsha Rosenbaum – was mentioned in Congress. He followed up by illustrating Adam Mansbach’s Times Best-Selling Go the F**k to Sleep and sequel Seriously, Just Go to Sleep, and created the colouring book I Don’t Want to Blow You Up! about famous Muslims who aren’t terrorists.

In 2011 he received a grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs’ Greater New York Arts Development to create Jury Independence Illustrated – a public booklet dealing with Jury Nullification produced with the intention of educating potential jurors about their powers to acquit if they disagree with specific laws or judicial rulings. Clearly a born troublemaker…

This particular project is a brilliantly engrossing exploration of acceptable addictions blending scrupulously scholarly reportage with a seductively beautiful selection of captivating images and historical reproductions.

The story starts with the origins and history of ‘Coffee’ from its mythic discovery as a berry fruit for goats in Ethiopia, through being taken up by Yemeni traders who disseminated “qahwah” throughout the Islamic world. A proven intoxicant, concerns over its salubrity, morality and legality grew and it was soon being trafficked by desperate men. In the 16th century the beverage was banned in Mecca, Cairo and elsewhere, but its taste and effects were impossible to resist.

By the time “kahveh” reached Turkey, trading in the beans carried the death penalty. As “Coffee” it reached Europe in the 17th century, touted as a miracle cure-all for everything from headache to miscarriage and grew explosively into an intellectual’s seditious vice. In 1675, Charles II ordered it suppressed and closed England’s Coffee Houses by Royal Edict.

Things got even stranger in 1820 after the alkaloid “Caffe-ine” was finally distilled from the coffee cherry…

The rest of caffeine’s turbulent and torturous legal and commercial progress to today’s status as the world’s most popular stimulant is followed by the story of ‘Cola and Coca’ in which caffeine’s other singularly popular method of natural dissemination is examined. The Kola Nut of West Africa is amazingly high in the stimulant alkaloid and has been used for centuries – if not millennia – as an energy-intensifying fortifier by the various tribes and nations either by chewing the raw nut or brewing a drink called “cola”.

Cola is one of the most popular ancient beverages on Earth and when in 1886 Dr. John Pemberton devised his own formulation – dubbed Coca-Cola – by adding a dash of coca leaves, his medicinal tonic, after an initial shaky start, grew to become the most monolithic drinks brand on Earth.

…But not, apparently, without a little government help…

Coca originated in the Andes, where for centuries indigenous peoples used the herbal bounty as a pick-me-up. Indios chewed coca leaves the way we do gum in the west and in 1499 explorer Amerigo Vespucci brought back tales of the wonder herb’s propensity to promote feats of concentration and endurance. In 1859, Dr. Karl Scherzer returned to Austria after a 2-year scientific voyage aboard the Frigate Novara with 60 pounds of coca, as previously requested by German pharmacologists. Soon after doctoral student Albert Niemann isolated from the samples a new alkaloid which he dubbed “Coca-ine”. This fresh medical marvel – its transparent crystals easily derived from coca leaves – was from 1884 enthusiastically prescribed by the likes of Sigmund Freud for melancholia. Oculist Carl Koller discovered it to be an incredible regional (or as we now say “local”) anaesthetic, allowing unprecedented new surgical procedures to be performed. It became a popular treatment for toothache, labour pains, nervousness, fatigue, impotence, asthma and as a cure for morphine addiction – hence Pemberton’s inclusion of the stuff in his health tonic.

By 1889 cases of compulsive use and abuse began to be reported, leading to heated medical debate, and when the era’s obsessive racial concerns were added to the mix (“cocaine made negroes insane” and it was peddled by “greedy Jewish doctors”) the writing was on the puritanical wall for the foreign import.

On a rising tide of public disapproval, the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act prohibited Cocaine use and coca importation in the USA. However, due to some truly unbelievable backroom dickering, the already powerful Coca-Cola Company secured a constant supply of the banned substance – re-designated “Merchandise No. 5” – for their Schaefer Alkaloid Works in New Jersey – still thriving today as the Stepan Chemical Company. This mercantile miracle was all due to diligent work of Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Ralph Hayes, a former aide to the US Secretary of War and – from 1932 – a vice President of the Coca-Cola Company.

Anslinger was a rabid anti-drug zealot, so just why did he spend 40 years – under seven different US Presidents – enforcing draconian and often expensive, nigh-impossible bans on a vast number of natural pharmaceutical products whilst actively securing and defending Coca-Cola’s uninterrupted supply of cocaine? He even facilitated clandestine schemes to grow coca on American soil and his campaign was so successful that American policy became UN and global norms, forcibly negating all the proven scientific benefits of resources which grew naturally in countries which could never afford Western drugs and chemical advances.

Trust me; you only think you know the answer…

Astonishingly addictive and intoxicatingly revelatory, Coffee, Coca & Cola offers an impressively open-minded history lesson and an incredible look at the dark underbelly of American Capitalism. Exposed here through telling research and beguiling illustrations is a catalogue of hypocrisy wherein successive political administrations and big business always found ways to place commercial interests ahead of any specious moral imperative ingenuously forwarded by the “World’s Cop”.

Learn here how corporations and statesmen conspired to ruthlessly crush the traditions, customs and rituals of other nations and cultures (as recently as 2010, America acted to suppress many sovereign South American countries’ social, spiritual, medicinal and nutritional use of coca) and continue to prevent poor countries utilisation of such ancient natural resources as caffeine and cocaine whilst peddling products inescapably wedded to both American Expansionism and Ideology…

A stunning, hardcover coffee-table book (also available in digital formats) for concerned adults, this captivating chronicle is a true treasure – or perhaps in the parlance of the idiom, I might just say – lip-smacking, trust-quenching, cool looking, stimulating, motivating, hard talking, fool busting, fast thinking, hard quizzing… and unmissable.
© 2012 Ricardo Cortés. All rights reserved.

The Cosmic Slumber Tarot



By Tillie Walden with Darren Shill, Sara Botero & Francesca Romano (Liminal 11)
ISBN: 978-1-91263-417-0 (boxed with felt carry case)

Win’s Christmas Recommendation: Fabulous Fantasy for All Your Tomorrows… 10/10

I don’t really believe in anything except the relentless and unstoppable decline of taste and good manners, but I think I know a beautiful thing when I see it. This is one of those…

Whether or not the ancient life-prognostication tool commonly dubbed Tarot Cards work for you, the sublimely visual aid has certainly beguiled many major artists – comics or other, lesser fields – into crafting their own versions. Novelty cash-ins have included Justice League, Sandman, Disney Villains and even Simpsons-themed sets.

Now my current absolute favourite comics creator has devised her own delightful traditional hand-painted arcana which comes as a spectacular gift box (138 x 59 x 90 mm and designed Francesca Romano) including 78 full-colour cards, in a beautiful hardback instructional tome all contained in a soft carrying case. I even got some promotional stickers, but that’s probably because I’m really special…

In case you were wondering, that exceptional creator is Tillie Walden: a prolific Texas-born cartoonist who seamlessly blends fantasy fiction with autobiographical intimacy, engendering a feeling of absolute wonder, combined with a fresh incisive view and measured, compelling delivery in terms of both story and character to everything she does. Her artwork is an invitingly sheer delight.

Before globally turning heads with such unforgettable tales as On a Sunbeam, A City Inside, Spinning, I Love This Part, and Are You Listening? she began her rise with Ignatz Award-winning debut graphic novel The End of Summer – a compelling and poignant, family drama fantasy, chillingly reminiscent of Nordic literary classicists such as Henrik Ibsen, Astrid Lindgren or Tove Jansson, thematically toned like Brian Aldiss’ Helliconia novels whilst visually recalling Dave Sim’s Cerebus books High Society and Church & State. That too – as well as every other book I’ve cited here – should be at the top of your Christmas gift list.

Get them, read them, tell a friend. Trust me, one day soon you’ll be seeing all of these as stage plays and movies… if we ever have those again…

So pick up the Tarot set too and maybe see what the future holds.
Images and text © 2020 Tillie Walden. All rights reserved.

I’d Love to Draw


By Andrew Loomis (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-920-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Recommendation: an old-school introduction to peace and recreation… 9/10

Got some time on your hands? Fancy taking up a new hobby or rekindling an old interest?

There are many books – both academic and/or instructional – designed to inculcate a love of comics whilst offering tips, secrets and an education in how to make your own sequential narratives.

There are far more intended to foster and further the apparently innate and universal desire to simply make art and do so proficiently and well. There are however, precious few that do it with as much style, enthusiasm, delight and cunning craft as this recent re-release by one of the most influential and meritorious masters of illustration America ever produced.

William Andrew Loomis was born in Syracuse, New York in 1892 and grew up in Zanesville, Ohio during the period when almost all published illustration was crafted by talented hands rather than mechanical contrivances like cameras or computers.

Aged 19, Loomis moved back to New York to study under George Bridgman and Frank DuMond at the Art Students League before enlisting to fight in The Great War. On returning to America, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago whilst setting up his own agency as a jobbing illustrator. Successful from the start, he began supplementing his income during the 1930s by teaching at the American Academy of Art and eventually began compiling his lecture and class material into such popular and effective instructional tomes as Fun with a Pencil and Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth.

His many beautiful and inspirational books influenced generations of artists before eventually slipping out of print. Titan Books began resurrecting them a few years ago and this tome (with an Introduction and a lavishly informative commentary by comics legend and grateful fan Alex Ross) continues the master’s works in an epic-scaled (315 x 235mm) luxuriously sturdy monochrome hardback which is a treasure to behold. Even when demonstrating the simplest stance or construction shape, Loomis’ utter joy in putting lines or shapes or shades on paper shines through…

This deeply idiosyncratic, wonderfully expansive and copiously illustrated collection begins with ‘Getting Started’: explaining the theory of ‘Basic Forms’ whilst offering page after page of illuminating examples before carefully and enthusiastically getting to grips with the thorny discipline of ‘Perspective’ in all its daunting forms.

The third pillar of artistic accomplishment is tackled head-on in ‘Light’, with a plethora of examples and exercises explaining all the necessities and useful tricks before the comfortable crash-course gravitates to Part Two and ‘Getting the Fun Out of It!’

Here the first port of call is perfecting ‘The Head’, which incorporates basic construction, carriage, positions and techniques before moving on to caricature and portraiture, after which ‘The Figure’ meticulously traces body form and development from stick-skeletons and sketch layouts to varieties of rendering, fast action visual notation, The Nude and the fundamentals of full illustration.

The foundation course concludes with the third and most important part: ‘The Fun of Sketching’: opening with an effusive overview of the practice of ‘Sketching’ – incorporating Line and Form Combined, Exaggeration to Project Character, Solid or Tonal Caricature, Portrait Sketching and much, much more.

Everything ends in an enthralling and enthusiastic ‘Closing Chat’ from the great man encouraging everyone to pick up a pencil and get on with it…

Loomis died in 1959 with one last art manual – Eye of the Painter & Elements of Beauty – published posthumously, yet his professional artistic philosophy, folksy wit and great personal charm still shine throughout this book. His gentle yet thorough instruction of the eternal unchanging verities of visual creation still makes the rewarding act of drawing not only achievable but desirable for everyone.

Perhaps this splendid volume is aimed more squarely at the progressing cartoonist, rather than at utter neophytes, and provides as much a philosophy of creativity as strict instruction, but I’d Love to Draw! will well serve any budding artists and storytellers whilst keeping idle hands and minds amused, absorbed and entertained for hours. If you already have the urge to make pictures but want a little encouragement, this marvellous manual will offer a steadying hand and all the support you could dream of.
© Andrew Loomis, The Estate of Andrew Loomis 2014. All rights reserved.

Introduction and additional text © Alex Ross 2014.

Leonardo2


By Stéphane Levallois, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/Musée du Louvre Éditions)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-264-9(HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-265-6

In 2005 one of the greatest museums in the world began an intriguing ongoing project with the upstart art form of comics; inviting some of the world’s most accomplished masters of graphic narrative to create new works in response to the centuries of acquired treasures residing within the grand repository of arts, history and culture.

The tales are produced in close collaboration with the forward-looking authorities of the Louvre, dedicated to pushing the envelope of what can be accomplished by master craftsmen inspired by their creative antecedents and forebears. These are no thinly-concealed catalogues of exhibition contents gift-wrapped in cartoon terms to gull potential visitors off their couches and into a stuffy edifice of public culture, but vibrant and challenging comics events calculated to make you think again about what creativity and history mean…

Since then, many of our medium’s greatest exponents have crafted 12 astounding and compelling graphic novels and the twelfth may well be the most potent and rewarding thus far.

Courtesy of those fine folks at NBM, that latest beguiling bande dessinée is now available in English, highlighting the genius of Leonardo DaVinci in a most intriguing and impressive manner…

The artist of record in this staggeringly large – 254 x 36 mm – hardback (and more manipulable digital edition) is Stéphane Levallois. He was born in 1970 and studied at the Penninghen Graduate School of Graphic Art from 1988-1992, taught sketching there and studied computer graphics. He’s worked mostly in poster-making and illustration, games design, film storyboarding and advertising. He also clearly remembers the golden age of Metal Hurlant

Originally released in 2019, Leonardo2 takes a stunning science fiction approach to the appreciation of great art as in the distant future and depths of space the last remnants of mankind approach a derelict museum proofed against the rigors of the void.

Through their advanced technologies, the last men of Earth harvest genetic material from a certain painting and clone a lost master. They don’t want him for his painting skills…

As the boy grows his life is imparted to him in the face of imminent extinction. an alien species is hunting humanity and what is needed is Leonardo the inventor, Da Vinci the Master of War…

Rendered alternately in in sepia and full colour, this incredible tale – two years in the making – began with Levallois learning to draw in Da Vinci’s style and the result is lovely and staggering. Moreover, the story is layered with psychological intrigue, questioning the power of creation and the morality of survival.

A glorious feast for the eyes, the saga is augmented by a sketch-packed essay detailing how it all came about ‘In Leonardo’s Footsteps’.

This is another astounding and ferociously strident comics experience no art lover or devotee of the visual narrative medium can afford to miss. Moreover, in this most unusual of years, I feel no compunction in breaking convention and saying this is a guaranteed 10 out of 10 Christmas certainty, if you’re looking to fill those stockings early…
© Futuropolis – Musée du Louvre Éditions 2019. © NBM 2020 for the English translation.

Leonardo2 will be released on October 15th and is available for pre-order now.

Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/