Process Recess: The Art of James Jean

By James Jean
224 pages, color & black and white
Published by AdHouse Books

If you’ve been to a comic book store lately, you’ve probably seen a cover by James Jean. Jean’s covers are some of the most striking in the industry, gracing books like Fables, Green Arrow, and Batgirl. When I heard that he had an art book about to be released by AdHouse Books, whose design sense is always a selling point on each and every book, I instantly knew that this book would be a winner.

Process Recess opens with Jean’s paintings, something which I’ve been familiar with in terms of his style. His art’s always seemed very slick and fluid, almost sliding across the page towards the reader. What people who have only seen his covers might not realize is how inventive Jean is when letting his imagination run wild instead of simply illustrating someone else’s characters. The mundane and the fantastic often collide here, from an invisible man reaching for his hat, to a disturbing restaurant scene where something is distinctly wrong with the patrons. Each image captures your imagination instantly, making you almost desperate to know the full story behind the creation. Some of the paintings in Process Recess are complex in their creation, others are almost simplistic, but each is eye-catching in its own way.

Jean also includes some of his pencil and ink work, and for those who haven’t seen it before, it’s just as striking as his paintings. One of the early drawn sections is “K”, a series of illustrations on a single person. While almost all of the illustrations are of her asleep, it’s fascinating to see all the slight differences from one drawing to the next, the slight shifts in her posture that occur. Jean uses beautiful thin lines to create what are almost like cobweb constructions of people, buildings, and anything else that strikes his fancy. These fragile pencils and inks come together in such a way that he’s able to give a real sense of anatomy and understanding of the world around him. Once he adds in his shading, the drawings gain weight and texture as well, finishing the process to fully form a beautiful piece of art. This isn’t a painted “photo-realism” that so often comes across as stiff and lifeless; this is looking at a page and recognizing your own life within its drawings.

Process Recess‘s “Recess” portion is one of my favorite parts of the book because of its sheer inventiveness of different paintings involving children. From a gaunt figure being dragged onto a school bus to a slightly disturbing jump rope scene, it’s a school as viewed through a warped piece of glass; everything is recognizable but it’s all slightly off-kilter following a very specific set of rules that only the creator completely understands. It’s a beautiful contrast to his travel journals that follow, with their tantalizing script that made me want to break out a magnifying glass to see what notes Jean had written to themselves, matched with more of Jean’s amazing pencil and ink creations. From one medium to the next, everything is always recognizably by Jean and nothing short of brilliant.

Before reading Process Recess I always had great respect for Jean, but now that I’ve experienced this book he’s gone up even higher in my eyes. Jean’s one of the truly great artists working in comics today, and getting a glimpse into what Jean calls “condensing the spectrum of experience into technicolor”. Out of all the art books that I’ve reviewed this week, to say nothing of my rather substantial library of the format, Process Recess is my favorite by a mile. This is a book I’ll treasure for years to come.

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