Art Books – Read About Comics http://www.readaboutcomics.com Where to find out what's really good. Mon, 16 Nov 2015 17:36:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.10 Pepita: Inoue Meets Gaudi http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/06/21/pepita/ Fri, 21 Jun 2013 13:00:50 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2462 By Takehiko Inoue108 pages, colorPublished by Viz

I’ve been a fan of Takehiko Inoue’s for quite a while, especially with his series Slam Dunk, Vagabond, and Real. When I saw that a new art book by Inoue titled Pepita: Inoue meets Gaudi was coming out, I reserved a copy without even thinking twice. I figured [...]]]> By Takehiko Inoue
108 pages, color
Published by Viz

I’ve been a fan of Takehiko Inoue’s for quite a while, especially with his series Slam Dunk, Vagabond, and Real. When I saw that a new art book by Inoue titled Pepita: Inoue meets Gaudi was coming out, I reserved a copy without even thinking twice. I figured based on the cover art that it would be perhaps a travel journal of sorts involving the Catalan architect. What I found was actually a historical telling of Gaudi’s life with some art and photographs mixed in. And while it’s an interesting book, it was definitely not what I was expecting.

Fans of Inoue’s art will probably like the opening section the most, which is exclusively art by Inoue. It’s a mixture of sketches, handmade mosaics, and charcoals. All of the art in these early pages are inspired by Gaudi, either his life or his architecture, and that’s the connection between the two. Because this section comes first, it’s even a reasonable assumption that the entire book will be like this. And while the art here is at times a little rougher than the normally precise, incredibly fine lines that you get from Inoue, you can still see in these sketches his immense talent and great ability to draw such vibrant looking people.

Then you turn the page, though, and suddenly photographs begin to appear alongside essays about Gaudi’s life. It’s a combination of travel journal and biographical stories; Inoue talks about journeying to different, important places in relation to Gaudi. Some have to do with where he lived, others are places that he designed. Occasionally sketches of Inoue accompany these stories, but as the book progresses it’s hard to keep from noticing that the sketches begin to trickle down in frequency. If you’re looking for Inoue’s art above all else, I’ll be honest: Pepita will be a disappointment. And at first, that’s how I felt about the book.

The saving grace of Pepita is that Inoue is a good storyteller, and over time I found myself a bit more interested in the presentations that he put together about Gaudi. I wouldn’t say that by the time Pepita ended that I was Gaudi fan, but I did have somewhat of an appreciation for the architect. At the end of the day, Peptia‘s a strange book, one that straddles numerous lines but I don’t think ever fully embraces one particular genre or storytelling approach. I’ll admit that I wish we’d gotten a lot more art from Inoue here. But while I was a bit disappointed on that front, there’s enough other material here that it’s still interesting. None the less, if you get a chance to look at Pepita before you buy it, I recommend a quick flip-through. It’s a different enough sort of book that it’s definitely not going to be for everyone.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Art of the Secret World of Arrietty http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/04/06/art-of-arrietty/ Fri, 06 Apr 2012 13:00:57 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2249 By Studio Ghibli and Hiromasa Yonebayashi200 pages, colorPublished by Viz

As much as I love Studio Ghibli’s films, occasionally they’ll sneak past me in the movie theatres. That was the case with The Secret World of Arrietty, an animated movie based on the novels of The Borrowers that was released in North American earlier this [...]]]> By Studio Ghibli and Hiromasa Yonebayashi
200 pages, color
Published by Viz

As much as I love Studio Ghibli’s films, occasionally they’ll sneak past me in the movie theatres. That was the case with The Secret World of Arrietty, an animated movie based on the novels of The Borrowers that was released in North American earlier this year. While I continue to wait for a DVD release, though, I’ve found that yearning at least partially satiated by The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty, a book detailing the artistic creation of the film.

Studio Ghibli fans will no doubt be the most interested in the early concept design sketches, which are split between director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki. They’re rough but beautiful in their own right, with soft, gentle colors and lines as you get to see the looks of the characters of The Secret World of Arrietty slowly form. It’s interesting to see some characters go down different paths at least initially. Yonebayashi’s early sketches of Arrietty have her looking like more of a warrior than an every day girl, for example, until Miyazaki vetoed the idea, and Miyazaki initially envisioned Pod looking very Germanic. It’s actually a little fascinating to see how much Miyazaki’s originally envisioning of settings like the mansion or the home of Arrietty translated into the final product; the sketches might be rough, but everyone involved still seized on the details that are still present and brought them to life.

Beyond those earliest production sketches, though, there’s a lot of other interest packed into The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty. There’s an essay talking about the changes made from the books to turn it into a movie, discussions on shifting everything to the tiny size of the characters, and even explaining how they got around the fact that the home of the little people should have been pitch black since it wouldn’t have a window to the outside world. It’s a surprisingly thoughtful write-up of just about every aspect of creating the film, save for voice acting (which of course the art department would have nothing to do with), and even without having seen The Secret World of Arrietty yet for myself, it’s still interesting.

And of course, there’s a lot of art reproduced from The Secret World of Arrietty, even beyond all of the (increasingly detailed) production sketches. Even something as simple as a still from the movie looks fantastic; then again, this is a Studio Ghibli film. The images of the exterior of the house are breathtaking, and if anything it makes me want to see The Secret World of Arrietty even more. We also get to see a lot of the production art side-by-side with the actual scenes from the film; while the finished product is crisper and more polished, it’s once again a little surprising to see how closely the film followed those early paintings.

The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty closes with a printing of the entire script of the film, which is a surprising bonus. (As tempting as it was to read it, I’m going to hold off on that until I finally get to see the film for myself.) The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty is the first Studio Ghibli Library art book on my shelves, but I’m already planning on getting a lot more; especially the ones for my favorite films like My Neighbor Totoro. The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty does the near-impossible; it managed to plunge me deep into the world of a film I’ve yet to actually see. That’s no small feat.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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52 Weeks Project http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/10/14/52-weeks-project/ Fri, 14 Oct 2011 13:00:59 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1845 By Greg Ruth120 pages, black and whitePublished by Allen Spiegel Fine Arts

By now, you’ve probably heard of Kickstarter, a website that allows people to try and find funding for projects, and offer as incentive various premiums for different levels. (Often starting out with a copy of the project, and then going up in scale [...]]]> By Greg Ruth
120 pages, black and white
Published by Allen Spiegel Fine Arts

By now, you’ve probably heard of Kickstarter, a website that allows people to try and find funding for projects, and offer as incentive various premiums for different levels. (Often starting out with a copy of the project, and then going up in scale from there.) One Kickstarter project I did help fund earlier this year recently arrived at my door. And now that I’ve got it, well, here’s hoping that people who missed the Kickstarter train for Greg Ruth’s The 52 Weeks Project will eventually get another chance to buy this book.

The book was published by Allen Spiegel Fine Arts, a boutique agency that represents a handful of excellent artists like Dave McKean, Scott Morse, Jon J Muth, George Pratt, Kent Williams… and in this case, of course, Greg Ruth. Visiting their table at Comic-Con every year to see what beautiful new art books and postcard sets they’d published is one of the few stops I genuinely miss since I stopped attending the show, and so I jumped at this chance to get Ruth’s new art book. I fell in love with Ruth’s art the very first time I saw it (the beautiful Freaks of the Heartland from Dark Horse Comics and written by Steve Niles), with his airy, dramatic brush strokes. And so while the simple subject matter of a best-of his "a drawing a week" project’s first two years made me a hesitate for a brief moment (having undertook two "a photo a day for a year" projects, I understand how easily they can get run down), ultimately the promise of new Ruth art was all it took.

The first year’s worth of drawings are of anything that popped into Ruth’s head that week. Sometimes Ruth followed a theme, like two drawings in a row being samurais staring at one another, or a series of bird-headed people feeding each other bugs (beak-to-beak). Sometimes it’s a sequence of Presidential portraits. And then, you’ll turn the page and find a beautiful mansion… with a pig staring it down while standing on an airplane. It’s a mixture of whimsy and seriousness, and it’s a good reminder on Ruth’s wide range.

For year two, Ruth stuck strictly to portraits. Of course, portraits can range from Matt Smith and the other ten lead actors from years past on Doctor Who, to a bust of Julius Caesar. Drawings are no less inventive than before, and if anything the strong focus helps Ruth harness his creativity even further. There’s something about the girl screaming at the Totoro balloon that makes you able to keep from laughing, even as the dark, shadowed child on the next page (inspired by Let The Right One In) brings a shiver down your spine. Regardless of the subject, Ruth’s art is punctuated by his lush, flowing brush strokes that somehow still look wet to the touch. Even when drawing portraits, his subjects never look stiff or posed; his inventive imagination and skill always makes his figures on the verge of bursting off the page and into life.

Hopefully down the line this book will be available to comic stores. (The Allen Spiegel Fine Arts website is woefully out of date, a problem that so many very-small publishers have since all of the energy needs to go onto getting the books out. But I would be thrilled if someone could create a better online store for their products that was kept up to date.) If you can’t wait for that possibility, though, Ruth is selling copies directly from his Etsy storefront. If you’re as much of an art book fan as I am, then trust me on this: buy it. It’s a lovely book that deserves a wider audience.

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Robots & Donuts http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/01/14/robots-donuts/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2009/01/14/robots-donuts/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2009 05:00:19 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=751 By Eric Joyner184 pages, colorPublished by Dark Horse

Art books are my weakness. Seriously, I could buy nothing but art books and be one very happy person. I used to say that I had one entire bookshelf of nothing but art books, but I have to be honest that it’s actually expanded beyond that shelf. [...]]]> By Eric Joyner
184 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse

Art books are my weakness. Seriously, I could buy nothing but art books and be one very happy person. I used to say that I had one entire bookshelf of nothing but art books, but I have to be honest that it’s actually expanded beyond that shelf. And that was even after, regretfully, giving away some of the books that I just didn’t have room for. I think my partner is at times a little bemused by the number of graphic novels and trade paperbacks that line my bookshelves, but recently I was informed that I really shouldn’t ever give away any art books if I’m looking to pare down the collection. All of this is a long, round-about way of saying that a good art book is worth its weight in gold for me, and while I’d never heard of Eric Joyner before Dark Horse published his book Robots & Donuts, this is a book that isn’t being given away any time soon.

The book is more or less just what it says on the cover: robots and donuts, left and right. The two are often together, sometimes separate, but I’d say a good 90% of the paintings in this book have one or the other presents. It’s hard to not immediately appreciate the book for that reason alone; Joyner clearly knows exactly what he likes to paint and goes to it with a gusto.

There’s a lovely sense of whimsy here; from donuts doubly in as UFOs, to rolling behemoths, or even at times as just a delicious baked good that serves as a final meal. Some times the paintings could be reality save for a donut doubling as a mundane object, and other times Joyner has gleefully gone off the deep end. I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed as hard as when I saw Godzilla and donuts taking out a population of robots, one by one.

Sometimes, Joyner shows not only the finished painting, but its evolution over time. Sometimes you get to see the pencil sketch first, seeing how Joyner first envisioned the scene before making some tweaks and deciding how it might work better. Other times you get to see several iterations of the same painting but with some slight changes made here and there. I had to chuckle at one painting where first it’s a woman in a UFO with several planets behind her. Then, it’s the same painting only with an assortment of massive candies taking the place of the planets. Last but not least, the candy is gone only to be replaced with—you guessed it—a combination of planets, donuts, and donut holes. Each painting has its own feel and take on the situation, even while all being the same in a series with just one crucial piece swapped out.

From vineyards to cityscapes, Joyner’s got a real grasp of his subject material. Even his toy robots, while looking whimsical, are able to show real expression and emotion on their child’s toy faces. This is a really fascinating book, a look into an artist whose works I didn’t even know existed until now. If you’re looking for something that’s both beautiful and amusing for an art lover friend of yours, look no further than Robots & Donuts. Presented as a big, beautiful, oversized art book, it’s a real winner.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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Tim Sale: Black and White http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/07/21/tim-sale-black-and-white/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/07/21/tim-sale-black-and-white/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2008 04:00:44 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=533 By Richard Starkings, John "JG" Roshell, and Tim Sale272 pages, black and whitePublished by Image Comics

There’s nothing better than a good art book, and nothing worse than a bad one. A slight exaggeration, perhaps, but it does sum up the excitement and fear that I feel whenever I pick up a new art book. [...]]]> By Richard Starkings, John "JG" Roshell, and Tim Sale
272 pages, black and white
Published by Image Comics

There’s nothing better than a good art book, and nothing worse than a bad one. A slight exaggeration, perhaps, but it does sum up the excitement and fear that I feel whenever I pick up a new art book. I always desperately want them to be good, but I’ve been burned by my fair share of disasters in the past. As a result, I was a little nervous about cracking the plastic wrap around Tim Sale: Black and White, with its new "revised and expanded" edition. I hadn’t picked Tim Sale: Black and White in the past, so I really had no idea what to expect. Good? Bad? In-between? Well, let’s just say that it didn’t land in the in-between category.

Tim Sale: Black and White is as much a massive interview as it is a showcase of Tim Sale’s art. This turned out to be a good thing; Richard Starkings clearly knows Sale quite well and as such can avoid a lot of the surface, cliché questions and dive right into the heart of the matter. Tim Sale: Black and White hits all of Sale’s major projects over the years, running from Thieves’ World to Heroes, as well as his art education and creations before his professional debut. No stone is left unturned, and Sale is extremely candid in his views on the different projects he worked on, both from an artistic and a commercial standpoint.

In addition to talking about the creation of different works over the years, Sale also talks about the craft of his art as well. This was one of my favorite sections of the book, with his discussing the art of inking, as well as color. Coloring is probably the big unsung artistic contribution towards comics, and Sale breaks down on his major projects who he’s worked with and why, as well as ideas that he’s had for different approaches towards his art. The more I read of Tim Sale: Black and White, the more clear it quickly became that Sale puts an immense amount of thought and effort into his creations.

And of course, there’s art. A lot of art. In each chapter, Sale provides pieces of art from the project that he’s discussing; not just the final product, though, but often breakdowns, rejected covers, and every sort of behind-the-scenes scrap that he could think of. Even more of a jackpot, though, is almost 100 pages of sketchbook material, unpublished or hard-to-find short stories, and some color pages. Honestly, you’ve gotten your money’s worth just from this part alone. (If nothing else, it makes me want to commission some art from Sale.) It’s the most traditional "art book" section of the volume, and it’s quite handsome.

Tim Sale: Black and White is a must for anyone who’s a fan of Sale’s art; presented in a slick oversized hardcover, it’s the art of book that you’ll be quite proud to leave sitting on your coffee table. After some recent disappointing art books that I’d hoped would be so much better, Tim Sale: Black and White has restored my faith in the idea that good art books are still being produced.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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Process Recess: The Art of James Jean http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/15/process-recess-the-art-of-james-jean/ Fri, 15 Apr 2005 04:00:00 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/15/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 [...]]]> 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.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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Vernacular Drawings http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/14/vernacular-drawings/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/14/vernacular-drawings/#comments Thu, 14 Apr 2005 04:00:10 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/14/vernacular-drawings/ By Seth 208 pages, color Published by Drawn & Quarterly

You have to be patient if you’re a fan of the cartoonist Seth. Seth’s comic Palookaville (collected into graphic novels as It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken and Clyde Fans) is published once, maybe twice a year… but it’s always clear that each [...]]]> By Seth
208 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

You have to be patient if you’re a fan of the cartoonist Seth. Seth’s comic Palookaville (collected into graphic novels as It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken and Clyde Fans) is published once, maybe twice a year… but it’s always clear that each issue is a labor of love. I think that’s why when Drawn & Quarterly first published Seth’s sketchbook compilation Vernacular Drawings I was so excited, and why I keep coming back to it years later—the amount of time and passion that went into each one is always apparent.

Seth’s art in Vernacular Drawings uses a deep, thick line to flesh out his creations; you almost get a physical sense of weight from just looking at the finished product. On many of the pages you can see a literal heavy stroke of paint slapped onto the page, but its these broad strokes that helps give Seth such power over his subject. He’s got such control over these thicker lines and strokes that it makes the art almost pop out at the reader, grabbing their attention from the very first page.

Part of its power is certainly Seth’s slightly unusual subjects on display in Vernacular Drawings. Primarily inspired by old magazines and photos, we get poses of former, forgotten celebrities standing proudly to be seen. We view businesses tucked away on corners, with barbershop striped poles and discarded dairy containers on display. We get crooked grins from hockey players, cats dancing with pigs, and even the Justice Society of America. (I was surprised and delighted by that last one, too.) Seth’s art style helps bring across the idea of a “simpler time” in his subjects, with its stripped down style and to-the-point look and feel.

Don’t mistake the earlier description of Seth’s art as somehow being unskilled, though; that’s very much not the case. This is a deliberate look that is carefully crafted from start to finish. Looking at something as simple as the porch of a house, everything pulls together perfectly; the shades of blue and green that complement each other and give a unified color look to the piece, the carefully paced loose nails in the support beams, the box in the center of the porch serves as the focal point that everything else points towards, even the background houses that are just numerous enough that you know you’re in a town, but infrequent enough to not feel like a city. That’s the sort of thought that goes into every single piece in Vernacular Drawings and the reader is all the richer for it as a result.

Vernacular Drawings is a book that for several years now has regularly made it back onto the coffee table for easier access at the drop of a hat. Just flipping through the book always brings a real sense of joy and contentment, as Seth painstakingly recreates images from an earlier time that you get the impression he’d rather have lived in. Printed on thick paper and a strong hardback binding, Vernacular Drawings is beautiful from start to finish.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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Johnson Sketchbook Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/13/johnson-sketchbook-vol-1/ Wed, 13 Apr 2005 04:00:41 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/13/johnson-sketchbook-vol-1/ By Dave Johnson 56 pages, black and white Published by Atomeka Press

Dave Johnson is an artist whose work primarily graces covers on comics like 100 Bullets and Detective Comics. Aside from his work on books like Superman: Red Son it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen him produce anything but some thoroughly [...]]]> By Dave Johnson
56 pages, black and white
Published by Atomeka Press

Dave Johnson is an artist whose work primarily graces covers on comics like 100 Bullets and Detective Comics. Aside from his work on books like Superman: Red Son it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen him produce anything but some thoroughly striking covers. That was one of the most exciting things about The Johnson Sketchbook—seeing more pencils and inks from one of comics’s most accomplished cover artists.

There’s no preamble or introduction in The Johnson Sketchbook, instead plunging us directly into pages of art from Johnson. There’s a nice sense of humor in Johnson’s creations here, from his takes on typical depictions of royal face cards, to goofy characters like Slug Rogers in the 25th Century. Johnson’s ideas in the first half of the book seem to be almost spur-of-the-moment, coming up with anything that strikes his fancy. It’s a playfulness that is absent in so many art books, and what the book lacks in cohesiveness early on, it makes up for with variety. Johnson draws his characters with a certain suppleness, reminding me almost of people like Dave Cooper with their rounded figures with such expressive faces.

As we get further into The Johnson Sketchbook, though, what we see is a more technical and precise side to Johnson’s creations. Now instead of anything and everything, we get model sheets for robots, aliens, and spacecraft, showing us the creations with different angles and configurations. Here Johnson uses a beautiful fine line to create precise, gorgeous designs; there’s a lot of detail and care put into these drawings. At the same time, even in its most serious Johnson still allows the fun of the earlier pages to come through. Sometimes it’s little more than a muttering of a character saying, “I’m bad” but you still get that chuckle from Johnson just when he wants it.

My one big complaint about The Johnson Sketchbook actually surprised me because it was the one thing I’d have assumed would be perfect, and that’s… the cover. Don’t get me wrong, his cover painting is nice looking, but it’s nothing like the Johnson covers that I’ve grown to expect with its amazing design aspect and inventiveness. This just seems… well, ordinary. Even worse, the logo is blocking part of the cover character’s outfit. It’s strange to see such a misfire from one of the best cover artists in comics. Still, overall, this is a fun little look into the creative mind and process of a talented creator.

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Intron Depot 4: Bullets http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/12/intron-depot-4-bullets/ Tue, 12 Apr 2005 04:00:34 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/12/intron-depot-4-bullets/ By Masamune Shirow 128 pages, color Published by Seishinsha and Dark Horse

When I recently read Ghost in the Shell, I found myself more interested in Shirow’s art than his writing. Thanks to finding a copy of the fourth of Shirow’s art book series, Intron Depot, I figured this would be a chance to perhaps [...]]]> By Masamune Shirow
128 pages, color
Published by Seishinsha and Dark Horse

When I recently read Ghost in the Shell, I found myself more interested in Shirow’s art than his writing. Thanks to finding a copy of the fourth of Shirow’s art book series, Intron Depot, I figured this would be a chance to perhaps finally discover just what it was about Shirow’s works that people found so appealing.

Intron Depot 4: Bullets collects works by Shirow primarily in computer game and anime design. It’s not really what I was expecting, but given Shirow’s low output in comics aside from Ghost in the Shell 2 in the past decade, it really shouldn’t surprise me. Each project is given its own chapter, which is a nice way to see how all the different characters and technologies fit together as a single unit. Accompanying each page is commentary from Shirow, something that’s actually pretty rare in art books and in many ways it’s the high point of Intron Depot 4: Bullets.

The big problem with Intron Depot 4: Bullets is that for such a large, glossy book, there’s an amazing lack of substance. Entire pages consist of a single character drawing and a background tiling of different headshot reactions. At least on some of them we get two or three actual full renderings and poses of characters, but the people seem to get slight attention from Shirow. Shirow himself even confesses in his commentary that some characters from a game look rather similar to each other, and I can’t help but agree. There’s a certain sameness to Shirow’s characters, and we just don’t get enough variety from one set of designs to the next to really be able to tell them all apart.

Where Shirow does shine here is in the technology. Shirow’s drawings of robots and spaceships are where the art really takes off here. There’s a lot more variety and substance in his technology designs, and the fantastic somehow becomes possible under his care. He’s able to carefully model the machines off of a combination of ideas from the future and the reality of the present day so that nothing is every too impossible or crazy to throw you out of the moment. It’s a nice look, and it’s what Shirow really has going for him here.

The frustrating thing is that Intron Depot 4: Bullets holds such promise. Shirow talks about on one page how the uniforms of the military characters are all in different degrees of fading, based on how many times each character would have washed their clothes. Shirow is clearly thinking all of these ideas and character traits and little touches through, but I found myself flipping through the pages and just wondering why none of that seems to actually appear in the finished product. It’s a shame, because like Ghost in the Shell I really wanted to like this book more than I actually did. In the end, this is really for Shirow die-hard fans only.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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Art of Usagi Yojimbo http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/11/art-of-usagi-yojimbo/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/11/art-of-usagi-yojimbo/#comments Mon, 11 Apr 2005 04:00:25 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/11/art-of-usagi-yojimbo/ By Stan Sakai 200 pages, black and white, with color pages Published by Dark Horse

One of the best comics being published at the moment is Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. Sakai’s stories of a ronin finding his way throughout the roads and paths of Japan are engrossing, and Sakai’s able to write his scripts pretty [...]]]> By Stan Sakai
200 pages, black and white, with color pages
Published by Dark Horse

One of the best comics being published at the moment is Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. Sakai’s stories of a ronin finding his way throughout the roads and paths of Japan are engrossing, and Sakai’s able to write his scripts pretty near-perfectly every month. With all of the attention paid to Sakai’s writing, though, it’s nice to see attention being paid to his art as well. That’s exactly what we get with The Art of Usagi Yojimbo, an oversized hardcover that looks at Sakai’s creation from an artistic standpoint. As enjoyable as Dark Horse’s earlier art books in this format were (The Art of Sin City, The Art of Hellboy, The Will Eisner Sketchbook), I have to say that I think this is my favorite one yet.

The Art of Usagi Yojimbo opens with a section on the creative process, reprinting two short stories about the generation of ideas and how they become issues of the comic. The two selections here are pretty different from each other, but equally interesting. The first attacks the idea from a technical standpoint, talking about Sakai coming up with the genesis of an idea, researching in preparation for the script, and then visually creating the comic. It’s educational both in terms of a “how do they do that?” perspective and a “this is how much work is involved” lesson; Sakai’s attention to detail is spelled out here and will probably surprise many readers on just how much work goes into the book. The second story is more introspective, talking about Sakai’s artistic influences and the thought processes that go into the creation of a comic. It’s a much more personal piece, one that Sakai draws in raw pencil. The artistic choice makes sense; it’s about the genesis of a comic, so we’re getting an early, “unfinished” feel through his art.

The section marked “Beginnings” starts Sakai’s survey of his career of drawing Usagi Yojimbo, looking at those early sketches and stories created about Usagi. Newer readers might be surprised to see a squatter version of Usagi, but the big double-take for me was seeing those first character designs where Usagi had rabbit buck-teeth protruding out of his mouth. It’s interesting to see the early tweaks and changes that Sakai made to the character unfold from one page to the next. As the book proceeds into “Early Years” it shifts more into reprinting already-published pieces, with Sakai picking a combination of character and artistic moments to reproduce. Looking at a page of Usagi walking with dragonflies overhead that eventually became a limited edition print, it’s easy to see why the beauty of Sakai’s art made him a natural subject for a book of this nature.

As the book eventually flows into “Middle Years” and “Recent Years”, as nice as they are one, the real treats remaining for me had to be the two color sections, “Painted Stories” and “Paintings & Color Art”. With Sakai’s comic published primarily in black and white (and Tom Luth handling the vast majority of coloring duties for the covers), it’s nice to be reminded that Sakai’s dabblings in color Usagi Yojimbo are also beautiful. His fully painted story “Return to Adachi Plain” is breathtaking, with watercolors helping give Usagi’s memories over the death of Lord Mifune a sort of tint over them, as if everything that happened that day has been forever covered with tears in Usagi’s mind. As much as I enjoy Sakai’s work in black and white (there’s a great part of his story about creation process where he shows the same panel inked with three different types of pens and it just reaffirmed what I already knew: Sakai is a fantastic artist who does everything deliberately), it’s nice to see his painted work (as well as a few collaborations with Luth) on display as well.

The Art of Usagi Yojimbo is a really handsome book, from the watermarked cover, to the semi-transparent colored papers used to mark off chapters (each with its own design), to the reproduction of the art within the book itself. Sakai and Cary Grazzini at Dark Horse have done a fantastic job of pulling this book together, and it’s a wonderful way to have celebrated Usagi Yojimbo‘s 20th anniversary. Here’s to twenty more years of gorgeous Sakai art in store.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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