TOP LEFT An illustration by the Canadian cartoonist Seth. Last I checked, Seth doesn’t sell the original art from his comic pages. I believe he sells the roughs, and he also sells loads of his illustration work, but not the finished comic originals.
TOP RIGHT A self portrait by Canadian artist Julie Doucet. I can’t remember if this is a panel from one of her comic books or not, but I think it is.
BOTTOM LEFT Page 2 of Betty & Veronica Summer Fun #28 from 1966 by Dan DeCarlo. DeCarlo is the artist responsible in large part with the look/style associated with Archie and the teens from Riverdale. His brushwork is some of the best in all of comics – ever.
BOTTOM RIGHT Self Portrait of an Artist Worrying About His Next Book by Dr. Seuss, signed/numbered by the artist (121/495). His next book after this painting, by the way, turned out to be Green Eggs and Ham.
I’m going to talk about comics today. All weekend, the 2011 edition of the Central Canada Comic Con is happening at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, so this is about as timely as a post about comics can get. I don’t plan to attend the comic convention, but that’s just me.
TOP LEFT The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics (1977), edited by Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams
This book is excellent. It contains a broad overview of every significant comic strip from the 20th century. There are more comprehensive collections that exist of the individual titles contained therein (I’d recommend the beautifully-reproduced collections from Sunday Press Books), but the history written about each strip and the spectrum of genres makes this an essential collection. If you’re at all interested in nerdery like this, you should add this to your bookshelf today.
TOP RIGHT Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 1 (2007), collecting Amazing Fantasy #15, The Amazing Spider-Man #1-38, The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1-2, Strange Tales Annual #2 and The Fantastic Four Annual #1
Sure, you can buy countless comic collections containing the work of Stan Lee, the writer of this collection. The main selling point of this collection, though, is that it contains Steve Ditko‘s complete Spider-Man run. Ditko, the reclusive artist of these issues, is an absolutely fascinating character:
- Stan Lee was fervently left wing, while Steve Ditko was a hardcore right winger. This is especially hilarious as another character Ditko created around the same time, Dr. Strange, was embraced by the psychedelic generation (Ditko hated this).
- Without warning, Ditko left Marvel Comics and the character (Spider-Man) he helped create.
- I mentioned Ditko was reclusive, and boy is he ever. There are only a few known photographs (and a self portrait) of the man and he doesn’t do interviews. For someone who created the look of one of the world’s most iconic superheroes, that’s very odd.
- He is a strong believer in Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy.
There is an engrossing BBC documentary by Jonathan Ross, In Search of Steve Ditko, that covers most of this. If you watch the documentary, you’ll be treated to legendary comic creator Alan Moore reciting a poem he wrote about Ditko’s really bizarre creator-owned superhero Mr. A. Documentarian Ross also has a piece for The Guardian here.
Aside from Ditko’s crazy backstory, his Spider-Man comics are superb; Ditko is a master visual storyteller, and there’s something appealing and just a little bit off-kilter about his work. In terms of classic superhero comics, this is one of the best collections available.
BOTTOM LEFT The MAD Archives Vols. 1 and 2 (2002 & 2007), collecting MAD Magazine #1-12
I’m not sure what needs to be said about MAD Magazine. Most people are familiar with the satirical magazine, but these volumes are vital because they show where the magazine started: as a comic magazine. Do yourself a favour: go read some classic MAD issues and laugh along with the Usual Gang of Idiots.
BOTTOM RIGHT It’s a Good Life, if You Don’t Weaken by Seth (1996), originally published in Palookaville #4-9
Seth’s drawing in this volume is his best, in my opinion. It’s fluid, lively and nostalgic, and displays great emotion. His more recent work, while still impressive, has veered into more simplistic and stylized territory. I select this volume to represent modern cartooning. It’s difficult to do this, what with so many other incredible artists and storytellers producing stellar work, but I suppose I discovered It’s a Good Life, if You Don’t Weaken at an impressionable age (16) and it’s stuck with me ever since. All of my subsequent comic purchases have been informed by this one comic.
Go read some comics.
These are four autographed items I own.
TOP LEFT A Spirit newspaper insert by Will Eisner, date unknown. The provenance of this is also unknown, so it could be a fake. I have another autographed Eisner item, though, whose signature matches. Even if the autograph is forged, the newspaper strip is authentic, which is good enough for me.
TOP RIGHT An autographed copy of Harvey Kurtzman‘s 1991 comics history book From Aargh! to Zap! – Harvey Kurtzman’s Visual History of the Comics. I have warm memories of this book: it was research material for a comics history project I wrote in junior high school, which saw me research everything from Rodolphe Töpffer to the X-Men. Harvey Kurtzman, in case you didn’t know (and didn’t click on the above link), is the founder of MAD Magazine, so it’s always neat to see his take on the world. Plus, his signature is pretty cute.
BOTTOM LEFT The 1996 book Mystery! – A Celebration, signed by artist Edward Gorey. At the time, I was obsessed with all things Gorey and was really excited when a catalog offering this signed book was dropped off at my family home. I’m certain you know the type of catalog I mean. It appears in the mail before the holidays and features unique gifts like miniature telephone booths and VHS tape rewinders that look like cars. Neither of these last two were received as Christmas gifts at the Saunders household in 1996.
BOTTOM RIGHT An autographed copy of Chester Brown‘s 2003 hardcover collection of his Louis Riel comic book mini-series (originally serialized starting in 1999). I bought the individual issues of the series as they were published, and, like any true comic snob, swore up and down I wouldn’t buy the collected edition when it was released. I received this copy as a gift and later had it signed by Brown at a bookshop reading.
Of these four signatories, only Brown is still alive.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the look and feel of a hand-bound, silkscreened and photocopied mini-comic! Every visit to a comic store results in a bag full of these miniature marvels heading home with me.
I love books, so I wanted to make books one of my fours, and I decided to share some of my design books. It’s hard to pick favourites, so the ones I’ve chosen are the most well-thumbed, the most familiar. I know each page, and I’ve pored over the pictures many, many times. Consequently, these are some of my older books.
The one I’ve had the longest is The Penguin Book of Comics (bottom left). I have loved comics since I was a child, and I got this as a teenager. It was a great introduction to the history of comic strips, and introduced me to some classics.
Living with Folk Art (top right) is one of my most treasured books, and has been an endless inspiration to me. During the 1990s, it made me want to live in an adobe house in New Mexico, surrounded by kachina dolls, Day of the Dead figures, and religious icons. Or maybe in a classic townhouse full of African art and artefacts. Or a country cottage full of Indian textiles. I’m still dreaming…
The V&A book of Fifties Furnishing Fabric (top left) just makes me drool over the spare but beautiful designs of Lucienne Day et al. It’s been reissued more recently, with a different cover, but the cover of this copy is printed on matt paper, and is lovely to hold.
Matchbook Art (bottom right) was an unexpected treasure. I picked it up by chance in a cut-price bookshop in Monmouth, and then spent ages looking at the mini-masterpieces of commercial art.
These four books represent some of my most important visual passions – textiles and surface design, folk and ethnic art, and vintage graphic design and illustration, and all make me very happy.
I really like framework concepts—ideas that create a framework for understanding (or for shifting our perspective on) the world. Books remain the best and most comprehensive way of communicating those types of concepts (which is partly why I continue to scoff when people suggest that books are soon to be done away with).
Recently, I’ve been considering that as we shift from the Television to the Interactive Age, the whole set of metaphors we use to discus and engage in public discourse are also transforming. One of our new major operating metaphors is “the network.”Connected is an excellent introduction to the concept of Social Networks—the real life connections and interactions that we are involved with, not the mere platforms that seek to transform our interpersonal interactions into products that can be sold to advertisers.
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman is one of the most cogent books in the tradition of orality-literacy communications theorists (others include McLuhan, Ong and Paglia). I first read this book when I was 16 and have returned to it repeatedly. Together with another of Postman’s books, Technopoly, the concepts put forward in discussing “The Age of Show Business” continue to be highly useful in understanding many of the shifts taking place in our world—particularly as we are in the midst of moving to a new dominant mode of public discourse.
It’s easy to discount the modernist obsession with trying to develop universal grammars for everything. That’s not a debate I’m interested in anymore. That said, I do think that such frameworks do at least provide us with a way to look at, examine and make sense of various modes of communication or expression. Kandinsky’s Point and Line to Plane may have over reached its thesis. Nevertheless, the parsing, chronicling and examining of various parts of visual expression make it possible to discuss and make sense of things in a particular way.
Kress and Van Leeuwen’s Reading Images is a more contemporary approach to examining visual media, looking at it as a cultural artifact and without the pretence of universality that Kandinsky holds.
I keep most of my collection of art books at home, but there are always a few kicking around the studio. These ones have been in the studio for some time – they are very inspirational. Swoon.