Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Graphic Lit: "In the Studio"

“In the Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists”
by Todd Hignite, Yale University Press
320 pages, $29.95.

“Where do you get your ideas from” is probably one of the hoariest, cliched questions you could ask an artist, not that that’s ever stopped anybody.

Thank goodness Todd Hignite, editor of the acclaimed “Comic Art” magazine, decided to dig a little deeper.

His latest book, “In the Studio,” is an in-depth and richly rewarding collection of interviews with some of the most significant cartoonists working today. For the record, that’s Robert Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, Jamie Hernandez, Charles Burns Seth and Ivan Brunetti.

More than just a simple fireside chat, Hignite visited the studio of each of these folks to talk to them about their influences and their insights into the creative process. The result is an insightful gallery tour into not just what’s on their walls but also what’s in their heads, at least when they’re drawing.

Hignite provides lengthy introductions for the artists that are, well, let’s be charitable and call them unnecessarily dense.

Thankfully, he largely lets the artists speak for themselves and their commentaries on their interests and feelings about their own work prove to be fascinating.

Brunetti, for example, takes us step by step through the creation of one of his biographical strips. Crumb talks about his upcoming adaptation of the Book of Genesis. Hernandez discusses how he lays out a page. And Seth shows off his collection of hand-made miniature buildings of a town he plans to incorporate into a future story.

The book is lavishly illustrated, with never-before seen sketchbook material and personal projects such as the mini-houses.

Special note must be made of the many ways the book offers glimpses into other works, other artists. I had never heard, for example, of L.B. Cole or Owen Fitzgerald, but reading people such as Crumb and Hernandez eloquently praise them has me wanting to find out more.

And perhaps that’s the best praise I can give this book — it whets your appetite for more. More information on these obscure influences. More books by these fabulous cartoonists. And more interviews with other, equally eloquent artists. A sequel is definitely in order.

Other scholarly tomes

“Comic Art” issue 8
edited by Todd Hignite
Buenaventura Press, $19.95.

“In the Studio” originated in the pages of this magazine, and while it doesn’t return in this latest edition, there’s enough quality material here that you don’t mind its absence.

Just about every aspect of cartooning is investigated here, with essays on everything from the origin of the speech balloon to the over-the-top sci-fi comic “Warlock.” There’s also an interview with the illustrator Richard McGuire, a look at the childhood sketches of S. Clay Wilson and a profile of German cartoonist Anke Feuchtenberger.

If all that’s not enough to entice you, the magazine also comes packaged with “Forty Cartoon Books of Interest,” a small booklet by Seth that delves into his collection. It’s the bargain of the year.

“Arf Museum”
by Craig Yoe
Fantagraphics Books, $19.95.

Yoe loves to mix up high and low culture, often pointing out intriguing and rather funny connections, as evidenced by last year’s “Arf Lovers.”

“Museum” is in the same rich vein, with Yoe riffing on gorilla-themed illustrations, Picasso’s influence on cartoonists and the work of obscure artists such as Charles Bennett and Reamer Keller. Like its predecessor, “Museum” is a fun, irreverent ride through pop history.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006



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