Sunday, August 28, 2011

Art books elevate the Picassos of pulp

The New York Times, Sunday, August 28, 2011, Page 15, Arts & Styles
Source Website:
Dana Jennings (The New York Times), Updated: 2011-08-28 08:01

PHOTO: A darker knight

The place of comic books at the cultural dinner table has never been more secure. Summertime films have come to mean superhero movies. Comics-related museum shows and gallery exhibitions are a regular part of the art world palette. And the market for original comic-book art continues to be strong.

Comics' rising legitimacy means the genre can focus more than ever on defining its four-color canon. In the old days that canon was pretty much set by price guides aimed at collectors. But a recent proliferation of art volumes continues to help anchor and expand notions of which artists matter most in the 80-year history of comics.

A quiet revolution is going on in comics art books. There are portfolio-size editions scanned from original artwork, and younger and less-well-known artists getting the full-color hardcover treatment. These books are aimed at serious fans, but also at those who savor graphic design and illustration.

Scott Dunbier, senior editor of special projects for IDW Publishing, a leader in books of comics art, says there's a pleasure in having "the ability to present the art in a way you've never seen it before, in showcasing this very American art form beyond what can be appreciated from a comic book."

PHOTO: Peeking over the artist's shoulder

Peeking over the artist's shoulder
Looking over one of IDW's Artist's Editions is like being there at the beginning: you swear you can hear the "scritch-scritch" of pencil on paper. These books, measuring 44 centimeters by 31 centimeters, are reproduced from the original art. They not only help create and reinforce the canon of comic book art, but also pretty much make the idea of going back to reading regular-sized comics seem futile.

Dave Stevens' "
The Rocketeer" kicked off the project last year.

PHOTO: Too cool to be forgotten

Too cool to be forgotten
Though some recent projects focus on modern talent, that doesn't mean comics' old-timers are being snubbed. There's no shortage of art books celebrating patriarchs like Jack Kirby, who essentially created the Marvel universe with Stan Lee.

A good example is "Genius Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth." This oversize tome beautifully reproduces page upon page of comics drawn by the influential Mr. Toth. But what's most shocking is that the book's cover shrieks Matisse - not vintage comics artist.

PHOTO: A darker knight

A darker knight
"Batman: Hush Unwrapped" is Durer on steroids, the Northern Renaissance dragged through the rough and roguish streets of Gotham City. Written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Jim Lee, one of the most popular mainstream artists in the late '80s and early '90s, "Hush" was one of the best-selling graphic novels of the 2000s.

But "Hush Unwrapped" is all about the art. Printed in black-and-white right from Mr. Lee's pencil work, you can almost taste the unholy urban grit. The art, above, is raw; so overpowering, in fact, that it's
impossible to focus on the story. It's an unprecedented kind of book from DC Comics, and fixes Mr. Lee's place among the best interpreters of Batman, alongside Frank Miller and Neal Adams.
(China Daily 08/28/2011 page12)
By Dana Jennings (The New York Times), Updated: 2011-08-28 08:01


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