THE ART OF COMICS
I've read comments before from people who believe that on-line reviewers focus too strongly on the writing of the works they review. The art too often gets left behind. I think I've been fairly good about that over the years, but it is true that as reviewers, we do tend to have a keener eye on writing than we do on art. We spend more time hammering thoughts into words than we do drawing from real life. It's the nature of the beast.
Nevertheless, please allow me to do my part to help break that belief. This week, I'm focusing on art books and artists. Whoever thought that there would be a day when Pipeline would review the works of Nick Cardy, Luis Royo, William Michael Kaluta, and Art Adams all in the same column?
What a strange world we live in.
To me, Nick Cardy has always been another one of those artists from a bygone era whose work is treasured by rich comic art collectors and purists who grew up on his work with THE TEEN TITANS. He's never been someone for me to look out for.
I changed my mind this week when I sat down to read THE ART OF NICK CARDY, from Vanguard Productions.
What I found is that not only is Cardy an amazing artist, but that his superhero comic work is the very least of it. This is a guy who was painting murals on city walls in his teenaged years during the Depression. (The newspaper clippings are included in this book to prove it.) He's done art for movie posters, magazine covers, military magazines, comic strips, and more. He paints, he charcoals, he sketches, he pencils and inks. Some of the most beautiful stuff in the book, to my eye, is his World War 2 pencil sketches and his western Bat Lash art. The TITANS stuff pales by comparison. (I wish the BAT LASH stuff was in print and easily accessible. It contains work Cardy did with the likes of Sergio Aragones and Denny O'Neill.)
There are myriad examples of all his artistic ventures in the book. There are whole pages from his Sunday strips at the Eisner/Iger Studios. There's four solid weeks of TARZAN comic strips reprinted 5 to a page to show off as much as Cardy's brush stroke as possible. Many of his drawings made while in the service during World War 2 are shown. Of course, there are plenty of pages of super hero comics printed large enough to read, and often shot directly from the original black and white art. The gallery section of the book contains a wonderful cross-section of his Hollywood art, comic covers, and oil paintings.
The first 90 pages of the book contain an authoritative interview with Cardy. It works chronologically through his career, often touching on the people Cardy came in contact with at his various places of employment. The AQUAMAN AND TEEN TITANS era of the 1960s gets the most attention, which is fitting given that it's what he's most remembered for. It's the WW2 stuff and his early adventures in comic strips that caught my attention the most, though. That's the stuff I'm not used to reading about. There's plenty of discussion of the old DC editorial facilities if you know where to look.
After the interview comes a portfolio section, reprinting a lot of Cardy's Hollywood art, and including a 16 page full color section, complete with a large cover gallery. After that, there's an appreciation of his art by Richard Howell, a bonus interview discussing his work on THE BOLD AND THE BRAVE, a series of tributes by other comic artists and writers, and a very robust checklist of all his comics work. All of this is heavily illustrated. No space goes unillustrated. That's the rule with this book. Thankfully, the paper is a heavy enough stock of solid white paper that no line gets lost.
Mark Evanier and Kurt Busiek provide the foreword and afterword, respectively.
It's a very impressive book, but one I did have some issues with because of layout. The text is broken up into roughly two columns per page, double-spaced. While it might be easier to read that way, there's a lot of white space on each page. That's minor, however, compared to the way the columns wrap around the art. The text wraps around some irregularly shaped images with interesting results. In some cases, you won't know instinctively where to start on the page. In others, the text continues in odd locations in the middle of the art before moving onto the next page. If you didn't see that word at the end of page 85 floating in the middle of the art, you might get lost on the way to page 86. It doesn't happen that often, but it does sit on your mind enough that it's distracting. These are minor in the grand scope of things and I only point them out in the hopes that the people behind Vanguard think about them in any future volumes.
In the end, I learned a lot about a very interesting man and quite talented artist. His work is something I'll be keeping an eye out for. If you're already a fan, you can meet the man this weekend at the Mega Con in Orlando, or at the Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC this June.
This is the kind of book that all artists should hope to inspire in their lifetimes. It's a kind and loving tribute to a man that the author (John Coates) obviously has great affection for and knowledge of. That's something that shines through in both the text and the effort that went into reproducing such a meticulous cross-section of art.
You can get the book in softcover, hardcover, and deluxe edition (that includes a nice 16 page portfolio section) at Vanguard's web site. Of course, you can also order it through your local comics shop or through Amazon.com.
NBM's EVOLUTION is an oversized art book. Unlike the Cardy book, this isn't a historical tome. It's a straight-on art book. It is a large glossy book beautifully reprinting Royo's painted art that was previously use for everything from CD covers to novel covers to straight pin-up art.
Royo is a talented artist, without a doubt. He has a nice style and a good sense of design. I had a lot of fun paging through the book and seeing the different fantasy styles he paints in. In the end, though, it's just not my thing. I'm not a fantasy fan to start with, and things get a little strange. Some pictures are accompanied by tiny text pieces that only serve to confuse. Royo's introduction to the book goes to some length to talk about "the uncontrollable dance of the hands of the clock on" his desk, further descending into a strained analogy of clocks and art. (Thankfully, there are no Salvador Dali references.) I scratched my head. I also would have liked some text to help place the paintings in the book into their proper context. I know nothing about Luis Royo. All I'm seeing are novel covers and pin-up art. I'm a bit more curious about the man and his work because of this book, but it might have been nice to have some more attention paid to the captions to explain things a little.
The book is a $19.95 80-page softcover from NBM, which also publishes another five books showcasing Royo's art. If you're into this kind of thing, it's a nicely produced book.
Warning: This is not a book for the kiddies. There are plenty of women in various states of undress throughout the book.
More to my tastes is NBM's WINGS OF TWILIGHT: THE ART OF MICHAEL KALUTA. Like the Royo book, it's an oversized art book, printed on glossy pages and running 80 pages. Unlike Royo's book, it contains a wider variety of styles and much more art. Kaluta is a master at the pen and ink work, but his paintings are equally as breathtaking. He's a stylist, and an expert graphic designer, judging by the pictures in here.
Kaluta's done work on THE SHADOW comic series, fantasy illustration in general (and Tolkein illustrations specifically), as well as science fiction, super-hero, and movie work. It's his strong sense of design coupled with a meticulous ink line that makes his stuff stand out. Add to that a color sense that complements the design and doesn't overpower the line and you've got one super-talented artist. He did a run of covers for AQUAMAN a couple of years ago during the last year of that title. If you want to get a quick idea of what his stuff is about, that's a nice place to start. Just be aware that it goes further and deeper than that.
The only area of the book that I find somewhat lacking in the book is the organization. There are cases where both the final art and the original pencil sketch for a given image are shown, but they're on different pages with no hint of a link between the two. I'd have liked to see the pencils presented on the opposing page from the finalized work if at all possible. Instead, you'll get a slight feeling of dj vu and have to flip back to realize that you're not going insane.
I've had this book for a few months now, and still occasionally pick it up to flip through it. It has beautiful imagery that should inspire anyone's imagination. Let's face it – it's just pretty stuff.
(This book doesn't come with a Mature Readers advisory on it, but does contain enough female nudity that I'd suggest flipping through it before showing it to a child.)
Finally, something of a shorter suggestion: The latest issue of COMIC BOOK ARTIST (#17) features a lengthy interview with Art Adams, who sits down to talk about his entire career. The interview is, like everything else reviewed in today's column, heavily illustrated. It ends with a four page Art Adams checklist. If you wanted a list of every cover Adams ever drew, this is your best shot.
The interview runs 18 pages and is the kind of thing you'd expect to have found in an issue of COMICOLOGY. I'm just happy that someone took the time out to do such an interview and put it in print for all the world to see.
It also makes me hope that Marvel reprints the LONGSHOT mini-series. That one's been out of print for a long time. I'd love to read it. I'm sure others would, as well. Art Adams discusses his negative feelings towards Marvel on the issue of royalties on the trade in the interview. It seems like such an easy thing for the current regime to clear up. Give it time. Hopefully, they will.
PIPELINE DAILY CELEBRATES IMAGE ALL NEXT WEEKOne final reminder: Starting Monday, Pipeline Daily returns to talk about Image Comics at its tenth anniversary. The week's coverage will include an interview with Director of Marketing, Eric Stephenson; a look at Chris Claremont's early role in Image Comics; and tons of reminiscing, forgotten comics, and strange connections from the first years of the company.
So come back here on Monday and then again Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for all the fun and games.
More than 350 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.