I’ve read and reviewed some amazing books over the last few months and here are my highlights from The Friday Book Review: Winter season. Here’s looking forward to more excellent books and reviews coming this Spring.
With the imminent release of IDW’s Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was (review coming soon) I thought it was an appropriate time to look at an earlier book titled Chuck Amuck: The Life And Times of Animated Cartoonist. Originally released in 1989 and reprinted several times since, this entertaining memoir predominately covers Chuck Jones’ time at ‘Termite Terrace’ the Warner Bros. animation studio where world-renowned cartoons such as Duck Dogers in the 24 1/2 Century and What’s Opera, Doc? were created. Starting with a charming tale of the childhood cat Johnson, credited for planting the seed for many characters to come including Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner and Marvin Martin, what follows is a riotous series of anecdotes that build to tell the story of the Loony Tunes team. A team made up of the unique talents of fellow animators Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, writer Mike Maltese and layout artist Maurice Noble.
Along with a wealth of black and white working pencil drawings, colour stills and plenty of tips and advise, we’re also treated to full scripts from the classic toons with a personal favorite being the Academy Award Winning For Scent-Imental Reasons, a tale of Pepé Le Pew written by Mike Maltese. Steven Spielberg (who later developed The Animaniacs with Warner Bros.) introduces this highly entertaining and insightful book that’s well worth seeking out.
Chuck Amuck – The Life And Times Of An Animated Cartoonist – By Chuck Jones
Farrar Straus & Giroux
Hardback 254 pages
25.7 x 19.8 x 3.3 cm
It’s 1940 and a 23-year-old Alex Steinweiss, newly placed art director for Columbia Records proposes an idea to his employers; “Why not develop packaging for your record collections that feature bold, colourful illustrations that will entice the customers instead of the basic brown paper bags we’re using?” Steinweiss himself was an enthusiastic music lover and planned to create images that spoke of the enclosed music and offered a design to Columbia that also brought the concept of album cover art to the masses, ‘Smash Song Hits’ (1940 Richard Rogers). Cover art that combined the photography of New York’s Imperial Theater with a simple, but suggestive illustration of a 78rpm record, becoming the worlds first illustrated album cover. A huge success for Columbia, raising their sales figures by 800 percent and an industry changing moment. What followed was a prolific career in which he produced thousands of designs for classical, jazz and pop records, as well as advertising material, product design, type design, logos and film titles. All of which held fast to his own classically elegant, signature style.
Award winning art director Kevin Reagan and art historian Steven Heller present a definite monograph on ‘the godfather of album cover art’ in an impressive presentation that replicates the early Columbia record packaging itself and contains a wealth of work offering a powerful lesson in creative understatement. Perfect reference material for those seeking the minimalist design aesthetic of the 1940/50s and an essential title for students, designers, illustrators and art directors alike. Highly recommended.
Alex Steinweiss; The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover – By Keven Reagan
Hardback 420 pages
29.2 x 34.3 x 3.8 cm
I’ve literally just turned the very last page of Setting The Scene by Fraser MacLean and although my brain may be suffering information overload, I also feel satisfied that i’ve just read one the definitive books on the subject of animation. A book that concentrates specifically on the discipline of layout design (and its inevitable merge with other studio departments), but also serves as a comprehensive history of the art form, detailing the earliest days of pioneers like Windsor MacCay to the very latest CG, 3D and computer game production.
MacLean garners interviews from some of the industries most influential patrons including Don Bluth, Brad Bird and Roy Naisbitt (The American Tale, The Iron Giant & Roger Rabbit) and presents a valuable bank of knowledge and technique that was developed to bring these classic animated shorts & feature-length movies to the world. From artistic concepts such as light, composition and staging, to modern technical achievements and the possibilities that the future might bring. Everything appears to be covered and thus proves the book’s most salient point; that whilst often overlooked or misunderstood, layout design is in everything.
Setting The Scene; The Art and Evolution of Animation Layout – By Fraser MacLean
Hardback 272 pages
28.6 x 24.8 x 2.8 cm
From editors Dean Mullaney and Kurtis Findlay comes a retrospective on the largely unknown character of Crawford. An accident prone young boy, developed by Chuck Jones over a 27 year period to accompany his roster of popular characters such as Road Runner, Pepe Le Pew and Marvin The Martian into the world of TV animation. Crawford would only ever meet the public in the form of a daily newspaper comic strip in 1978, lasting six months and carefully reproduced in this book from newly discovered original artwork. Also included is the welcome addition of sketches, working drawings and animation storyboards along with a short biography focusing on Chuck’s career after Termite Terrace which make this book an excellent companion piece to Chuck Amuck; Life And Times Of An Animated Cartoonist.
Recommend for all cartoonists, comics and animation fans.
Chuck Jones – The Dream That Never Was – By Dean Mullaney, Kurtis Findlay & Lorraine Turner
Hardback 280 pages
29 x 22 x 3cm
I’ve always found that the smart, bookish or dare I say it geeky characters in comics and films are generally the type I relate to the most. I think I must have been all of those things at school (and probably why i’ve chosen to be an illustrator in adult life, a profession where you sit in a quiet room and draw all day, by yourself) and it’s what make’s Bud, the nine-year-old hero of ‘Earthling!’ by Mark Fearing* so likable. Son of a lunar scientist, Bud has recently moved to a huge Radio Telescope Lab in New Mexico and is due to start at a new school. After narrowly missing the first bus he catches the next, unaware that it’s destination is Cosmos Academy, deep space educational facility to all manner of weird alien creatures. This would all be very exciting for Bud, except that at this school Earthlings are considered to be the lowest of the low, feared by everyone and said to kidnap alien children at any given opportunity. A cruel myth perpetrated by the evil and manipulative Principal Lepton, who’s determined to keep Earth’s location a secret. Luckily Bud finds help in the form of Gort McGortGort, a friendly, green (literally) tech wizard that cleverly devises a plan to return Bud home, including going undercover as a Tenarian Exchange student, computer hacking and winning the Zeroball tournament.
What follows is a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging graphic novel for children, with a commendable plot based around themes of science and the needless misunderstanding and paranoia of unfamiliar cultures. Illustrated by award-winning Mark Fearing himself (co-created by Tim Rummel with colour by Ken Min) in a knowingly naive style that perfectly supports the zany journey on which the characters travel. A tale mixing elements and technology, space-travel, school-life and excentric characters that reminded me of some of my favourite Saturday morning cartoons such as Galaxy High School and movies like Joe Dante’s Explorers.
Which brings me onto my one, tiny gripe (and I warn you in advance this might become an ‘old man’ rant) regarding the Blips; tablet like devices that all the students own. Obviously most children nowadays do own a device of some kind so I understand that it’s simply keeping up with current technology. All well and good, but I couldn’t help feeling that some of the challenges and problems the characters encountered were too easily overcome by simply plugging in the Blip and letting it do it’s thing when something more inventive could have been employed. One character even makes a ‘you have an app for everything’ joke. Certainly a minor peeve in a children’s book that’s otherwise full of good-natured fun and adventure, rounded up nicely with a satisfying happy ending that reminded this grumpy old man of some good times spent reading comics when he was a kid.
A great way to start your children reading more complex graphic novels.
*Mark Fearing is an award-winning cartoonist, illustrator and animator. His editorial cartoons were twice included in Pelican Publishing Company’s Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year. Mark’s animated short films have played in film festivals around the country and have been broadcast on Nickelodeon.
1965 saw the release of Ugly Stickers. A series of grotesque creature creations from Topps, illustrated by the great American Artists Basil Wolverton, Wally Wood and Norman Saunders. Each popular for their work in venues such as Mad Magazine, Marvel Comics, Pulp Paperbacks and the Mars Attacks! series of trading cards. Later came Slob Stickers by Jack Davis and another Saunders creation, Nutty Initials, a series that allowed collectors to spell their names using odd-ball characters bent into letterforms. Art Spiegelman credits all of the above as inspiration when, in 1985 he was part of the creative team behind the development of a new range of stickers titled the Garbage Pail Kids. A mischievous parody on the popular and sickly sweet Cabbage Patch Kids range of toys, mixing an underground comic-book aesthetic with dark satire and gross-out humor. What emerged was a pop-culture phenomenon that dominated the typical 1980′s school playground, with adolescent economies thriving on a currency of bogie, fart, zit and puke gags. To well-meaning parents these cards appeared illogical and shocking and school Headmasters across the land hated them, claiming them to be so much of a distraction in class they should be banned! A sure sign of their street cred if ever there was one.
A movie followed (and probably best forgotten, seriously, don’t bother, it’s terrible) and an animated TV series cashed-in on its success. But the most enduring aspect of this series will always be the artwork by illustrators Art Spiegelman, Mark Newgarden, John Pound, Tom Bunk and Jay Lynch, along with the hilarious wordplay employed in creating the character names. So it was via my inner teenager that I sniggered my way through the new Garbage Pail Kids book from Abram Comic Arts. A superb and long-awaited compilation of the complete cards from Series 1 to 5 with text from Spielgelman and Pound. Each card is brilliantly reproduced from transparencies of the original artwork with the characters ‘a’ name taking prominence with the ‘b’ name shown underneath. To further explain; each card was released in two versions, ‘a’ and ‘b’ each with a different character name. Occasionally a third card shared one of the letters as seen in the Holly Wood picture below.
There are welcome details throughout such as the waxy book jacket, made from a similar paper as the original wrappers and end papers that show some of the joke awards, permits and licenses from the back of the cards. Each series is introduced with a shot of its relevant wrapper and at the very back you’ll find the ‘lost’ stickers. Possibly the biggest draw for die-hard collectors, these are a set of 4 previously unreleased and limited edition bonus stickers. I was admittedly left wanting to see some more development drawings and sketches as there’s surely plenty available given the 206 cards in the book, but maybe this can come in a later deluxe edition? Here’s hoping. As it stands, this is an absolute must, delivering on the promise to fans and collectors and serves as the perfect introduction to these purveyors of the best possible kind of bad taste.
Garbage Pail Kids – Collected Series 1 – 5 (1985 – 1986)
Abrams Comic Arts
Hardback 224 pages
18.8 x 14.7 x 2 cm
Another artist whose work is comparable to the greats of the sci-fi genre such as Chris Foss is Nicolas Bouvier, aka Sparth. An Art Director and Concept Designer working in the video-game industry on titles including Assassin’s Creed, Halo, Doom and Quake. His new book Structura 2 collects some of the best examples along with book cover illustrations and personal projects.
An astounding collection of work that portrays a convincing sense of scale in believable future worlds such as the technologically advanced cityscape of ‘Electric Candles’ or huge looming spaceships coming into dock in ‘Overture’. Which makes the final chapter of the book even more welcome in which Sparth takes the reader through the creative process behind 3 paintings, detailing his use of composition, the rule of thirds, Adobe Photoshop’s clone and custom brush and texture tools. Worth reading as it’s often surprising just how simply some of it is done!
A highly recommend collection of work and one worth keeping on the shelf for reference.
“Long before Willis O’Brien, myself, and Steven Spielberg, Charles R. Knight put flesh on creatures that no human had ever seen.” – Ray Harryhausen – Film Director; One Million Years B.C.
Released this March from Abrams is the biography of esteemed wildlife artist Charles R. Knight (1874-1953). Written by award-winning author Richard Milner (also editor of National History Magazine and regular contributor to television documentaries) this is a definitive collection of work from an artist whose animal studies and prehistoric creations have formed the way that future creatives, scientists and filmmakers view a previously unimagined world. An intimate biography of Knight, telling of his struggle with near-blindness caused by a childhood accident which was later worsened by the advance of cataracts and detached retina. Milner also collects personal letters that build the profile of a man showing blasé attitudes toward the ‘business’ of art and his own personal finances along with strongly held views on the new crop of modern artists. But above all an absolute dedication for producing the finest and most scientifically accurate work attainable.
Knights sketches, paintings and sculptures consistently display a highly studied artistic technique, developed on visits to various inner city zoos (himself born in Brooklyn) and working on commissions such as those for patrons of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Detailed pencil studies of muscle and bone structure observed during dissection of museum specimens that later informed his approach to illustrating dinosaurs and other forms of prehistoric life, most of which were produced in collaboration with pioneering paleontologists. A lasting legacy that can be seen throughout modern literature with film with directors such as Ray Harryhausen (One million Years B.C.) and Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park) crediting Knight for his influence.
The 180 pages are filed with an extremely high standard of work backed up with details about Knight’s working life and process which make for a fascinating read. In many ways a history lesson in itself, but also a comprehensive profile of an accomplished artist.
Charles R. Knight – The Artist Who Saw Through Time by Richard Milner
Hardback 180 pages
29.8 x 26.7 x 2.5 cm
I’ve been trying to get my hands on one of IDW’s coveted Artist’s Editions ever since the series started with The Rocketeer by Dave Stevens (one of my all-time favourite comic book artists) and I’m still looking for a copy. But given the highly limited print run of only 300 copies, it demands a hefty price tag if you’re even lucky enough to find one. IDW followed this release with Walter Simonson’s Thor and recently, my first introduction to the series, Wally Wood’s EC Stories, and WOW, what a book!
Wallace ‘Wally’ Wood was a hugely popular comic book artist during the 1950s and 60s producing some of EC’s classic science-fiction stories as well as work for Warren, Marvel, MAD and his own personal project Witzend magazine. Although widely regarded as one of the best artists in the business, Wood was vocal about his mixed feelings for the industry and a notoriously heavy drinker which sadly contributed to his poor vision, extreme hypertension, a number of strokes and kidney failure requiring dialysis. Allegedly telling friends that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life attached to a machine, he took his own life on Halloween 1980. But BOY could he ever draw! And this collection of work, expertly reproduced in actual size from scans of the original artwork is the perfect testament to that. To say this book is big would be an understatement. I had to clear the dinner table so that I could open it fully and have a proper look, with both elbows on the table and my neck stretching out to examine the top panels of the page. Similarities to that of an awe-struck child are not lost on me.
I myself work with a lot of brush, pen and ink and always savour the rare opportunities to view the original artwork of artists I admire and that’s why I find this book so special. Here’s a whole 152 pages of some of the finest ink work you’ll ever see, showing all the technique, mistakes, glue, zipatone and white-out that a process junkie could ever want. A real education that’s second only to having the genuine article next to your desk whenever you want it for reference. A particularly interesting section covers ‘The Spawn of Venus.’ A 3D comic that required Wood to ink up to 5 layers of acetate to produce a depth effect. Detail is given on how this was achieved and the story is shown in full with all layers collected. Finishing off the book is the welcome bonus chapter of cover artwork from titles such as Weird Science and Two-Fisted Tales, a short biography and end-papers that enlarge a single frame so you can have an even better look at the line-work.
Undoubtably my book of the year so far and one that i’ll return to again and again if only for a quick inspiration fix. I’ve not even talked about the stories yet, written by Al Feldstein, Ray Bradbury and Otto Binder. Maybe once i’ve stopped obsessing over the artwork.
Beautiful, important, pricey and worth every penny.
Born in New York in 1892, Andrew Loomis was a prolific illustrator working at his peak during the period of 1920 to the late 1940’s. His popular work consisted of elegant illustrations, typically of fashionable young women in serene settings, for commercial advertising, books and mass-market magazines. He was also a highly respected teacher and throughout his career wrote a series of instructional art books starting with Fun With A Pencil in 1939, with five* more written over the following twenty years covering all facets of illustration theory and technique.
Legendary comic book artists such as Dave Stevens (The Rocketeer), Alex Ross (Superman, Batman) and Steve Rude (Nexus) cite the Andrew Loomis books as a direct influence on their work, (with Rude going so far to name a character in his Nexus Series General Loomis) which has contributed to the their enduring legacy even whilst they remained, until recently, out of print.
Thankfully Titan Books has recognised their importance for future generations and have already begun a series of well presented, hardback re-prints starting with Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth and Drawing The Heads And Hands which were released last year. Coming this April is Successful Drawing, which concentrates on the fundamentals behind perspective, light, shadow and form. Following the ‘Five P’s’ of proportion, placement, perspective, planes and pattern and the ‘Five C’s’ of conception, construction, contour, character and consistency, you are taken on an in-depth lesson that breaks down these points into a series of steadfast mathematical rules that serve as the backbone of true and convincing work. I admittedly found this to be the most complex of the three books released so far and it’s certainly aimed at more professional level, but all the lessons are written in a clear manner with accompanying diagrams and illustrations, so perseverance is key and will most certainly pay off.
Among the most complex topics are that of planes of perspective and the use of multiple vanishing points, which, when not properly planned can make a drawing appear odd even if you don’t realise it. What Loomis has achieved is a procedure for breaking down all of these elements in to basic shapes and projecting them against a horizon line. This results in a grid system that enables you to place objects or people in perfect perspective, helping to solve these problems in the early stages. Once you’ve mastered this he’ll then teach you how to render effective light and shadow to create convincing forms. Ending the book is a gallery of his own pencil drawings showing all of these principles in action.
Hat’s off to Titan for re-releasing these books. After reading interviews and recommendations from so many other artists who state the influence of Andrew Loomis, his teaching certainly feels definitive and i’m sure it would be hard to find a better teacher.