Wednesday Mini-Book Review: In The Studio


Continuing the grand two-week tradition, a short review of a book I found worth noting.

In the Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists , by Todd Hignite (Yale University Press, 2006). To get the complaints out of the way first: a book this lovely with so much stark white on both the cover and interior layouts is a sure way to invite anxiety about ruining the beautiful object, especially among the fans of comics and cartooning it's aimed at, who are well known for their fetishizing of the object (and with possible tendencies to, um, enjoy snacking while reading, though that's exactly the sort of association with traditional stereotypes about "comics fans" that books like this from serious university presses are trying to get beyond, I suppose). And Todd Hignite (editor of the fine journal of serious writings about great comic art and artists, Comic Art), in his short written introductions to each artist's interview chapter, can get a little clotted with the critspeak.

Beyond that, this book of quotations from fresh interviews Hignite conducted with nine major "alternative" (i.e., non superhero) cartoonists linked with beautiful large reproductions of their own art and the art and objects that influenced them, delight them, or about which they have interesting or strange things to say, is an unalloyed triumph. Without making a big honking deal out of it, the choice of design and approach has a lot to say about how the artifacts of junk culture–from R. Crumb's encounters with L.B. Cole's bizarre 1940s comics noir to Art Spiegelman's fascination with Chester Gould's Dick Tracy to Jaime Hernandez having his imagination sparked by cheap wrestling mags and old Little Archie comics–feed and inspire works of art of greater ambition and deeper complexity.

Hell, nearly half of the drawers of comics contained herein–Crumb, Spiegelman, Gary Panter and Chris Ware–are gen-u-ine museum artistes now, stars of the recent–and crazily excellent–show Masters of American Comics, which has appeared at Los Angeles's MOCA and Hammer, and currently in the New York area at the Jewish Museum and the Newark Museum . I value lots of books because they feed my own curious interests; I think I can fairly say that this book is so gorgeous as an art object, and the cartoonists so inherently interesting as minds judging and discussing their own work habits and inspirations, that my enjoyment of and admiration for this book goes beyond my own fetishistic interest in its subject matter.