Apr 19, 2013

Graphic Novel Review

Books are where it's at, especially books with pictures! Here are some good ones to check out. Remember, art is not created in a vacuum. Read every day! Graphic novels, books, blogs...all of these sources help your development as an artist and a person. Note: more books will be added to this post in the very near future.

This is a great anthology of the lifetime work of Charles Schultz, who, obviously, is famous for Peanuts, arguably the most popular and widely distributed comic strip in history. This book traces the history of Schultz' work, from his sketches made when he was drafted into the military, his first comic strip called L'il Folks, which would evolve into Peanuts, featuring Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, Schroeder, Violet and Sherman.

The characters were very different when Schultz began drawing them, with larger heads, giving them a more babyish look, and with different personalities than the ones we are familiar with now. Lucy was originally a zombie-eyed tot who was good at sports and taken care of by Charlie Brown, and Snoopy didn't have any thoughts or the rich fantasy life he eventually discovered. 

Here's a look at what the early Peanuts strip looked liked, from the 1950s:

One hallmark of Peanuts was the lack of any adults in the strip. All the stories were told from the height of the characters, leaving the adults, even the teachers, unseen. Below is a very rare example of adults appearing in a Peanuts strip. Schultz discarded the idea of adults in the strip immediately.

Peanuts - The Art of Charles Schultz is chock-full of interesting photographs, scans of early strips and trivia. We learn who the woman was who was the inspiration for the red-haired girl, Schultz' thoughts about his creations, and how his strips have affected popular culture. It took years before Peanuts began to be popular with the American public.

Peanuts has never been a hilarious, knee-slapping kind of comic strip; the gags were always subtle and low key, and read today, they seem flat and devoid of the sharp humor that we are surrounded with today. The humor in the 50s was much less in-your-face than today's humor (contrast Peanuts with Calvin and Hobbes). I've never laughed out loud when reading Peanuts. The strips were entertaining, but devoid of hilarity.

There is no denying the immense cultural impact of Peanuts, however; its characters have been used to shill everything from cars, to snack cakes, to cereal to life insurance, a practice that Schultz did not object to, seeing the strip as a way to sell more papers. The relentless use of Peanuts characters has indeed cheapened the strip, and sapped it of its creative impact, turning the characters into marketing tools. Besides marketing, there were Peanuts merchandise galore: toys, games, licensed comic books, school supplies, stuffed animals, appliances, calendars, greeting cards, housewares, clothing, even telephones and pencil sharpeners. If there was a way to profit from Peanuts, it has been done.

Below are some examples of early Peanuts advertising:

Peanuts remains a icon of a particular era, and reading Peanuts today is an act of nostalgia, a revisiting a genre of comics from an earlier, more innocent age. Perhaps that is what gives Peanuts its enduring charm.

This is great stuff, and unbelievably  these fantastic sketches, over five thousand of them, were sitting in a shed, neglected and exposed to rodents, moisture and even rusty paperclips. 

Cartoonist and editor James Sturm discovered this amazing cache from Wortman's son, and set about rescuing and publishing these amazing sketches.

Wortman was an artist who created over nine thousand drawings for the publication  Metropolitan Movies, as well as for other magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Life, and The New Yorker. 

These sketches capture New York in the 1930s and 1940s with a captivating flair, style and authenticity. The little details in each drawing, such as the signs, prices and buildings, offer a glimpse of what New York was like back then. 

Worthman took many pictures from which he created these illustrations; some of them are included in the back of this book.

You could do a lot worse than to have this incredible collection on your bookshelf as an inspiration in charcoal sketching. This is some of the best I've seen.

This omnibus by Raicht, Smith and Wilson is a dark fantasy tale about the Boogeyman and the dark closet. During Word War 2, a little boy sleeps in bed, until he is awakened by the Boogeyman, who snatches him and takes him to his dark realm in the depths of the boy's closet, a land of dark dreams and nightmares.

The little boy's toys join together to do the unthinkable: enter the closet and confront the Boogeyman's forces in order to get the boy back unharmed. This is a grim tale, a nightmarish version of Toy Story in which bad things happen. The art is dark and sepia-toned, appropriate for the surreal story line. 

This one may keep you awake at night.

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