Comics. Glorious, full-color, sexy, angry comics. Could any other medium in the last hundred years be credited with the spread of art to a larger audience? In their many forms comics amuse and engage us, sometimes so effectively that we soon forget that every line, dot and graduation has been painstakingly put onto paper by an artist somewhere, quiet and shielded from the eyes of the outside world.
‘Comics Sketchbooks: The Unseen World of Today’s Most Creative Talents’ is not the first book ever to pay tribute to these reclusive heroes. It is, however, a rare glimpse into the background work, ‘warts-and-all’, of some of their sketches and doodles.
Steven Heller has interviewed more than 80 prolific comic artists and, amazingly, been granted access to much of their raw, unfinished sketches. In his own words, ‘Looking through artists’ sketchbooks is like viewing those artists naked through a picture window’. Briefly flip through your own sketch pad and I’m sure you’ll agree. Yet, this collection reveals a surprising willingness to share that very nudity, along with some frank discussion about it, combining commentary from those whose sketches are almost exclusively background drafts for paid comic work, with others, like Max de Radigues, who sketch to work on anything but.
The artists’ reflections also include plenty of pragmatic tips, such as Bill Plympton’s childhood habit of keeping a sketchbook by his bed for those ideas that strike in the middle of the night. Or a piece of advice given to Josh Neufeld when he first began cartooning: Take a blank sketchbook and start writing open-ended comics, just to see where the story goes.
Contributing artists have produced work for newspapers, magazines, underground comix and more in Europe, the US, South America and Japan. Their respective styles of drafting range from aggressive, confident freehand doodles to montages to highly finished pieces, some even fully colored. All in all, it is tragic to imagine such mind-blowing sketchbooks sitting untouched and unnoticed in an artist’s filing cabinet, there to remain forever. Heller describes the artists’ contributions as ‘gifts for you and me… intimate offerings’. For any artist with his or her sights set on a comic career, this collection is certainly a recommended inclusion on your book list.
‘Comics Sketchbooks’ is out via Thames & Hudson and is available from all good bookstores.