Recently, I’ve been so deeply immersed in writing about censorship in comics and cartoon illustrations that, when asked to produce a holiday wish list, my mind naturally gravitated to that medium.
So here’s my latest list of best design books, with a slant toward graphic narrative…
Michael Dooley on Best Design Books for the Holiday Season
1. The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius
Right up top, I’m most excited about exploring the “enhanced e-book” version of The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius. The deluxe version will be enhanced with “home movies, recordings, and interviews” about the man whose contribution to our culture was significant enough that his name became a dictionary adjective. If it even comes close to living up to the hype I heard from Abrams at the San Diego Comic-Con, then it should be a landmark release that may point a new direction for 21st Century visual literature.
2. Peter Maresca’s Society Is Nix Anthology
Happily returning to the print medium, Peter Maresca’s Society Is Nix anthology is on my list. Due to their price – and enormous dimensions – I’m very picky about exactly which of his Sunday Press releases I actually pick up, having passed on the oversize Nemo, Skeezix, and Krazy Kat editions.
Based on paging through it at SDCC, this one’s a must-have. It’s chockablock with a wide and wild assortment of early twentieth-century comics art with spectacularly imaginative and innovative layouts. It also lives up to the subtitle, Gleeful Anarchy at the Dawn of the American Comic Strip 1895-1915, with plenty of imagery that would’ve been called bizarrely surreal if it hadn’t been rendered a decade or two before Surrealism even existed.
3. IDW’s Artist Editions: Best of EC
And speaking of an expensive oversize series… As someone who’d collect original 1950s EC Comics art if I were a millionaire, IDW’s Artist Editions is a pretty nifty compromise. High quality original illustrations of full stories by top comic book artists such as Will Eisner, David Mazzucchelli, and Dave Stevens, are printed on 15” by 22” pages. And even though they were created for black-and-white reproduction, these color scans appear as trompe l’oeil images of the original bristol boards, complete with artist pencils, zip-a-tones, paste-overs, editor’s notes, etc.
Having had to pass on their Wally Wood and Jack Davis books, I was delighted when their Harvey Kurtzman Mad comic book story collection came out earlier this year. And now there’s The Best of EC, Volume One, with tales of war, sci-fi, crime, and horror by Kurtzman, Wood, Bernard Krigstein, Al Williamson, and others. This one should keep me satisfied for quite a while. Well, at least until Volume Two.
4. Goddamn This War!
Fans of quality French graphic narrative may already be picking up the Jacques Tardi books that have been surfacing on this side of the Atlantic the past few years. Most of them are available for the first time in English after decades of popularity in France; I remember buying my first Tardi in the mid-1970s, without knowing the language but greatly admiring their bold graphic power. Tardi has produced darkly disturbing, yet very human, stories of crime and combat and atmospheric tales of the mystery-solving Adèle Blanc-Sec. His most recent release is Goddamn This War!, with Jean-Pierre Verney. And at least four more are scheduled.
5. Iron Bound
On a related note in the key of noir, Iron Bound, a 250-page graphic novel about leather jacketed gang kids in urban New Jersey circa 1961, by relative newcomer Brendan Leach, looks promising. From the pages I’ve seen, his illustration style is a cross between Tardi and early punk-ish, scratchy line Lynda Barry. It’s packaged with a flexi-disc, but since I have neither an phonograph player nor a taste for artist-bands, I’ll be ignoring that feature.
Update: I’ve discovered that the flexi music is also downloadable. So: no Victrola required.
6. Trina Robbins’s Pretty in Ink
Nearly half a century after Trina Robbins’s accomplishments as a pioneering underground cartoonist, she’s still vital to the comics scene as its foremost authority on women in comics. She’s responsible for resurrecting in book form overlooked and under-appreciated artists such as the early 20th Century’s Nell Brinkley, whose gorgeous, lush, and colorful “Brinkley Girls” Sunday strip illustrations trace an evolution in st
yle and fashion from ornate Nouveau to flapper Deco. With several histories already to her credit, Pretty in Ink: American Women Cartoonists 1896-2013 promises to be her most comprehensive volume to date.
7. Ivan Brunetti’s Aesthetics: A Memoir
I’ll conclude with Ivan Brunetti’s Aesthetics: A Memoir. From what I understand, it’s at least as much an inspirational meditation on art and creativity as it is an illustrated survey of his life and work. It wasn’t on my radar when it came out a few months ago, even though I’ve long admired and respected Brunetti’s talents. He’s not only an accomplished cartoonist whose New Yorker covers are currently increasing his public visibility, but also a teacher who’s highly regarded for his unique and insightful approach to comics illustration. But now I’ve been hearing enough favorable buzz that I really want to own a copy. At barely over 100 pages it’s the shortest – and at eight inches square, the smallest – book on this list. But knowing Brunetti’s skill at using a minimalist approach to deliver maximum substance, it may be one of the richest.
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Want more holiday gift ideas?
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About Michael Dooley
Michael Dooley is the creative director of Michael Dooley Design and teaches History of Design, Comics, and Animation at Art Center College of Design and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is also a Print contributing editor and author.