The Daily Heller has never produced a formal Holiday Gift Guide (the books mentioned throughout the year get my stamp), but the time has come to grab the books by the spines and make a stand. We all need a little push to part with our cash or credit, so here’s my contribution to our newly stimulated economy.
Only What’s Necessary: Charles Schulz and the Art of Peanuts by Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear (Abrams Comicarts)
Peanuts is 65 years old this year and doesn’t look a day over eight. It’s incredible that Charlie Brown can be so young and the Peanuts narrative stay so fresh. Even if you are not a Peanuts fan, this book can’t help but draw you in their world. Although not a biography of the creator Charles Schulz or his clan, it is a visual legacy—complete with origin story—of the artist called “Sparky,” and how his 1947 “Li’l Folks” comic and its characters evolved into Peanuts and Charlie Brown. Filled with rare sketches, comps, paste-ups and color guides as well as Peanuts ephemera, this enticing journey from humble beginnings to its inevitable end (on Jan. 3, 2000) made me recall the love I had for Charlie, Snoopy and the crew. And the cover is a total treat.
Will Eisner: Champion of the Graphic Novel by Paul Levitz (Abrams Comicarts)
Creator of The Spirit, Will Eisner revolutionized comics. As Paul Levitz says, “popular culture today” was impacted by his work. Eisner wed financial acumen with storytelling and developed a smoothly running comics business. But during a later part of his life, he wanted to do more than be a mere comic book artist. He turned to what we now call the graphic novel, much of it autobiographical. His first, A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories (1978), is considered a breakthrough, but the term graphic novel is fraught with confused meanings and interpretations. What’s more, when published, Contract barely made a ripple. It would take Art Spiegelman’s Maus to alter the form and earn the kudos. What’s important about this book, however, is its focus on how Eisner transformed himself and his work through sequential storytelling and how the untimely passing of his daughter triggered that new direction. Generously illustrated with sketches and originals, this smartly written volume is a real “keeper.” (As an extra, a month ago I introduced an evening with Paul Levitz and Jules Feiffer on Eisner’s legacy.)
George McGovern & the Democratic Insurgents: The Best Campaign & Political Posters of the Last Fifty Years by Hal Elliott Wert (University of Nebraska Press)
Either it is just in time or months too late (because we’re tired of the entire slog of electoral breast beating already) for the 2016 presidential campaign. This book of almost 300 posters is a visual record of the official and unofficial graphic statements started during the 1972 campaign that polarized mainstream’s silent majority from the anti-war and civil rights generation. Nixon won all the states but Massachusetts. But McGovern won the less decisive poster war. Hal Elliott Wert surveys the explosion of “world-famous” artists, including Warhol, Calder, Larry Rivers, Thomas Benton, Sister Corita Kent and more, who attempted to reach the alienated constituency through their work, which is seen in the context of other advocacy and protest posters of the age. My favorite has long been Andy Warhol’s “VOTE McGOVERN” under a colorful portrait of Richard Nixon. I wonder what alternate universe we’d be in today if McGovern had won?
Boooook: The Life and Work of Bob Cobbing edited by William Cobbing and Rosie Cooper (Occasional Papers)
I had never heard of Bob Cobbing (1920–2000), a concrete and sound poet, until this delightful and illuminating volume came in the mail. The folks at Occasional Papers make the case that Cobbing stretched language into nether reaches using voice and print. He was not a graphic designer, but like so many mixed media artists of a certain era, Cobbing’s work involved the expressive muscle of type and typography. He left a fair amount of paper artifacts in his wake, and if, like me, you love seeing ephemera reproduced on uncoated paper, this book has plenty to savor.
The Art of Typewriting by Marvin Sackner and Ruth Sackner (Thames + Hudson)
The founders of the Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry, the largest such collection in the world, are serious about typewriter art, which has many exponents that you’ll see in this startling collection of rare and wonderful work. An introduction to the history of the typewriter and its art leads into an expansive section showing key works rendered in exquisite detail. A reference section features biographies of the genre’s most influential artists and writers. John Maeda wrote the preface and I did the foreword. Like Cobbing, many of these artists are not graphic designers but what they do with words on a page is stunningly complex and engagingly minimal. Sadly, Ruth Sackner passed away only a week or so after the book came off press. This is a tribute to the couple’s unwavering support of the art and the historic collec
tion they possess.
Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World by Valerie Lester (Godine)
If you don’t know Bodoni, it’s about time you did—and intimately so. Valerie Lester’s illustrated biography is a real treat for tired readers. She blends accessible writing with significant research, based on original documents and hands-on relationships with the type. Bodoni left a large trove of punches (like the Cyrillic above) and a museum in Parma, Italy, which if you can enter it, will feel like a sacred tomb. Every designer should be literate about our forebears, and Bodoni is one bear of a figure.
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