In the Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists (Yale University Press)

cw02headerThis copiously-illustrated volume from Comics Art's Todd Hignite explores the fuel behind the creative fire of  some of comics' biggest creators, from R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman to Charles Burns and Chris Ware.



310 pgs. FC; $29.95 hardcover

(W: Todd Hignite)


Click thumbnail for a larger image. See below for full copyright information.In the Studio is a lavish coffee-table edition of the sort of fare you get in Comic Art, the slick quarterly founded by author Todd Hignite. The acolyte of alternative comics' high priests has expanded his efforts to create long chapters about nine biggies and their cockpits of artistic creation. Each artist digresses on his influences and fetishes, referencing various pieces of art done by themselves and others (plus a few toys) lying around their studios.


The book opens with the godfather, Robert Crumb. You may have read plenty of Crumb interviews, and if you have, you know there's always room for one more. The man is so genuinely cranky, funny and odd that he's always worth your time. Here, he riffs on how LSD freed his mind, but wound up inhibiting him. He discusses the influence of Harvey Kurtzman and MAD Magazine, the angst and confusion that fuel his visions, the controversy surrounding some of his more horny efforts, and his lifelong disdain for political topics. He recalls — with a snort that can be heard through the text — the time he was asked to draw a bunch of hippies planting a tree; the very un-Crumb-like finished piece is reprinted here. In perhaps his most intimate moment in the interview, he complains about how fame has blocked his creativity. Now, his every doodle is snatched up by some entrepreneur, he says. He's no longer free to create without consequences.


Click thumbnail for a larger image, see below for copyright information.Like every other chapter in the book, the Crumb section is illustrated with color reproductions of work by the man himself, and by various artists who influenced him. It's both a feast for the eyes, and, what with these illustrations floating in white space on glossy paper stock, a journey akin to walking through a museum – quiet and contemplative. For those of us used to the bombast and flash of reading guys like Clowes and Brunetti in the comics themselves, it's a bit of a change-up. Eating and digesting more slowly than usual feels good.


Another cranky-type, Art Spiegelman offers an appreciation for comics-strip guys Chester Gould (Dick Tracy), Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates), and Winsor McKay (Little Nemo). I especially enjoyed a reprinting of Spiegelman's vicious attack, in graphic form, on MoMA's arbitrarily curated High and Low art show of 1990. (It originally ran in Artforum.) It's the sort of delicious early rarity Hignite has dug up and reprinted here, for each of these artists.


Other highlights include chapters on the kitschy Dan Clowes, the truly eccentric Charles Burns, the explosively creative Gary Panter, the death-obsessed Chris Ware, the caustic Ivan Brunetti, the bathos-peddler Seth, and the line king, Jaime Hernandez.


Click thumbnail for larger image, see below for full copyright information.In the Studio is illuminating and all, but it comes with a curious omission – no actual photographs of the titular "studio." The reader is teased by image after image of compelling art, with no photos of the drawing studios where these masters ply their trade. (Also, there are no photos of the artists themselves, just drawn self-portraits). Imagine the curiosity that might be sated if we could see the clutter and order of these spaces, the antique toys in situ, the view from Crumb's window, Dan Clowes' pencil cup chock with Uniball pens, whatever the hell is tacked to the wall in Charles Burns' workspace. Even better, how cool would it be to have included photos of these artists in their studios?


In the Studio, then, even if it is just a euphemism, is not the best title for the book. Influences and Fetishes, for instance, would be more accurate. Stuff From the Studio, maybe. Still, as a collection of rarities by these art studs, revealing interviews on their thought processes, and graphic reproductions of their heroes' art, the book is a treasure for serious fans. | Byron Kerman


1. Daniel Clowes, preliminary sketch for "The Death Ray," 2003. Copyright © 2003 by Daniel Clowes.

2. Gary Panter, sketchbook page, 1999-2001. Copyright © 2001 by Gary Panter.

3. Chris Ware, Rusty Brown, weekly strip, 2003. Copyright © 2003 by Chris Ware.

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