Out of Picture: Art from the Outside Looking In Vol. 1 (Villard)

oopheader.jpgBlue Sky Studios, the animators behind the films Robots and Ice Age, present this lavishly illustrated collection that’s more art book than anthology.

 

 

160 pgs. FC; $19.95

(W / A: Various)

 

Out of Picture was just released in December of last year, but it already has a long publishing history. An anthology put together by a group of artists from Blue Sky Studios, the animation studio behind Robots and Ice Age, this new edition from Villard is actually its second printing, from its second publisher. It was released originally in hardcover at MoCCA (the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art) in 2006 by French publisher Paquet, but I suspect the book has been around for even longer than that. The promotional material for the book describes the book’s origins in a conversation between two of the artists in 2004, right after they put Robots to bed and were between projects, and the foreword was written by the director of the studio in September of 2005.

These details lead me to the suspicion that perhaps the book existed first as an in-house style guide, an artists’ showcase that the studio would give to prospective clients to demonstrate what they’re capable of. It really does feel more like an art book than an anthology; many of the selections in the book don’t feel as much like short stories as they do set pieces. For example, Greg Couch’s piece entitled "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" is essentially just a movie trailer for a film noir set in the world of nursery rhymes. It’s a clever enough idea and the art is absolutely stunning with its black ink scribbles filling every corner with shadow, but it never really goes anywhere.

Also, of the 160 pages in this edition of the book, approximately 50 pages in the back show the works in progress, sketches and rough layouts that are all new to this second edition. There are only 11 selections, totaling up to about 80 pages of actual story, again giving the impression of a book designed to showcase the artists’ abilities to draw rather than their talents as storytellers. It really makes the reader wonder what the point was of releasing the book. Established names like Chris Ware, Seth, or Adrian Tomine can get away with publishing a book of supplementary material, the artist’s equivalent of an album of B-sides and rarities, because they have a built-in fanbase. An anthology like this one, however, comprised of complete unknowns, is simply going to languish on the shelves.

The cover to Out of Picture Vol. 1. Click for a larger image.In the wake of the positive press Flight and Best American Comics received, more and more anthologies started to glut the shelves of local bookstores, many of them seemingly put together in the hopes of riding the coattails of those popular collections. I suspect then that Out of Picture was only released to bookstores in the first place in an attempt to cash in on that trend, because the most successful pieces in the book, Andrea Blasich’s "Yes I Can" and Robert Mackenzie’s "Around the Corner," seem highly imitative of the style that has proven a hit in Flight, that sense of childlike wonder. "Yes I Can" especially captures that feeling of whimsy, with its character design and artistic style that looks like it’s right out of a Disney film.

But it ultimately will fail to replicate the success of Flight because in the end Out of Picture is such a mixed bag, even more so than other anthologies because of how slight most of the stories are. Peter de Sève’s "The Mermaid" is basically an old sea shanty that has been illustrated in a colorful style reminiscent of vintage artwork of sailors. Three of the stories—Daisuke Tsutsumi’s "Noche y Dia," Vincent Nguyen’s "Domesticity," and Benoit le Pennec’s "Floating Holidays"—are essentially elaborate dream sequences. They look marvelous (all three  pieces seem to have a similarity to Jon J. Muth’s painted art, but with a tinge of the fantastic as well), but like most dreams there’s very little point to them when it comes to some kind of plot.

Several of the stories have a slightly political edge to them or verge on social commentary. Nash Dunnigan’s "Night School" is a tale of a dystopian future, with inky shadows cast over very childlike figures to make them more sinister, while Michael Knapp’s "Newsbreak" is more conventional, following one man who must cope with watching the world’s horrors displayed to him each night on the news. Both are annoyingly too brief for the reader to really get drawn in or to come to any kind of conclusion from them. Others with the same political leanings are a bit more avant-garde in style, both artistically and narratively (David Gordon’s art on "The Wedding Present" reminds me of Jim Woodring or Gary Panter at times), or simply suffer from confusing narrative shifts ("Silent Echoes" by Daniel López Nuñoz).

But even these pieces are beautiful to look at, again the one positive thing this book has going for it. Out of Picture could almost be considered a vanity project if the art wasn’t so gorgeous, and it certainly appears as if the publishers are banking this project’s chances in bookstores wholly on the ability of their artists to create visually arresting work. According to the back pages of Out of Picture Vol. 1, a second volume is already in the works, so they are clearly planning on this anthology being a success. Should this plan actually come to fruition, hopefully the editors of the next volume will go whole-hog with their aping of Flight and publish an anthology with a little more meat to it the next time around. | Steve Higgins

Learn more at the Out of Picture website at www.outofpicture.com.

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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