What do you need?

Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz And The Art Of Peanuts by Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear. Abrams, 2015. 9781419716393. 304pp.

Sarah: People ask what is the use of core strengthening classes? Look, I can grab a book from behind me and move it out front.
Gene: (revealing the book with a flourish) A heavy book like Only What’s Necessary?
S: Ooooh.
Gene: It’s beautiful, so you can tell at a glance that it was designed by Chip Kidd, who is the best book designer in the world because he’s the only book designer I can name.
S: And I can’t stop touching the cover because the ink that makes up Charlie Brown’s face is in relief.
G: The thick boards make it feel like a box, so they give reading the book the sense of opening up a box of treasures. The endpapers are comic strip art. But after the title page, there is a two page spread of those tiny paperback Peanuts comic collections we grew up with. These pictures elicit pure joy from me because I read them as a kid. They’re creased and imperfect and wonderful.

S: I have no idea why we loved Peanuts and Garfield so much because I think we didn’t get any of the jokes!
G: I disagree — I think we did. Chip Kidd has designed several books on comic books for Abrams. One is on Batman, and it’s full of objects and art from Kidd’s collection. It’s also got what I think is the first Batman manga translated and published in the US. It convinced me that I don’t need to own every collectible that I love, I can just have photos of them. Then Kidd did a similar book on Shazam, who was my favorite superhero when I was a kid. I think I loved him because he’s a kid who magically becomes a super powerful adult. And this is his Peanuts book in that vein. It is full of so many amazing things.
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Foreign Everywhere

Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini. Rizzoli, 2013. 9780847842131.

This is a huge, heavy book printed on textured paper that is really satisfying to touch, and the colors in the illustrations are bright and eye catching. The book itself is in an unknown alphabet, but you can recognize the layouts of chapter headings, tables of contents, illustration captions, and sidebars. (It reminded me of Lewis Trondheim’s book A.L.I.E.E.E.N, which is also written in an unknown language.) It appears to be some sort of guide to a bizarre world: one diagram shows the life cycle of a plant that grows into a finished chair, another shows a picnic table built on a slant so that crumbs fall to the ground while a plate is perched on a wedge that keeps it level. There are pages of bizarre machines, alien flowers, and outlandish costumes. (It reminded me of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, too.) Some of the illustrations are visual puns, others are just plain odd. Aside from some nudity and one (non-explicit) sex scene in which the couple gradually turns into an alligator, I think this is a great book to share with kids: it made me think about how information is structured, plus every page would make a great story-starter.

I Louvre Dogs

The Cross-Eyed Mutt by Étienne Davodeau. NBM, 2017. 9781681120973.

Davodeau has a talent for creating complex, ordinary women characters in his graphic novels, and making me fall just enough in love with them that I fall in love with his books, too. The eponymous character in Lulu Anew who needs to get away from her family after a job interview is a great example. In The Cross Eyed Mutt, it’s Mathilde, whom her brothers refer to as “Chubby.” The small romantic moments between her and her boyfriend Fabien feel amazingly real and are my favorite parts of this book, though there’s lots to love.

The story opens with Mathilde taking Fabien to the country to meet her family. He’s a security guard at the Louvre in Paris, and Mathilde’s brothers and father mock him quite a bit for the amount of sitting he does on the job. Then they tour the family’s furniture business and, after introducing him to Mathilde’s grandad, they show him a painting by Mathilde’s granddad’s grandad that’s been in the family for a long while: a supremely goofy painting of a cross-eyed dog. Soon the family is pushing Fabien to have the painting hung in the museum, and after he talks to a regular patron about it, a plot to do just that is off and running.

This is one of the many Louvre graphic novels NBM has published in the US, and it’s by far my favorite. The best museum moment is when Fabien and another guard bet on how long after they open it will be before someone asks where the Mona Lisa is. But overall the best thing about it is that it provides character-based opportunities to appreciate under-appreciated works in the Lourvre, as well as to comment on some of the more famous art there and the way visitors interact with it. It’s amazing, and a great story.

(This isn’t to say I didn’t like any of the other Louvre graphic novels. My second favorite is the full color book by Jiro Taniguchi, Guardians of the Louvre, about a Japanese comic creator in Paris who visits another plane of reality where he meets the souls of the museum’s art. His drawings have a total wow factor, and there’s a great moment where the character visits the museum while the art was being evacuated in 1939.)

Belgium!

Welcome to Marwencol by Mark Hogancamp and Chris Shellen. Princeton Architectural Press, 2016. 9781616894153. 278pp

Gene: Did you ever see a documentary called Marwencol?
Sarah: The name sounds familiar but I don’t think I did.
G: It’s about Mark Hogancamp. He’s had kind of a sad life. He was married, he was in the army. After he got out his wife divorced him and he became an alcoholic living in, I think, rural New York. He went out with some friends one night a while back and got totally plowed — his blood alcohol level was 3.0 or so after this incident. He was drinking boilermakers — whiskey and beer, whiskey and beer. And he admitted to some guys that he’s a cross dresser. After the bar closed down, these guys beat him so badly he was in a coma, unconscious, for 9 days. Lots of brain damage. It knocked him back decades. He had been an artist, he drew a lot, but when he woke up he had to relearn how to walk and talk and it was awful.
And so — I want to admit I’m doing a piss-poor job of summarizing his life, you should see the documentary — he got these 1/6 scale action figures and started taking photos of them. Outside the trailer where he lives he created a World War II era Belgian village he calls Marwencol. There’s a character that’s him, Hogey. There are Nazi SS characters who are stand-ins for the guys who beat him up. There’s a bar, Hogancamp always wanted to own a bar.
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Sweet and Dandy

We Are Dandy: The Elegant Gentleman Around the World by Nathaniel Adams and Rose Callahan. Gestalten Verlag, 2016. 9783899556674.

Mix one part men’s suits, one part vintage shop, one part avant-garde fashion, one part time traveler, and a liberal splash of big personality and you have a dandy. I feel like any of these fellows could be a Time Lord. If they aren’t too cool to go to the public library, the staff definitely have given them nicknames. Everybody who lives on their streets knows them by sight. “Hey, it’s that guy!”

The photographs are really fun. I appreciate that the “around the world” in the title includes dandies from outside the usual fashion centers of London/Paris/Tokyo/New York. The dandies from Johannesburg are really cool: their looks are sleeker and more form-fitting, looking modern without being busy. The American and European dandies used more accessories and had more theatrical looks. The Japanese dandies combined suits with modern casual or traditional Japanese clothing. Some dandies were photographed in their homes. As you might expect, their home decorations are just as eye-catching as their clothing, though I’ll admit to looking askance at the guy with three shelves of books color-coordinated with his wall — buying books solely for the sake of interior decoration just seems wrong.

Wow: Stick Man

Stickwork by Patrick Dougherty. Princeton Architectural Press, 2010. 9781568989761. 208pp.

Gene: Patrick Dougherty is a sculptor who works with sticks. (opens book)
Sarah: Oh wow!
G: I know.
S: Are those elephant butts or faces?
G: He works onsite at museums and gardens and parks. When he goes in (he needs a bunch of volunteers to help) he has to figure out what kind of sticks will work with the site. Sometimes the site is trees or a building or the inside of a building. And then he has to find a source of sticks nearby. The intro says that because of urban expansion, trees are often cleared from lots, and small sticks will grow there. Before a lot is cleared again for final construction, there are enough sticks for him to harvest. Dougherty works in different layers, and the first phase is anchoring bigger sticks in the ground to act as structure. Then he weaves in smaller sticks, and keep weaving them in until shapes appear.
This book includes not just photos of freestanding structures but big swirly shapes, some look like they’re windblown or organic…
S: Like they’re put together by birds.
G: And others look like big houses. It’s a look at his career up until the publication date.  (looking at another photo) This is a giant swirly pattern in a room. It’s not quite as full as some of the other sculptures. It really looks like if you sketched the wind.
S: It’s cool that he uses local sticks. That makes it more environmental, right?
G: It’s renewable, and the sticks would be removed anyway…
This is one of my favorites, Holy Rope.
S: Twining through a tree…oh, you can go inside it!
G: It was in Chiba, Japan. It’s a swirl of a treehouse, and there’s a photo of two people inside looking out at us.
This is Little Big Man and it was in Denmark. It’s a weird guy who looks like he’s made of wind. He’s just above a pond or marsh.
S: Spooky.
G: Creepy as hell.
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