Wow: Adventure Time!

Adventure Time: The Art of Ooo by Chris McDonnell. Harry N Abrams, 2014. 9781419704505.

Sarah: I am a terrible person to lend books to. I have the biggest to-read stack in the world, so if you loan something to me your book is just going to live at my house for a while.
Gene: This book of mine lived at your house for… six months?
S: Yeah. I’m very sorry!
G: It’s okay! I gave it to you to review because I couldn’t make a coherent pitch for it. But I am glad to be getting it back.
S: It starts with the background of Pen Ward, who designed and created the Adventure Time cartoon, with some of his art from before he worked on it then some art as he was developing the show.
G: Is he an animator?
S: Yeah, he’s a cartoonist and animator.
G: What was that first cartoon he did? There’s art from it in here…
S: Flapjack. There are his notes as he built up the Adventure Time world, figured out who the characters were, what it looked like…
G: Was he making a series bible in the form of notes?
S: It’s interesting, because this was when they were still working it out. Eventually there’s series bible stuff. Like this, “How to Draw Adventure Time.” They do new ones every few years, because the style evolves. Here, “Can Finn’s mouth leave the circle of his mask? NO.” So it will look like this, but not like that.
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Go Outside and Paint

Colors of the West: An Artist’s Guide to Nature’s Palette by Molly Hashimoto. Skipstone, 2017. 9781680510973.

Sarah: I got this book, Colors of the West, it’s a gorgeous book and the writing is wonderful but I realized I am the worst person to review this. I’m an indoor kid, I don’t go to a lot of state or national parks, I’m not a visual artist, and the author does a lot of amazing programs for my library so there’s no way I can be objective. So I gave it to my friend Bibi to review. You have a degree in art, right?
Bibi: Yes, a couple of them, actually.
S: And you actually go to national parks and camp and hike?
B: Yep.
S: So what did you think?
B: It’s fabulous. It really reminded me of places I’ve been. I would turn a page and say, “Oh, I’ve been to Olympic National Park!” Hashimoto really captures the feeling of the places she paints. There’s a painting of a pueblo in New Mexico and I remember being there and trying to take photographs and they just did not get the essence of the place. Her painting did, it caught the light and the feeling of it.
S: She’s got paintings of animals in the book, too, wild animals, and I know she sometimes uses stuffed specimens from Seattle’s Burke Museum and the Audubon Society as models.
B: I love how she will pick certain animals and not do a big background, just really make the animals the center of the paintings. She gets the character of their actions and how they live in their environment. It’s really sweet.
S: This book isn’t just her paintings and her views of these places, it also teaches how to use watercolors, techniques and materials.
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How to Take the Gravel Road

If Found Return To Elise Gravel, translated by Shira Adriance. Drawn & Quarterly, 2017. 9781770462786.

Gene: This is Elise Gravel’s sketchbook. It’s got this nice elastic band on it, to hold it closed like a real sketchbook! Like the elastic bands on Moleskine notebooks.
Sarah: Yeah!
G: Do you know Elise Gravel?
S: Yes, I read her books Jessie Elliot Is A Big Chicken, I Want A Monster, The Rat
G: What is that series called…? Disgusting Critters! Did you read The Great Antonio?
S: Yeah!
G: I like her drawings, she has a very loose, fun style. This is her book about making art and creativity. It has an emphasis on just letting go and drawing. Look, the endpapers at the front are deer, with the most marvelously simple pictures of plants that I’ve ever seen. And the back endpapers…
S: (gasps) OH!!! Those shrimp are great! They remind me of Ed Emberley‘s drawings.
G: Yeah, very much so. The book is all done on graph paper. What I really like about Gravel’s work, I’ve realized, is her lettering. She just has so much fun lettering in different colors, outlining and coloring around words, she’s clearly having a great time. Basically she says that her sketchbook is just full of complete nonsense. After her kids go to sleep she just draws, paints, puts anything she wants to in her black notebook. It contains all her bizarre ideas, she doesn’t critique herself at all, and in the morning her kids look at it and they all have these crazy ideas about what she drew.
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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.)