Arts Desk

International Ink: Think Holiday Thoughts

Many comic art books released this fall are, naturally, suitable as gifts...whether that's for someone else or yourself is up to you. Here's a few that may be of interest.

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (Vertigo, $24.99) is American Jew Sarah Glidden's travelogue about her "Birthright Israel" tour of the country. Religiously nonobservant and sympathetic to Palestinians at the start, Glidden has an emotional trip, trying to separate one person's truth from another's, while being rushed from one site to another. Glidden's watercolor art is easy to read and perfect for her story. This is one of the best graphic stories of 2010.

The Economist 2011 Wall Calendar ($14.99, www.economist.com/calendar) is by Kevin 'Kal' Kallaugher, the former Baltimore Sun cartoonist. Kal has been creating cartoons for The Economist since 1978 and for this calendar, he paints a monthly mashup of events and caricatures, based on notable dates. April 2011 has a hockey rink (30th, Ice Hockey World Championship begins) with a goalie labelled "IRS" and dressed in the American flag (15th, Income Tax Day) getting ready while a poker player skates over to shoot a pile of chips at him (24th, World Poker Championship). Meanwhile the American Civil War (12th) breaks out across the rink while the Easter Bunny (24th) flees from it. Add in Clint Eastwood, Fidel Castro, Shakespeare, Chernobyl, and tapirs and it's a jam-packed month.

Jim Lee has had an interesting career path—he was the hot Marvel artist, illustrating the all-time best-selling X-Men reboot of 1991, then jumping ship to join Image Comics with his Wildstorm Studio, then selling Wildstorm to DC Comics and finally earlier this year, becoming a co-publisher of DC. Icons: The DC Comics and Wildstorm Art of Jim Lee (Titan, $39.95) covers only the latter two-thirds of that career, but it is a stunning oversize book. Chapters cover storylines and characters like Batman, DC Heroes, WildC.A.T.S. and DC Universe Online (D.C.'s largescale videogame that Lee was instrumental in designing). The book includes pencils, finished art, sketches, and collectibles with Lee's commentary on the piece. For fans of Lee or superheroes, this is an excellent book at a reasonable price.

Darwyn Cooke continues to thrill readers with his adaptation of Donald Westlake's antihero stories in Richard Stark's Parker Book Two: The Outfit (IDW, $24.99). The Outfit, having been outfoxed by Parker in Book One, sends a hitman to Florida, but Parker turns him. He then declares war on the mob, and has his criminal colleagues steal as much as they can from bookmaking and other illegal activities. Cooke daringly draws the other criminals jobs in a variety of styles including using Westlake's prose with illustrations, a style based on UPA cartoons and one based on 1960s magazine illustrations. This is another great graphic story of 2010.

Maira Kalman was just in town talking about her book And The Pursuit of Happiness (Penguin, $29.95) a collection of 12 illustrated essays she did for the New York Times website. Each month Kalman picks an aspect of America to riff on, beginning with President Obama's inauguration (a painting of a tree goes with the text "Hallelujah for the hope of a new world. And the Japanese Pagoda tree, oblivious to all the fuss, vaguely remembers that it is also known as the Chinese Scholar tree, which flowers profusely in late summer offering to the lucky person standing under it a fragrant dappled refuge from the noonday sun."), while also stopping at Washington's Mount Vernon, the Pentagon, a Lincolniana collection in Philadelphia, Jefferson's Monticello, and places in New York City. I loved these naive wise pieces when they were in the paper, and I'm glad I could buy a collection of them. You should too.

Voice-Over Voice Actor: What It's Like Behind the Mic by Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt (Bug Bot Press, $19.95) may be a good gift for a teen hooked on animation or cosplay. The married authors have provided voices for animation, video games, and commercials and give what appears to be good information on how the processes and industry work. They also get anecdotes from others in the business, including Wil Wheaton, who notes, "I'm never going to be the guy who can do interesting character voices, but I am the guy who can create interesting characters using only his voice." If facial warm-ups, demos, and "Just gimme a couple more, wild" make you curious, consider checking out this book. I have no interest at all in being a voice actor, but I'm finding the book charming. It's also got cute comic strip illustrations by Jerzy Drozd and an extensive website.

The Peanuts Collection: Treasures from the World’s Most Beloved Comic Strip (Little, Brown, $35) by noted Peanuts collector Nat Gertler is one of those books with faux ephemera reproduced and tucked into pouches that have proliferated recently. As an ephemera fiend, I love it. Gertler, working with the Schulz Museum and United Media, broke the book down as two-page chapters on major topics such as Charles M. Schulz, Charlie Brown, halloween, Advertising, and Unrequited Love. He then chose sketches, or book covers, or toys etc. to illustrate the page of text he wrote on the topic. While I'd rather have an original set of Dolly Madison's Peanuts trading cards from 1983, the pouchful of reprints on page 41 (for Sports) is a neat stand-in. You also get a reprint of A Scrapbook About Your Falcon, "the most expensive Peanuts book ever created. This 12 page booklet was sent out for free, but only to folks who had plunked the down the price for a new Ford Falcon, circa 1963." The book's obviously a great deal since now you don't have to buy a car to get the booklet.

Rick Meyerowitz's Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made The National Lampoon Insanely Great (Abrams, $40) is a book we needed, needed because we had forgotten. What had we forgotten? We'd forgotten how the Lampoon positively reshaped American humor, before it faded and became a lampoon of itself as a brand stuck on films. For a decade, it was the only game in town, taking up MAD's post-Watergate slack. It's great to have chapters on Bruce McCall and Stan Mack or pieces like Russ Heath's "Il Showdown A Rio Jawbone," in which two gunfighters curse each other in Italian with appropriate hand gestures until only one's left standing, or a selection of cartoons by the twisted CharlesRodrigues, or "Tintin In Lebanon" by Fred Graver and Cliff Jew... This is another gorgeous book, a must-have for fans of comic art, and there's enough in it to hold your attention for a month.

A specialized book may be of interest since the area has two library schools and lots of budding comics collections—Graphic Novels and Comics in Libraries and Archives: Essays on Readers, Research, History and Cataloging edited by Robert G. Weiner (McFarland, $45) is a good introduction to the various possibilities of comics in libraries. Weiner's included a piece on America's largest comic book collection, "Comic Art Collection at Michigan State University Libraries" by my friend Randy Scott, the librarian there (and to whom I send my castoffs and duplicates), but keep in mind that the Library of Congress collection is here in town if you're doing work on older comics. The Library claims to be the largest, but is probably in the top 10 of collections.

Local publisher Joe Procopio's Lost Art Books has just released its third title, The Lost Art of Frederick Richardson. Richardson was a late 19th/early 20th century newspaper cartoonist with a style reminiscent of Winsor McCay. He migrated into children's books, and his work there should appeal to fans of the early Oz books. A certain amount of historic knowledge may be helpful to translate full-page cartoons like 'The Peace Quest' in which a leaky Spanish Ark of State sails towards the US with sails of subterfuge and deception driving it, but one can always enjoy the pretty pictures. (That cartoon would refer to the run-up to the Spanish-American War of 1898 presumably).

Wrapping up, recent books from local cartoonists that I'd recommend are The Brewermaster's Castle ($4, order from mattdembicki(at)gmail(dot)com) by Matt Dembicki and Andrew Cohen about the Heurich mansion on Dupont Circle, Richard Thompson's latest Cul de Sac comic strip collectionShapes and Colors (Andrews McMeel, $12.99) and Nick Galifianankis' collection of his Washington Post cartoons, If You Loved Me, You'd Think This Was Cute: Uncomfortably True Cartoons About You (Andrews McMeel, $12.99).

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