Comics Sketchbooks book review
By Leroy Douresseaux
September 11, 2012 - 16:16

Thames & Hudson, Inc.
Writer(s): Steven Heller
ISBN: 978-0-500-28994-5
$44.95 US, $47.50 CAN, 352pp, Color and B&W, paperback

Comics Sketchbooks cover image

Comics Sketchbooks: The Private Worlds of Today’s Most Creative Talents is a new book from Steven Heller.  Heller is a co-chair at New York’s School of Visual Arts.  He has also authored and edited over one hundred books on design and popular culture.

A massive book (365 pages, 8.65 x 11.5), Comics Sketchbooks contains sketches, doodles, drawings, roughs, thumbnails, and even comics from some of the world’s most cutting edge and innovative artists and also some emerging talents.  Over 80 artists open up their private sketchbooks and notebooks, from which Heller culled the hundreds drawings and samples that fill this fat (and phat) book.  Even some artists who do not keep sketchbooks provided roughs and studies for this book.

Readers get a chance to see the thinking and planning and the experimentation, practice, and play behind the work and style of such artists as Charles Burns, Lilli Carré, Drew Friedman, David Mazzucchelli, Gary Panter, and Carol Tyler, to name a few.  Readers can see into the sketchbooks of such legends as R. Crumb, Bill Griffith, Victor Moscoso, Bill Plympton, and Arnold Roth.  Not every artist in this collection is specifically a comics artists, but according to Heller (in his introduction), all of them make comics as either their primary occupation or as part of their larger body of work.

Admirers, fans, and students of alternative comics and cartoonists will like Comics Sketchbooks.  Still, some, like myself, may find this book missing things they wanted, which is a bit ungrateful.  Why do I want more?

Obviously, Heller could not get every drawing that he wanted included in this book, for various reasons.  One of the reasons is that some artists are self-conscious about opening their sketchbooks.  Another reason is that some artists only actively sketch to prepare for upcoming projects, and may, in fact, discard such preliminary drawings and preparatory material once projects are completed.

So, the two pages of David Mazzucchelli just don’t seem like enough, although the sample of his typographical skills almost makes up for that.  There are four pages of R. Crumb, but since Crumb has been publishing his sketchbooks and sketchbook material for four decades, the illustrations here won’t seem like anything new.

My minor quibbles aside, there is some spectacular material in Comics Sketchbooks from some major talents, known and little known.  The six pages of sketches by Carol Tyler are a doorway into the wonderland that is the talent of this unheralded artist.  The offerings from political cartoonist, Ann Telnaes, include several superb sketches of President Barack Obama caricatures.  There is no way to prepare for the six pages of Joseph Lambert, which are crammed with drawings.  I couldn’t help but return to his section several times.

It would be impractical for me to try to describe all the drawings in this book, all of it good, some of it even stunning, and even a few pieces that are (dare I say it) great.  I will tempt some of you by saying that there are a few sketches in here that were proposals for covers for the magazine, The New Yorker, including one by the always fabulous Drew Friedman.  This is a good book.  Comics Sketchbooks: The Private Worlds of Today’s Most Creative Talents should be on comics fans’ wish lists.  Steven Heller deserves some awards recognition, and certainly, at least, an Eisner nomination next year.


Rating: 9/10

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