Monday, January 26, 2015

For the Bookshelf

by Arnie Fenner

I love books. Not as a collector, really, though I (purely by accident) own some relatively rare titles and a few limited editions. No, my books are meant to be read, to be enjoyed—and they are. They're my well-thumbed, occasionally scuffed and foxed friends, ready to be pulled off the shelf and enjoyed without having to upgrade an OS or make sure a battery is fully charged. Though you can find all manner of good stuff on the internet it is simply not the same—it doesn't have the same resonance—as encountering similar content in a nicely designed book. In an age when people happily watch Lawrence of Arabia on their tablets or present their portfolios via smartphones, I guess my preference for good old fashioned ink on paper makes me a dinosaur. That's okay by me.

So naturally there were some wonderful art books published in 2014 and, just as naturally, a batch of them found their way to my bookshelf. Here are a few.

The Collector's Book of Virgil Finlay was a Kickstarter-funded book celebrating the art of one of SF's most important artists. Compiled by Robert Weinberg, Doug Ellis, and Robert Garcia this limited edition is a fitting tribute to Finlay, whose influence on the field is felt to this day. Published in a tiny edition of 400 copies this undoubtedly won't be in print for long.

I had posted my introduction for The Art of Greg Spalenka: Visions From the Mind's Eye on Muddy Colors some months back so you knew it would wind up on this list. Greg, of course, is a pioneer in the illustration world: whether working in paint or pixels you can see his influence on any number of artists working today. This sumptuous collection charts his career and serves as a beautiful forum for him to share his philosophy on self-empowerment and what it takes to make a living as an artist today. 

I had never heard of William Mortensen before American Grotesque came out, but it turns out that many artists (unbeknownst to me) had been using his photos as reference for decades, the sneaky devils. Offbeat, dramatic, and occasionally disturbing (in that back streets of Hollywood seaminess sort of way) it's obvious why Ansel Adams raised an eyebrow at his photos and Anton LeVey dedicated The Satanic Bible to him. Before Photoshop there was Mortensen and this book is an interesting look back.

I've always enjoyed Fred Gambino's art and was happy to finally snag a book of his work. Primarily a digital creator, Fred makes the software do his bidding rather than the other way around. 

Bob Chapman's Graphitti Designs is one of the true groundbreakers in our field. They were producing statues (starting with Randy Bowen's "Doc Savage" bust), action figures, T-shirts, signed ltd. prints, and artist editions (gotta love Elektra Lives Again) literally before everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. Their Gallery Edition of Batman: Kelley Jones is big (12"x17"/248 pages) and beautiful. Jones is one of the most interesting artists DC used on the character and this beautifully printed collection showcases his intricate, Goth-flavored line work.

I'm a sucker for Steranko and have been since I first encountered his art in Spyman #1 in 1966. When IDW came out with the Artist Edition of his Nick Fury/Strange Tales art, a purchase was a foregone conclusion. If you don't know why Steranko is important…shame on you. What might seem like a standard today was an innovation in the 1960s—brought about by Jim Steranko. Like most of my comics-related books, I picked up this literally coffee table-sized baby at Clint's in KC, probably the first comics shop in the U.S. Historians, pay attention.

Another Artist Edition from IDW that I had to have was their Hellboy collection by Mike Mignola. Putting it simply, Mignola is one of the best writers/artists the comics industry has ever seen. Impressive and expressive, his art is an inspiration of directness and simplicity not seen since Alex Toth was at his peak. If you're one of the few who doesn't think what Mike has accomplished is genius…go away and don't bother me. Philistine. 

Frank Cho, in his own unique way, is as brilliant as Mignola and has a deft touch with a brush that is second to none. Frazetta had it. Dave Stevens had it. Mark Schultz has it. And so does Frank. His Drawing Beautiful Women book is a nice primer for budding artists, made accessible through Frank's straight-on approach and playful sense of humor (see the "contents page" for an example). He's unapologetic about his delight in drawing bodacious females and that honesty (combined with the fact that his women are all strong and in charge of their environments) is a part of both his charm and appeal. An extra attraction for this book is the sequential chapter which includes a previously unpublished "Jungle Queen" comic: it's a winner.

Name a film and John Alvin probably did a poster for it. Which is a quick way to say, yes, I liked this collection and so will you.

Brian Kesinger is a Disney artist with a side fascination with Steampunk and octopi. His latest book featuring his characters Victoria Psismall & Otto is a coloring book (and coloring seems to be "the thing" for adults now for some reason) that I wouldn't dream of defacing with my Crayolas. Beautiful line art combined with charm and humor makes Coloring With Your Octopus a keeper.

If you like space art…shoot, just go buy John Harris' book. You'll be glad you did.

Bob McGinnis' new art book is a welcome companion to his first collection, Tapestry, that Cathy and I edited for Underwood Books 15 years ago (good God, how time flies). There's a little overlap, true, but there's art in one that isn't in the other (and vice versa) as well as different treatments—so if you have Tapestry, you'll be happy to have a copy of The Art of Robert McGinnis. And if you want more after picking up the new book, you'll be well-rewarded in tracking down a copy of Tapestry from your favorite antiquarian bookseller. 

This is a stunning book, beautiful from the first page to the last with tip-top production values. Marina's 3D art is expressive and emotive: describing what she creates as "art dolls" is both accurate and deceptive. Marina is a storyteller and her work is both unbelievably wondrous and ultimately unforgettable. Trust me: to see this book is to want it.

Since today is the deadline for entries to Spectrum 22, I of course have to end this post with a mention of Spectrum 21, the first volume produced and edited by John Fleskes. For his first time at bat I think John knocked it out of the part. With a fresh outlook and the introduction of new features (and revisioning of originals), John has started to put his stamp on the annual as editor—which is precisely what Cathy and I wanted—all while showcasing some of the most exciting art of the previous year. And there will be more changes, more refinements, more tweaks and additions in future volumes—which is as it should be. Spectrum has always respected the past, celebrated the present, and embraced the future: I can't wait to see how Spectrum 22 turns out! 


  1. Thanks for this great list, Arnie. I'm with you on books. I've stacks and stacks of old friends that I've lugged halfway around the planet at great cost - my only truly valuable possessions, as far as I'm concerned. I do my best to take good care of them, but I use the hell out of 'em, too!

    Thanks also for the tip on the Mortensen book. I've only just recently discovered his work, and my main submission to Spectrum this year incorporates a direct callout to him (his technique of writing text directly on the image, which as a graphic designer is hard for me to resist doing).

    The Harris and McGinnis books were on my short list, but I'll bet that Finlay volume is insane, and since it's short run, I'd better make a move - thank again for the heads-up.

  2. I'm ashamed to admit how many books I bought last year. Ian Miller's book might be one of the favorite's. Then there is the Art of Mr. Hublot, the re-release the book of the Book of How, China Days from Henrik Drescher, Richard Thompson, crap the internet isn't big enough to list them all. I'll be building bookshelves instead of painting. Great list Arnie.

    1. The Miller book IS good, as is the latest Jim Burns collection. I'm a sucker for a lot of those "art of the movie" books that come out which feature loads of concept art, too. Too many books, too little dough. :-)

  3. Thank you for the recommendations. I love art books, but for the most part I tend to haunt our local 2nd hand shop, as they have a surprisingly good selection of fantasy/scifi art books, and it provides some limits to the bookbuying experience that keep me from going broke.

    I am really tempted by the Finlay, though.

    1. Oh, and William Mortenson was not even on my radar, but now I'm definitely going to look him up . Thanks!

    2. Glad you enjoyed the list! Regarding the Finlay, I was surprised to see some pieces I'd never seen before. Much of the contents are from two major collectors and it was nice to see some of the gems they've acquired through the years.