While I was enjoying Tony DiTerlizzi’s recently released Realms (amazon.com, amazon.de), I became aware that one of the things I really spend a lot of time (and money, and shelf space) on – collecting artbooks – might be worth blogging about. I have no idea whether this is going to become a regular feature, whether I start going through my entire collection, or just give the occasional shout-out to books you must buy. Let’s see.
Anyway, artbooks: Not only do I really like leafing through them, comparing, studying, learning, etcetera, but my fiscal judgement is, let’s call it, very loosely calibrated when it comes to them. I don’t feel bad about it, though. Art enriches life, and there’s always something good to learn from pretty much every book. While there are many good books worth a blog post, the first post about artbooks needs to be about four very specific ones. I keep an ever-changing selection of books on my nightstand, so that I have them on hand. When I notice I haven’t looked at one of them in a while, and what drove me to study it more in-depth isn’t very pronounced right now, it goes back to the shelf. Vice versa, I regularly get bitten by the need to study a certain artist, or studio, or movement, so I take the respective books from the shelf and put them on my nightstand.
This collection changes with mood, interest, whim… except for four books. This quadriga remains on my nightstand, not as a matter of principle but because I go back to them so regularly that there is no point in putting them on the shelf. Believe me, I’ve tried. Here they are, in alphabetical order by artist. (I also have to apologise in advance for the lousy photos. I decided to write/post this on a whim, and it was too dark for good pictures with my camera already.)
Amano Yoshitaka – The Sky
Okay, okay, technically, this is a three book box-set. It took me ages to finally get my hands on this. It was first published 2002 in Japan and I would have had to import it. While I do have imported books from Japan, sending something this size would have been prohibitively expensive, even by my splurging habits. In 2012 (Ten! Years!), Dark Horse released it in North America, and as soon as it turned up on amazon, I preordered it. And then I waited, and waited, and waited, without success. First, it went through delays, then got cancelled, then came out again, and finally, Dark Horse produced it only as a limited edition. They sold out in no time, and I was grumpy because amazon treated it as a normal book release, yet didn’t receive enough shipments to fulfill their preorders. Early 2013 saw a more mass-market release from Dark Horse, without all the extras they carried over from the japanese edition for their limited release, but it was the books I had my eye on for over ten years at that point.
The Sky collects Amano’s concept art and illustration for the Final Fantasy series of role playing games. The books are chock-full of Amano-san’s phenomenal art, featuring a plethora of images for the first ten Final Fantasy games. I dearly love his artwork, and need regular doses for tempering my drive to make everything plausible, every bit of anatomy and perspective correct, instead of focussing on expression, decorativeness, storytelling, and design. In case you don’t know Amano’s art, I scanned one page to give you a glimpse. (Really though, you should go look him up! he’s amazing!)
(At the time of writing, you can still get the box on amazon!)
Iain McCaig – Shadowline
There is a good chance you have seen Iain McCaig’s art, even though you might not have heard his name. He worked on pretty much everything: Film work for Interview with the Vampire, Terminator 2, Hook, the Harry Potter films, prominent design on the Star Wars prequels (he practically invented Darth Maul and Padmé Amidala), the cover for Jethro Tull’s The Broadsword and the Beast, Tolkien art, Marvel art, Magic cards, tons of projects that didn’t see the light of day, and on top of it all, he is a compulsive storyteller who is always wrapped up in personal projects. And the guy can draw! Really, i’d hate him for the seeming effortlessness of his work if he wasn’t such a deeply loveable and sympathetic person. If you can get your hands on the art tutorial videos he did for Gnomon, go watch them! There is also plenty of stuff on youtube for your perusal. :)
The book contains artwork from many stages of his career, for all kinds of clients famous or barely known, as well as personal drawings. It is all embedded in a story about storytelling he wrote for the book, and in which he himself stars. As with the Amano book, here is one sample page (cropped because the book is too large for my scanner):
(At the time of writing, the book is still available on amazon!)
Mike Mignola – The Art of Hellboy
If you remotely like comics, you have probably heard the name Mike Mignola before. And even if you didn’t, you are probably aware of Guillermo del Toro’s film adaptation of his most beloved character, Hellboy. And if you have once seen any one piece of Mignola’s artwork, you will remember his distinctive style: flat blacks and thin outlines, rough-hewn shapes, sparse detail, and an appeal somewhere between cave drawings, kirby comics, and dark expressionism. I came late to Mignola, I am ashamed to say, but there is a distinct danger of getting turned away when you only give his stuff a cursory glance. Mignola doesn’t prettify. Where appeal is one of the classic Disney tenets, assuring that every figure is instantly attractive and tuned to come to your visual palate as smoothly as possible, Mignola relentlessly throws everything out his drawings don’t absolutely need: Details? Who needs a detail unless it specifically tells something essential? Exact anatomy? Enough to tell you what is going on is sufficient. Shapes and gestures pushed to their narrative extreme, though, he doesn’t compromise one iota. Gradations between light and dark? Contrast always is dark in front of light or light in front of dark anyway, so black and not-black is enough. Mignola is more extreme than many in this regard, pushing for the bare necessities of character, shape and atmosphere. If the rough, apparently primitive surface displeases you, give it another, deeper look and try to find an important element that is missing, or anything superfluous.
The book is exclusively artwork from the Hellboy universe, as the name suggests, but features compositional thumbnails, sketches, designs and even the occasional animal study. Here is one sample page:
(At the time of writing, the book is still available on amazon!)
Claire Wendling – Drawers 2.0
Claire Wendling with a pencil is a force of nature. She’s a french comic artist whose work seems to remain largely un- or sporadically translated (AAARGH! At least there is a german translation of her comic Les Lumières de l’Amalou, which I fear will be borderline unbearably clumsy, as german translations usually are, but it’s better than nothing), and whose artbooks seem to easily sell out and then immediately go north of three figure prices. If I get ahold of one of these three-wishes-fairies or Jinn or whatever, I solemnly swear that one wish will be spent on making all her output stay in print and translation for all eternity.
Her artwork, similar to McCaig and Mignola, is pushed to a high degree of character and expressiveness, yet with a unique touch. She does stark stylisation as well as Mignola, the slightly caricaturesque as well as McCaig, and a ton of other things on top. Also, her animal drawings are unbefreakinglievable. Her great cats are a serious challenge to Frank Frazetta, fantasy art’s most well-known master of the feline form. And if you don’t take care, you will get lost in the complexity and nuance of her many drawings of centaurs hunting horses. I highly cherish her sense of expressing physicality – especially in her women.
Drawers 2.0 is the biggest Wendling book I own, and the most versatile: From sketches to illustrations, decorative to grotesque, innocent to erotic, it’s got everything. I had to spend a good bit of money, though, as I could only find it new from Stuart Ng. Yay for buying a french book from a US seller and paying a shipping premium just to have it sent home to Europe again. If you can’t find it at a good price, do get one of her sketchbooks (Daisies and Desk, both of them get a thumbs-up) first. Again, a sample page featuring a little bit of everything.
So, these are the four books that never leave my nightstand. There are countless other artists that snuck into my DNA, such as Frank Frazetta, Jeffrey/Katherine Jones, several Capcom concept artists, Milt Kahl, J.C. Leyendecker, Egon Schiele, Yoji Shinkawa, and Kawase Hasui, among many others. But these four books I need to keep at hand at all times.
Do you have any favourite artbooks, or other things you need to keep close just in case you need to look at them? Drop me a comment!