Posted by: sophiabooksblog | March 27, 2010

Zot!: The Complete Black And White Collection

Zot!: The Complete Black And White Collection: 1987-1991
by Scott McCloud
(Harper Paperbacks)
ISBN: 978-0-06-153727-1

Here’s the short review: If you’re looking for something to buy a teenager–any teenager out there–get Zot. If they don’t read much, that’s okay–it’s a graphic novel. If they do read a lot, that’s cool–it’s deep. If you’re looking to get a gift for someone romantic, get Zot. If you’re searching for the perfect present for anyone sentimental or nostalgic, get Zot. It’s that easy.

The plot is simple: Zot is a superhero from an alternate Earth where it’s always 1965 and everything is utopian and optimistic. Coming through a portal, he ends up in our Earth, where there’s disappointment and heartbreak. But there’s also Jenny. And while you could categorize Zot as a superhero comic, you’d be doing the book a disservice, because it’s the extremely beautiful and human story of Zot and Jenny’s love that makes it an enduring work

It’s not a ‘girl book’–there are plenty of fight scenes and humour for anyone who thinks I’m playing it up too soppy–and for older readers (i.e. people-old-enough-to-have-teenagers-of-their-own) the issue about Jenny’s mom should elicit some bittersweet wistfulness. Zot is, as I previously stated, a book for everyone–a book that literally everyone can and will enjoy. Unless you’re a bigot. Or have no soul. If that’s the case, I don’t think I have any book recommendations for you. Maybe the 2010 Gun Digest. For everyone else, though, take an afternoon and get lost in Zot. I guarantee it will be worth it. –Chris

P.S. Issue #33 makes me cry every time I read it. Every. Single. Time.

Posted by: sophiabooksblog | March 20, 2010

Japanese Design

Japanese Design
(BNN Books)
ISBN: 978-4-86100-712-5

The use of flowers and natural elements in traditional Japanese design and patternwork is elegant and immediately identifiable. Like most aspects of their visual art, the subtle is accentuated until even the slightest nuance is significant to the meaning of the piece. Understatement, like a rock garden or drifting cherry blossom, becomes a thing to strive for and an element to focus on, rather than an overall absence or deficiency in the artwork itself.

And when the traditional aesthetics are married with modern design philosophies, the results, as seen in the aptly titled book, Japanese Design, can be staggering: an opera house, which, despite its obviously current architecture, looks like it was ready-made to host a Noh festival; Hawaiian shirts with Japanese prints–simultaneously gaudy and graceful; and porcelain tea cups, rife with simplistic geometric elegance.

A new Japanese edition of an out-of-print North American book, Japanese Design steps beyond its expected role of solely providing visual examples by including a CD-ROM of 80 full Japanese art pieces and 200 visual elements (all in EPS format) for use in your own works. Whether you are looking for sublime art to inspire or merely ruminate upon, Japanese Design likely has what you’re looking for. It is simple and gorgeous. It is simply gorgeous. –Chris

Posted by: sophiabooksblog | March 13, 2010

Mateki the Magic Flute

"Mateki the Magic Flute" by Yoshitaka AmanoMateki the Magic Flute
by Yoshitaka Amano
(Radical Books)
ISBN: 978-0-9802335-0-6

Amano has a built-in audience. Fans of anime and Japanese video games have been following his dreamy paintings through series like Vampire Hunter D and Final Fantasy, so there will already be a clientele champing at the bit for the release of his newest volume, Mateki. Based loosely on Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, Amano has managed to take the source material and make it both uniquely his and intrinsically Japanese while retaining the work’s European flavour through more subtle and artistic means (many of the paintings seem to borrow their colour palette–if not their out-and-out composition–from Gustav Klimt).

There isn’t much to read in Mateki. The book is composed mainly of paintings which are closer to sketches than finished works, and that may deter some buyers who aren’t as much in love with Amano as his more ardent fans. But there’s a simple beauty in even the most undeveloped of his pencil sketches and writing off the art as incomplete rather than accepting it as a sequence of exploratory visions is a mistake.

Mateki is a book which is meant to be contemplated, not lost in its lushness, but if you are willing to look between the lines at the brush strokes Amano hasn’t painted and fill in the scenes he hasn’t finished, there are many rewards to be found within. –Chris

Posted by: sophiabooksblog | March 13, 2010

The Prints of Warrington Colescott

The Prints of Warrington ColescottThe Prints of Warrington Colescott: A Catalogue Raisonn, 1948-2008
by Mary Weaver Chapin
(University of Wisconsin Press)
ISBN: 978-0299233006

Warrington Colescott’s art isn’t known as widely as it probably should be. For someone whose style is as widely ranging and deep as Colescott’s is, there should be more of an appreciation for his body of work, certainly in the wake of Ralph Steadman and similar, more popular artists of the ’60s and ’70s.

Combining a variety of artistic styles (Toulouse Lautrec and Picasso are obvious influences–he even has a piece entitled ‘Picasso at the Zoo)’, Colescott’s work reflects his upbringing (the cultural melting pot of Louisiana in the ’20s and ’30s) and earliest works (comic strips), as well as his political leanings (very much to the left). Social satire is a common theme and he takes aim at modern culture wholeheartedly, skewering its absurd heart with tableaus produced through etching, lithography, watercolour painting, pen and ink illustration and a very sharp sense of humour.

If there’s anything we should be thankful for, beyond the collection he has already given us, it is that he is still alive and working, continuing to produce more art which will hopefully illuminate the dark truths of the 21st Century as acutely as he did the 20th. –Chris

Posted by: sophiabooksblog | March 7, 2010

Tattooing the World

"Tattooing the World" by Juniper EllisTattooing the World
by Juniper Ellis
(Columbia University Press)
ISBN: 978-0-231-14369-1

Tribal tattoos have gone from being the toast of hip urbanites to passé and gauche in the space of a decade. What gets forgotten in discussions about them, though, is where they came from and what their history and significance is–not to North Americans or Western culture, but to those living in the Pacific, where many of the designs originated.

Tattooing the World aims to trace the history and significance of tattooing in mainstream culture from many of its Pacific roots to modern times, and pinpoints the clashes that erupted when tattooed societies met the non-tattooed.

It is an academic book, to be sure, and people looking for a collection of cool designs or reference material will come away from this volume disappointed, but those who want something to shed light and perspective on tattoo culture and history will be thrilled. Tattooing the World is a welcome addition in an otherwise under-represented area of study. —Chris