March 2006

Bill Baker


Pretty Paper: Art Books

Welcome to the second annual "Belated Best Art Books" Gutterslut column, which also marks my first anniversary working with this fine site. As I'm still on the road, returning from the first New York Comic-Con, this will likely be a somewhat truncated installment. However, this should not be construed as any negative comment on the general high quality of art books released during the 2005 season, and certainly not a backhanded compliment to any of the exceptional volumes I'll be discussing this month. Quite the opposite, in fact, as I could easily spend an entire column extolling the virtues of any one of these books.

First up is the latest release from John Fleskes and company, Mark Shultz: Various Drawings Volume 1. Over the past two decades or so, Schultz has pursued his muse and the perfection of his art with a relentlessness that borders on obsessive, and the results of his devotion are readily evident on every page of this book. Featuring the artist's preliminary sketches as well as the finished art created for a variety of companies and clients, and featuring a wide variety of subjects, this slim but fully packed book offers up some of the most lush and evocative work of the modern age. And, yes, I know full well how dangerously broad a generalization that statement may appear on the surface. Still, I believe it is justified, and feel that even the most cursory glance through this collection will confirm my assertion for all but the most determined naysayer. Schultz is an artist of uncommon skill and grace, with a painterly approach to laying down the textures, tones and various effects that only serve to enhance his uncanny sense of composition and rock solid figure work. Even more telling, there's a real sense of time and place to these pieces, lending the landscapes and the characters who inhabit them a truly lifelike weight and gravity.

Schultz's work deserves an even larger and wider audience than it now claims. Hopefully, this collection will help remedy that situation and firmly establish the Flesk Publications imprint, as well. Whether you're looking for one of the finest fantasy art books produced in the last few years, or an affordable and deeply satisfying glimpse into the process of one of America's living treasures of illustration, there's a good chance that you'd enjoy Mark Schultz: Various Drawings Volume 1.

Mark Schultz: Various Drawings Vol. 1
created by Mark Schultz and John Fleskes
published by Flesk Publications

Next, I'd like to turn your attention to Everett Raymond Kinstler: The Artist's Journey Through Popular Culture 1942-1962, written by Kinstler with the able assistance of noted popular art historian and collecter, Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr., released under the latter's JVJ Publishing imprint. As an exhaustive examination of an artist's life and canon, this is even an occasionally exhausting read. However, I've rarely encountered a book about a living subject that is so captivating, entertaining and illuminating of both its subject and his times. As such, it serves to place Kinstler in context with the evolving (or, as some would have it, devolving) commercial art world he inhabited during much of his career. Even better, rather than ignoring his involvement with comics and other popular entertainments, Kinstler embraces and even celebrates his contributions in those fields. This only serves to highlight his accomplishments throughout his life, allowing readers a chance to fully enjoy every piece presented in the book while also providing them with a space to place both his fine and popular art in context with each other.

Again, I could spend an entire column waxing ecstatic on the many virtues of this single book, and the importance of the many contributions its subject has made to our collective consciousness and popular culture. Instead, I'd simply like to say that if you plan on buying one art book this year, you would do well to give serious consideration to purchasing this book. Kinstler deserves some real recognition and renewed attention while he can enjoy it in this life, and Vadeboncoeur, Jr. and company deserve every penny they earn from this masterwork.

Everett Raymond Kinstler: The Artist's Journey Through Popular Culture 1942-1962
created by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. and Everett Raymond Kinstler
published by JVJ Publishing

Finally, I'd like to recommend something a bit different, and delightfully so: The Monster Engine: An Experiment with Children's Art, the first volume of what promises to be a highly entertaining and involving series of books featuring the work of various children as interpreted by veteran comic book artist turned teacher and commercial artist Dave Devries. This book is the direct result of Devries's own encounters with the vivid imaginations of a variety of kids who contribute their own unique takes on a monster they've created. Devries discusses their drawings and the monsters depicted therein in some detail before creating his own painted version of these variously scary, silly and downright disturbing imaginary creatures.

If this sounds like the results would be childlike, you wouldn't be far off. But that would miss the whole point of the this endeavor. Something truly magical is taking place between the covers of this book. In fact, it's unlikely that anyone wouldn't have the immediate urge to put pen and crayon to paper in the hopes of bringing their own wild things to life after reading this book. That's because Devries proves to be both a capable and sensitive collaborator, honoring and supporting wholly the various kids' own creative urges without questioning their worth or meaning. This is clearly reflected in the resulting paintings and the text accompanying them. Even better, Devries's approach offers some real and practical means for parents, teachers and anyone interested in encouraging their child's inner artist while simultaneously creating a clear conduit and methodology, however loosely constructed, for talking with them about their work and ideas.

Devries should be applauded for that service alone. However, there's ample reason to celebrate this artist's work and vision, as evidenced by the book itself. The Monster Engine: An Experiment with Children's Art is something utterly unexpected and wonderful and fun. And, in a world as imperfect as ours, isn't that what childhood -- and the pursuit of art-- is supposed to be about?

Dave Devries...The Monster Engine: An Experiment with Children's Art
created by Dave Devries, et al
MH Press

And that's about it for this month. I'll be back next month with a new batch of some of the best books I've encountered during the first quarter of 2006, a year which is already promising to be as full of high quality and entertaining graphic novels, collections and art books as last year. In the meantime, feel free to visit my brand new personal website,, to see what I've been reading and thinking about in the intervening weeks.