Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Spaced Out

Posted by Don MacPherson on May 27th, 2008

Studio Space
Interviews: Joel Meadows, Gary Marshall & Andrew Colman
Editors: Joel Meadows & Gary Marshall
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $49.99 US (hardcover)/$29.99 US (softcover)

This book of interviews, from the people behind Tripwire Annual, offers insight into the craft of some of the top artistic talent in comics today. There’s a nice diversity of professionals represented in this book, so there’s bound to be several creative voices profiles of interest to just about every enthusiast of the comics medium. Ultimately though, this book is clearly aimed at artists who admire these artists. The focus is on how these talents became professional comics artists and what tools they’ve used to create so many memorable images over the years. At times, I found that the subjects were speaking a different language. I’m not interested in doing illustration work myself, just taking it in and appreciating it (and occasionally critiquing it). Artists’ thoughts on particular brushes and software features didn’t really hold my interest. However, some of the artists are remarkably forthcoming about frustrations they’ve experienced over their careers and the disappointments (from within and without) that some career-making projects brought to them. I would expect would-be comics artists will get a lot out of this book, while those with an overall love of comics and its history will find some small measure of diversion.

Profiled in Studio Space are: Brian Bolland, Tim Bradstreet, Howard Chaykin, Steve Dillon, Tommy Lee Edwards, Duncan Fegredo, Dave Gibbons, Adam Hughes, Joe Kubert, Mike Mignola, Frank Miller, Sean Phillips, George Pratt, Alex Ross, Tim Sale, Walt Simonson. Bryan Talbot, Dave Taylor and Sergio Toppi. Each of the 20 artists is given his own section, and each of those sections is broken down into three parts: Getting Started (basically, “how I broke into comics”), The Studio Space (“what my workspace is like and what tools I use to create art”) and some candid thoughts about select highlights from the artist’s career. It’s a tidy little formula, but unfortunately, it feels a bit repetitive even before one reaches the halfway mark of the book. Furthermore, I find it rather disappointing that few visuals of the actual workspaces are shared with the readership.

Some of the artists are surprisingly forthcoming about problems they have with their work, collaborators, other industry personalities and themselves. One definitely gets the notion that the interviewers have managed to probe beyond the usual PR pleasantries to arrive at some real honesty. The artists also speak a lot about those who inspired them, and the reader will encounter plenty of names unassociated with comics. It’s great to convey to would-be professionals that studying art in general, not just comic art, is vital to success, but again, as a non-artist, I felt they were speaking another language.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the project is its price point. It’s not really an art book, per se; it’s a book about art and artists. I know it sounds as though I’m contradicting myself, but it’s the best way I can describe it. Thirty bucks is a hefty price tag for a softcover book; it seems more like the price that should have been printed on the hardcover. Then again, as I’ve admitted, I don’t represent the target audience for this volume, so others may find it’s a good value. I was also disappointed to find so many references to the use of photography in the crafting of comic art (and I don’t just mean photo reference). It’s a reality of comic art today and has been for years, but as someone who so enjoys the notion of an artist crafting an image from pure imagination, I found it a little disheartening. Don’t take this as a critique of the artists in question, though. It’s a valid tool, I know, and many employ it to great effect.

Studio Space isn’t comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination. It seemed as though each profile omitted at least one major project or career-defining story. One testimonial on the back of the book describes it as “exhaustive.” It’s not. At best, it provides glimpses at the backgrounds and influences of a number of professionals. But there are several figures profiled here who have careers and talents that would merit filling all 320 pages, rather than having to share them with 19 others. 6/10

7 Responses to “Spaced Out”

  1. andreas Says:

    thx for posting this review!
    ive been thinking about buying this book since it came out and i guess its going
    to take some more time until i will.

    it could work as a christmas gift i guess..

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Studio Space is only hitting store shelves today (May 28), I believe.

  3. Brandon Graham Says:

    I just saw this book today.
    Like you said, frustrating that they didn’t include more photos of the actual workspaces. It’d be cool to see a book of nothing but where comic artists work.
    I don’t know why some comic magazine doesn’t do that every issue.

    I thought it was cool that Sergio Toppi was in it.
    But yeah, not 30 bucks cool.

    Good review sir.

  4. Don MacPherson Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Brandon. Out of curiosity, are you the same Brandon Graham who created King City and Multiple Warheads?

    As for photos of comic artists’ studios, I know Comic Book Resources runs a regular feature that does just that.

  5. sleeper Says:

    It looks like a fascinating book, but a bit too pricey for my blood. It’s tempting, however. That’s an amazing roster of artists.

    I think it’d be really interesting… hopefully, more emphasis on ideas and careers than on the purely mechanical aspects of creating comic book art. It’d get dry awfully fast if they spend too much time discussing pencil gauges and ink types.

    “Some of the artists are surprisingly forthcoming about problems they have with their work, collaborators, other industry personalities and themselves. One definitely gets the notion that the interviewers have managed to probe beyond the usual PR pleasantries to arrive at some real honesty.”

    Anything you can say on this blog? 🙂

  6. Don MacPherson Says:

    I can say lots of stuff, but I try to leave out spoilers (if that term applies in this case) so people who do pick up the book can discover them for themselves.

  7. Brandon Graham Says:

    Hi Don,

    Yeah, I’m the dude that draws those comics.

    I didn’t know CBR did that, I’ll have to check it out.