Toppi

Unique and well-executed art styles always make comic books more interesting to read in my opinion, and as much as everyone claims you should not judge a book by its cover, that is often my first criteria for deciding to read a comic book. While there are a plethora of incredible stylesranging from highly cartoony, to beautiful watercolor, to realistic—, inked linework has always captivated me, and artists such as Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, Hal Foster, Mark Schultz, and François Schuiten are among my favorites.

While ambling down the rabbit hole that is YouTube a few months ago, I came across a video by Earl Grey reviewing a list of his favorite Euro graphic novels (he is from Germany)and among the list was “Sharaz-De: Tales from the Arabian Nights” by the Italian artist Toppi. The illustrations were entirely in black and white, with intricate texturing and hatching, all within pages that contained some of the most unique panel compositions I had seen in a comic format. As soon as the video was over I knew a trip to Amazon.com was in orderand a short while later a hardcover copy of The Collected TOPPI – Volume One: The Enchanted World was at my doorstep.

Toppi began his career in the illustration world during the 1960s and has since become well known in comic circles and influenced many other artists. The refinement of his artistic execution and composition definitely reflects his interest in illustration, and makes for a dramatic reading experience:

My specific book is a collection of short fantasy works Toppi created. The stories themselves read much like very dark fairytales, and while interesting in their own right, are overshadowed by the artist’s incredibly unique style. With this collection, the reader can simply look at the artwork and appreciate the whole book on that merit alone, without reading a single bit of text. There are many examples of his work on the internet, and some of his publications have made it to the U.S.albeit in limited quantities. But his style is unique throughout:

Comics from the European continent have become an area of interest for me as of latetitles such as Blacksad, When the Wind Blows, Samaris, and Matteo to name a fewall done with different styles and subject-matter. Toppi’s work is unique unto itself, and one of the few that can stand on its visual artistry alone. If you love well-inked drawings, and appreciate unique but effective composition, I would recommend looking into Sergio Toppi.

References

Earl Grey: https://youtu.be/yi6e4TQ7jC8?t=61

(all images are from the below)

Toppi, S., Melloul, J., Kennedy, M., & Sienkiewicz, B. (2019). The collected Toppi. Volume one, The enchanted world. Lion Forge.

Finding Vivian Maier

I wrote this film response for my photography class this past spring.  My analysis of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier does contain some spoilers, but the true jewel of the movie is the photographs, so I do not think my spoilers will affect your enjoyment of the documentary too much.


Vivian Maier self-portrait pastiche
One of Vivian Maier’s self-portraits (left) and a pastiche I did of it (right) for one of my class assignments.  A pastiche is an imitation of art that pays homage to the original work.

When aspiring author John Maloof uncovers the work of an obscure photographer, his journey of discovery introduces the world to Vivian Maier and inspires the creation of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier.  Both artists and art can be quite controversial, and Vivian Maier and her photographs are no exception.  At the same time, though, this film’s cinematography, storytelling, and the work of Vivian Maier that it presents are often exceptional, intriguing, and even inspiring.

From the first second to the last, Finding Vivian Maier is full of cleverly-crafted shots.  The cinematography has an appealing aesthetic, and I like the way in which the filmmakers link together interview footage of experts and Maier’s acquaintances with Maier’s photographs and personal audio recordings.  Because of the film’s clean but creative cinematography, the storyline is easy to follow and interesting without the need for dramatization or actors.  Additionally, I think the framing of certain shots is appropriate and effective.  For instance, scenes where the film zooms out to show dozens of Maier’s photos laid out in a grid exemplify the photography compositional rule of patterns and repetition, and this is a powerful visual tool for emphasizing how prolific a photographer Maier was.  Finding Vivian Maier also includes examples of compositional rules such as the rule of thirds and the use of unusual perspectives, which are nice touches in a documentary about a photographer and add interest to what might otherwise be boring footage.  Thanks to the documentary’s high quality cinematography, black-and-white photos linked with interview scenes become a seamless story which draws in the audience.

street photography MaierWhile high quality cinematography is valuable, however, the storytelling in Finding Vivian Maier is another essential part of the film.  According to what the documentary reveals, Maier is a controversial person who is lonely, perhaps mentally ill, and can be alternately wonderful or abusive towards the children she nannies.  I appreciate that the movie maintains a relatively unbiased approach to the story.  The film is full of personal accounts from people who have known Maier and the opinions of art experts, and how the filmmakers tell the story presents different sides to Maier’s life, focusing on both her strengths and weaknesses.  In addition, the fact-based storytelling method and the frequent use of interviews to stitch the story together helps promote the film’s credibility.  One aspect of the storytelling that I do not understand is why the storywriters include the uplifting discovery that Maier attempted to have her work published in the middle of the film rather than at the end.  Following this exciting revelation, the documentary highlights Maier’s mysterious life and erratic personality and concludes on a sad note with her lonely death.  This arrangement of events strikes me as an odd storytelling decision, although I do think the story ends strong in the last scene with its audio clip of Maier and a shot of one of her self-portraits being developed.

photo by MaierThe storytelling and cinematography in Finding Vivian Maier help make the documentary interesting, but Maier’s photographs are the most inspiring and intriguing aspects of the film.  Maier’s photographs range from clever to stunning to disturbing.  Just like Maier, the photographs are often full of mystery and contrasting character.  She clearly had an excellent eye for photo composition and natural talents which she honed with constant practice, resulting in the thousands of images Maloof finds in his search.  I think Maier’s persistence and boldness in taking photographs teach the importance of practice and pushing outside one’s comfort zone to achieve success in photography.  No theories can replace hands on experience.  In particular, I like how Maier’s photos are often candid and raw; they show the world as it really is with all its beauty and flaws.  I think it is intriguing that Maier was so bold in her photography because, by all accounts, she was reclusive and sometimes even scared of strangers,

In spite of her secretive life, reclusive personality, and lifelong silence about her work, Vivian Maier now has posthumous recognition thanks to Finding Vivian Maier.  More importantly, though, Maier has found a voice in her photos that will continue to speak for her.  Through the pictures, audiences can meet strangers and gain a new perspective on life and the world around them.  These images communicate everyday experiences, emotions, and scenes and also reflect the creative but eccentric artist who shot them.  Maier’s story is another example of how some of the greatest artists have broken and lonely lives, yet despite—or perhaps because of—this, they are able to capture beauty and share it with the world.


Note: Finding Vivian Maier is currently available on Netflix Instant.

It’s the Gauls!!

Time seems to be a great sieve, separating the valuable from the trash. This is often true whether one is thinking of music, literature, art, oratory, or architecture: that which lasts the test of time seems to be the great and the magnificent. While certainly not always true, this rule can help with music (think of the greats: Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky) and you will rarely be disappointed. In the realm of art, look for Hokusai, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and others, and likewise we are rarely left with anything but admiration. I have also found this to be true in the realm of comics (albeit the medium is much younger than the aforementioned). Following this train of thought, I recently began rereading the series “Asterix and Obelix” first published in 1959. Featuring a fearless duo of Gauls who resist Caesar and his Roman army, Volume 1 opens with the friendship of Asterix and his friend Obelix being established, the introduction of the village druid Getafix, the village bard Cacofonix, and many other characters (including Roman legionaries Crismus Bonus and Ginantonicus). Below is a brief introduction to the series I wrote a few years back. Enjoy!

The following is from our sister site: Flint and Bone’s Comic Reviews.

Asterix and Obelix

In the vein of older European comics, which was introduced with Tintin, I now present AsterixAsterix is an entertaining comic series written by R. Goscinny and A. Uderzo. Both men were born in France and published the Asterix stories in French publications. The comics follow (big surprise!) Asterix and his friend Obelix, two Gauls who live in a small village surrounded by Roman legions. They spend their days eating boar, hurling menhirs, smashing Romans, and having many adventures.

Even though the stories were originally published in French, the dialogue is still very clear and witty in translation. The stories make plentiful use of wordplays in the dialogue, and all the names carry some humorous reference to the character of their owners.  Asterix is largely character driven, and the interplay of personalities in the different situations is always humorous to read. The stories provide a good mix of wit, both historical and mythological settings, and an ancient Roman cast of characters to continually keep the adventures  interesting.

Not only are the dialogue and stories well done, but the comics are also splendidly made from a visual standpoint.  The panels are laid out in a grid pattern and are easy to follow. The artwork is very clear and well rendered, and Uderzo does an excellent job of exaggeration in his art, adding a humor outside of the dialogue.  These factors make the comic very easy to read.  Finally, regarding color, either the comics were originally printed at a very high quality, or the illustrations have been masterfully re-colored. Needless to say, these comic books do not look like they were printed nearly fifty years ago, but are sharp and vibrant.

If you want some humorous, light reading, give Asterix a look. With witty dialogue and stories –accompanied by a superb cartoon style –you can’t go wrong.

Happy Reading!

-flint-

Christmas Stories

Christmas has inspired many traditions, stories, and poems which fill the season with delight – the best of which point to the original tale from Bethlehem.  The following are three lovely books that I hope my readers will find time to enjoy this December.  Above all, I recommend reading Luke 2:1-20 and the Scripture passages found in Handel’s Messiah.

An Illustrated PoemThe Night Before Christmas

I have read many of Jan Brett’s Christmas books, but only this year did I discover her illustrated version of Clement Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas.”  Brett’s illustrations suit this famous Christmas poem.  The pictures are full of warm, cheery colors and funny human and animal characters.  I also like how there is a second little story playing out in the pictures in the margins.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan ToomeyA Picture Book

Despite its uninviting title, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by P. J. Lynch is one of the best picture books I have ever read.  The writing style, story, and illustrations are splendid.  I especially love the onomatopoeia and parallelism that Susan Wojciechowski uses.

 

A Short Story

A Christmas Carol

Other than The Muppet Christmas Carol, I have never liked a movie version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and until this year, movies were all the experience I had with the story.  Then in February, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and illustrated by P. J. Lynch.

Pervading the story A Christmas Carol is an eeriness uncommon in Christmas stories.  But despite its ghosts, somber spirits, and icy-hearted main character, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a beautiful tale of character change.

Confronted with a future of death and despair by the ghost of his former business partner Jack Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge fears he will never have a chance to change his life.  Is it already too late?  If so, why did he receive a warning?  Full of desperate hope, Scrooge travels with three spirits, remembering his past, seeing his present, and passing through what could be his own future.  Each story points Scrooge to new resolutions of personal change.  With the 20-20 vision of hindsight, he views his past mistakes regretfully, understanding better what he should have been, but failed to be.  The stories from the present show him the kind people he has mistreated and turned against himself – yet another reminder of his failures.  The future reveals that Scrooge’s current path will lead to ignominy and lonely death.  What kind of man will Scrooge be remembered as?  Or will he even be remembered?

PJLynchThough there are no open references to Christianity and Dickens held a works-righteousness worldview which plays out in Scrooge’s character changes, hints of the true meaning of Christmas and the Gospel shine through.  The Ghost of Christmas Present demonstrates Christ-like attributes of mercy and the spread of goodwill.  The possibility of heart-change echoes the message of the Gospel and reminds Christians of how wonderful, undeserved, and inexplicable God’s abundant mercy is.  Even though Scrooge “saves” himself by good works and generosity, he would never have changed without outside forces acting upon him, and this is a good reminder of man’s lost condition without God’s condescending grace.  Also, the fact that Scrooge is spared when many, like Marley, were not emphasizes the truth of unconditional election.  Nothing requires God to save all men, or even any men.  But in his inscrutable love, God has chosen to spare some.

With its very own title, A Christmas Carol reveals what this story truly is:  “a song of praise or joy, especially for Christmas” (“Carol” 241).  Dickens is reminding the world of the joy, hope, and redemption that Christ brought at Christmas for sinners that are just as selfish, miserly, and lost as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Illustrator Biography

Patrick James Lynch was born in 1962 and has worked as an illustrator of children’s books since leaving Brighton College of Art in England in 1984.  He has won many awards including the Mother Goose Award, the Christopher Medal three times, and the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal on two occasions, first for The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, and again for When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest (“Bio”).  The Gift of the MagiIn recent years Lynch has designed posters and sets of stamps in addition to illustrating books.  P. J. Lynch has lectured on his own work and on art and illustration at the National Gallery of Ireland, The National Library of Ireland and at the National Print Museum of Ireland, as well as at numerous conferences and colleges across the U.S.  He illustrated beautiful versions of A Christmas Carol and The Gift of the Magi in 2006 and 2008 respectively.  With his gorgeous and richly-detailed paintings, P. J. Lynch makes picture books a delight to read.  P. J. Lynch lives in Dublin with his wife and their three young children (“Bio”).

Works Cited

“Bio.”  PJ Lynch.  2011.  14 Nov. 2015 <www.pjlynchgallery.com/biog.html>

“Carol.”  The American Heritage Dictionary.  2nd ed.  1985.