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CSBG Archive

Committed: Book Shopping with Clowes, Tezuka & Cooke

While I fully support all business charging (and paying tax themselves too), on the evening of September 14th I used the excuse that Amazon were going to start charging tax in California as an excuse to finally buy some books that had been hanging out on my shopping list for months. The books I bought were The Art of Daniel Clowes, two books by Osamu Tezuka (The Book of Human Insects and Message to Adolf, part 1), and Darwyn Cooke and Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score. I have to admit, when the big box of books arrived it felt like it was my birthday or something! While I regularly order things from Amazon, it is usually boring, practical stuff like water filter cartridges (which is almost certainly the least exciting thing to have delivered.) Moving house this year means that I haven’t been able to indulge in new book shopping for a quite a long time and this was just great. While there are dozens of books on my future shopping list, these are the ones I just had to have, the ones that I couldn’t wait to read any longer.

The Art of Daniel Clowes
Every time I go into a large, chain book shop, I first browse the design books since, as a business expense, they are the easiest purchases to justify. More importantly, they are also the books which I need to look at in-person to evaluate their validity for my work. Then later I will always wander over to the graphic novel section for fun, to see what meager offering there is on the one or two shelves allocated. Last time I did this, in amongst the many, many copies of Batman, I spied a big, sexy book. Oversized comic books are always exciting because they offer a chance to see more detail of an artist’s work. In this case the big, sexy book was about one of my favorite artists; Daniel Clowes. Now ordinarily, I might have simply looked at the pretty pictures and left it at that. After all, I don’t need to own every book that looks nice. However, this book contained page after page of Clowes graphic design, as well as his comic book art. Plus essays and quotes from other artists and designers (e.g Chris Ware, Chip Kidd) discussing his work. You cannot imagine how many of my interests were suddenly being crammed into the pages of this book, it was like a fantasy of a book I wanted to own. However, this was smack in the middle of a day of wandering with friends and I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy carrying a 15lb book around in 90 degree heat. I reluctantly put the book back and resolved to buy it as soon as I came back. Of course I didn’t and it simply sat on my shopping list, taunting me until this week.

The Book of Human Insects and Message to Adolf, part 1
Buying the two Osamu Tezuka books was absolute indulgence and I blame comic reporter; Tom Spurgeon (sort of.) You see, I’d wanted to buy The Book of Human Insects when it came out (late last year, I believe), but again, knowing that I was about to move I deemed it unnecessary and told myself that at some point in the future I would get it. I wanted it simply because it was Tezuka, and I have yet to read anything by him that I haven’t enjoyed. He can write about dressing up and touch on themes of equality, or the life of a doctor and weave an action / adventure tale, or even about incest and somehow make the characters seem lyrical and heroic. His commitment to breaking our minds with stories which confuse and conflict is laudable and (of course) quite insane. I am constantly impressed by his books, so naturally I wanted this one. Then my friends started reading it and I heard reports of this being his strangest offering yet. It drove me crazy not to have it, but I calmly went on with my life, moving, working and settling in… but in the back of my mind it lingered waiting until I was reminded of it by a very silly tweet of Tom Spurgeon’s last week, when he wrote “i wonder if reading adolf will be different now that i know tezuka could sometimes be totally freaking bugnuts loopy.” Not only did this make me want to read The Book of Human Insects, but it also made me curious about Message to Adolf, after all I’ve already been surprised and amazed by Tezuka’s take on subjects as diverse as Buddha, orphans, and metamorphosis. Having lived in Germany and being Jewish, a quick reading of the synopsis confirmed that this was a must-read for me. That was the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back and all pretense at being restrained and sensible went out the window. I bought both books at once.

Parker: The Score
Finally Darwyn Cooke’s third Parker book. How could I resist? Every book by Cooke is a beautiful poem to the human form, he’s got more movement and dynamism in his little finger than most comic book artists exhibit in their whole lives. Then you look at his work on Richard Stark’s Parker stories and you realize that his artistry is only half of the equation. Like Clowes and Osamu, he is just as much of a communicator with his art. His almost diagrammatic expositions and explanations behind scenes are fantastic and I would recommend the Parker books to any designer with an interest in period-style visual communication. Of course being Cooke this isn’t just some simple homage to a retro style, the whole series is rife with a modern complexity which allows for a rich and exciting comic book read. Increasingly, I’m asked to design infographics, and while Chris Ware is every comic book reader’s go-to reference for this style, it is Cooke who is the secret master of conveying complex plots, plans, and tricks in his work on the Parker books. Like the other books I bought, this is another hard cover book, beautifully designed and an absolute pleasure to own and read for the rest of my life. The incredibly high quality interior is supported by a beautifully simple hardcover and I just cannot wait to get down to reading it.

All of these books are just the best of the best that I could imagine buying for myself right now. Lovingly designed books filled with crazy wonder, they are the Lindt Extra Creamy Milk Chocolate of comic book indulgence. Naturally, because I’m now moved and finally back to work so that I can finally justify buying them for myself, I also don’t have the focused time (which is how life always seems to work out.) But when I do, it is going to be sublime. Even now I’m plotting to shut out the world for at least one day this weekend and get properly stuck into one of the books… now the only question is; which one goes first?

One Comment

BOOK OF HUMAN INSECTS was one of my favorite Tezuka books so far. I just read MESSAGE TO ADOLF part 1 last week too. It’s an amazing story, but I’ll warn ya that vol 1 doesn’t end on a happy note. I can’t wait to read the next 600 pages though!

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