Masters of Comics review

If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?

This quote, attributed to Albert Einstein, is an almost tongue-in-cheek way to begin the forward for Masters of Comics. The new book from Insight Comics shines a light on over twenty different comic book artists, their processes, and their workspaces. Writer Joel Edward interviews luminaries like Rafael Albuquerque, Frank Quitely, and Walter Simonson to get an idea about what their individual workdays look like, what inspires them, and how they prefer to keep their studios.

There’s an irony to that, because we’d hardly call any of the brilliant artists showcased here empty-minded, yet more than one of them laments that their workspace is too messy and needs to be cleaned.

It’s in those off-hand comments that this book really shines, though. While it’s definitely cool seeing the drafting board that a legend like, say, Bill Sienkiewicz uses to create one of his signature painted images, the real joy comes from reading these different artists describe what works and why.

Some artists, like Frank Cho and Dave Johnson, have relatively short answers to the presented questions, while Dan Panosian and P. Craig Russell go into further detail with their answers. No matter the length or brevity of their responses, though, you still get a good idea of their personality.

What’s more, everyone who is interviewed here clearly has a passion for their craft, and for the process in general. These are all seasoned pros who have found the “sweet spot” for their style, likely after years and even decades of trial and error. Some prefer a shared studio, for instance, so they can feed off of other creators. Others prefer to work from home, away from distractions while staying close to family. There are also as many different takes on “digital vs. physical” styles as there are artists interviewed, but nobody acts as if their preference is right while the alternative is wrong. Some work completely within a digital environment, others use paper and pen to get put images down and then touch it up on a computer, while others don’t use computers at all. You have industry vets like Tim Sale– who does not work digitally– state that he needs the feel of the brush in hand and the paper beneath it, but modestly declares that he can’t work digitally because he “doesn’t have the skills.” It’s refreshing to get an insight into these creators’ preferences while still hearing them recognize the value of methods they aren’t as familiar or comfortable with.

There’s plenty of Batman content on display too, from covers to pencils and inks to fully rendered pages.  While guys like Cho and Sale are givens with their represented work, it’s cool seeing Batman drawn in Michael William Kaluta’s style, for instance.  My personal favorite was seeing some of John Paul Leon’s uncolored pages from the “Terminal” arc, because that story just rules.

Great as this book is, there are a few things I would like to have seen. Everyone included is a penciler, first and foremost, which is great. It would have been nice to get insights from other types of artists, though, like inkers, colorists, and letterers. How cool would it have been to see someone like Klaus Janson or J.P. Mayer receive a penciled page, ready for their inks? Or Taylor Esposito or Deron Bennett breaking down the lettering process? Or how about Jordie Bellaire or MSassyK working their magic, applying their trademark colors to bring pages to life even more?

What’s more, most of the subjects are men, with only two women included. I wouldn’t say that Meadows should have omitted anybody to make room for somebody else, but surely there was still room to shine a light on Becky Cloonan, Amanda Conner, or Sara Pichelli? Perhaps in later volumes, sure, but it’s a definite missed opportunity here.

Despite those quibbles, this is still a strong book. It’s easy to read, and the design work is great. Since it’s a spotlight on comic artists, you’d better believe that there are tons of great covers and interior pages included, and they’re all laid out cleanly and professionally. I spent as much time poring over each artist’s bookshelves to see what they have on hand as I did reading their words, and it’s fascinating to see what types of materials and knick-knacks they keep on hand. Michael William Kaluta, for instance, has a lot of items around his workshop and they are all used for reference, whereas Travis Charest fully admits that he has toys simply for decoration. Charest also has possibly my favorite detail in the book: he shares his studio with his young daughter, so their walls are plastered with pages from both of them. It’s amazing to see a recognized talent share his gift and passion with the younger generation, and she’s no slouch either.

Masters of Comics is a great read for comic fans and aspiring artists alike, with phenomenal photography and engaging interviews with a nice group of legendary artists. At 7.8 x 11 inches, it’s large enough to be a nice coffee table book while still sitting well in the hand for easy reading. It will be available June 3, with a retail price of $24.99.

Thanks to Insight Comics for providing an advance copy for review.  This review has been modified slightly from a post originally published on Comics Now.


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