Want more like this? Try searching the Archives for Jon McNaught.
It’s been a busy year, so this is by no means a comprehensive best of, but what follows is a few of my favourite books, games, and other art-related items from 2012.
Two hardware purchases made a big difference in my workflow this year. First, I ditched my small, clunky box-shaped lightbox this year once I saw these super slim LED light pads that Michael Cho and Laura Park were both using. I splurged and got the largest 17x24 model, which takes up half my drafting table, but is flat enough to not ever be in the way, and large enough to accommodate most of the work I throw at it. For smaller desks or smaller budgets, it also comes in 12x17 and 12x9 models.
Secondly, I work on a Wacom Cintiq, but I like to draw while standing, so I was in the market for an LCD Arm this year. Every bit of my Google research seemed to lead to the Ergotron LX. The Cintiq is a little heavier than the LX’s stated maximum allowance, but there’s no noticeable strain on the arm, and the Cintiq moves freely and hangs solidly in the air. There’s a little wobble when using the Cintiq one-handed, but nothing prohibitive. Any wobble is made up for with the like-butter ease of turning and tilting the screen on a whim. Mounting the Cintiq to an adjustable arm is such an improvement on its overall ease of use that I think the Cintiq should come with one by default.
All of my local art and craft stores stock the ubiquitous Moleskine notebooks in their various incarnations, but none of them carry the harder-to-find (at least in my neck of the woods) watercolour books. Moleskine sketchbooks are very popular, but they don’t take watercolour or washes well, so discovering these watercolour Moleskines was a blessing. I’m not a watercolour paper connoisseur, but this paper is very nice, and is a joy to draw on even if you’re just using pencil or ink. Available in pocket-sized, large, A3, and A4.
Austin Kleon’s Tumblr may be the Internet’s greatest resource for writers and artists. On any given day it is overflowing with inspiration, wisdom, and straightforward advice for anyone who makes art of any kind. Steal Like an Artist (subtitled 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative) is the perfect companion book to the site, and neatly encapsulates Austin’s discoveries on creativity, art, and finding meaning in one’s work.
It was inevitable that Christoph Niemann’s highly imaginative and creative visual blog Abstract City, for the New York Times, would find itself a home in the pages of a book. Niemann translates his everyday experiences into smartly-crafted visual gags and creative imagery that never fail to delight or make me think, “why didn’t I think of that?”. The book includes the best of the website, including I LEGO N.Y., Bio-Diversity, and Let it Dough!. And judging by how many new entries the blog has in its previous posts section as of this writing, I hope we can expect a second book.
From my original review:
Drawn’s own Matt Forsythe delivers the follow-up to his first book, Ojingogo. Jinchalo continues the wordless fairy tale adventures of Voguchi, and Matt has clearly stepped up his game in terms of his art and pantomime storytelling. It’s a little Alice in Wonderland, a little Jack in the Beanstalk, and a little Wizard of Oz, flavoured with Korean folktales. I love these books so much.
I’m not a hardcore gamer, and my gold standard for adventure games is 1987’s Space Quest II, so that should give you some context for where my tastes and experiences lie. Amanita Design’s Machinarium (2009) is just about as perfect as a game can get — everything from the visuals, the puzzles, the music, and the storytelling work together to form a perfectly realized, illustrated world that I have revisited a number of times. If there was a game made for me, Machinarium is it. Amanita’s follow-up, Botanicula does for plants, seeds, and twigs what Machinarium did for robots. It takes place in a cosmic, bioluminescent plant world, so the gameplay and puzzles are a little more abstract than the ones in Machinarium’s gritty mechanical city, but the games share a sense of humour and delight, and continue to make me wish that every adventure game was as rewarding to just look at it and soak in the experience of existing in these little worlds. You can play demos of both games for free on their websites.
From Jesse Jacobs and Koyama Press, By This You Shall Know Him is a strange, funny, and beautifully crafted creation story filled with gods, aliens, humans and enough existential pondering to choke a carbon-based electrical chemical horse machine. Jesse’s Even the Giants made my list last year, as did another Jesse’s — Jesse Moynihan’s Forming, which makes a great companion book with its similarly funny take on the origins of life and morality.
Cartoonist Tom Gauld takes on the biblical tale of David vs. Goliath from the giant’s point of view. From my original review:
Tom Gauld is one of my favourite cartoonists because of his ability to marry his dry wit with his perfectly reduced drawing style. Goliath is his first long-form graphic novel, but is a natural continuation of the work he’s done for the Guardian’s Saturday Review letters page, skewing art and literature with his refined stick-figures.
Kyo Maclear and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault team up again after their picture book Spork, offering up another stunning-looking book, which also just won the Governor General’s Award for illustration in children’s literature. Isabelle is one of the most exciting illustrators working in picture books. Just look at her work! I loved their collaboration on Spork, but Virginia Wolf is a far greater punch in the gut — children’s books with grumpy characters getting over their bad moods are familiar territory, but Virginia Wolf (the title is a clue for grown-ups) dips into the realm of actual depression and mental illness in a deft and delicate way.
Probably no review I can give this book will do it any justice when compared to this blog entry from Mr. Biggs in which he recounts the story of an interaction with a young fan. Go read it, and come back.
What Everything Goes On Land was to cars and trucks, so Everything Goes in the Air is to planes, balloons, and other sky-bound modes of transport. It’s loaded with packed, detail-rich scenes giving kids everything they wanted to know about air travel, and more. And like its predecessor it has hidden details and find-em games throughout making it an ideal rainy-day book or the perfect distraction for a child on his or her first flight. I can’t recommend the series enough, and I look forward to completing the trilogy next year with Everything Goes By Sea.
Two perfect little square books for fans of pop culture and movie art.
From my original review of Scott’s book:
Scott C offers up some of Hollywood’s greatest confrontations in the silly cheerful way that only Scott C can. I love Scott’s watercolour recreations of my favourite movies (a Back to the Future original hangs on my wall) so I’ve been looking forward to this book version of his popular Great Showdowns website.
And from my original review of Olly’s book:
Olly is the master of the a-ha moment — those deceptively simple tweaks to familiar images that make you wish you thought of them first. I first shared some of Olly’s work when he was still a student, so it’s great to see his rise to fame as a sought-after designer for movie posters.
From my original review:
Jon McNaught’s previous two books with Nobrow (Birchfield Close and Pebble Island) remain two of my favourite, perfect little books. I revisit both of them frequently and marvel at the attention to detail and the quiet, poetry of the cartooning inside.
Dockwood seems like a natural progression for McNaught’s comics — taking the slow-paced reflections of rural and suburban life from those first two books, and allowing them to fill up a large, 8x10 page. It’s hard to put it any better than Chris Ware who wrote, “Dockwood is Jon McNaught’s loveliest argument yet for the beauty of just simply being alive.”
Now that UK publisher Nobrow has expanded its eponymous illustration magazine to a comics-and-illustration double whammy starting with last year’s issue 6, it’s cemented itself as my most anticipated comics anthology out there. Issue 7 is themed Brave New World and goes straight to my heart with an oversized sampling of science fiction and futuristic works from a Who’s Who of comicdom’s new wave. In addition to Nobrow staples like Tom Gauld and Luke Pearson, this issue also gives us exciting new stories from the likes of Ethan Rilly, Michael DeForge, Jillian Tamaki, Joe Lambert, and Eleanor Davis, to name a few, and gorgeous illustrations from artists like Dadu Shin, Patrick Kyle, and Julianna Brion.
Translating the experiences of the deaf and blind Helen Keller into comics would be a difficult task for most cartoonists. Joe Lambert, whose self-published comics often pair childhood angst with abstract fantasy, handles the task brilliantly. Joe’s formal playfulness brings a visually exciting twist to the historical biography genre, especially to a story in which the concepts of communicating words and images is so vital.
Steven Weissman gas been posting his odd comic strip, named after and starring a Bizarro-Universe version of Barack Hussein Obama, on the What Things Do website and it quickly became one of my favourite comics online.
I direct you to Dustin Harbin’s review of the book, which does it more justice than I ever could:
Barack Hussein Obama is a challenging and idiosyncratic book that describes its subject from a great, absurd, and comic distance. It’s closer to the kind of associative resonance of poetry than what you would expect of a book called Barack Hussein Obama, released just weeks before [the real] Obama’s attempt at a second term in office. It has very little to do with actual reality, and weirdly seems more real than it has any right to be.
Obama’s re-election, if anything, hopefully means another four years of this strange and delightful oddity.
Lilli Carré is one of those cartoonists who has been putting out plenty of great work, but not always in small, shorter pieces, which can make it difficult to collect or find. She’s a master of short stories, so this collection is a welcome addition to my bookshelves. Rainbow Moment, a smartly-crafted story of nested memories all told in different colour palettes is the stand out work, and worth the price of admission alone. 50 Watts
Like the Lilli Carré book, this is a collection of shorter works published elsewhere throughout Sammy Harkham’s career. I have almost all this material in its original formats, but hidden throughout anthologies and floppy comics, it’s quite nice to have it accessible all in one package. It reprints the entirety of his book, Poor Sailor, but I think my favourite things here are the single-page offerings like Napoleon, in which the French emperor moonlights as a cartoonist between military battles.
I went on a bit of Dan Clowes bender this year, dipping into his back catalogue, and then gorging myself on the collection of interviews in Daniel Clowes: Conversations, so this monograph of his work, spanning a career of twenty-five years came at just the right time for me to fully enjoy it. The book is structured around interviews and essays from a number of contributors, including Chris Ware and Chip Kidd, but the real treat is the unfiltered look at rare photographs, early drawings, preliminary sketches and, most excitingly, original artwork reproduced to show the paper texture, the pasted-on edits, the Zip-a-Tone shading film, and only the rarest instances of any Wite-Out to fix mistakes.
Photo by Julian Andrews, The Telegraph
I’ll be honest; I haven’t had a chance to dig into this box of books yet (though I’ve read some of it in various other forms). Regardless, it’s rather difficult to not include anything new from Chris Ware in a year-end list, let alone something so ambitious and marvellous as a big box filled with fourteen books of varying size and format. My gift to myself this holiday season is to find the time to squirrel away in a cozy spot in my house and dig into these books and pamphlets, and then to head over to the Comics Journal which, upon Building Stories’s release, invited the essayists of The Comics of Chris Ware to revisit the themes of their essays in the context of this magnificent-looking box.
The best $3.00 you’ll ever spend. Here, have a taste.
Consistently, the greatest webcomic on the Internet, and one of my favourite things in any medium. SuperMutant Magic Academy is heartbreaking, funny, and smart. It’s the most devastating and hilarious philosophical comic strip next to Peanuts. As a bonus, it’s the only thing on this list you don’t need to spend any money on to enjoy.
Every year I publish my list of favourites, and every year I always realize I’ve forgotten a few due to absent-mindedness or, more likely, my cluttered office. So here are a few more:
There’s something quite special about the unadorned, simple black-and-white mini-minicomics that show up every few weeks from Chuck Forsman’s subscription series, which offers comics from a number of cartoonists like Melissa Mendes, Michael DeForge, Max de Radiguès, and more. They’re small things, and short to read, so unlike the growing pile of unread books by my bedside, they are actually inviting rather than intimidating when it comes to reading them. And they’re cheap and disposable enough that they don’t feel like precious objects. They feel like little gifts when they come in the mail. It appears that subscription memberships are currently closed, but at the very least you can head over to the Oily Boutique and order the books a la carte for a buck a pop.
Patrick Kyle released the collected book of his comic series Black Mass this year, but for my money I’m much more excited by his latest series Distance Mover, which like Oily Comics, I’ve been getting in the mail every month as a subscription. Each little book is a risographed art object, and I enjoy seeing Patrick’s work grow more abstract and even further from the traditional norm than Black Mass which already eschewed panels in favour of a freeform fill-the-page-with-drawings method. Each issue in the mail comes with goodies like extra prints or zines. Subscriptions are likely closed as the series nears its end, but you can order books directly from Patrick’s site, and read the first three issues (in black and white) online.
Dustin’s Diary Comics made the list in previous years when they weren’t even this good — the great thing with a project like this is being able to literally see the artist improve over time. This fourth issue comprises more of Dustin’s just-like-the-title-says diary comics, and his drawing chops remain as honed as ever, but it’s the multi-page story Boxes that is the real zinger here. In it Dustin reflects on the diary comics themselves, and how comics have affected his day-to-day perception of the world around him, for better or for worse. Yes, meta journal comics about drawing said comics aren’t anything new, but Dustin’s gifts for thoughtfulness and introspection make it a special thing, and a powerful unexpected product of having distilled his life into four panels, a page at a time, for the past few years. You can read Boxes online for free (full disclosure: I am featured in the story), and buy all of Dustin’s books and prints at his online store (which currently offers 35% off orders of $50 or more with the code DHARBMAS).
I knew my list didn’t feel right without any reprints of classic comic strips. Nancy seems to be a love-it-or-leave-it strip, and I am firmly in the Love It camp. Nancy is the granddaddy of the gag strip. Often surreal, and always impeccably drawn, there is nothing quite like it. D&Q got a head start in publishing John Stanley’s Nancy comic books, which are certainly fun, but these Bushmiller strips are the real deal — perfectly constructed comic strips with not a line or word wasted. It’s been said it’s harder to not read a Nancy strip than it is to read one, and for that alone these books are a virtual masterclass in cartooning.
In a list of Great Cartoonists Who Weren’t Cartoonists, Jim Henson would top the list. Is there a better example of simple, contrasting character design than Bert and Ernie? Jim Henson famously kept a journal with simple one-line entries. It was a proto-Twitter account that, of course, is now a Twitter account. This book, Imagination Illustrated, compiles the most notable entries in chronological order and fills the pages with sketches, drawings, photographs, storyboards, and ephemera to create a scrapbook of the Muppet creator’s professional life, and is the perfect piece of nostalgia for a Muppet-loving child of the 80s like myself.
I think it’s pretty easy these days for comics fans to worry about the state of print, especially as larger publishers that only a few years ago started scooping up cartoonists are now cutting back on their graphic novel output.
But if my recent trip to New York’s MoCCA art fest and the upcoming TCAF in Toronto are any indication, print is alive and well in the small press world.
At the center of this microcosm of smartly crafted books is relative newcomer NoBrow Press from the UK who have been consistently knocking out one beautiful book after the next, each one a lovely objet d’art with every part of the printing, from paper choice to ink colours, a considered design decision.
And with the release of the 5th issue of their flagship art book, NoBrow 5, and their imminent appearance at next month’s TCAF, I wanted to share some of my favourite of their recent releases.
JON McNAUGHT - PEBBLE ISLAND
Regular readers will already know that there’s a special place in my heart for Jon McNaught’s Birchfield Close. Pebble Island continues the tradition of quiet, reflective stories of isolation that are as much poetry as they are comics.
Pebble Island comprises three stories, some of which has been available online. But McNaught’s work is made to be seen in print. His images are designed with a printmaker’s eye and he takes full advantage of NoBrow’s signature limited-palette printing style.
BJORN RUNE LIE - THE WOLF’S WHISTLE
Another neat little hardcover beauty, The Wolf’s Whistle is a Richard Scarry meets Wes Anderson fusion of art comics and children’s books. It’s a superhero origin story made with the deft touch of a printmaker, and which might be the title in NoBrow’s catalogue that best showcases the care and attention given to the printing process. The artwork itself is created with the colour separations in mind from the beginning. It gives the artwork a particularly thought-out and cohesive look, and the pages have a tactile quality that you don’t find online, and rarely find in other books.
BEN NEWMAN - THE BENTO BESTIARY
The hardcover edition of the previously-blogged collection of Japanese monster illustrations. Anyone familiar with Ben Newman’s clean geometric illustrations will agree that his style is perfectly suited to capturing the variety and the strangeness of Japanese Yokai.
LUKE PEARSON - HILDAFOLK
Luke Pearson is one of my favourite new cartoonists on the scene, and this little debut comic book is surely just a glimpse at what’s to come, especially going by what else I’ve seen of his online. This graphic folktale would look at right at home in the pages of one of the Flight anthologies along with similar heartwarming fantasy stories.
2010 was a great year for books — beautiful, printed, made-of-paper books. If you’re struggling with last-minute gift ideas for the cartoonist or illustrator in your life (or anyone for that matter), here are my favourite books of the year.
Probably my favourite book of the year. From my original review:
Printed with a restrained three colours, the short book is a gentle, unassuming reflection on time, place, and sound. It’s not so much a story as it is a snapshot of suburban life. The sights and sounds of a sleepy, mundane evening become the beats and rhythms in the poetry of a neighbourhood.
This collection of drawings and sketchbook comics is a successor of sorts to Jillian’s equally inspiring Gilded Lilies. Both books act as companions to her sketchblog, which itself is home to one of my favourite things on the Internet, SuperMutant Magic Academy.
A chilling parable for the modern commercial artist, Market Day is a timeless tale of artisan vs. economy. From my original review:
It’s a heartbreaking tale, made even more heartbreaking by its relevance to today’s shrinking markets for craftspeople, artists, illustrators, and of course, cartoonists. The dying newspaper and magazine industries that once made celebrities out of cartoonists, are certainly represented here as the stores and marketplace sellers who can no longer afford to buy and sell handmade goods. To be sure, the book is dedicated in part “to all my fellow cartoonists”.
A best-of collection of some of Graham’s favourite comics work. If you’ve seen Graham’s Grickle cartoons on YouTube, or have played this year’s Puzzle Agent game, you know what kind of Lynchian goods to expect in the book. Read my interview with Graham.
A close runner-up as my favourite book of the year, it’s the ultimate reference book for lettering and type nerds who want to capture some retro magic. This fat book comprises thousands of lettering samples culled from advertising, logos, posters, and ephemera of the era — all of it organized by style, from psychedelia to brush script to spooky horror to modern geometric.
It’s most certainly the graphic novel of the year. Wilson is the story of a misanthropic antihero told through a sequence of individual one-page comic strips, each drawn in a different cartooning style. It’s a graphic novel that reads like the Sunday funnies, but one with the bitter soul of Daniel Clowes.
It’s the only kids’ book on my list this year, but only because I didn’t read too many. Spork has an identity crisis — he’s not quite a spoon, like his mother, nor is he quite a fork, like his father. He’s a little bit of both.
It’s the perfect kids book for for children of multicultural—or multi-cutlery—families, or for any kid who feels like he or she doesn’t quite fit in. Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrations are a fitting hybrid of mixed media and collage, and help make Spork one of the most beautiful books of the year.
Seth Godin gets to the heart of how to not only set yourself apart in the workforce, but to position yourself as a linchpin — that indispensable, innovative mind that everyone wants to work with. The good news for us creative types, is that the secret is in art and creativity. And for cartoonists who are still afraid to put their work online for free, Linchpin will help explain why the culture and economy of gifts is integral to success on the Internet. And most importantly, Godin helps to conquer your lizard brain — the primal part of your inner workings responsible for your crippling fear of failure. Linchpin helped me better understand my role as a freelancer and a creative mind in a constantly shrinking marketplace in which the most valuable currency is attention.
A funny and often touching collection of diary comics (first published online at Dharbin.com) that not only chronicles the artist’s life, but also the evolution of his craft. From my original review:
It can be difficult to make every day seem interesting, and minutae can only take one so far. But when you read all of them together as a whole, suddenly you’ve got something far greater — like puzzle pieces coming together to form a larger picture. And in the case of Dustin, you can also see how his rhythms and even the art improve over time as he settles into the practice.
Bent is the latest coffee-table art book from Canadian cartoonist-turned-painter Dave Cooper. We get to drill further into Cooper’s psyche in this book, which continues the celebration of his singular, artistic vision — an alien landscape of writhing, female figures and strange vegetation. Guillermo del Toro describes Cooper’s work perfectly in his introduction: “At play here are both the innocence and wholesomeness of childhood plastic toys and the sweaty, adult realities of desire.”
What Charles Addams is to the New Yorker, Gahan Wilson is to Playboy. And here we have three gorgeous hardcover volumes of his work - page after page of full-colour cartoons celebrating the macabre and the twisted. Perfect for the creep or the creepy in your life.
Jim Woodring’s masterful cartooning is showcased in this latest graphic novel featuring his familiar cast of characters including Frank, Manhog, Pupshaw, and Pushpaw. It’s never easy to discern what Woodring’s comics are about, but there is never any question as to what is happening in each panel. Such is the control and understanding he has of both the medium and his tools. Weathercraft is a silent movie governed by dream logic and the id.