Sunday, May 25, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #144: Co-Mix by Art Spiegelman

Art Spiegelman [1] has done several dozen New Yorker covers; co-edited the most important comics anthology series of the '80s and one of the most influential underground series of the late '70s; created or co-created half of the jokey ephemera of my generation's childhood; created or edited a bunch of excellent books for kids, rediscovered, illustrated and championed that most unlikely bestseller of the late '90s, The Wild Party; was one of the major lights of the underground comics movement; and is probably the most influential formalist theorist and practitioner of comics for the last forty years.

But he's thought of as a single-work author, because the shadow of Maus covers everything else.

Co-Mix, a book that grew out of a 2011 gallery retrospective, is an attempt to show Spiegelman's work as a whole -- there's a section in the middle devoted to Maus, but that book does not dominate Co-Mix the same way it does most discussions of Spiegelman's work. Instead, it covers all of the aspects of his career: the designs for Topps, the early underground work, the book Breakdowns, his covers for German editions of Boris Vian, RAW, The Wild Party, New Yorker covers and other work, the 9/11 book In the Shadow of No Towers, his works for kids in the '90s and afterward, the retrospective Portrait of an Artist as a Young %@?*!, and his sketchbooks and other miscellaneous works.

This is not precisely the catalog of the gallery retrospective of the same name, but it's very much in that style: broken into a dozen-and-a-half sections to cover all of the aspects of Spiegelman's career, with admiring bookends from J. Hoberman (foreword) and Robert Storr (his 1991 piece on Maus functions as an afterword) and pretty much just images and captions in between. It's vaguely chronological, but it's not meant to be a history or biography of Spiegelman: Co-Mix focuses on the work, in each category, explaining a bit about what it is, how it came to be, and how it fits into the larger Spiegelman oeuvre.

There are several foldouts to show larger Spiegelman pieces to best affect -- that's the formalist in him again, always going back to that broadsheet newspaper page of the early 20th century -- but most of the pages have two or three pieces of art on them, panels and drawings and sketches and designs. Since this is is a retrospective of Spiegelman's art, the focus isn't on storytelling: there are isolated pages of a lot of work (Maus, in its final and original form, In the Shadow of No Towers, many shorter works) but the only complete story I noticed was a tip-in of the pamphlet-sized Two-Fisted Painters, presented pretty much exactly as it originally was in RAW.

This is a book for readers interested in art and comics and design; it doesn't collect Spiegelman's works, but his art. And it probably is more impressive in a gallery setting, with the real artifacts on the wall around you. But, since most of us won't be able to see that show -- I think its run has ended, anyway, and the materials gone back to collections or Spiegelman's attic -- this is an impressive, and inspiring, facsimile.

[1] That's how this book styles his name: I'm not sure if it was foisted upon him or if he himself has given up the faux-humility of the all-lower-case signature. But, to be consistent, I'm capitalizing his name here.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

No comments:

Post a Comment