Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Blitt by Barry Blitt

I've been off the art-book beat for a while now, but, back in my SFBC days, that was one of my regular areas of expertise. (Well, at least the SFF side -- we also had a very short-lived club for "real," aka famous, art, and other clubs had various kinds of art of interest to their members as well.)

But I dip back into it every so often, particularly when it crosses over to cartooning, where I've kept in touch with current state more consistently. (I haven't been to even a SF convention art show in five years or so now, or read Spectrum in about that long.) So that's the consumer warning: I used to care about art books, and this is one, but it's not the same kind that I used to care about, and that was in another country. (And the rest of that quote.)

That's how I came to Blitt, a coffee-table book collecting the covers, sketches, advertising pieces, random illustrations, and other drawings by Barry Blitt, best known for a series of New Yorker covers. (Particularly the "terrorist fist bump" one of Barack and Michelle Obama, if you're trying to place him.)

Blitt leads off with those covers, as you'd expect -- the first two sections are "The New Yorker" (mostly covers) and "Cartoon Politics" (largely New Yorker, and with a few covers as well). It gets more general from there, at about the halfway point, pulling out more obscure and odd work from earlier in Blitt's career (including a little illo I love, captioned "Burt Lancaster doesn't give a shit about you") through chapters about "Process" and "Not Rejected" and "Crazy Ideas."

Blitt is a great cartoonist and caricaturist -- not necessarily the same thing, but being good at the latter is a big bonus for the former -- who always seems willing to be looser and more energetic than a lot of his competition. And his use of soft colors (watercolors? I am no expert on art) is also great. A Blitt picture is funny and looks like it just happened, almost randomly, as he was attacking his board. (That is not how any great cartoons happen, of course, but being able to give that illusion is really powerful.)

Blitt includes a self-conscious introduction by Blitt himself and appreciations by New Yorker editor David Remnick, columnist Frank Rich, fellow artist/political cartoonist Steve Brodner, Steven Heller, and New Yorker art editor Francoise Mouly. It's the first book of his work to be published, after a career of about thirty years in illustration and political cartooning and other stuff in that vague territory, so it has all of the big hits you'd expect, plus a lot of process stuff and quirky pieces from his earlier, jobbing-illustrator period.

It's a good book. If you like political cartoons or New Yorker covers or Blitt in general, you should read it.

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