Tuesday, August 09, 2022

A Fistful of Drawings by Joe Ciardiello

This is not comics. Well, not exactly. It does have art on every page, and hand-written text to accompany and narrate the drawings. But they're not in panels - the sequence is all in the writing rather than the art. It's an illustrated memoir, I guess - the subtitle on the cover calls it "a graphic journal," which also works.

But it's a first-cousin to comics. It's doing a lot of the same things. It's close enough.

Joe Ciardiello has been an illustrator and gallery artist for several decades now; he was born in the 1950s on Staten Island to an Italian family and has lived in the general area since then. A Fistful of Drawings is a book loosely circling his love for Westerns (the real history and the fictional cowboy stories), his Italian heritage, and that childhood - especially the places where they intersect, such as the Italians who worked as cowboys and cowboy actors, and the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and others.

Cardiello is a magnificent draftsman, with the loose energy of the best artists - every line here both looks quick and is absolutely perfect. So I don't mind that I suspect a lot of the art here was repurposed from other assignments. I think this book came together when Ciardiello was looking through his work and started seeing bigger themes that he could write the text about. Oh, I'm sure some big chunk of the art was new - these are all things Ciardiello loves to think about and draw - but so much of the art here is precise and odd that I have to assume it was an illustration job at some time in the past thirty years or so.

None of that matters: the building blocks of a book are mostly of interest to other architects and construction experts. What is important is the stories Ciardiello tells - the ones of his own life, the ones about the Old West, the ones about Italian cinema. They get pretty varied, and bounce around a lot: this is not a tight memoir, but a collection of reminiscences about things important to Ciardiello. (A Fistful of Drawings, so to speak.)

I think most of the audience for this has been fans of Ciardiello's marvelous art: his insights are interesting, but there's nothing revelatory here. He knows a lot of things and he presents them cleanly, in a compelling sequence - the book does tend to skip around among those same few touchpoints, but that's the point: it's about the interplay, how all of those elements formed Ciardiello's artistic sensibility and the world we all live in.

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