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posted March 31, 2006
Will Elder (artist), Gary VandenBergh (compiler), Greg Sadowski (designer)
Fantagraphics, 94 pages, $14.95
I hate talking about such issues up front, but I have to admit the reaction that sticks with me regarding this new Will Elder sketchbook is I can't decide if the odd cover price of $14.95 for 94 pages is more of a potential hindrance to Chicken Fat
finding a wide audience, or if it's completely beside the point. I'm guessing the beside the point option. Sadly, some people won't look at a book this small at this price point. I mean, it's not even an alarming price, we're talking color here, and printing of a high enough quality so that one can appreciate how the art is being made. I think part of it may be that one's eyebrow gets raised when it comes to material like this because it's no secret that fans of EC Comics and MAD
are willing to pay as much as it takes for quality treatment of their favorite artists. I bet another, huge contributing factor is this comes up because when you think WILL ELDER SKETCHBOOK you think some 250-page oversized hardcover going for $50. And this book is formatted in quite a different way. In an era of complete works, what we have here is an almost personal take, something between a skimming of the best stuff and defining your book in such a way that only a select bunch of drawings need apply.
All that nonsense out of the way, this is a dense and very rewarding little book. Elder, of course, is a wonderful artist. If there were a comics pantheon based on potent cartooning, he'd be right up there on the mountain with people like Jack Kirby and Roy Crane. Gary VandenBergh and Greg Sadowski make the most of the number of pages by using a variety of art options, sketches to studies to breakddowns to complete paintings, in a way that isn't formally rigid and thus adds variety and depth to the reading experience. You're constantly kept up on your toes. The highlight for me was a fold-out page of proposed syndicated comics work that crackles with the precision of a marine dress uniform, but I can imagine different people enjoying different pages. In the end, if one dumps the collector's mentality totally and comes out this book as simply a thumbs-up, thumbs-down experience, it's pretty great. It helps to have Greg Sadowski art directing, access to interesting material and have your subject be Will Freakin' Elder, though.