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The Ancient Book of Myth and War
posted May 28, 2007
 

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Creators: Scott Morse, Lou Romano, Don Shank, Nate Wragg
Publishing Information: AdHouse Books, hardcover, 80 pages, May 2007, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: 0977471519 (ISBN10), 978-0977471515 (ISBN13)

The Ancient Book of Myth and War is an art book, in the same vein as the Fantagraphics Beasts! anthology that came out earlier this year, pop-savvy portraits of odd variation on a classic theme. This time, however, it's four artists providing multiple illustrations in what is overall a much thinner volume. The title of the book clues you in as to the subject of the portraits, and they're presented on one over-sized page with a facing page to explain the scene and to perhaps indicate the artist's approach. It's handsomely mounted, which counts a lot on this kind of project. I don't have an artist's eye when it comes to looking at how art printed, but nothing seems obviously off-register. The cover is an eye-popping orange with a soldier's bust kind of set into the cover material itself.

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I would have killed for this book when I was a kid; now I'm more at the point where I'd kill to be able make pictures like Nate Wragg, who for me is a new artists. All of the artist here offer up a kind of 1960s angular, very lushly-colored style, with various tendencies towards abstraction that tend to play out in noticeable ways across a series of pictures. Wragg is the most consistently funny. Most of his illustrations portray squat, big-foot figures doing horrible things to the other person unlucky enough to be trapped in the picture with them. It's historical moment and mythic truth reduced to vaudevillian punchline, and I found myself returning to his portraits as I wrote the review far more than any of the others. All of the artists are talented; Morse is probably the biggest name among the four and his pictures are staged in more provocative ways than I can remember him attempting in other projects, with figures layered into his tableaux.

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I don't think The Ancient Book of Myth and War is transcendent work; even with Wragg, were he more familiar to me I might not check back in on his work as many times as I have recently. The book never coheres into a compelling survey or powerful statement like other projects of this type. It's mostly solid, and amusing, and accomplished, and that's not a bad thing. Apologies to cartoonists like Josh Cotter, but I almost wish AdHouse could stick with the art books.

*****

art from the cover process, Don Shank and Nate Wragg pictured