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A Short Interview With Manuel Auad
posted May 19, 2007
 

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The editor and writer Manuel Auad is almost certainly best known in comics circles for the three books he did in collaboration with Alex Toth: the Eisner award-winning Alex Toth (1995), Toth: Black and White (1999), and One For The Road (2000). He has since published a similarly lovely book featuring the work of Jodi Bernet, and now, suddenly, a lovely, thin and well-selected volume featuring the great Hoosier-born illustrator Franklin Booth, Franklin Booth: American Illustrator. I've always been interested in the books about illustrators market that runs slightly parallel to the comics market, so I was only to happy to delve into all things Franklin Booth with the San Francisco-based micro-publisher, one of the unique voices in paying respect to visual art.

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TOM SPURGEON: Manuel, I don't really know much about you beyond the distinctive name and the books you've published. Can you talk about your background, particularly as it's led to an interest in illustrative art and eventually your publishing projects?

MANUEL AUAD: Well, my venture into the publishing business came as a compromise. From an early age I always wanted to be an illustrator and a short story writer. For those who tell you that you are the master of your own fate, uh, excuse me, but I beg to differ. In many cases, fate has its own agenda for you. Now, having said that, my background and interest in the illustrative art goes back to my growing up with some of the best comic book illustrators in the Philippines. In as much as we were influenced by the well known comic book artists of the time: Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, Harold Foster, etc. we also admired a lot of the magazine illustrators at that time which by the early '50s was still considered the Golden Age of Illustration. We used to look for old magazines wherever we could find them and save tear sheets on illustrators we admired. Through the years I have accumulated tons of tear sheets, magazine covers, books, and whatever else I could lay my hands on by artists that I enjoyed. Anyway, since I did not get to achieve what I wanted as a young man, I thought; why not publish a book or books of these great illustrators. The first one that came to mind was Franklin Booth.

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SPURGEON: Why was Booth the first one that came to mind?

AUAD: Aside from the fact that I have always admired him, the man was a genius. When you think how much work and effort must have gone to do those illustrations with every line meticulously drawn to get the effect of literarily, a painting, you can't help but be awed. Try to remember, this young man, isolated from the rest of the world in an Indiana farm, determined to be an artist had nothing else going for him but to copy wood engravings of the day from the pages of Scribner's, Harpers and other illustrated magazines. Booth, presumably not realizing it, thought they were actually drawn by some artist. So he copies it with a pen and paper. Line by line.

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SPURGEON: Can you talk about how you put your book together, what you wanted in there and how you wanted to make it distinct? It's my understanding this isn't exactly the first volume anyone's put together on Booth.

AUAD: Yes, that's true. The first book was published by Robert Frank in 1925 with an introduction by Meredith Nicholson. It had 60 drawings. In 1976, 51 years later, Nostalgia Press reprinted the book in a smaller format. Then, in 2002, John Fleskes published his own book: Franklin Booth: Painter with a Pen with an introduction by Roy Krenkel. It's a great book and any fan of Booth should have his or her own copy. In my case, it wasn't so much at making it distinctive but more in making it different from the previous ones. One of the things I wanted to include were some of his color work which are rare since Booth is better known for his black and white pen drawings. Aside from the 112 pages of black and white drawings, you'll find 16 more pages with his color illustrations.

imageSPURGEON: What led you to include the biography by Howard Caldwell? How did you come across it?

AUAD: The Howard Caldwell piece was offered to me by a good friend, Duke Fuller, who is an avid Franklin Booth fan. He's always finding things on ebay and this is one of the things he came across. It turns out some collector of Booth's illustrations from back east had just passed away and this came from his estate. Now, there's been very little written about Franklin Booth, so this was really a find. Walt Reed who was a student of Franklin Booth wrote me to say that he was really happy to find out things about his former teacher from that piece. So I'm very pleased to have it in the book.

SPURGEON: One of the more remarkable aspects about Caldwell's short biography is his appreciation for Booth's upbringing, this kind of remote existence that was very devoted to learning and accomplishment. Do you think that kind of family dynamic is likely to exist anymore?

AUAD: I don't see why not. The upbringing of Franklin in a remote part of the country had nothing to do with his desire for his art. Whether parents encourage their son or daughter to be an artist, has no bearing with the artist's desire to express him self, of course it's always better if you do get a lot of encouragement from your parents, but I've known some artists who hid their drawings or paintings from parents who didn't understand the need for the individual to draw or paint. My good friend Nestor Redondo had to draw in the middle of the night by the light of the moon. Alex Toth's father was not very encouraging. Even thought he stopped drawing for the comic books for years, he still spent most of his waking hours doodling, to the day he passed away. Another artist friend of mine had his father rip every piece of paper he would find of his son's drawings and constantly berate him that he would never amount to anything. Today, this gentleman is in great demand around the world for his art. No, I don't think it really matters. I believe that if you try to stifle an artist, you pretty much kill the person, not literally of course, but you definitely kill his or her soul. That may sound a bit melodramatic, but once you get that "fire" in your belly, that's pretty much it.

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SPURGEON: A practical question: the decorative pieces that are built around a blank space: what are these? Are these book dedications are advertisements or what? How common were they? Why did you see fit to include them with the other art?

AUAD: A lot of them were for ads in various magazines of that period. From refrigerators to cars, from radios to silver flatware. Magazine covers and book illustrations, the man was so prolific; he could illustrate anything that was asked of him. Franklin Booth did hundreds of ads during his time. He was sought after by art directors and advertisers because they knew once the reader noticed his unique style they would see the ad. As I said in my introduction, this is a book about the man's art. I did not want anything else to distract the eye of the reader or, should I say viewer, from his art.. That's why what you see here is his art, not the ad.

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SPURGEON: I'm very poorly educated when it comes to art, but it seems to me that many of Booth's illustrations are composed a bit like American landscape paintings -- figures in the foreground set against these magnificent backdrops which ascend up and towards the heavens. Is it possible to derive some sort of worldview and theme from the way the illustrations are posed? What values are imparted to the reader through Booth's work?

AUAD: I'm not quite sure. I suppose it gives you a sense of nostalgia. His soaring majestic scenes give you a feeling of serenity and peacefulness that so many of us look for now days. I guess that's what attracted me to his drawings from the beginning. I grew up and lived most of my life in big cities amidst all the hustle and bustle, the noise the traffic and all the rushing back and forth, and then, you look at one of Booth's drawing of a quaint little house that sits quietly by a shady lane or those immense spacious vistas with infinite horizons and a flock of birds that glide past towering clouds that dare to touch the heavens. I mean, why would you need the yellow pill?

SPURGEON: How wide was Booth's influence in terms of his same-era peers? If he had imitators, and I assume he did, what element of the original did those artists fail to capture? What was Booth's unique contribution?

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AUAD: Oh, there's no question about it, he influenced artists throughout the century. His style was unrestrainedly imitated and copied but never matched. To this day, you have artists and art fans that are fascinated by his art. Al Williamson once told me that his good friend Roy Krenkel used to get inspired just by looking at Booth's work. Look at those great Frankenstein drawings by Bernie Wrightson. Alfredo Alcala, one of Philippines' great comic book illustrators, came closest to Booth's style. Still, no matter how close you might have gotten to Booth's style, after all said and done, there is no mistaking a Franklin Booth drawing. You can't copy a genius.

SPURGEON: Can I ask in rough terms what the sales outlook is for a book like this, where you might expect to sell copies and who's buying it?

AUAD: Who buys these books? Artists, art fans or simply anyone who enjoys looking at great art. Contrary to what some may think, the Golden Age of Illustration is not quite dead. You have people out there publishing books and magazines about the great illustrators from that era. Folks like John Fleskes, Jim Vadeboncouer, Jr. with Images, Daniel Zimmer for Illustration magazine, Walt Reed from Illustration House and if you have a chance, check out the blog of David Apatoff.

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SPURGEON: Did you have any thoughts when Alex Toth passed away concerning how he was initially remembered and eulogized? What do you think his reputation will be like 10-20 years from now?

AUAD: Alex Toth will always be remembered as a great comic book illustrator. I believe that years from now he will still be revered, admired and copied. The effect he's had in influencing young artist all over the world will continue for many years after long after you and I are gone. I know that he always admired Noel Sickles, but, the truth of the matter is, had Alex been given the same opportunities Noel Sickles had, he would have been better than Noel. Easily. That, of course, is just my own opinion.

SPURGEON: Do you have plans for further books?

AUAD: Yes, I do. As a matter of fact, I'm working on a book on the art of one of my favorite comic book artist, Alex Nino. After that, I plan to do a book on another famous illustrator from the Golden Age of Illustration.

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Franklin Booth: American Illustrator, Manuel Auad, Auad Publishing, hardcover, 128 pages, 2006, $24.95

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