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Saul Steinberg: Masquerade
posted June 16, 2008


Creators: Saul Steinberg, Inge Morath
Publishing Information: Viking Studio, hardcover, 96 pages, 2000, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: 0670894257 (ISBN10)

It's hard to criticize a book that seems to have been custom made for me, as is the case with this year 2000 gift-book hardcover from Viking Press that has become a staple of liquidation lists and used book store sales. Apparently, from 1959 to 1963 the great cartoonist Saul Steinberg made paper bag masks for people; Inge Morath put them on various folks and then shot them with her camera. I can't speak to the quality of the photographs although to my untrained eye they look lovely -- much lovelier than I've seen in a lot of comics-related projects recently -- and the figures seem well-staged. Steinberg's masks are more on the subtle yet direct end of his typical range of effects. They tend to favor the subtle shadings and strong overall impact of the picture seen below than the kind of bold design choices favored on the cover image above. I can't say the book is any sort of revelation, but it may make you take a second look as to how Steinberg makes abstractions out of the entire figure given the chance; there's something much less off-putting to the quirks of Steinberg's visual imagination after seeing someone in a bikini on a beach sporting the same angular features, or someone washing the car for whom a few lines is entirely appropriate when it comes to conveying his mood. This is well worth hunting the on-line sellers for a cheap copy, particularly if you already have many of Steinberg's great suite of coffee table hits or if you're simply a fan. It's a gift book, not an essential volume, but it's quite fun.