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The Art Of P. Craig Russell
posted May 5, 2010


Creator: P. Craig Russell
Publishing Information: IDW/Desperado, hardcover, 256 pages, May 2010, $49.99
Ordering Numbers: 9780979593918 (ISBN13) 0979593913 (ISBN10)

I've been jumping in and out of this one for a while, and return visits are likely. As is obvious from the title, this is one of IDW's art books -- part of IDW's core identity is that of the art book publisher -- facilitated through their agreement with Desperado. It's handsome although not blow-away attractive; it reminds me in terms of its size and shape a bit of some of the efforts to publish Robert Williams. I have a terrible eye for production but the art looks reasonably well shot to me. All in all, it may not be the great P. Craig Russell book, the one that might astonish and set us all to work at re-appraising his career. Instead, it's solid work, will pass the time until such a volume emerges and is solid enough to fulfill that role if the other kind of book never happens.

imageWhat distinguishes this work is that we P. Craig Russell as a tour guide for most of it. I would have loved someone with a really hardcore art background that could provide context and meaning and make a case for Russell's work. Absent that, I'll take Russell's comfortable-in-his-own-shoes admissions and confessional backstage stories as a lively counterpoint to the art we're seeing. Maybe some of the stories like Marv Wolfman and the word balloons are well-traveled, but I don't move in those circles and at several points I leaned forward and paid attention entirely separate from my focus on the art work. In fact, it's difficult to generate enthusiasm for Russell's commentary in terms of appraising the art on one's own. Unsurprisingly, Russell prefers -- with some reason it seems, to the untrained eye -- those projects where he was largely left alone and where he was reasonably well-supported according to his expectations going in.

Russell is a fine fantasist and an interesting cartoonist for the choices he makes in staging and scale. He's one of the few cartoonists to combine ambition at a young age with a reasonable expectation via talent to make good on it. In an early TCJ interview when asked to provide examples of the kind of adult, literary comic that he would eventually publish the crap out of, Gary Groth mentioned some of Russell's early adaptations as having the same qualities as the work he could at that time only see in his mind's eye. He's not the first name that comes to mind now, and part of that is a function I think of how his career has been refracted into a thousand different moments, some very much worth his time and some where he's playing above the field. At best I think this book can help us sort out which is which.