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Pim & Francie: ""In the Golden Bear Days""
Pim & Francie: ""In the Golden Bear Days""
by Al Columbia
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Columbia Pictures, 18 Dec 2009
Columbia first came to prominence as a teenager when he worked on issue three of Bill Sienkiewicz's unfinished "Big Numbers" series, jumping ship on the project before it was completed and absconding with the artwork (which he later claimed he destroyed). I first became aware of his own particular style of artwork when I picked up a copy of "The Biologic Show #0" published by Fantagraphics Books in 1994. This contained mini-strips, reprinted from an earlier British publications called Deadline, as well as some new art, and included the characters of Pim and Francie. The images in The Biologic Show immediately disturbed me and when I asked the owner of the comic shop if this Columbia guy had done anything else he replied "No, thank God".

There are a lot of artists who are adept at creating dark, unnerving imagery, and much of it can be seen printed in various publications or as covers for a multitude of Heavy Metal bands. Yet, whilst I can be disturbed by these images, there is often something inherent in them that dilute the impact for me. Ironically, they might be so well executed that, although they contain a certain gothic flourish, they are so polished, so luxurious in their painterliness that the visceral thrill is weakened and I am compelled to study the gorgeous technique used to create them - to admire the brushstrokes, as it were. With the work of Al Columbia, however, there is no such distraction. These are genuine visual nightmares, drawn in ink so black that it looks like tar...or blood seen in the moonlight. These pictures are capable of profoundly disturbing the viewer. Columbia's skill as a draughtsman is considerable, (he draws pictures like I imagine the Devil might draw should he ever take up a pen) and yet it is the subject matter and not the technique that ultimately crawls under your skin.

His visual style harks back to the early black and white animated films of Max Fleischer and the very early Disney shorts of the Twenties and Thirties. He creates pictures drawn with thick black Felix the Cat ink lines, whilst others are skillfully toned with various grey washes. Many of the pictures have the look of an individual animation cell, complete with characters overlaying a separate painted background. This style is honed in such a way that online, Columbia has invented film titles and listed these pictures as being actual cells from early animated shorts (which they're not). His panels contain characters that resemble Disneyesque dog-faced human hybrids in black suits or Betty-Boop-cute kittens (that invariably get beheaded). Pim and Francie themselves remain very enigmatic. Are they innocent childhood sweethearts or brother and sister engaged in a violently incestuous relationship? They inhabit a picket fence small-town America, peopled with horrifying serial-killers, witches, mutated insects, zombie grandparents and murderous conjoined neighbours who usually sport Siamese twin heads and stalk down the street carrying large kitchen knives. Between them they perfectly represent the extreme childhood worlds of innocent play, sexual curiosity, horrendous nursery-rhyme violence, and the abuse meted out by those whom we trust the most. The dark events that unfold are by turns, comic, abhorrent and blackly inventive (Pim hangs from a tree, a noose around his neck, as Francie stands on his shoulders, swinging gaily, her pigtails flailing in the summer sky). The children appear in garb very similar to that worn by early incarnations of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, complete with white gloves and buttoned dungarees and frilly polka-dot skirts. Their feet are shod in those big Minnie Mouse stilettos or Mickey boots. Many Disney characters appear in these pictures, including Bambi being dismembered with cut throat razors and the sliced head of a decapitated Pluto! Pim is even depicted in Mickey Mouse-Club ears in some of the panels and I can only imagine Columbia's work has mercifully evaded the Disney Company litigation radar!

Credit too must go to the inspired editing of this publication by Columbia, Adam Grano and Eric Reynolds who often crop comic panels and pictures in a unique, almost abstract way that re-focuses the viewer's attention on a single face or a pair of shoes that enhances the creepiness of the scene. There are multiple versions of the same (unfinished) image at various stages of composition; half-inked panels that retain their ghost images still faintly visible sketched in graphite pencil. There are separate drawings with sections torn away, the fragments stuck to other drawings with masking tape to complete a fractured whole. Rarely is anything here finished, the narrative is random, and just when you think something connects to form a semblance of rational meaning, the light goes out and you fade up on another disconnected scene of horror. But that just adds to the air of disquiet, the clammy confusion; that dizzying 4am sense of endless falling. The book itself carries no written introduction, nothing is categorized or explained, there is no context. The book is constructed like a nightmare, captured between eight inch hardboard covers.

All of this combines to suggest we might actually be glimpsing the vivid, horrible psyche of the artist himself, as his brilliant, confused, bleakly comic imagination fizzes and sparks with these grotesque visions. I think that Mr Columbia's head really would not be a very fine place to live. And yet there is a magnetic fascination to it all, one which Columbia's alleged mental state only serves to enhance. There are many who would turn away from this work, and regard the artist as a minor, peripheral figure. But whilst I agree that this book is by no means easy viewing, please be prepared to consider that Al Columbia really might be some kind of visionary artistic genius in the field of the graphic arts. He displays a consummate skill to disturb, dismay and appall and to make one's mind quite uneasy. All of that he makes possible with just an idea, a pen and the dexterity of his draughtsmanship. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is no mean feat.

Goad: The Many Moods of Phil Hale
Goad: The Many Moods of Phil Hale
by Phil Hale
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Hail Hale, 13 Oct 2009
Phil Hale is a true genius, whilst other artists are just pretending; this guy is the real deal. He is a modern master of oil painting, to be placed in the same category as Sargent et al. Hale started off as an illustrator working on books, comics and graphic novel covers, but lately he's moved very successfully into the area of portraiture. I found the following description on Wikipedia, which effectively describes how Hale's work "focuses on depictions of slightly surreal scenes with strange characters performing various physical feats, usually in a confrontation of some sort. He seems to take keen interest in tension and emphasis of angular and dynamic aspects of the figure, almost always incorporating slight anatomical distortions to great effect".

His paintings are infused with a strong psychological depth that is powerfully affective and which is rarely present in the work of other artists and illustrators. His work has the capacity to completely blow you away, which is why he's one of the most admired of contemporary artists. You may already have seen many pieces of art that have a similarity to the images he creates, both in subject matter, composition and colour, but he is the honest original. Hale has legions of imitators, but he is the true master.

The Charge Of The Light Brigade [DVD] [1968]
The Charge Of The Light Brigade [DVD] [1968]
Dvd ~ Trevor Howard
Offered by charlie & charly
Price: £9.99

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You've Lost the Light Brigade!, 6 Oct 2009
Even in its abused, neglected state (hence the three-star rating), Tony Richardson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" is still a fantastic piece of cinema and a sadly overlooked genre classic in the same league as the excellent film version of "Oh, What a Lovely War". At a time when most modern young British directors regularly churn out terrible mockney gangster flicks, vapid rom-coms or stagnant period dross it seems a crying shame that this bold example of British cinema should suffer such a fate. Sir David Puttnam even recently stated how extremely angry he was that Light Brigade remains completely ignored and under-valued as the quality piece of cinematic art that it obviously is. The BFI, for their part have stated that copyright and licensing agreements, as well as the incidences of horse fatalities, occurring during the filming of the actual charge sequences are the reason (The Reason Why?) that this film has languished, unrestored in the vaults ever since its first release.

Richardson himself had planned this film as his masterpiece but became so disillusioned with the reaction to his work that he mercilessly hacked out huge amounts of footage (including a sequence showing the charge by the Heavy Brigade) that reduced his editor Kevin Brownlow to tears of frustration. In an age when tons of utter cinematic bilge is showcased in sparkling new prints, recorded with dolby-surround sound and released on Blue-Ray DVD with hours of documentaries, trailers and director's commentaries it is about time that "The Charge of the Light Brigade" was rescued, restored and re-issued in all its full FIVE hour glory (if all of that discarded extra footage still survives of course).

I would love to see a multi-disc package of extras, including storyboards, interviews with cinematographer David Watkin (who scoured dusty old camera cupboards all over London looking for period lenses that would add a Victorian patina to the magnificent photography). For good measure add in all the production artwork that's fit to print, a whole section dedicated to Richard Williams' magical animated segments and other nuggets of information about the creation of this superb film. Maybe then some long overdue justice can be done in honour of this brilliant film. That this has not already been done verges on the criminal and should be cause for the BFI to hang its collective head in shame.

Coraline: A Visual Companion
Coraline: A Visual Companion
by Stephen Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.48

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Visual Companion, 2 Oct 2009
It often riles me when I see a movie attributed to certain big-name film makers when in reality the hard work was done by some other little-known creative genius who really should have gotten most of the credit. One such genius is Henry Selick, the animation director who specialises in stop-motion films utilising 3D models and lovingly built sets. Selick's A Nightmare Before Christmas was trumpeted as a Tim Burton film, but despite Burton's obvious vision being an inherent part of that wonderful film, Selick's contribution of having actually MADE the production was given scant attention by the media. Selick then went on to make a brilliant, surreal version of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, amongst other film. As if to highlight this point Henry Selick's name wasn't even offered in the list of suggested tags recommended by Amazon whilst I was writing this review!!!

This book chronicles the creation of the animated film Coraline, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, and once again Selick's peerless animation of 3D movement, his judgement of timing and his superb storytelling facility is evident in the completed film version. Coraline, A Visual Companion is chock full of wonderful production art, on-set photographs, and Stephen Jones's informative text detailing all aspects of the film-making process. There is coverage of the various publications of the source novel (including Dave McKean's fantastic artwork done for the original book), and nuggets of info about the theatrical stagings of the novel too.

I'm particularly thankful that this book allowed me to see the wonderful design work of Tadahiro Uesugi, an illustrator who heavily defined the overall look of the film Coraline. I immediately checked out his website and was knocked out by the beauty of all of his artwork.

A small gripe about the book is that there are a handful of slightly pixelated photographs reprinted on various pages that are obviously low-res jpegs or screen grabs off the internet, including an awful full page reprint of an early Coraline teaser poster that just doesn't need to be in this book. If it had been scaled down in size then the bad quality might have been reduced but printing it on a full page only emphasises the scale of the break-up of the image. This is only a minor glitch in an otherwise splendid accompaniment to a lovely film.

Horton Hears A Who (2 Disc Edition including Bonus Digital Copy) [DVD] [2008]
Horton Hears A Who (2 Disc Edition including Bonus Digital Copy) [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Jim Carrey

4.0 out of 5 stars Horton Hears a Four-Star Review!, 30 Sep 2009
This is a fabulous film that, whilst remaining true to the spirit and visual style of the original Dr Seuss book, expands the story out perfectly to fit a feature film format. The animators and designers at Blue Sky have done a terrific job of translating Seuss' original illustrative style into a fully realised computer animated world that is packed with incidental visual delights. The film is a treat from start to finish with wonderful turns from all the vocal talent concerned. I particularly enjoyed Steve Carell's performance as the Mayor of Who-ville, who's antics and splendid characterisation sometimes made me laugh out loud. It has to be one of the finest comic performances for any animated film I've ever seen.

The extras, whilst limited are extremely interesting, particularly to those who like to see the pre-production design work and hear about the little technical details that go into creating such a production. I just wish the documentaries about the making of the film had been longer and more expansive as the animators and designers speak wittily and with great insight into their creative processes and discuss the visual hurdles they had to leap in order for the animation to remain true to Dr Seuss' vision. I also wish they had produced a lavish Pixar-style book containing all the production art and model designs to go with the release of the film, because some of the images displayed in the making-of docs are truly sublime.

The Savage
The Savage
by David Almond
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.16

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern Classic, 29 Sep 2009
This review is from: The Savage (Hardcover)
This is a fabulous, thought-provoking book of immediate contemporary relevance, written by a writer who knows exactly how to create a story that doesn't patronise younger readers by talking down to them. David Almond writes beautifully about the kind of life experienced by many younger people in modern Britain, but refrains from being too preachy or condescending in his telling of it. In fact this is a very good read for adults as well, which shows how deftly Almond can pitch the tone of his prose. This book, despite its modest length is destined to become a modern classic.

In illustrator Dave McKean he has found the perfect collaborator for his work. McKean's brilliant images are not designed to be just an extra part of the book, occupying their own clearly defined "illustration" space, but, rather, are designed to become an inherent part of the text, woven within the actual narrative so the two become almost inseparable. The pages are designed using a variety of layout techniques that range from traditional text-and-image through to progressive graphic novel panels. This is a clever idea and is designed in such a way that as you read the text the image calls for your attention too; and as you look at the image the text hovers enticingly about the periphery of your vision. Sometimes a single image sums up the action, more often McKean displays his skill honed from his other graphic novel work to employ those multiple images that serve to push the narrative forward visually or add extra layers of meaning and characterisation through the depiction of continuous movement. I also love the use of different fonts within the text and also the somewhat unusual square hardbacked book format that publishers Walker Books utilise for this publication, adding to its lustre as an attractive object.

The Hanna-Barbera Treasury
The Hanna-Barbera Treasury
by Jerry Beck
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hidden Treasure, 29 Sep 2009
Ok, I'll be honest, I was never the biggest fan of the many animation shows that were produced by the Hanna-Barbera studios. Even as a kid I often thought the shows were cheaply produced with shoddy painted backgrounds and characters displaying animated movement of sub-standard quality (yeah, I guess I must have been a pretty exacting child!) After enjoying the beautiful chaos of the Warner Bros shorts and admiring their breathtaking creativity and technical skill, the production line output of Hanna-Barbera just didn't cut the mustard with me.

However, what is undeniable is the lovely quality of the peripheral ephemera that was a by-product of these shows. The character designs and 2D rendered artwork that was produced during the planning stages of The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Scooby-Doo, and the myriad other programmes that the studio created remained a hidden treasure of beautiful cartoon art. Often these "extras" belied a skill and beauty sadly lacking in the animated series that was the final product of all this work.

This treasury is beautifully designed itself; containing envelopes and pockets glued to certain pages throughout the book, holding reproductions of contemporary adverts, bubblegum cards, storyboards and many other delightful pieces of art that were created with obvious love, a gorgeous sense of colour and an attention to detail that I guess could not be carried through to the completed shows themselves due to deadline or budgetary constraints. Animation historian Jerry Beck has collected rare mementoes from the studio's history, including 3D models and giveaway art from press packs and original merchandising, and all of the pages in this book are crammed with fabulously re-produced art and high quality photographs of truly thrilling cartoon artwork by Hanna-Barbera's talented designers and artists. As I said before, I was never a fan of the actual animations that resulted from all this effort, but I bought this book immediately after flicking through its lovely pages and I find it an inspirational addition to my personal library.

A2Z and More Signs
A2Z and More Signs
by Julian Rothenstein
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Beauty of Type, 28 Sep 2009
This review is from: A2Z and More Signs (Paperback)
This is an indispensible book for artists, designers or anybody with an interest in the history of typography or lettering design. It's like a Kurt Schwitters scrap book of old signs, leaflets, letterheads and pages from gorgeous antique font catalogues. This book is an update of an earlier Redstone Press publication called "ABZ", this particular volume contains even more fascinating examples of type printing and alphabet forms from the days before computers. It contains examples from a time when such designs were lovingly crafted by skilled draughtsmen and presented in elaborate catalogues that showcased their potential uses to shop owners or businessmen who might be in need of signage, logo designs, letterheads, business cards or any other form of written communication.

I think it is wonderful that publishers like Redstone Press have the forsight to collect such fascinating printed memorabilia and re-print them all in books like this so that the rest of us may have our attentions drawn to the beauty and skilled craftsmanship that is inherent in these obscure typographic designs.

Thomas Allen: Uncovered
Thomas Allen: Uncovered
by Thomas Allen
Edition: Board book
Price: £16.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Uncovered Discovered, 28 Jun 2009
I first discovered the work of Thomas Allen when he was featured in a book about artists who specialized in sculpting paper forms. I was immediately knocked out by his clever use of the pulp novel medium and the witty and inventive juxtapositions he utilized from their old illustrated covers. Sometimes he cuts and manipultes just the cover image; other times he uses the entire paperback book as a sculptural object. Every one of his images is packed with subtle humour and he displays a skillful eye for taking an illustration and re-using it to create new meaning. Allen plays with these stock-in-trade pulp icons of the down-at-heel private eye, the femme fetale, and the hard-nosed thug and reappropriates them for his own ends, creating new stories or adding layers of hidden meaning within them. In effect he rescues these battered and forgotten trash novels found in thrift stores and revives their old, weathered two-dimensional cover pictures to create beautiful three-dimensional vignettes that have the power to move, delight and entertain in equal measures. Like careworn old detectives brought out of retirement to solve that one last case.

This gorgeous book contains Allen's own photographs of his sculpted scenes, and there is just as much artistry in his photographer's eye as there is in his skillful, creative hands. He plays with depth of field, focussing on one element of the collaged vignette whilst leaving a background figure blurred, adding to the menace and mystery of a scene, giving the images even more meaning or extra intent. He's like a mini Howard Hawks or John Huston directing one cinematic scene, positioning the camera and lighting in exactly the right places to capture the full effect of the sequence being played out, fixing that one perfect frame of film. This is one of the very best art books I have seen for a long time, every page is a delight.

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