Just a few years ago, I was bouncing around from dorm room to undersized apartment, toiling away at my college education. During those years, as I also developed my creative aptitude, my “studio” consisted of living room rugs, strategically positioned milk crates, and hand-me-down computer desks. Today, as I type this little ditty up, I sit comfortably in my official, honest to goodness office/studio. I even have a sweet ass office chair to boot (thanks mom!).
I can’t stress enough how the luxury of having a separate room devoted to one’s craft can not be undervalued. An office/studio is a very personal space filled with inspiration, references, resource library, tools of the trade, music, and just about anything that gets the creative juices flowing. My little piece of the house happens to be inhabited by Hellboy posters, Samurai Jack statutes, a book shelf crammed with DVDs, and partially organized to do piles. It’s my little piece of heaven, separate from my family and the rest of my “regular” life. So when I saw that Dark Horse was publishing a 216-page book devoted to artists and their own pieces of heaven, I was excited to check it out.
The Artists Within: Portraits of Cartoonists, Comic Book Artists, Animators, and Others is a coffee table-sized book featuring black and white photographs of ninety-nine industry names such as Jack Kirby, Sergio Aragones, Will Eisner, Jack Davis, John Romita Sr., Alex Toth, Craig Thompson, Bruce Timm, Robert Crumb, Kyle Baker, Frank Miller, Joe Barbera, and Petter Bagge. The pictures were taken over the course of fifteen years by photographer Greg Preston and feature the artists posing in their respective studios. Aside from the quality photos, the inclusion of comic book artists, comic strip, artists, editorial cartoon artists, caricatures artists, and animators makes for a diverse group of illustrators.
My biggest complaint about Artists Within is that we get the artist but the within is absent. The black and white photography is all well and good; I’m particularly glad that they avoided color whether the artist is a deceased icon, old school trailblazer, or new school hero. But aside from a nice picture and a few sentences worth of text about the artist and what they’ve done, we’re left with nothing else that digs into the artist’s life. If the artists were willing to open their homes and their studios to Preston’s camera, I presume it wouldn’t be that much more work to ask a few process questions.
What tools do you use?
Do you keep a regimented schedule with regards to your art?
How do you balance your family life and your artistic life?
Questions like that. I’ll admit that being a writer/artist, my curiosity into such things may be higher than the average fanboy. But considering that most comic shop goers may not even know who Jack Davis is, taking some time to dig into his process and his studio, aside from a solitary photo, would've appease the audience Artist Within was meant for.
Don't get me wrong; it's evident that Artists Within was produced with a love, passion, and understanding of the artist. I just wish they could’ve taken the next, natural step to make this book a must-have instead of a must-browse.