Art, Books

One Thing Leads to Another

StuartNg books in Torrance. One of my favorite bookstores in LA. #books #stuartngbooks

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While The Last Bookstore is my favorite Los Angeles bookstore, Stuart Ng Books has the better signal-to-noise ratio when it comes to shelf-space. This small bookshop in Torrance specializes in subjects of particular import to me, namely illustration, comics, and animation, and particularly known for having the biggest collection of European graphic novels and sketchbooks in the US.

I spent a glorious few hours there last Saturday, poking through well-arranged shelves of bandes dessinées, pinup art collections, artist’s monographs, and various out-of-print paraphernalia that had me hyperventilating. One corner had a section of signed Hellboy graphic novels from Mike Mignola‘s personal collection – Mignola lives a few miles from the store, after all. It is not everyday that one sees a book signed by Jackie Chan a few paces away from a signed and numbered collection of Moebius graphic novels. Above the shelf are two framed illustrations by Fortunino Matania, and a giant pen-and-ink work by James Montgomery Flagg, and other illustrations that my brain refuses to process because sensory overload. Out in front you see multiple editions of posters from this year’s Angouleme, drawn by Katsuhiro Otomo; previous years’ posters are around too, what catches my eye is Bill Watterson’s version from last year. Stuart Ng is also known for having a great relationship with animation studios, so you have books like The Art of Inside Out, signed by part of the creative team on the movie, and also Sanjay Patel‘s beautiful books on the Ramayana and his very own animated short Sanjay’s Super Team. Signed, of course.

What I ended up buying that day was an art book by Dean Cornwell, an illustrator from the time when photography had not taken over the fields of advertising and magazine and book illustration yet. Cornwell’s art makes me gasp every single time I see them online, and when I heard of this new edition that collects the best of his work, I had to pick it up. It also helped that I saw a preview of the complete book online, made available by the publisher Illustrated Press, though in low resolution. Their books have extremely limited runs, and I have had my eyes on the volumes of Golden Age Illustration that they keep bringing out. Unfortunately volume 1 has gone out of print, but hey, you never know.

What you hear is the sound of neurons sizzling.

But it was while wading through the print bins at Stuart Ng that Baader-Meinhof played its role again in my life. There it was, a beautiful limited-edition poster from Under The Skin, drawn by (as I found out later) Yorkshire-based artist Tula Lotay, known to me for her work on comics like Supreme: Blue Rose and Swords of Sorrow. I picked it up, marveled at it and put it back, because I am completely out of wall space.

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Tula Lotay – Under the Skin, signed and numbered edition

Another connection that amuses me: William got me the DVD of Under The Skin from the Los Angeles Public Library, and I have not been a library person in quite some time now. I keep intending to go visit the Central Branch downtown, and now I have an added impetus to do so. You see, I found out that Dean Cornwell painted a mural in one of the rooms there, and it’s considered one of the finest works of his career.

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Art, Television

Daredevil Season 2: The Posters, and a bit of optimism

Netflix’s Daredevil was one of my favorite TV shows last year. It may possibly have been one of my favorite comic-book adaptations ever, especially at a time when my tolerance towards comic-book adaptations is running pretty thin. I made the show last for a whole month, watching it as slowly as I could, loving nearly every minute of it. Netflix then followed it up with Jessica Jones in the later half of the year, and by then my forbearance was at an end. I binged on it over a weekend, and came up for air after with a grin on my face.

The next season of Daredevil is due middle of March, and I have to admit that despite my pop-culture-jaded exterior, I am pretty damn excited about it. But what is really making me giggly is noting the Renaissance art references in the season posters. Not just because I like the old masters, but because it takes a very special kind of marketing team to pay attention to a campaign like this. Daredevil is a series that draws from the character’s Catholic upbringing – hey, the first scene in the series begins at the confessional altar in a church – and it makes sense to use elements of paintings to advertise the series.

Up first were the cast posters, both of which were inspired by Michaelangelo paintings in the Sistine Chapel.

Michaelangelo – The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Michaelangelo – The Last Judgement

The next few posters have been character-oriented, and wear their baroque origins on their sleeves. Case in point, both Karen Page and The Punisher’s posters were inspired by Caravaggio paintings, while DD’s is influenced by Rubens’s St Sebastian.

But as fun as the referencing is, I will admit that the posters do look a little strangely-designed if you do not know the antecedents of each one. And that explains why fandom is screaming about Photoshop and bad design about each of these posters.

What do I think about the second season? Well, I am not a big fan of the HighlyVisibleNinja trope in American popular culture, in which ninjas are dumb fight-fodder a step above zombies. I liked the way the supernatural elements dripped slowly into the world established by the TV show, in the first season. It made sense that one of the most grueling fight scenes in the season was between Matt and Nobu, and that was a serious boss-fight. Now that the Hand has officially made their way into the story-line, it’s but inevitable that the fight-scenes become generic martial arts sequences. I am also concerned about the fact that Drew Goddard is no longer headlining the crew, and that Jeph Loeb is still around as head of Marvel’s TV division.

The other, more important reason why I am a little cautious about the show is what I like to call the natural entropy of a superhero story based on an existing property. Where there’s the urge to throw every knuckle-headed reference to events related or unrelated to the main story-line, just to acknowledge to the viewership that hey, yeah, we know, and you know, and we know that you know, and isn’t life dandy. The creative team in Daredevil has been remarkable in their restraint so far; the first reference to Elektra last year was part of a long conversation about learning Punjabi that nearly got me belly-laughing, and the use of the line “give me a red” came out of nowhere, not only establishing a secondary character’s future reappearance, but also the eventuality that Born Again is in the cards. I like subtle references that way. It will get annoying though – yes, “will” because I am asking to be contradicted – when there is the necessity to shoehorn the Defenders universe eventually, and fit it into the bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe. What bothers me about this is the fact that it robs a story of an ending. The best stories are the ones that end. Always.

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