The Artist Within

The handsome coffee table book The Artist Within executes a simple idea classically. Greg Preston has spent fifteen years photographing cartoonists in their studios. There’s 101 of these images overall, covering the fields of comic books (superhero and underground), newspaper cartoons, illustrations (mostly for Playboy), and animation. Together, they provide a wide-ranging overview of the creative environment.

The Artist Within cover
The Artist Within
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Each subject gets a two-page spread, with their portrait on the right-hand side. The left contains a short career overview, explaining their importance, a signature sample, and a representative piece of their art. The high-contrast black-and-white images on oversized, glossy pages create an aura of respectability and timelessness, even when the setting photographed is 70s-style wood paneling.

Given the timespan of his work, Preston was able to capture a number of luminaries who have since left us, including the one who opens the book, Jack Kirby. Also in that group are Carl Barks, Joe Barbera, Dave Berg, Will Eisner, Al Hirschfeld, Burne Hogarth, Chuck Jones, and Alex Toth. Those pictured who are thankfully still around include Sergio Aragones, Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Joe Kubert, Jerry Robinson, John Romita, Stan Sakai, Art Spiegelman, and Joe Simon. That’s only a sampling, of course.

The book covers a variety of generations, too, with recent superstars J. Scott Campbell, John Cassaday, Los Bros. Hernandez, Mike Mignola, Frank Miller, Joe Quesada, Tim Sale, Adrian Tomine, Matt Wagner, Kyle Baker, and Alex Ross participating. As one might expect, given the traditional makeup of these artistic industries, most of the subjects are white men, but there are a small group of women included — Cathy Guisewite, Shary Flenniken, Marie Severin, Jill Thompson (described as “one of the few female artists in the comics world”), Olivia De Berardinis, Carol Lay, Joyce Chin, and Amanda Conner.

I find it wondrous to see such rooms, full of art and tools for creation. I especially like the ones with shelves and shelves of books (bless you, Howard Chaykin) and those with windows, taken to the extreme by Patrick McDonnell’s studio with nothing but. The rare open spaces, like the studio of Rick Detorie (“One Big Happy”), stand out, as did the photo of Marc Silvestri. He’s standing, grinning at the camera, in front of five unidentified people who are busily working. Jim Lee, his former Image studio mate, is also shown with other workers, giving the impression that they no longer do all their own art. Jim Valentino and Todd McFarlane, in contrast, appear solo.

Perhaps I’m jumping to conclusions. It’s easy to read into these pictures, based on one’s working area being simultaneously private and shared here with the world. A fascinating book.

See a preview at the publisher’s website.

2 Responses to “The Artist Within”

  1. Ray Cornwall Says:

    Jim Lee always works with other people around, but to the best of my knowledge, he doesn’t use a shadow. I think he likes the studio environment.

    I liked the book, but wish that there had been just a bit more meat with some of the artists. I wanted to see which tools they use and why. There’s another book called In The Studio (I believe) that does a little of this with names like Spiegleman and Hernandez (Gilbert), but I still want more.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Oh, this is definitely not the book for tool details and the like. This is for viewing and wondering about what’s seen.




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