P. Craig Russell: The Art of P. Craig Russell
Russell, P. Craig. The Art of P. Craig Russell: A Retrospective (Norcross, GA: Desperado Publishing, 2007)
I have been a fan of Craig Russell's work for nearly thirty years, since his "Killraven" stories from Amazing Adventures, his renowned Doctor Strange Annual, and the adaptation of Wagner's Parsifal that he did for Star*Reach. I have amassed quite a collection of his work, but this book contains many things that I hadn't seen before (images from his sketchbook and layouts for Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, for example) and others I hadn't even known about (such as his album covers). The insights afforded into Russell's working process by presenting so many rough sketches and penciled pages are priceless, and the chapter on storytelling from Neil Gaiman's Murder Mysteries was particularly intriguing.
Russell's choice of Dave (Cerebus) Sim to write the book's introduction was surprising, as the two seem odd bedfellows. I had anticipated another paean from Steranko, who wrote the introduction to Russell's 1979 Night Music volume.
The breadth of this volume is spectacular. The 29-page 1991 Comics Journal interview (where Russell famously came out as a "left-handed, night-dwelling, gay libertarian cartoonist") merely whet my appetite for the up-to-date and thorough look into Russell's career that this book delivers. The snippets of Russell's upcoming projects have me awaiting 2008: Coraline, The Mighty 12, and--especially--24 Songs, although the last is neither completed nor even tentatively scheduled. The prospect of seeing Russell's finely detailed penmanship at tabloid size very nearly makes me drool with anticipation.
Although I was almost exclusively focused on Russell's artwork while reading this book, I did notice a few typos (as Russell himself recently noted on a discussion board): the text misspells Jane Austen as "Jane Austin" on page 89, and includes this erroneous apostrophe on page 94: "Its' waking/dreaming shifts in tone..." Also, Russell discusses an unfinished "Killraven" story twice, first on page 31 and then again on page 213. Outside of these minor matters, my only complaint about the book is that some of the art is reproduced at too small a size; two inches square is enough for Russell to engage the eye, but not enough to fully enchant the viewer. I recognize that remedying this flaw would have made the book twice the size and twice the price, but Russell's art is so delightful that I would have gladly purchased it.
The book's only real drawback is its mentioning a number of Russell's works that the completist in me will now be compelled to add to my collection. As it is, I own but haven't yet read Russell's four volumes of Oscar Wilde's fairy tales, his 424-page adaptation of Wagner's Ring cycle, (volumes one and two) his three volumes of other opera adaptations (much--but not all--of which I've read elsewhere), and his book of collected short stories (ditto). (Expect several more book reviews in the near future as I peruse these volumes.)
For anyone unaware of Russell's art, check out Francois Peneaud's very useful website here. It contains numerous images from every era of Russell's career, and will give you a taste for his art. (Russell's own website is, of course, essential.) For everyone already familiar with Russell, just buy the book. It's a beautiful and enriching feast.