MODERN ARF (Fantagraphics) is one of the most inspiring collections of cartoon artwork I’ve run across in a long time. I bought the book last summer and it’s become one of my frequent references for eclectic visual inspiration. The editor of MODERN ARF, cartoonist/historian/author Craig Yoe, calls ARF “the unholy marriage of art and comics.” Yoe is serious about dismantling the classifications of fine art and popular art. In one of the book’s pieces – a collection of cartoons about the subject of artists and models – a drawing by Picasso is shown alongside drawings by Milt Gross, André François, George Cruickshank, and Robert Crumb. Seeing Picasso and Milt Gross in such close proximity compels one to reexamine their preconceived ideas about these artists. Was Picasso a fine artist or a cartoonist? Was Milt Gross a cartoonist or a fine artist? Couldn’t we appreciate both of their art a lot more if we got rid of these superficial labels? In another piece, Yoe shows the influence of Jack Kirby on pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Richard Hamilton, but he also shows how Kirby himself was influenced by Cubism. Other highlights include Salvador Dali storyboards for an unproduced mid-1930s film, the Art Deco comics of Antonio Rubino, crazed-perspective cartoons of Hy Mayer and a bizarre Jimmy Hatlo strip called THE HATLO INFERNO.
Yoe’s presentation of the artwork is beautiful with images printed large and clear. Text is minimal, with just enough writing to provide history and context. Much of the artwork in the book is over fifty years old, but Yoe’s exuberant visually-striking book design makes the cartoons seem as if they were created yesterday. Craig is currently working on the second installment of the ARF series, ARF MUSEUM. I saw a preview of this a few months back and it promises to be another winner. Even better, the ARF blog will debut in five days. Join the countdown at ArfLovers.com.