"Looking through artists' sketchbooks is like viewing those artists naked through a picture window. With 20-20 eyesight or high-powered binoculars you'll see everything: warts, blemishes and all." So begins the introduction for Steven Heller's latest book, "Comics Sketchbooks." Culling 700 private sketches from 80 artists, the collection is billed as a glimpse into the mind of an artist. Without knowing anything about the final story or the characters, the conversation involves nothing but lines and doodles and sparks of inspiration.
Heller points out that for all the differences in style and background, each artist is exceedingly brave. Exhibiting unfinished work is dangerous—not only does it open the work to criticism, sketches can be hugely personal. Stepping up to the challenge are notable figures like R. Crumb, Victor Moscos, Kim Deitch and Arnold Roth, and Heller notes that several alumni of comic powerhouses MAD and RAW magazines make an appearance.
Organizationally, Heller has divided the book by artist, providing mini-bios with the artist's own commentary on their sketches. So what do creatives think about the work? Animator Run Wrake describes the sketchbook as "the place for initial thoughts, either developing an idea from a brief or just oiling the wheels, looking for a spark. But I often find that it's as much a place to see what doesn't work as what does." Others, like illustrator Manuel Gomez Burns, see it as something more: "I like the idea of the sketchbook as an art object," he explains. "I see the sketching as art itself."
As a source for inspiration, the book is a rare glimpse into the raw art that goes into preen and polished final prints. Releasing 7 September 2012, "Comics Sketchbooks" sells from Thames & Hudson and is available for pre-order on Amazon.