Tuesday, 14 May 2019

My Book Review for The Power and Influence of Illustration by Alan Male

The Power and Influence of Illustration

Written by Alan Male

ISBN: 978-1-3500-2242-3
eBook: 978-1-3500-2411-3

Published by Bloomsbury Visual Arts

Publishers website 

Authors website 

I am an academic, writer and image-maker. When I read the title of this book I was somewhat taken aback. This is because the discipline of illustration has been undervalued and decried for years. Ignored by the public at large and dismissed as merely whimsical by the overinflated purveyors of fine art and graphic design. With the exception of the political cartoon it’s almost invisible to policy makers and economists. I wondered if it was possible to establish exactly how illustration has influenced societies and whether that influence could be attributed to real power. 

This book is organized into 4 chapters, the writing style flows well and is very engaging. This book will help the uninitiated and those contemptuous of the practice to appreciate the complex manner in which illustration reaches its audiences. There has always been a vast array of topics tackled by illustrators over the centuries but these tend not to be collected into one source as has finally happened thanks to Male’s work. I also note that the author quotes his own previous scholarship throughout. This may lead the reader to explore the subject to a greater depth. 

Alan Male’s arguments are most persuasive when set against the origins of art as part of human cultural expression. It is clear that illustration played a key role in the development of education and how we make sense of the world around us. From magical caves to mystical temples, from divinity in stained glass to sacred scrolls; illustration has been employed in the attempt to link our minds to the Gods. 

When he riffs on geopolitics and how todays social media might influence the rise of subversion this is where his thesis gets exciting and I would have liked to read more about this specific part of visual communication. When the artist creates propaganda for regimes just what are his responsibilities? Is anonymity acceptable when your work does potential harm. It is asserted that we must not work in a vacuum and that social and ecological concerns should always impact our decision making. He shows that he appreciates that illustration can be 2D, 3D, 4D and even AI. These technical developments are to be embraced rather than feared. In the latter part of the book he refers to how collaboration has made illustration more visible and this helps to maintain its links to the world of science and technology. His selection of specific images proves this point. The collaborative work of Anna and Elena Balbusso features heavily in these chapters as does that of Paul Davis particularly his #No More Black Targets work. 

I think this book is a compelling addition to Male’s early output and that the new graduate and committed design student would benefit from the knowledge within. The design of the publication shows some improvements on the last book I reviewed by this author but again some graphic vector-based artworks that would work well at the size of a postage stamp were shown at a scale that disadvantaged more delicate linear work that features complex text elements. 

This book contains a broad range of approaches deemed illustration and explains how this work impacts on the wider society. Some of the selected work is beautiful, refined and gives one pause for thought. There is an international selection that adds to the diversity of images on show. I’m still not fully convinced that this book will have a major impact beyond those directly involved in the production of illustration but it is good to see such ambition. Male looks forward to a time when we all become natural polymaths. Power to the people yes but also power to this book.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

My AOI Book Review for Stagdale by Frances Castle


Written and illustrated by Frances Castle

Illustrator’s website https://www.francescastle.com

Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again. This quote from Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca comes to my mind when I reflect on the structure that Frances Castle has constructed for her tale of things remembered past.

In the first part of Stagdale, nostalgia is as vivid as the swallows that dart about in the cauldron heat of the summer of 1975. The drawing style and character design of this credible world combines modulated lines with delicate textures and sumptuous colour with somber tones.

Kathy is uprooted from London by the acrimonious separation of her parents. She has arrived at the place where her mother’s ancestors come from so it’s part homecoming. The Brontésqueatmosphere that Castle conjures out of the hot summer night sky takes me back to the tales I read as a boy and how my imagination soared when I thought of the mysterious world just beyond in the shadows. 

Stagdale is the location deep in the Cumbrian National Park, a picture postcard, chocolate box English Village where all is not well. Castle employs a bright pastel palette for daytime and sultry inky one for night. Colour signifies much more than the passing of time in this story.

While her mother concentrates on making a home for them, Kathy tries to cope in these unfamiliar circumstances. She finds some comfort in her friendship with Joe but the Bloat family who live opposite are proof that she’ll need to keep her wits about her. Working with the familiar tropes that represent English rural life and the stereotypes real or imagined that make things tick Castle positions Kathy into a world where there is an ancient wrong that must be investigated.

The layers of the story are further enhanced by the surprising discovery that many years ago another unhappy child lived in the cottage. Max a boy from Germany has hidden something in the cottage that takes us from rolling English hills to the mechanised jackboot of history. All is certainly not well!

This A5 landscape format aids the sweeping scene depicted on the front and back of the book. The narrative is enhanced by the delicate end papers that contain subtle nods to the events within. Frances’ illustrations are a treat for the eyes and it’s the beautifully crafted details that make this an impressive piece of work. Of particular note for me is the spread showing the centre of the village, with its austere war memorial and ubiquitous shopping trolley half submerged in the river. The village is well maintained on one side but not the other why is this? Inside the Stagedale Stores with its supply of long ago sweets and the strange shadowy figure standing in the back. The Stagdale museum scene with its pitiful contents is still however pregnant with clues. The use of familiar tropes such as lightening and rain help us to appreciate the tension and eeriness of the place especially at night time.

If you were alive in 1970’s Britain the fashions, sweets for sale and the pace of village life will be familiar to you even if you never lived in a village. There is the power of the cultural collective conscience at work here, something that has been lost in modern times. I look forward to reading further chapters from this story to see if Kathy can make a success of her new life, whether she will discover more about Max the German boy and what actually did happen to the Stagdale Jewel!

My Book Review for Grandad Mandela by Zazi, Ziwelene & Zindzi Mandela

Grandad Mandela

Written by Zazi, Ziwelene & Zindzi Mandela

Illustrated by Sean Qualls


Published by Lincoln Children’s Books

Sean Qualls website https://www.seanqualls.com

Nelson RolihlahlaMandela respectfully known as Mandiba is a personal hero of mine. He is the only politician in human history that I wish I had met in person. This is why I have chosen to review this picture book about his story. I appreciate that what gave him his moral purpose was fully African in nature.

What’s it like when your Great Grandfather was one of the most famous and important people in recent history? You are forced to share your loved one your blood kin with the whole world. A world that is still inspired by the actions and stature of your relative. How do you go about telling your version of his story? The answer is simple you ask your grandmother.

This book has a structured around the answers of the grandmother to the 15 questions set by the great grandchildren. Through these we see how Grandad Mandela lived through childhood, occupation, love, incarceration and final victory. The text in this book is Dodo, it is easy to read and gives the impression of being written by young child. The questions are in a larger point size than the answers. This is clever use of scale because the young reader get to play the game of asking the questions while the adult reader responds by reading the answers. 

This picture book is in the tradition of the improvement narrative. What you learn makes you a better person. Young children will be able to relate to Zazi who is eight and Ziwelene who is six and put themselves into their shoes. This is an important part of the transfer of knowledge, relatability. 

Sean Qualls illustrations are loose, dynamic and direct. Scenes of violence and state oppression. The simple direct figures are somehow more disturbing when they are subjected to aggression and pain. Textures (cracked paint and weathered edges) and immediate painting simplified figures and a controlled colour palatte. His environments are open and descriptive details are there only to express a direct idea. His faces are imbued with emotional resonances despite the simple use of line. 

Now 100 years after birth the legacy of Nelson Mandela can be seen with greater clarity. His example is one to be followed if you believe that humans should live in harmony. He joins the pantheon of Africans that inspired through their stance on civil rights and their uncompromising position. This book is a good start if you wish to understand his long walk to freedom.

Friday, 5 April 2019

My AOI Book Review for Little People, Big Dreams - Muhammad Ali

Little People, Big Dreams – Muhammad Ali

Written by Isabel Sánchez Vegara

Illustrated by Brosmind


Published by Frances Lincoln

Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster

Brosmind website http://www.brosmind.com

The life of one of The Greatest is richly evoked in this picture book. It illustrates his enduring legacy and the inspirational story behind his success.

Muhammmad Ali was one of my heroes. As a boy I watched his fights with excitement and pride. His poetic taunts and quick-witted ripostes brought a smile to my face every time. I am pleased to see a publication like this aimed at young children and he is a most fitting subject for the expansion of the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’popular line of books. Physicist Stephen Hawking also receives the same veneration.

The bold cover of this book shows you a hero athlete drawn in simple line and block colours style, posing ready for a fight. This perfect bound book packs a punch with it bright and vibrant end papers – POW! BAM! and OUCH! 

From the welcome spread it is clear that the authors wish you to be aware that this is a significant product and a rare one at that. The quirky line work is loose, curvaceous with balletic compositions. Brosmind’s work adds a playful take on this subject with changes of scale, bold expressions and Ali metamorphosing into Butterfly and Bee. 

A beautiful boy with a sense of righteousness is hell bent on exacting his vengeance upon a thief. His indignation is channeled into a more creative and constructive force thanks to the intervention of a community minded Police Officer.

The spread with the fight posters and prizes acts as a fitting tribute to this man of passion and integrity. He talked the talk and walked the walk – he inspired generations of sports fans and he is a towering role model for many African Americans.

The inclusion of a photographic timeline is problematic for me. It suggests that illustration isn’t a convincing enough medium to promote celebrity. I do agree that the written content is useful in this section and I have been enthusiastically quoting the words he lived by “Don’t count the days, make the days count.” 

In a time when it was extremely dangerous to speak out and stand up for something principled, Ali showed that his true power was not only in the ring but also on the world stage. An Olympic Boxing Champion in 1960 who used his influence to support many causes and when he lit the flame at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 there wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium.

25 March 2019

My AOI Book Review for Where's the Dude?

Little White Lies – Where’s the Dude? The Great Movie Spotting Challenge: Unofficial and Unauthorized

Written by Adam Woodward

Illustrated by Sharm Murugiah

ISBN: 978-1-78067-264-5

Published by Laurence King 

Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster

Illustrator Sharm Murugiah website http://murugiah.com


“Sometimes there's a man, who, well, he's the man for his time 'n place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude, in Los Angeles. And even if he’s a lazy man – and the Dude was most certainly that.”
The Stranger, The Big Lebowski

The Dude is a single, unemployed man whose hobbies include smoking pot, drinking White Russians and bowling. Politically he is a spent force. He is not expected to be invited to Four Weddings and a Funeral. However, he has become iconic and this will draw readers in no doubt.

Each spread of this large format book displays an environment from a well-known Hollywood movie and much more. Looking for The Dude is a challenge and he is hidden very well in some spreads, it took me forever to find him in the Willy Wonka factory scene. The Apocalypse Now spread is reminiscent of the Sgt. Pepper’s Beatles album cover albeit filled will horror!

Image-maker Sharm Murugiah has big shoes to fill, those of Martin Handford who created Where’s Wally/ Waldo? He does this with spectacular aplomb! He has produced a work of meticulous detail and obsessive coverage. Bruegelesque in its nature but executed quickly containing a febrile energy.
This type of work is known as Wimmelbilderbuch, or “wimmelbook” for short a term used to describe a book with drawings of busy place’s like a town square or sports event. These were mostly geared toward children as in the case of Where’s Wally/ Waldo? However, this book will also entertain adults.

The Titanicspread displays references to James Cameron’s other famous movies as well as images from the careers of the actors (Billy Zane dressed as The Phantom) and a tussle between Celine Dion and Enya for the title song! Aliens and Avatars add to the surrealist quality of the illusion.

The complexity of movie making is augmented by the research of author Adam Woodward and includes references to cut scenes, failed casting decisions and unsinkable Pomeranians. At the back of the book is an effective reference section to help you navigate the multiple strands, stories and symbolism. 

With an inexhaustible number of movies, the potential for a series of books in this mold is endless. I would like to see how Star WarsCasablancaBlack Narcissusand Don’t Look Nowwould be handled. Watch out Martin Handford, the Dude abides.

25 March 2019

Friday, 20 July 2018

My Book Review for The Last Wolf by Mini Grey

The Last Wolf

Written and Illustrated by Mini Grey

ISBN: 978-0-857-55092-7

Published by Penguin Random House UK

Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster

Author website http://minigrey.com


When I was a young boy, many decades ago I would collect my necessary items (stones, catapult, bubble gum and a bottle of pop) and go out first thing to explore the woods behind our house. The first page of this story took me right back to those carefree times when one did indeed hope to find wild animals.

Mini Grey has taken on Little Red Riding Hood, absorbed the story and repurposed the plot so it is more relevant for our present troubling times. She understands the reason for fables. All the characters are well defined and we care about them. Wolf, Lynx and Bear are fully realized charming creatures. The story has an ecological and conservation message that needs to be understood and acted upon.

The direct and graphic cover shows Little Red framed by a triangle and attired for adventure standing in the wood. Above her is the elegiac title, The Last Wolf. The end papers with their spikey green trees signal a fairytale within and this is so. We read a story within a story and flashbacks that are portents of the future. The serif text is crisp, informative and works mainly as captions. 

The sense of place and depth is evident in the paintings. The stand out spreads for me are when Little Red wanders deeper into the forest, when she enters the wolf’s tree cave, the flashback to the heyday of the forest and when the forest is surrounded by the houses. The visual storytelling doesn’t shy away from the realities of a polluted world and nature in crisis.

The split panel spreads work well with funny reveals at the start moving onto the flashbacks to the good old days in the middle and finally showing our impact on the natural world. Like her earlier work the illustrations have a spikey energy. Grey draws animals and trees exquisitely. She has great control over her line work and her autumnal colour palette. Yellows glow and blues show a cold encroaching civilisation. 

It is quite possible that The Last Wolfhas all the hallmarks to become a classic text. A previous winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2007, Grey shows us the world as it is and how it might be. Our imaginations should be the only limitation for children and adults alike because we do need to identify solutions to these complex problems. I believe that for young children this book is a great place to start. 

17 July 2018

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

My Book Review for Reportage Illustration - Visual Journalism by Gary Embury & Marcelo Minichiello

Imprint:Bloomsbury Visual Arts
Illustrations:200 colour illustration 

Gary Embury and Mario Minichiello have produced a book that works for me and this is why:

It reminds me of my own experience of producing reportage drawing during trips to Barbados, Barcelona, the Greek Islands and New York that is strongly backed up by the editorial tone of this book.

It contains some excellent case studies on artists who know how to capture the live scene. These artists are working across the globe and finding fascinating projects to engage with.

The many interviews attempt to discover the secrets of this skill and explain time and again that preparation is everything. Efficiency in planning is the most important thing we need to consider.

I have seen that Bloomsbury Visual Arts and Bloomsbury Academic books can be weak in page layout and the design front but this time they get it right. I commend them on this and urge them to continue in this vein. This book features some stunning examples of reportage work and the captions help build on the overall message. For me the highlights of this book come through the words and work of Olivier Kugler, Lucinda Rogers, Anne Howeson, Jenny Soep, George Butler and Sue Coe.

This book presents an effective guide to visual journalism. Contextualisation is something that we work hard to help our students to understand so they are able to create useful and original conceptual and practical outcomes. This book gives us a history and evolution of the subject and it respects illustration as an important part of our culture and appreciates that it is at the heart of visual communication.

I really like the reportage exercises in the book and I will soon use these with my illustration and visual media students. It also reminded me of the importance of direct observation drawing. This is a skill that takes focused concentration and application to achieve credible results.

This book makes clear the strong case for when observed drawing is superior to photography, cinematography and written journalism.

This book will be useful for academics and those who understand the reason for ‘dirtying the paper.’ It also explores the meaning of image making through the use of historical and contemporary examples. Reportage is an enterprise that has remained relevant and important despite the preponderance of 24/7 news (fake or otherwise) and our changing social interactions. So, go on location, start drawing and count how many people interact with you. They usually talk about their own lapsed drawing practice. I say take every opportunity that you can to get people talking about the making of art.

Karl Foster Monday 26 March 2018

Friday, 11 May 2018

My book review for Film Noir - An Introduction by Ian Brookes

As an avid fan of film noir for over 25 years I was more than pleased to read this book by Ian Brookes. I wanted to see if it could add to the canon of knowledge about this visual style, genre, movement or category, take your pick! Brookes covers all the familiar tropes and confirms much about the existing debates on this subject. However, I am glad to say that this book has added much to my understanding and also took me on some unexpected journeys. 

This book contains some sound scholarship and covers many of the contradictions of the film noir movement. There are broad explorations of the historical and cultural roots that began with six movies from the 1940’s, which impressed French critics so much after the 2nd World War. The book makes direct references to and analyses the work of the established critics and experts including Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton, E. Ann Kaplan, Foster Hirsch and James Naremore. To me this indicates that all the bases have been covered. The author has realised that Film Noir is an ever-expanding universe with a multitude of opinions and explanations offered as to why a cowboy movie with Joan Crawford in it should be classed as noir.

What I found most fascinating was the social dimensions of the post war US society that these films were created to reflect or comment upon. This was where the book departs from the many texts that I’ve read.

The chapter devoted to the new science of sociology sought to address the changes in the social structures and disillusionment with the organs of the Government during and after WWII. It reflects upon the role of masculinity as it sought to re-establish itself despite economic challenges and feminist assertions.

The veteran problem – this was something that politicians and media were fully aware of but the sheer scale of 13 million plus service men returning from a life-altering world war was difficult to contain. In the narratives of the films quoted this is a problem that was tackled in many ways with the resolution always resting in the balm of domestic stability.

The extreme left became the main focus of paranoia during the late 40’s and 50’s. The House Un-American Activities Committee found the means to neuter and expel the creative critics of the social conditions in the US.Whilst Communism was seen as a world evil by the state some filmmakers were more concerned that the extreme right was actually more established and more dangerous while remaining overlooked. References to Racism and Anti-Semitism wasn’t overt but was at the heart of films like Crossfire (Edward Dmytryk,1947)

This is book is an important critical introduction to the most important film category that Hollywood had the good fortune to originate and return to time and time again no matter the format whether that be in black and white, colour, sci-fi, western or television series. Noir is here to stay.

Karl Foster Monday 26 March 2018

My review of recent work by artist Cathy Stocker http://www.cathystocker.com

I'm at Tremallt studios and I'm impressed, it’s bright and full of atmosphere. I feel at home here as the venue stimulates my creative impulses. Cathy’s been here for just over four years. This place is imbued with heritage containing reminders of the artist’s past and connections in the nooks and crannies. There is the expected smell of linseed oil with an assortment of rags to hand but also an energy that is palpable. Cathy places her canvases directly on the studio floor where she deftly applies her technical and conceptual skills. She employs dynamic and expressive gestures as she pulls into being her landscapes and seascapes. This is an artist with a pedigree that places her within the British landscape painting tradition.

Her most recent paintings shows her mastery of materials and intention. She is a passionate and sincere individual with a robust desire to be active and fulfil a protestant work ethic. 

Her work has evocative titles:
Continuum, Essence, Maelstrom, Nostalgia, Synthesis, The Harvest, and Uprooted.

I love the titles of the pieces because they allow me to put my own interpretations onto the work. I always prefer work that allows me to draw upon my own aesthetic knowledge rather than a dictated response. The work operates both on the surface as well with depth there is a real sense of space and place. A landscape showing a hillside is obscured by the materialisation of the element between the viewer and the horizon. I had a good close up look at this piece then I stepped back and the textures just popped out!

Landscape and portrait are the fundamentals of the British painting tradition and Cathy Stocker is making great strides with her inquiries. I can safely say that with her that legacy is secure.





Friday, 21 July 2017

My AOI Book Review for 'The Bad Bunnies' Magic Show'

Written and Illustrated by Mini Grey

Published by Simon & Schuster http://www.simonandschuster.co.uk/books/The-Bad-Bunnies-Magic-Show/Mini-Grey/9781471157592

ISBN: 978-1-4711-5760-8

For my review go to this link http://www.theaoi.com/blog/?p=14157

Monday, 19 June 2017

MARCH my review of this graphic novel trilogy

Written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

Illustrated by Nate Powell

Published by Top Shelf Productions an imprint of IDW Publishing

Sometimes there are two Americas. This has been said many times.

Published in three parts this graphic novel helps the reader to understand the distinct phases of John Lewis’ career in activism.

Book One: Lunch counter sit ins

Book Two: Freedom Rides and the March on Washington (including John’s most famous speech)

Book Three: Voter Rights, 1964 US Election (The election of L.B. Johnson) and the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery

The novel begins with the Inauguration of Barack Obama’s as the 44th US President. This is used as a counterpoint for John’s activities in his earlier life linked to desegregation and emancipation. These events take place from 1940 - 2009 during possibly the most extraordinary period of US history.

John Lewis as a young man is called to seek justice by the voice of God. He believes in non-violent protest at a time where universal hostility towards black people by the US system and the white population was the order of the day. It was a radical departure. Living by the simple notion that he must engage peacefully with people who feared change and denied the possibility that African Americans could ever be their equal. He and many others challenged the segregation of the American South that had existed since the abolition of slavery. The further South he travels the more he is drawn into the heart of darkness.

It is a tale of bravery and conviction at a time when ones courage and beliefs could mean the loss of ones job, personal injury, imprisonment or death. At this time the death of an African American was not a priority for investigators. The South was a place littered with victims of hatred and white supremacist ideology. It took the murders of white activists in Mississippi to bring the media running. It’s a story that suggests that things can improve, that ignorance can be overcome, that Government can make concessions and enforce the law.

The black and white Illustrations capture the period and the intensity of the movements in their desire for progressive change. The scenes of the Church bombing in Birmingham are vivid and the expression of the dignity of oppressed peaceful protestors comes across well. These images set the scene for a world that revolved around the actions of CORE, NAACP, SCLC and SNCC. There were natural rivalries and divisions but these were mostly generational. All agreed that change was necessary it was the speed of the change that fueled the debates.

John Lewis survived this tumultuous period despite others close to him paying the ultimate price. The message from the novel asks “What would you be prepared to do or risk for what is right?” The leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. opposites who became social activists rather than purely racial champions both died for the same ideal.

It is said that the trilogy was given extra coverage and sales thanks to John Lewis’ spat with the 45th US President. For many the current US situation demands a return to the protests that shaped our present and may protect our future.

June 2017