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


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

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

ISBN: 978-1-4711-5760-8

For my review go to this link

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