April 5, 2009

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Isolation and Illusion Collected Short Stories 1977-1997

Written by P. Craig Russell
Illustrated by P. Craig Russell
Dark Horse

No matter what type of comics you read, I'm pretty sure you've run into P. Craig Russell doing something. His works are as broad as they are diverse, ranging from Sandman to older Doctor Strange to adaptions of operas (his Ring adaptations are absolutely beautiful, and I should re-read them soon).

When I saw this hanging around the library catalog, I figured I should check it out. Needless to say, it's a visual treat.

The collection flits back and forth over Russell's career, which I think is a bit of a mistake, but the contents, no matter what time period, are a gem of linework. Whether its Simonsonian depictions of buildings or space shuttles, Kane-like humans trapped in a world they can't fathom, or just funny looking moon creatures, Russell gives the reader everything they could ever want to see in a comic.

With a Bachelor's in painting, it's easy to see that this was Russell's major in college. Most of the time we ooh and ahh over Russell, but it's only in a work like this that you can really see just how talented he is on the page. Great art is one thing--great art in this many different forms is another thing entirely.

Just take "The Insomniac" as an example. Over the course of twelve pages, Russell's art drifts from his own mail style to abstract to nearly Seussian forms and back again. It takes talen to manage things like that in such a short span.

But where Russell shines the most are his adaptations. We get three here: A Lovecraft tale about the horrors of the unseen revealed, something from Cyrano De Bergerac, and "The Gift of the Magi." All three make up the best work here, I think.

The De Bergerac story is by far the standout piece in this collection, at least for me. Given a rather outrageous premise, Russell sets his imagination free, drawing all sorts of crazy creatures with facial expressions right out of Warner Brothers cartoons. Perhaps the best thing of all is that Russell uses dialog only to comment on the scenes, not to move the story. It's a neat trick that works, and makes the amusing story laugh out loud funny at times. Good stuff.

I have to admit, the fantasy stories, while pretty, did not do a lot for me personally. I'm just not a big fan of that type of work, though Russell does it amazingly well. In fact, Russell in black and white may be better than colorized, because you can see his lines better. There's a lot of subtle shadowing that gets lost when the works get turned over to the coloring folks.

"Isolation and Illusion" is even left in pencil form. Look carefuly at the slight sketchwork underneith the finished lines! Amazing stuff, and thanks to Dark Horse for reproducing it here.

This is not the place to start for Russell, if you're new to him. (I'd say if you want a good solo work to cut your teeth on, try one of his books of Oscar Willde's fairy tales.) However, those who love his artwork really need to find a copy of this one and check it out. You'll be glad you did.