by Art Chantry ( email@example.com)
AFTER all these years of thrashing around in thrift stores looking for cool junk, i FINALLY started to look in the book section usually labeled “inspirational”. this is the section in the back (or in the front if it’s a religious charity thrift store) of the used book section. it’s the section nobody ever seems to be looking through.
these are the religious books. sometimes they also toss in crackpot literature, like flying saucer or esp books, but those usually get stashed in the section often labeled ‘new age’ or ‘occult’ or even ‘science’. the inspirational section is almost entirely toss-outs from the behemoth christian publishing empire.
normally, i don’t go for that ‘xtian’ stuff. i sneer at it and move on. but, i finally started taking a guilty peek into that section and began to find solid gold! no, not some mystical calling based on life after death or anything. i’m talking cool interesting and somewhat weird graphic design.
these books never go out of print. also, many xtians buy them, but never seem to read them, as if they are only purchasing them to satisfy some obligation or guilt. in any case, they are almost always brand-new and in untouched mint condition. those that are worn are worn to tatters. there doesn’t seem to be much in-between the two extremes. so, people either don’t read them, or they they love them to death.
the artwork depicted in and on these books can be fascinating – like a peek into a foreign plant. it’s a culture that i only see from the outside, so it’s norms and standards and tastes are in another cultural language than my own. it’s a very very strange world, too.
the artwork seems to fall into three major categories – at least the categories i pay attention to. the first (and easiest to approach) are xtian books designed and illustrated by famous artists. these are designers and illustrators and artists who are famous “in spite” of their religious bent.
one of the best and easiest to spot is sister corita kent. corita worked in calligraphy, color fields, swashes and cut-n-paste silkscreen prints. she also happened to be a nun. so, her output for the initial part of her career (and into her later, secular career after she left her order) is all over the inspirational category of publishing. her books stand out on the shelves in the thrift stores (even the spines!) like flashing beautiful neon lights.
another interesting example is basil wolverton. he was dubbed the ‘comic artist too ugly for MAD”. his work is like an exercise in gross-out humor. it’s still idolized and collected today. but, in private life he was a pentacostal lay minister living in vancouver, washington. he also did a lot of work for privately published xtian writings. it’s really hard to spot because it looks like almost nothing else he became famous for. but, it’s out there if you
what to look for.
the second category i pay attention to are the converts. these are people who had successful and visible careers before they converted to (usually extreme fundamental) christianity. these folks are rabid true believers and you can find their work as well on those little flyers the street prophets shove in your hand on street corners.
this category seems to include a LOT of comic artists – often with backgrounds in morbid and horror comics. a lot of former EC comics artists like the legendary jack chick and johnny craig and artists like grey morrow and joe orlando. they all switched to spiritual lives and contributed their work to the more extreme xtian literature. it’s good solid hellfire and brimstone stuff with lotsa righteous violence and gore – so you should make and effort to look for it in the ‘religious’ section.
another more extreme example sort of in this category is the off-the-charts crackpot work of people like dick sutphen or steve ditko. their privately published creative efforts are so bonkers that the entertainment value really skyrockets. impress your friends and look for sutphen’s erotic poetry or ditko’s newsletters of conspiratorial paranoia. it’s incredibly well-illustrated. there’s no ‘vert’ like a con-VERT!
but my favorite categpry of interest in the ‘inspirational’ book section is the hack work. there are huge numbers of wonderfully and myopically drawn covers by earnest semi-talented true believers that stumble through their beliefs and manage to create not-quite passable images that are endlessly used to adorn these books. they’re a hoot. they get re-printed and sold for decades and decades, so they seem to have lives way beyond the afterlife they believe in.
the other sort of hack you find are real professional designers and illustrators who take on work from these publishers simply to cover the rent. we all do it. i have even done work for religious groups in order to keep food on the table. imagine that. me! i’m not proud of it, but i’ve had to do it to survive.
this cover i post today, i believe, is in this last category of interest. it’s competently executed and way beyond some amateur scribbling. but, it’s done extremely quickly (it almost looks unfinished) and sent off without revision. it’s as if the artist really doesn’t care about beyond the effort he already extended. it’s still pretty darn good, though.
the artist is credited as’ james n. howard’. never heard of him. (no, i don’t do wiki. you do it for me, ok?) i assume he had a career of modest achievement. this was done lickity-split and out the door. but, it still has managed to capture that lovely moment of creation – that point of inspiration. you can see the artist’s thinking as it progressed throughout he piece. he made quick and instinctive decisions and spit them out onto the paper. the result is gifted and revealing and pretty darn nice.
this sort of thing is the stuff of life for me. i look everywhere to find spontaneous creation – that point of genius that comes from the mind that is drawing off the back part of the brain. this artist was dreaming of what he was going to eat when he got that paycheck while the “other” part of his brain (the unconscious part that is the creative mind) was drawing this project for him – like driving a car. you’re not thinking about actually driving, but you still drive expertly. the miracle of creation.
so appropriate for an ‘inspirational’ book , ya know?
AC:for some reason a lot of folks find it hard to believe that chick did EC stuff. but, apparently he did. not many, but a few. i can’t site chapter and verse,
i think i got grey morrow mixed up with red crandall. sorry about that. as for the others, yeah. strange but true. these aspects of people’s careers are usually ignored by the people who document them. everybody is always embarrassed by it, like it automatically demotes their later output into rubbish. that might be true, but it’s very much a part of their careers….
…art linkleter had a long running radio show, then various tv shows (as host) and even game shows. his most famous work was a long running tv show called “kids say the darnedest thing”. he was a grandfatherly type who talked TO kids (he didn’t talk down) and actually very openly asked them questions hat got the DARNEDEST answers. it was really quite charming. he had one of the best slow double-takes in the business.
in the mid 60′s, his daughter ate some lsd and tried to fly out a window. the reality could have been suicide or accident or just about anything. we have no serious details of her death. Or of their relationship.
…but art decided it was the evil drug culture and became a tireless campaigner against all things hippie. his christianity came to the forefront and then he became a long-running fundamentalist activist. he continued his boorish ways until he kicked the bucket just recently in his mid 90′s his unfortunate daughter became a symbol of the evils of lsd and (as a result) a long-running joke among most hipsters everywhere. art linkleter couldn’t resist the spotlight, even if it was at his daughter’s expense.