I picked up a book recently, “Cover Run: The DC Comics Art of Adam Hughes”. I’ve never been a huge fan of Adam Hughes’ work but I generally like it when I see it. Since he mostly draws comic book covers for comics that I don’t read I haven’t seen a lot of his art. So almost all of the work collected in this volume is new to me.

So why did I pick this up? Mostly because I’ve had a minor interest in “Pin-up” art for the last couple of years. A lot of my own art tends to run the gamut from intellectual to weird. Sometimes I think my work has a tendency towards a cold impenetrableness so I like to work some sexiness into it. People relate to sexiness. It can humanize things.

It was a couple of years ago that I discovered a book about the pin-up art of Dan DeCarlo. He’s the guy who created the Archie Comics style and drew the Riverdale crowd for years. He also did a lot of cheese cake cartoon pin-up art back in the 50’s or so. I really like Decarlo’s pin-up art. It’s good stuff. It inspired me to try some cartoony pin-up art and infuse a little cuteness into things.

Another book I got recently is also about cartoon pin-up art from sometime in the 50’s. This time the art was buy the creator of “Plastic Man” Jack Cole. Once again really nice work that I enjoyed looking at and learning from.

So that brought me to this Adam Hughes book. Hughes is more of a classic “Good girl” style illustrator where Cole and DeCarlo are more cartoonists. I generally prefer the more cartoony approach but I was interested in giving Hughes’ work a good look. I’m glad I did because I really liked this book. And I liked it as much for the writing as for the art.

Hughes wrote the book himself and with each full page cover that we are presented with we get his insights into what he was thinking while he was working on the cover. Plus some pencils sketches to go along with things. I found this an especially interesting look into the mind of a self taught artist.

As an art school educated artist it made me realize how hard it is, even as naturally gifted as Hughes clearly is, to learn art/illustration on your own. There are things he mentions it taking him a long time to figure out that they teach you in the first year of art school. Plus there are tools. In art school you spend a lot of time learning a lot of tools. Without art school how do you even know such tools exist? You don’t unless a colleague shows them to you and explains how to use them. Hughes has an appetite for learning new things and so was always on the lookout for people to show him stuff. Luckily for him people did.

Hughes is also one of these talented artists who is insecure about his work, tends to put it down at times, and can be his own worse critic. I’ve always been suspicious about that attitude and have always suspected it was schtick to get attention. Except that every talented artist I have ever met who has had such insecurity was not faking it. They were genuinely insecure. As a matter of fact pointing out the flaws in your own work is a pretty bad technique for getting attention. Yet I still suspect people of faking insecurity. Tells you how suspicious of the world I am.

An observation about self taught artists/illustartors that I’ve noted before is also evident in Hughes work. The hardest part of teaching yourself how to make a picture teaching yourself color. Not that Hughes’ color is bad or anything it’s just limited. That might also be part of the limitation of representative illustrative color but it’s also because color can be complicated. Most self taught artists learn a few basics about color (analogous, compliments and such) and stick with them but mostly keep things monochromatic. Hughes mostly does that but makes up for things with well done tones. There is nothing wrong with his color he just uses a lot of the same simple solutions that other illustrators use. This could also have to do with time and money.

I would have liked to have seen some of Hughes’ photo reference reproduced in this book but none was. Some comic artists use photo reference badly but Hughes uses it well. He’s no slave to a photo but mines it for its information. I would have liked to have seen that part of the process but the first rule of photo reference is don’t let the audience see your photo reference. It can mess up how they see the final picture. It might not but why take the chance? Most artists have no problem showing a fellow artist their photo reference but keep it from the public at large.

One more thing I noticed about Hughes’ artwork. Almost all of his women have narrow hips and small behinds. That’s unusual for cheesecake and super heroine drawing. I guess it’s what he prefers but I found it a little odd at times. Especially since the small hips are always toped off by giant boobs and lots of cleavage. Just a style thing that struck me.

After reading the Adam Hughes book I picked up “52 – The Covers” featuring the art of J.G. Jones because I was on an “Art of..” book roll. This volume features the 52 covers that Jones and colorist Alex Sinclair did. They had to make one cover a week for a year for the DC Comic series “52” that came out a few years ago.

I wouldn’t put Jones in the same class ad Hughes but he’s good. I liked the thumbnail sketches of the covers they presented and Jones’ notes. He really didn’t go into his process of drawing but wrote of the ideas behind the covers. Since these were almost all classic type comic book covers rather than bland modern ones with characters just standing around they each had a story to tell. Jones told us the story behind the story. A nice book overall.

Now I need to find some more comic book cover books. They’re fun.