The Dave Johnson Sketchbook
By Dave Johnson
Published by Atomeka; $6.99 USD

Some artists provide a generous window into their art through their sketchbooks; R. Crumb and Chris Ware reveal surprising layers of artistry and thoughtfulness in theirs, for example, while also hinting at alternate pathways and areas of interest not often seen in their more polished work.

Dave Johnson, known primarily to me as a guy who draws a lot of covers for corporate comics companies, doesn't impress me that way at all here. This thin offering has page after page of character models, spaceship designs, gags-in-progress, and the occasional context- and inspiration-free nod to artists as diverse as Dave Cooper, Dan Clowes, Dean Haspiel and Erik Larsen. A strange, early-Eightball Clowes-like creature with a grossly distorted cyclopean eye appears multiple times, and I do wonder what he was created for -- but each time he pops up looks pretty much like the last, and the next, and there's no commentary at all about any of the art, so you're left uninformed and uneducated.

Tellingly, there doesn't appear to be any life-drawing here, but rather a lot of pictures drawn by a guy who seems to have learned to draw from reading comic books, and doesn't seem to have a lot to say through his art that might express his unique personality or perceptions. I'm glad the guy makes a living doing what he obviously likes to do, but when I look at sketchbooks, it's because I hope to learn something about art -- or ideally, something about the artist. The Dave Johnson Sketchbook offeres little of interest about either subject. I am left pondering the possibility that Johnson is best known for his cover illustrations because that's what he's suited for, designing packaging for other people's ideas and stories. This strikes me as being somewhat at odds with his Sub-Genius interests, but there's nothing of the subversion or wit of J.R. "Bob" Dobbs and his legion of followers to be found here.

It must be said that Johnson's corporate comics covers are always eye-catching and bold, and no doubt have increased the sales of the titles involved. Any hardcore fans of his work will probably enjoy this book despite its creative deficit. I found The Dave Johnson Sketchbook unenlightening and really rather boring, but if you're looking for, say, 12 consecutive pages of nearly identical, unimaginative spaceship designs, this'll do you just fine. The reproduction is clean and clear, showcasing the material to its best possible light. It's just that the overwhelming majority of the material presented is simply commercial illustration in progress, not art of any real sort. Grade: 3/5

-- Alan David Doane

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