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The Comics Journal Library Volume Four: Drawing the Line
Interviews by Gary Groth
Published by Fantagraphics Books; $22.95 USD

The fourth volume of collected interviews from the pages of The Comics Journal is the first to focus not on an individual creator, but rather on a group of cartoonists who are linked by the nature of their work. Jules Feiffer, David Levine, Edward Sorel, and Ralph Steadman are known for the political and social commentary evoked by their cartoons. The reader is left to make this connection himself, however, as the lack of an introduction to this volume is one of two glaring omissions. The other is the absence of selected bibliographies. Aside from these flaws, however, Drawing the Line is an otherwise extraordinary book, drawing out brilliant insights and observations from the interviewees on a wide range of topics, and providing hours of fascinating reading material.

That missing introduction I mentioned could have pointed out other commonalities among the cartoonists, such as the fact that three of the four are New Yorkers, and all operate on the far left of the political spectrum. These similarities are examined in “Cartoonists on the left,” a short interview with Feiffer, Levine, and Sorel originally printed in the Lincoln Center Theatre Review. This five page interview is the only one in the book not conducted by Gary Groth, and it does not achieve the depth of conversation displayed by the other, longer interviews, but is nevertheless a welcome addition.

The four long interviews have got to be some of the best I’ve read by Groth, which is saying a lot. The man is quite simply the best there is at what he does, and no single volume highlights his skills as a master interviewer as clearly as does this one. None of this would work, of course, if the subjects themselves didn’t have interesting and insightful things to say. Fortunately, all four men prove to be great thinkers and artists in the true sense of that word. The conversations encompass such subjects as the artists’ thoughts on cartooning, politics, film, and literature. They are all aware of, and reference, each other, as well as making note of the work of other cartoonists. One of the most interesting conversational threads that shows up in every interview in one form or another is the artists’ thoughts on the relationship between cartooning and fine art. All of the artists seem frustrated by the dominance of abstract art in the fine art world, and have given a lot of serious thought as to the merits of cartooning and caricature as a means of artistic expression.

The book is visually stunning, as well. The reproduction quality is top notch, many of the images reproduced in color on oversized, glossy pages. It’s the kind of book one would love to keep on the coffee table and flip through every once in a while just to examine the gorgeous images. Drawing the Line is a worthy edition The Comics Journal Library. Highly recommended.

-- Pat Markfort



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