Monday, January 13, 2014

What's Up? Docs!

by Arnie Fenner

Dan's post a little while back about the Drew Struzan film reminded me of just how much I like documentaries about artists. Whether good or bad, documentaries are always done more for love than money (and, of course, very few ever turn a profit, much less reach a wide audience) so I've always found them interesting and worth hunting down.

One of the films I stumbled across quite by accident was The Art of Illustration from Off Book/PBS Digital Studios. It features Steven Guarnaccia, Yuko Shimisu, Sean Murphy, and Molly Crabapple and, by golly, you can watch the whole magilla right now.

Naturally there are plenty of others, some that are easy to find and some that surprisingly require a fair bit of searching.

Above and below: Paul Jilbert directed the films about James Bama and Robert McGinnis.
Both can be a little difficult to come by.

Above: Terry Zwigoff's documentary is about as good as they come. It's an honest and uncompromising (and occasionally uncomfortable) look at one of the original superstars of the underground comix movement.

Above: Former Comic Book Artist publisher Jon Cooke joined with his brother to produce a pretty thorough examination of the life and work of Will Eisner. If it softens the sweatshop nature of the Eisner/Iger Studio back in the day or glosses over the import of some of the "ghosts" on The Spirit strip (like Lou Fine), it is still a fine look at one of the comics field's major artists. 

Above: Blink and you'll miss Cathy and I in Lance Laspina's Frazetta documentary. It's a bit of a non-critical love-fest for Frank and helps perpetuate some of the myths that surround him (regardless of one of the claims made in the film, no book that Frazetta painted a cover for ever became a bestseller), but that's okay. A lot of artists did (and do) love Fritz, me included.

Above: Maria Cabardo's film, Better Things: The Life & Choices of Jeffrey Catherine Jones, is now available for purchase via download, while the DVD will go on sale 2/25. Maria says the Blu-ray is in the works and hopefully will be available later in the year; her plan is to include a lot of deleted scenes and additional interviews with Jeff and other artists.

Above: The Gahan Wilson doc has had some limited screening engagements. Visiting the website might shed some light on when it'll be available for home viewing.

Above: Anthony Moorman's Making It film is in the editing phase and follows Andrew Bawidamann, Brian Ewing, and MC's Eric Fortune through their daily struggles to forge an arts career. Fellow artist Woodrow J. Hinton III steers the conversations about art school, getting work, maintaining a personal life, and defining what it is to "make it" as a creative. I'm really looking forward to this one!


  1. Thank you for sharing this list of documentaries! I am off to try and track down the Bama and McGinnis docs and looking forward to watching "Making It" when it comes out.

    The Crumb documentary was amazing and kind of disturbing, mostly in the scenes with his brother, Maxon. Particularly where he swallows the sheet tied with knots in it and passes it... then washes it so he can re-use it. Yep, burned into my brain. :)

  2. Thanks for the list!, also looking forward to "Making it"

  3. Cutie and the Boxer. Super sweet story of two semi famous but still struggling artists in their golden years.

  4. I'll join others in saying: great list and thanks for the heads-up concerning "Making It".

    I would take the sensationalistic "Crumb" off the list to make room for "The Line King", a very nice doc about the late great Al Hirschfeld.
    Not an illustrator per se, but there's a nice doc about Ray Harryhausen also. Don't know the exact name, but it can be streamed from Netflix.

    1. Thanks! I haven't seen either the Hirschfeld or Harryhausen documentaries but will definitely look for them. I've heard there's an Andrew Wyeth film, "Self Portrait: Snow Hill," but I've never seen it and currently it seems to be unavailable on home video. Paul Jilbert has been working on a Steranko doc on and off for the last few years and I hope that will get wrapped soon.

  5. I have both the Frazetta documentary and the Robert McGinnis documentary and they are both very well done and worth tracking down. I would love to see a similar documentary for Robert Maguire.

  6. Don't forget the doc on Reynold Brown, The Man who Drew Bug-Eyed Monsters, once hard to find but now on youtube.


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