Taiwan-born James Jean is “ bar-none, no question “ the finest cover artist working in comics today. He’s so good, he deserves to be known as among the finest artists working today in any medium.
The guy’s only been out of art school for seven years, and already has assembled an astonishing portfolio able to stun any client. The proof lies in his monthly gig creating the front cover of DC/Vertigo’s “Fables,” a long-running, award-winning, mature-audiences-only series about fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters who live among us, incognito, in New York City. It’s a smart, sharp, wildly acclaimed comic that pushes “ and actually moves “ the boundaries of that storytelling format, transcending what most people think of when they hear the word “comic” (read: juvenile).
Jean’s cover sets the tone for each issue, and the results from the first 75 issues “ plus a dozen other related collections and spin-offs “ are collected in the heavy, heady “Fables: Covers by James Jean.” It’s a gorgeous art book that even people who have never read or even heard of the comic can appreciate. If they value a strong visual, they’ll treasure this one. It’ll hip up any coffee table, so consider gifting it (after you buy an extra copy for yourself).
Fantasy and mystery marry for mood in Jean’s elegiac, elegant art. Creatures and humans co-exist in crowded subways, thorny cityscapes, dingy bars, bloody battlefields, wintery forests and fiery streets. Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf “ they’re all here, but not in the Mother Goose visages you’re used to from repeated childhood exposure. These images are myths and legends for grown-ups, and each one is a wonder to behold.
One can get lost on any given page, and the beauty of the art is just one reason. The other is the process. The covers are arranged chronologically, with each earning its own spread. On the right-hand side sits the finished piece, minus all the price info and UPC codes; on the left, the preliminary sketches, comps, roughs, textures, unused concepts and assorted layers that helped comprise the whole. Depending on the cover, Jean may employ graphite pencils, colored pencil, watercolors, oil paints, acrylic paints, charcoal, chalk, pigment inks and computer-generated digital color to achieve his desired effect; a scant few use only a single tool, which is why his work is so enthralling.
In the afterword, “Fables” creator/writer Bill Willingham conducts a brief Q-and-A with Jean in an effort to “reveal something of the mind behind the remarkable art,” but it’s the art that speaks loudest.
It bears repeating: “Fables: Covers” is a thing of beauty. And Lord knows, we could all use some of that.