Jamie Coe‘s Art Schooled (2014, Nobrow Press), focuses on this exact time through the eyes of Daniel, a young man from a small English town who goes to (you guess it!) art school in the big city. While it sometimes indulges in the expected navel-gazing young man stereotypes, Coe’s look at the ups and downs of the artist life is both sweet and satirical. While it’s not necessarily going to defy your expectations, there are surprises to be had here.
Our protagonist Daniel is a shy and awkward but completely normal young man. He comes into conflict with his roommates, embarrasses himself and quickly comes to realize art school is full of ridiculous people — both students and teachers alike. The book is told mostly through anecdotes — small vignettes about the creepy male model who poses for classes, visiting art galleries, the pretensions of other students.
The book is full of asides — Daniel offers up detailed portraits of the types of art students you’ll find, “person on the street” features where students answer questions such as “What’s the worst thing about art school?” for examples — and they give depth to the slightly generic plot (Daniel goes to art school! He meets a girl! He has self-doubt! He then finds his voice as an artist!). It was a wise choice on the part of Coe, letting Daniel’s inner life shine through in a playful way.
While Coe’s art does invoke a lot of the previous generation of indie-comics masters (you know who I’m talking about), he does shine with his ability to capture personalities through fashion and body language. His faces have a life of their own, revealing raw emotions clearly.
But the most striking part of Art Schooled is Coe’s inspired use of color and layout mark him as a distinctive talent. Greens compliment times when Daniel is smoking pot with his roommates, orange haze brings to mind the late-night glow of city streets. Tiny, multiple panels push fast-moving conversations and wide, page-filling images give space to smaller, quieter moments. Coe definitely understands the emotional language of comics.
As his first full-length graphic novel, Art Schooled announces Jamie Coe as an exciting talent. This book is fun. It will be even more fun to see what he does next.
(Coe will be Short Run in Seattle this weekend. I won’t be since I’m on the wrong side of the country and no one is paying to fly me out there.)
Review copy provided by publisher.
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