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RIAN HUGHES DEVICE "ART, COMMERCIAL"



"Comics are a unique creature in the Western cultural annals. At moments, on this side of the world we have seen it embraced by the arts culture en masse, when Liechtenstein picked up his brush, when pop became vogue, when R.Crumb, hermetic master of the comic underworld suddenly sprang, the bow tied deviant and heavily bespectacled anti-hero of his own documentary, like some perverted bizzaro world version of Barney Fife, onto the applauding screens of film festivals around the globe."

By Jonathan Carr

COPYRIGHT © 2003, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The comic book, undoubted cornerstone of multiple and complex subcultures, from the overt western tradition of latent boys and their mainstream addiction to the DC/Marvel master beast-now a churning Hollywood behemoth (Batman the movie, X-men the movie, Spiderman the movie… need I go on)-to the darkened core of indie comic junkies, a world of diehards, who are in it for their given passion, and in it for life. And that is just the American comic cross-section. If you really want to talk comics, you need to talk Japan: Manga and full feature Anime (real comic art movies). Japan is a culture that has embraced comic art as not only legitimate in and of itself, but as a relevant artistic medium for the discussion of complex intellectual and socio-political concepts. But that is another column, scratch that, that is a book.

Comics are a unique creature in the Western cultural annals. At moments, on this side of the world we have seen it embraced by the arts culture en masse, when Liechtenstein picked up his brush, when pop became vogue, when R.Crumb, hermetic master of the comic underworld suddenly sprang, the bow tied deviant and heavily bespectacled anti-hero of his own documentary, like some perverted bizzaro world version of Barney Fife, onto the applauding screens of film festivals around the globe.

Slowly, in spurts, we see the comic book, its unique value, has begun to creep into the consciousness of the bastioned arts community. In the independent art scene comic motifs have intermingled with other artistic styles in a happy relationship for quite some time. In design this has been, if anything even more the case, perhaps largely because of the international nature of the design community, and the strong Japanese design contingent, whose universally recognizable comic influence can be seen grafted into work by designers across the globe.

Rian Hughes' extensive comic experience is uniquely Western. It is also arguably the most fundamental ingredient in his design. His work in the comic arena is broad, from his own title "The Controversial Memoir of Dan Dare Pilot of the Future" originally created for Revolver Magazine and eventually run as its own series of graphic novels under Fantagraphics; to work at DC, on titles such as "Batman" and "The Invisibles." Also during his tenure he did stints or projects with Darkhorse Comics, Acme Comics, Knockabout Comics, all largely in art direction. Perhaps most notable is his work with such underground superstars as the aforementioned R.Crumb, and Gilbert Shelton again in art direction. Another very important relationship in the comic arena was that forged with 2000AD, a relationship initiated with the revival of the character Robohunter with collaborator/writer Peter Hogan.

Hughes work and his illustrations are uniquely his own often recognizable highly stylized figures, markedly European, with strong jaws or thin waists, which people often refer to as retro 60's, though I think that this is somewhat limiting assessment of his work if left on its own. Hughes' work at times has an undoubted retro feel and connotation, but is in no way a single minded throw back to the work of previous generations. There is also the overtly enlarged eyes, an earmark most connote with Japanese work.

Before to his comic work, Hughes began his career with stints in differing design firms and advertising agencies. After his time working on comic titles, he returned with the experience of that industry in hand, to tackle the design world again. It is noted in the introduction to the book by Jim Davies that Rian was actually offered the title Adam Strange, by DC Comics, but chose to turn it down because the commitment would limit his ability to follow his other design pursuits.

What a designer sees in this collection is that Hughes is by no means a boundaried creator. Tucked amongst the bright eyed strong lined Hughes' faces that cover much of the collection, the styles of design we find represented are quite diverse. The influence of his extensive experience in the comic industry is perhaps most overt, and Hughes has used it to his advantage, taking the best that industry has to offer; but certain key fundamentals are present that move deeper than the initial Hughes' style bombardment. There is an impressive collection of high quality fonts, a hundred of which are on display in a specific font section of the book and more of which can be found interspersed throughout the pages of the collection in the works themselves. Ten of his fonts are available for download off of a CD which accompanies the collection. The font section is punctuated by a photo of a photoypositer negative of one of his fonts. This is certain to make any designer take note. Hugh's font work marks him as a true student of design.

Rian Hughes Device: "Art, Commercial" is a time capsule of a very important period in design. During the 20 year span of Hughes' career covered in this book design went from the nearly pre-digital to the landscape of today: internet based, grid rendered, vector generated, and/or megabyte wary. Hugh's has successfully navigated that transition and carried with him multiple worlds of experience. In a time when the words Designer/Illustrator don't necessarily line up as often as Designer/Programmer, it is important that the design community retain the fundamentals upon which it was founded. To be a good designer is to be forever a student of design, and this is not a bad textbook.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Carr is very busy these days. He is the Director of New Media @ Web Del Sol; he is the editor of Magazine Minima, a journal of microfiction; he is the editor of 07(group), a journal of New Media Art at Web Del Sol; he is editing for the publication Rivendell. Oh, and did we fail to mention that he is 3am's New Media editor?

His multimedia art, fiction, and poetry have recently appeared, or shortly will appear in: Poems that Go, In Posse, Double Room, The Voyeur, Diagram, The Del Sol Review, Minima and Artifacts.





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