Swarte’s New Yorker work collected

Published On November 20, 2017 | By Wim | Comics, Continental Correspondent

Ever since he published his first work in the New Yorker magazine in 1994 (three illustrations for a Jack Winter story), Dutch clear line maestro Joost Swarte has been a regular contributor to that magazine, with a short gap from 1999 until 2004. In that time he created full-page illustrations to accompany stories and articles, cover illustrations, the little spot illos that are so typical for the New Yorker and even the odd comic strip (We’ll Make It in 2011). His iconic cover for the August 20, 2007 issue received the Award of Excellence from Communication Arts magazine.

All that work (and I mean, everything, or at least until 2016) has now been collected in a wonderful book, simply titled New York Book. It is a complete overview of the work, the themes, the way of working and especially how Swarte’s techniques and sensibilities evolved during those many years. As a result, it presents Swarte’s work as much more than a series of illustrations that happen to have been published one particular magazine. It is an oeuvre that stands as a whole, and is magnificent.

In order to achieve this, the book is divided into three chapters. In the first one, Swarte presents a chronological overview of all the illustrations. On a timeline across the bottom of the page, the images are shown as they were published in the magazine, while the rest of the pages are filled to the brim with preparatory sketches, correspondence, ideas or designs that didn’t make it (at one time Swarte presented no less than eight ideas for a single illustration). Sometimes these were so good on their own, that the magazine’s illustration editor decided to use the sketches instead of having them elaborated in ink.

A second chapter reproduces the illustrations in full size, and in glorious colour. Instead of just listing them according to their publication date, Swarte carefully arranges the images over the various pages, creating perfectly balanced spreads that reflect one another in color use, theme or subject. I was particularly struck by the comic strip quality that the spot illustrations had. I had been aware that they were typically linked by an object or a theme, but sometimes Swart even manages to turn them into a little story.

The third part of the book functions as a delicious desert after this copious main course. Here Swarte collects a number of illustrations that were not used, or that were never finished. It’s quite impressive to see how detailed these could be, only to be axed in the process. And yes, there’s even a (teeny tiny) Trump there.

New York Book is simply a must have for everyone who is even remotely interested in Joost Swarte, magazine illustration or clear line comic art. The Dutch edition (from Scratch Books) is available now (a.o. from Griffoen Grafiek, who also have signed deluxe edition), and a French one has been announced for January (from Dargaud). I have not yet received word about an edition in English, but that will doubtlessly be in the works, and it will be a perfect companion piece to Is That All There Is?, Swarte’s comic strip collection from 2012.

Joost Swarte – New York Book (Scratch Books, 2017, 120 pages, 25 Euros)

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