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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tundra Sketchbook Series #3 [1991]

Random Comics Theatre

Tundra Sketchbook Series #3 [1991]

Ah, beloved Tundra. So blessed were we by your insanity, doing things like publishing a 64-page sketchbook by Michael Zulli for only $4 (and as part of a series that included books by John Totleben and Charles Vess, both shorter at 48-pages, but with colour sections).

The full title of this issues is "Noodles - Sketchbook Stuff, Random Drawings, and Telephone Squiggles", and under a cover of someone in a gas mask (which I always think of as more John Bolton's thing, but it's been an element in Zulli's other work, too) it includes a great sampling of Zulli's work up until that date, when he was best known as the artist of THE PUMA BLUES, some great Ninja Turtles stuff, plus a single issue of SANDMAN (which was then my favourite issue, and its main competition now includes Zulli's own later issues) and the infamous unpublished "Swamp Thing meets Jesus" issue.

After the obligatory Neil Gaiman introduction, the first section is "Beasts", with Zulli drawing his interpretations of real world animals, something that he obviously showed a great affinity with PUMA BLUES. Deer, pumas (of course), lions and rhino populate those pages, very realistic and expressive.

"Creatures" is the next section, with more fanciful creations from various realized and unrealized projects. Some Lovecraft inspired stuff for one of Tundra's more infamous white elephant projects, one of which eventually showed up on the back of an issue of TABOO. The image above is from one of the beasts created for the unrealized "The Little Brothers" by Zulli, Steve Bissette and Rick Hautala. There's also an appearance by Swamp Thing, in the form of a profile shot of the character that Bissette drew for Zulli's reference for his ill-fated issue and Zulli's own version based on that. Also lots of Zulli's delightful Ninja Turtles in this section, including the Animus character that featured in his "Soul's Winter" trilogy (hey, has the collection of that come out yet?).

"Everything Else" has the usual sketchbook favourite, drawings of women, plus a few other interesting bits. A few characters from PUMA BLUES show up, a few stages of one of his TABOO covers, and a few of Zulli's first Morpheus illustrations in preparation for SANDMAN #13.

"Sweeney" is the final section, and contains ten pages of sketches done for the SWEENEY TODD project that Zulli was then beginning to work on with Gaiman, which only got as far as a "Penny Dreadful" preview and a prologue chapter. Man, that does look pretty. Wonder if we'll ever see it completed?

Zulli closed his book with a self-portrait and a very Moebius-looking piece called "The Man in the Moon". Brilliant book,

I'm not sure if it's sad or great that 16 years later amazing books like this and some of the other Tundra Sketchbook Series are frequently available at less than half of the low price they were published at. I'll go with great. A dysfunctional comic book market that cares more about artificially "rare" variant covers than quality art can make for good pickings for the rest of us.

2 comments:

  1. "(hey, has the collection of that come out yet?)"

    Two years ago, says ninjaturtles.com/comics/books/books.htm

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  2. Thanks. I did actually find a copy a few months after first posting this two years ago. Great looking book, nothing quite like Zulli's Ninja Turtles.

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