How do you define art? One story that helps me understand the very human concept of artistry is the painting of an old chair. Consider any old chair that you could buy for a song at a thrift shop or find at the curbside on garbage collection day. For all intents and purposes the chair has almost no value. But suppose Van Gogh were to have made a painting of that same chair in his inimitable style. That painting would be priceless though its subject be worthless. That is the paradox and the logic behind what we call art: transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary, making concepts truly sublime.
Consider similarly the fine line between pop and art in the field of music. Some songs are obvious throwaways, meant to move some bottoms on the dancefloor for a few weeks until being relegated to one-hit-wonder retrospectives. Other music stands the test of time and is passed on from generation to generation like the cultural treasure that it is.
So too we have in comic books the same conundrum. What can truly be classified as art, like the classic panels of the silver age? What is meant for the 50-cent comic bins, like all those wild specialty covers and gimmicks of the early nineties?
By its very title, the massive coffee-table book The Art of Top Cow would hope to be classified as art. A simple inspection of its contents has me begging to differ. The entire book is riddled with exploitative poses of women who are unbelievably scantily clad appearing ridiculously calm in outrageously dangerous situations. The overall impression, is that yes, Mark Silvestri has done something amazing in raising up a stable of extremely capable and talented artists at Top Cow in the wake of Image's boom and bust. But too much of what is found here is just the same tired repetition of illustrated male adolescent fantasies. It's almost a wonder that feminists aren't up in arms about it.
Granted, the entire 320-page book is well-paced and well-produced, often placing pencilwork beside the finished product and highlighting characters and artists from Top Cow's entire universe. Certainly a lot of thought and care went into producing this $50 behemoth.
And there are some interesting and shocking religious and fantasy themes developed with crucifixions, broken stained glass windows, dragons and downright hellfire. But soon enough another bombastic babe will appear and shatter any illusion of who Top Cow is trying to get through to.
It's a shame, really. Women are so much more complex and interesting than the buxom exhibitionists we find here. Couldn't they have found some regular down-to-earth next-door-neighbor type of gal to inherit these ancient relics that are going around?
So it's certainly impressive illustration, but I'd argue it's missing that special something to truly elevate it to the level of art. This book should mainly appeal to those who've already pre-ordered it and own much of the material re-presented here.