Out of Picture, Vol. 1 Review
The animators of Blue Sky Studios were finishing up their work on the movie Robots in late 2004 when a group of them decided that was the perfect time to do a collection of more personal stories. (A similar impulse is behind the Flight series of anthologies, to which more miscellaneous animators, illustrators, and cartoonists have contributed.) The first edition of Out of Picture – published in hardcover by a French house – debuted at 2006’s MoCCA show, and was a surprise hit there. Now, Villard has brought out an expanded edition of Out of Picture in paperback, with the promise of a second volume to follow next year.
I do first have to admit that the art is absolutely stunning – the different artists are varied in their approaches, but all are successful in creating their own worlds. On the other hand, Out of Picture is reminiscent of Robots (and other Blue Sky productions, such as Ice Age) – the visuals are amazing, showing deep thought and amazing skill, but the stories those visuals tell are much less original or special.
For example, Nash Dunnigan’s “Night School” uses a dark, chiaroscuro palette and well-chosen camera angles to tell a somewhat clichéd, “If This Goes On” style story about religious domination in the mid-21st century. And David Gordon’s “The Wedding Present” is visually stunning, with a great sense of design and the audacity to make his terrorist characters into brightly-colored funny animals. But the story, again, doesn’t really go anywhere.
The book opens with Daisuke Tsutsumi’s “Noche Y Dia,” the story of a hypnotherapist who tries to cure a young woman of her “shadows” in an exceptionally literal manner. The style works well as comics, and the plot works well until the sudden reversal at the end, which feels flip and doesn’t entirely work with the rest of the story. (It also raises a host of questions of what actually happened in the real world.) I’ve long thought that modern animators have been trained to always choose sweet over smart, and this is another example of that.
And the last story in the book is similar: Robert Mackenzie’s “Around the Corner” is the intensely sweet story of a new kid in a big city, drawn in a kids’ picture-book style. The pictures are lovely and full of life, but the story is a thin, more specific version of Oh, the Places You’ll Go. It’s gorgeous and cute, but it’s also something we’ve seen several times before.
To cut my negativity a bit, my favorite piece in the book is “The Mermaid,” an adaptation of a traditional sea shanty by Peter de Seve, the only one in the book whose work I’ve seen before – de Seve also does covers for The New Yorker, the occasional book cover, and other commercial art. Of course, there the story was built into the source material, so perhaps it reinforces my general point.
There are six more stories: all of them are amazing artistic achievements, but I couldn’t love the stories of any of them. This new Villard edition also adds a forty-page “Development Gallery” section to the end, showcasing character sketches, rough layouts, and other preparatory drawings. (Though this art has a high degree of finish; these mostly aren’t anything I’d call “sketches.”)
Out of Picture is an amazing achievement, and I hope that these creators have worked on their writing chops for the second volume. If they can get their stories up to the level of their art, they’d be as good as anyone in the world.
Out of Picture, Volume 1
Credited to “The Artists of OOP,” no editor listed
Villard, 2007, $19.95
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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