In an almost unimaginably tumultuous political time—when politics invades every moment of our private and public lives—the most politically searing book of 2019 was a graphic memoir. If you have awake, compassionate people in your life (and if they aren’t—why are you buying presents for them?!) give them Mira Jacob’s Good Talk (One World, $30). When her young biracial son started asking difficult questions during the 2016 election cycle (“are white people afraid of brown people?”) Jacob needed a new language to try to answer some unanswerable questions and this uniquely intimate but universal document of drawings, conversational snippets, and challenging dialogues was forged.
Bill Cunningham: on the Street (Clarkson Potter, $65) is absolutely mahvolous! Collecting hundreds of his On-the-Street photos, the volume is organized by decade to show not only the development of Cunningham’s career but also the evolution of fashion styles themselves. This retrospective artfully captures Cunningham’s highly influential taste—not getting photographed by Cunningham on a runway was once described as “death”—but also his wondrous and free-spirited sense of humor. We see pictures of New Yorkers in Prada galloping over puddles, facing off against blizzards in Balenciaga, and sauntering through sweltering summer heat in Salvatore Ferragamo. Between the sections are interesting essays on various moments and trends in Cunningham’s career by those who knew him best. We read Ruth La Ferla on the infamous faceoff between American and French designers in the show later to be known as the Battle of Versailles. We also get Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, adding a personal touch with an essay on her relationship with Cunningham, his relationship with his bike, and his legacy. There are a handful of other pieces that shed light on Cunningham personally and on style more generally. A perfect gift for anyone interested in fashion and people-watching.
Comics artist and teacher Lynda Barry states that “everything good in my life came because I drew a picture.” Barry has created many books (The Greatest of Marlys and One! Hundred! Demons!), and teaches creativity, writing, and comics classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and at workshops around the country. And she invites you to take a creative journey in her new book of writing and drawing exercises, Making Comics (Drawn & Quarterly, $22.95). Ms. Barry stresses simple tools: composition books (which is the format Making Comics is written in), index cards, and a few markers and pencils. She’s a believer in keeping hands moving to see “what shows up” by transforming scribbles into monsters, or creating superhero self-portraits. The timed exercises (“put on a 3-minute pop song”) can “open doors and windows.” Making Comics is inspiring for all ages, and Ms. Barry shows examples of youngsters who all “speak image…this language moves up through your hand into your head. Young children are native speakers.” Still feeling trepidatious? Buy the book, and look at her bountiful website (thenearsightedmonkey.tumblr.com) to see the fun prompts and inspired results by Lynda and the class participants. Then jump in! (Ms. Barry recently received one of the 2019 MacArthur Fellow “genius” grants.)