Review: The Best of Charles Dana Gibson, edited with a biography and introduction by Woody Gelman

Rating: 5 stars

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It was Christmas of 2008. That year, I discovered Charles Dana Gibson's work, thus entrenching myself further into my obsession with the Golden Age of Illustration, and, as a Christmas gift, I received this book. Just one look, and I was never the same.

To be fair, I had been interested in this topic since my mid-teens, but there was something about seeing Gibson's work reproduced on paper, rather than being confined to looking at it online (which was all I was able to do until then,) that changed my perception of Golden Age illustration forever.

It wasn't just John R. Neill, and it wasn't just Oz. Heck, it wasn't even just James Montgomery Flagg, or pixelated online versions thereof! I realized how much I had yet to learn...

Fast forward over eleven years, and this book sits proudly on my bookcase, right alongside my Robert Crumb comics, Doonesbury, The Summer of Love, and other illustration books. But it holds a special place in my heart as one of my main introductions to this topic.

As such, it does the job very nicely! In fact, I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone who asks what their first Gibson book should be. The cover says it has over 200 illustrations, and although it might sound like an intimidating number, it's actually just right, (and I think Goldilocks herself would agree.) It contains more images than you would find online, so you can easily have fun flipping through it when you first get it, (which I sincerely hope you do.) Yet, it doesn't overwhelm easily.

As pictured in the images below, you'll find the graphic content of this book very rich and an absolute delight to look at.

The only downside is, because this book is only meant as an introduction to Gibson and his work, you might find that you become so drawn to Gibson that you simply have to have more. In that case, I would definitely recommend The Gibson Book, Vols. I and II. (But that is probably best saved for another review.) This wasn't really an issue for me. (On the contrary, I found it a delight to delve deeper and deeper into the world of Charles Dana Gibson.) But I just want you to be aware that this could potentially happen to you as well.

As a nice little addition, (and a big part of why this book makes for such an excellent introduction to Gibson,) Woody Gelman's notes give remarkable insight into not only the man and his work, but also the times in which he lived. I especially appreciate the fresh perspective he gives in his interview with Josephine Gibson Knowlton, (Gibson's sister, and the model for many of his drawings,) which even includes a contemporary portrait photograph to (conceivably) be compared against his drawings.

My conclusion is: if you're fairly new to Charles Dana Gibson's work, (or even if you're a total newbie,) you won't be disappointed with this book as your introduction to this larger-than-life illustrator.



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