The Art of Amanda Conner (IDW Publishing, $29.99)

Edited and designed by Joe Pruett

This book had a lot of what I expected, but a few surprises as well. 

As I said in my Silk Spectre review, I love everything Amanda Conner has ever done. So I expected I'd enjoy this book, and I did.

It's one of the first art books I've ever bought where I already own most of the work under discussion, but that was no disappointment -- I enjoyed seeing it again, and I liked hearing what others thought about it.l I especially enjoyed reading what the artist herself thinks about her work, because that was often somewhat revelatory.

For one thing, Amanda got her start on Barbie comics, which I did not know. So one animating impulse through her early work -- and to this day, I suspect -- is to kill the idea that she is "that Barbie artist." Which may explain horror books like Vampirella, superhero/humor like Soulsearchers & Co., and whatever the heck The Pro is. 

Another surprise is that Conner went to the Kubert School. Others may have known that, but I didn't, and it's interesting.

"Interesting," but that's all. Because it's clear to me that Conner would have been a terrific artist no matter what her background. She's extremely talented in things that can't really be taught -- facial expressions, body language, storytelling, timing. Her rendering is impeccable, giving her characters a light, almost cartoony airiness, yet they are subtly grounded in weight and gravity. And she also brings something that no school can teach: A determination to succeed. It's that fierce determination that has allowed Conner to succeed in what everyone agrees is pretty much a man's field, and is pretty much written in everything she does.

Another facet of that determination is that Conner is still growing and improving. She's at a level that most artists would find satisfactory, and repeat until retirement. But as this book shows, Conner improves virtually with every project she tackles -- and it ain't over yet. When you turn the last page, you know the story has only begun. She's going to get better still, maybe by quantum leaps, and we are already seeing that in her current project, Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre.

And that was really the biggest takeaway for me: This book should really be subtitled "Volume 1." Amanda Conner, for all her accomplishments, is nowhere near the peak of her potential. It's entirely possible that someday we'll look back at The Art of Amanda Conner not as Volume 1 of a celebrated career, but as maybe just a foreword.

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