UK-born, New York-based illustrator and artist Jon Burgerman has become renowned for his hand-drawn doodles and his Instagram account, which sees him scrawling on photos and using Stories for animation experiments. Jon’s work is driven by play and improvisation and its found a happy place between fine art, urban art and pop culture, drawing reference from the contemporary world. We couldn’t wait to delve into his colourful bookshelf and here Jon introduces his selections:
“I took some photos of my bookshelves but they’re a complete mess. Do your shelves reflect your life? Probably. My books are dotted all around my apartment and studio. I moved to NYC about six or seven years ago and left most of my books in storage (AKA parent’s home) in the UK. I started again from scratch. Moving house is traumatic enough, so you can imagine what it’s like to move city and country at the same time. I tried to travel as lightly as possible. I decided once I got to NYC to try and not buy anything I didn’t really need.
“I’ve been very picky about which books I’ve brought, because I know I’ll move again and my knees are already screwed up from the Brooklyn sidewalks (pavement). Mainly I borrow books from the library or from friends. The library is amazing, it’s like a shop but you can take anything you like, for free (!) as long as you promise to return it about a month later. Friends are less amazing as they get a bit upset if you spill tea over their Philip Guston books (sorry Kevin).”
Greg Toppo: The Game Believes In You
I borrowed this from the library, hence the plastic wrap over the cover (it protects against tea!). I’ve been reading a lot of books about play and goofing around. This book talks about videos games (generally considered fun) and education (often thought of as not fun) and how the two can be intrinsically linked for the benefit of all.
It’s really fascinating and dispels a lot of myths around video games and how they can be used for learning. It also talks about how gaming can affect our behaviour and it’s not always how you think. If you’re interested in this kind of thing I can also recommend the excellent Wonderland by Steve Johnson, which talks more generally about how play has shaped the modern world. I learnt some good trivia about Doritos in that book too. This book isn’t big on fun visuals so I added in some little doodles, I hope you don’t mind.
Linda Barry: Syllabus
I went to see Linda in conversation with Matt Groening in Brooklyn a few years ago. Admittedly I was mainly there to bask in the Matt-ness (he showed some amazing family videos his dad Homer had made) but Linda stole the show and I instantly became a big fan. Her comics are hilarious and smart and I was really taken by what she’s been doing in her art classes in Wisconsin.
This book shows some of the drawing and creative writing projects she’s set her students over the years and some of their responses to the classes. It sheds light on the often mysterious and tricksy creative process and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an inspiration boost. The book itself is like a doodled-on exercise book, with yellow lined paper and charming doodles throughout. It was definitely one of my inspirations for my forthcoming book It’s Great To Create.
Yoko Sano: The cat who lived a million times, 1977
So, I tried to keep my apartment uncluttered and zen as much as possible when I moved to New York but then my wife moved in with me and she brought a bunch of stuff with her (how inconsiderate eh?) Most of her possessions seemed to be weird picture books, either from Japan or Korea, many of which I’ve now adopted as my favourites. This is one of the best ones. It’s weird and strange and achingly sad and beautiful.
The story goes a little like this (note: I have to get my wife to read the story to me, so it is possible she’s completely made up what’s happening, just to trick me):
There’s this smug cat, and it dies (and lives again) for a million times. It just keeps coming back to life, and is very proud of the fact that it’s had a million owners who adored it. Each time it dies its owner weeps but the cat never cries. He’s proud of that. Its past owners include an old woman, a thief and a king until at one point the cat becomes a wild cat and is not owned by anyone (perhaps because he’s exhausted all the possible owners).
While it’s free and wild it meets a white cat who initially is indifferent to him, unimpressed with his living a million times claim. Eventually, however, the white cat agrees the million lives cat can “stay next to her”. They live together and have kids. He never mentions he’s lived for a million times ever again. He loves his little kittens too much. They grow up and leave and then one day the white cat “didn’t move at all”.
For the first time ever, the cat who lived a million times, starts to cry. Then he doesn’t move at all. Then I start to cry. The last image is of a little plant growing where they used to lie. I’m not sure what kids make of this story but I think it’s amazing.
Shinta Cho: Cabbage Boy, 1980
I think this book is called Cabbage Boy. It was a gift from Youjung who correctly predicted I’d love a book about a cabbage boy. Firstly, the art work is supreme, that effortless heta uma that the Japanese excel at. Fans of Misaki Kawai (of which I’m one) should seek out Shinta Cho’s work as it’s just wonderful and really odd.
The story revolves around Cabbage Boy telling a hungry pig that “if you eat me you’ll turn into a cabbage”. To prove this (sort of) Cabbage Boy says no matter who eats him will become a cabbage, including a lion, gorilla, strange turtle thing etc. In the end Cabbage Boy feels pity for the pig, who is by now really really hungry, and offers to take him to a restaurant instead. The book is a bizarre, nonsense tale, with garish surrealist imagery. It intrigues the imagination and shows what a wonderful space a picture book is to play in.
Jacquelyn Reinach and illustrated by Richard Hefter: Jackal Wants Everything, 1978
This was a gift from my good pal Julia Rothman. She collects these Sweet Pickles books and had a spare one to give to me. I’d never heard of them before but apparently they were popular when she was growing up. The story isn’t up to much (sorry Jacquelyn) but I love the artwork a lot.
The colours are like ice cream stains that have failed to be removed in the wash. I think the characters look like a mash up between Todd James, Peter Millard and Claes Oldenburg. They’re inflected with some kind of doughy disorder. They look sleepy and drugged up, unable to take a few steps without toppling over and then frothing from the mouth. I’m a sucker for character ensembles and really like the map of their town on the back end papers. Let’s have more weird picture books featuring anthropomorphic junkie animals fighting over cake!
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