Like the old Classics Illustrated line, which adapted the classics of literature to comics form, Catherine Ingram's new "This Is..." line brings the world of high art to the comics medium. Unlike Classics Illustrated, Ingram's books (This Is Pollock, with illustrator Peter Arkle, along with This Is Dali and This Is Warhol, which are both illustrated by Andrew Rae) tell the life stories of some of the biggest artists of the 20th century, explaining and contextualizing their work for a new audience. Some might argue with my characterization of these books as comics; a good portion of the books are made up of plain, non-fiction prose, illustrated with reproductions of the artists' work. But more than half of the information in the books is relayed by the combination of prose and original illustrations; as far as I'm concerned, that makes them comics.
And these are excellent, informative biographical comics. Rather than using panels and narrative, the comics in these volumes consist more of double-page spreads explaining, say, what a day in the life of Warhol's Silver Factory was like, or the attendees of Dali's Dream Ball, or life at Pollock's farm. Each of the three artists' lives are presented with a lot of detail and a decent amount of historical and cultural context. Ingram explains why Pollock's drip-style of painting was so important, for example, and she does so in clear and patient language. Because of the subjects, a lot of these narratives involve the cautious navigation of ego and fame, for which Ingram demonstrates a strong aptitude. But they do feel a little too friendly to the subjects; while we are introduced to Dali's galaxy-sized ego, for instance, we are exposed to very little criticism of the man and his work.
For an older teenage audience, or for novices interested in learning about some of the biggest names in modern art, the "This Is..." series is definitely appealing. You wouldn't be able to use these books to fake your way through an art history major, but they would at least set you down the right path to learning more about the artists in question. Hopefully, these books will sell well enough that Ingram can continue to document the lives of the artists. I'd love to see another three books in the series focusing on Frida Kahlo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Diane Arbus, say, or another trio of artists who are not quite as ubiquitous as the men showcased in the first three volumes in the series.