Artist Mitch O’Connell’s new book is modestly titled The World’s Best Artist, and it is quite a collection. For one thing, it is a lot of fun just to hold and look at. The design is like the notebook a girl in middle-school might carry around, what with all the hearts and flowers and declarations of love on the front. But Mom and Dad would probably not be too thrilled with the contents. Not that it is X-rated, but O’Connell has been pushing the envelope for over 30 years now, and it shows.
The chances are pretty good that you have seen O’Connell’s artwork somewhere, whether you know it or not. His covers for Newsweek magazine probably reached the widest audience, but he has also been published in Playboy, The Village Voice, Advertising Age, The Saturday Evening Post, and Rolling Stone, among a host of others. He has designed cover art for numerous bands as well, including such acts as The Ramones, Stereosoul, and Less Than Jake.
Although O’Connell himself does not claim it, he could be considered at least one of the first post-modern cartoon artists. The influence of such legends as Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Stan Lee, are not mentioned, although I think they are there. But O’Connell does acknowledge inspiration from others such as Bernie Wrightson, Burne Hogarth, John Romita, and J.C. Leyendecker. I should add though that tt is O’Connell’s idiosyncratic usage of certain touches of all these predecessors that sets his work so far apart from the pack.
In The World’s Best Artist, O’Connell sketches out his autobiography as well as showing off some of his best pieces. His sense of humor comes through loud and clear as he describes his upbringing, and early school experiences. The funniest bits come when he details his own gaffes in dealing with potential employers.
A great example of this comes with his “first big sale,” with Heavy Metal magazine. The editor offered him $500 for a piece, and O’Connell’s response was “Great!” Then the editor explained to him that he was supposed to ask for $1000, and they would settle at $750. Another memorable tale came from Newsweek. The magazine was doing a story about the year 1968, and wanted a “Peter Max-style” cover. O’Connell asked them why they did not just hire Max to do it himself, which they apparently had not thought of. So they did, and that was the end of that job.
Those anecdotes are indicative of the good humor O’Connell brings to the book, and the artwork is outstanding throughout. If he thinks he is truly The World’s Best Artist, then more power to him. For me, this is one of the most enjoyable “art” books I have come across in a long time.