Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Out of the Park:

I had rubbed the lion’s tail and crammed the big pieces - NightHawks, American Gothic, etc. – and so there I was in the gift shop of the Art Institute of Chicago, thumbing through book after book for a cheap souvenir. Abandoning my two dollar bills I walked away with a strange but wonderful find.
Out of the Park
'Sayonara Home Run!' / Book Review
July 25
by Chris Homa
Out of the Park
'Sayonara Home Run!'
by John Gall and Gary Engel
/ Book Review
Chronicle Books, 2006
Words By Chris Homa
I had rubbed the lion’s tail and crammed the big pieces - NightHawks, American Gothic, etc. – and so there I was in the gift shop of the Art Institute of Chicago, thumbing through book after book for a cheap souvenir. I picked up a varicolored cover that had struck my eye. The two-dollar price tag sent me reeling, and abandoning my dollar bills I walked away with a strange but wonderful find.

Written by John Gall and Gary Engel, Sayonara Home Run!: The Art of the Japanese Baseball Card compiles over sixty years of artwork concerning that niche subject that so few of us care about. But just because you have little interest in baseball, baseball cards, or specifically Japanese baseball cards, doesn’t mean you should let this book pass you by. With a diverse array of card artwork featured on nearly all of the one hundred ninety pages, the book is a chronicle, a catalogue, and above all, an untapped reservoir of incredible artwork.

The book begins by introducing Japanese baseball and its history – its start in 1873, its rise to fame, the formation of the Big Six University League, World War II and beyond. The game and its differences are discussed, including the focus on fundamentals, grueling practices, and corporation-held teams. Finally, we get to the meat of the matter: those beautiful goddamn cards.

Menko, tobacco menko, bromides, game cards, caramel cards – I’m not going to pretend to know the difference, but the range is evidence of the book’s kaleidoscopic heap of varying types, styles, and time periods. There are black-and-white postcards from the 1910’s, strikingly-colored menko following World War II, and even more boring, western-influenced also-rans from the sixties and seventies. The layout of Sayonara is minimal and unimposing, letting full color reproductions uninterruptedly float atop the white pages. Cards are gathered into arrays or given their own page, with many borderless, full-page scans included.

If you’re an artist of any fashion, there’s bound to be something to gleam inspiration from. The brilliant use of stark colors, the inking and shading, and not to mention the bold lettering imposed upon graphics lends the cards as a pop art repository, while the black-and-white portraits and the kinetic poses they feature appeal to any taste. Opening the book is like cracking open a section of art history you never knew existed. Love it or hate it, for many it’s something new, something to learn from; and for the rest of you know-it-alls, it conveniently collects a multitude of artwork with little text to get in the way.

Like most books, however, it is not without writing. Every few pages or so, the authors highlight a player, or team or significant event. There’s even a glossary for those unfamiliar with Japanese baseball lexicon (of which most words appear to be loanwords from English or derivatives thereof – “batta” for “batter”, “naita” for “night game”, and “rain appu” for “line up”). If you’re not already a fan of baseball, you might pass these sections by as there’s still plenty to look at. What’s that, you say? You actually like baseball? Well, there’s plenty to learn about players like Kaoru Betto, “the Gentleman of Baseball”, or Sadaharu Oh, who bested Hank Aaron’s homerun record, or Eiji Sawamura, who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig when touring American Allstars came to visit.

The book’s only fault is its build, consisting of a shitty spine-job that won’t keep the jacket attached to the bound pages. But it’s not as if the book falls apart upon the floor, however humorous that would be. You can always re-glue it or simply put the spine back on after reading, and for two dollars I can’t complain.

That’s the other thing: this vast collection of artwork and context usually sells for three to five bucks online, and as noted I’ve found it cheaper in person. Compare that to absolutely any other art book in existence and I guarantee it’s on the cheaper side. In the forward, Steven Heller writes that there “is an excessive, often gaudy confluence of East and West – a mélange of traditional and modern – that makes [the cards] a unique populist art”. If you like baseball, Japanese artwork, and want to dig into something truly unique, then pick up Sayonara Home Run!.

And at the very least, never forget to check your museum’s sale section.

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Posted on July 25, 2012

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and don't be a dick. thanks