It's a depressingly small percentage of art school alumni who can say "I told you so" to their friends and family. In December, Taschen releases a book that celebrates this successful 1% of the illustration world: 100 Illustrators, a hefty two-volume collection of the biggest and boldest talents in the field today.
The 100 artists featured here were culled from a pool of 600 that had contributed to Taschen’s Illustration Now! Series, which, since 2008, has been publishing the work of the world's most exciting illustrators in sleek, full-color installments. Even if you’re not a total illustration geek, you’ll probably recognize some of the work in these volumes. There are cruel caricatures of Lena Dunham and Steve Jobs from Vanity Fair and the New Yorker by Andre Carrilho and Steve Brodner; muscle-bound superheroes from the pages of Marvel Comics by Gez Fry; and science illustrations from Time and National Geographic, including a portrait of Einstein made from fruits and vegetables by Hanoch Piven. Showcased is a wide range of styles, from graphic novels to advertising to psychedelia.
Illustrators reveal their creative processes in profiles that accompany their portfolios: "I am a visual problem solver. I find the essence of what needs to be communicated and hit the viewer over the head and smash his or her brain all over the heart of my image," writes Gary Baseman, whose cutely demonic little characters have graced both New Yorker covers and Target ads.
Each illustrator also contributed a self portrait, but most won’t help you figure out what the artists look like—Gary Basemen is a fanged, eyeless demon; Lisel Ashlock is a vaguely human-shaped bouquet of flowers; and Zohar Lazar is a masked cartoon bandit.
The brutal selection process of just 100 illustrators is fleshed out in the introduction by author Steven Heller, who’s written 120 books on graphic design, illustration, and satiric art and works as co-chair of the School of Visual Arts MFA Designer as Author Program. Taschen’s compilation, in all its 640-page glory, is "a record of how illustration, in an age when critics predict the ‘end of print’ and, in fact, many traditional outlets for illustration have dried up, has triumphed over the doomsayers," Heller writes.
Click the slide show above for a selection of 12 of the best illustrations from this sprawling collection: see the Rolling Stones rendered as polymer clay bobbleheads; a peacock-plumed Marie Antoinette; and a dystopian Hell's Kitchen filled with Pac-Man-like homunculi.