Sam Arthur is co-founder and CEO of Nobrow, the graphic arts publisher set up in 2008. Working together with Alex Spiro, the pair have built a reputation for bringing all sorts of new and engaging of stories to life. Nobrow has a roster of authors and illustrators including Andrew Rae, Kyle Platts, Jim Stoten and Luke Pearson. In 2013 the publisher set up Flying Eye Books, its children’s book imprint, which aims to tell stories which focus on the craft of children’s storytelling. Sam is also co-founder and director of East London Comics and Arts Festival (ELCAF), which celebrated its fifth year back in June.
Not content with just publishing books, Sam is also a keen collector of them and his mammoth library at Nobrow’s headquarters in London Fields, it seemed only fair for him to share a few of his most loved comics, books and illustrated tomes.
Phyllis Krasilovsky illustrated by Peter Spier: The Cow Who Fell in the Canal
This was one of my favourite books as a small child (those are my drawings on the inside cover). Peter Spier is one of my all time favourite illustrators. His ability to capture a time and a place filled with believable characters is an incredible skill. The movement that he manages to capture with such economical line work is amazing.
This book features the journey of Henrika the cow as she floats down a canal on a barge from the Dutch countryside into the heart of the city which can only be Amsterdam. As a kid I was obsessed with the page featuring the market place, back then we had edam cheese from the supermarket at home so I loved the idea of these people selling whole cheeses at a market… Looking back I have no idea why this image captured my imagination so much, but any illustrator that can do that – is magical! If you like these drawings look at Spier’s other books, they are all incredible.
Maurice Sendak: In the Night Kitchen
This book was possibly my favourite Sendak book as a child. I loved Where the Wild Things Are too, but something about this book is even more weird and surreal. I have a feeling my mum thought it was a bit too strange, but I would look at it on my own even if she didn’t want to read it to me. These days you will never find a children’s book like this – the baker characters are actually pretty sinister, and featuring a nude child in any book is always going to be a tough editorial call in our times. As an innocent I just loved the idea of making a fully functional aeroplane out of bread dough! I found this hardback edition years later in a second hand book store in Santa Monica and tripped over myself getting it to the counter!
Philippe Goddin: Hergé and Tintin Reporters
Tintin was always my favourite and in many ways it still is. The combination of action, intrigue, adventure and comedy is always balanced perfectly and the drawing and composition is exquisite in every book. This book shows Hergé’s influences and some of his drafts and sketches for his strips. I was obsessed with the way he and his studio would meticulously research everything – they managed to capture far flung exotic locations without even travelling there. This opened my mind to what was possible if you were prepared to do your research and work hard at something.
Karl Hyde and John Warwicker: mmm… skyscraper i love you
In many ways this book is a bit dated now. It was created by two of the founding members of the design collective Tomato. When I was at Central Saint Martins studying graphics these guys were kind of like our rock stars (and turns out Karl Hyde actually was as he was part of the dance band Underworld).
This book was an experimental typographic project – a visual record of New York which captures a particular time and mood. I loved the fact that they had made a book into an art object. A musician and a graphic designer were making art and using book publishing as their medium, they were making up their own rules and it was brilliant.
Chris Ware: Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth
As an art student in the 90s I wasn’t particularly interested in any of the comics that were around at the time – but I still loved the idea of making them. A couple of years after graduating this book won the Guardian First Book literary prize and it was the first and only graphic novel to do so. It blew my mind!
I remember walking into a book store and seeing a stack of them the size of a small pallet. The pile depleted before my eyes as people grabbed them to purchase. I think this was a formative moment for me, to realise that visual publishing could be taken seriously by the literary world and could also be commercially viable outside of the children’s book market – this was an eye opener.
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