The best books on pop culture’s influence on the artistic process

Who am I?

I'm the writer and artist of the Johnny Hiro graphic novels. In those books, I use pop culture reference humor, but never simply as a joke. A reference can act as a hint to a world beyond the story the writer tells. I often dig slightly into an emotional resonance behind that reference—perhaps the (fictional) story of why it exists, or perhaps it even becomes an integral plot point. Popular media and culture often have a direct influence on our creative arts projects. And just sometimes, that art becomes an integral part of the popular culture itself.

I wrote...

Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero

By Fred Chao,

Book cover of Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero

What is my book about?

Johnny Hiro is about a young sushi chef-in-training and his Japanese girlfriend Mayumi trying to live a happy-enough life in NYC. But such a big, chaotic city is hard, especially when filled with giant lizards, chef rivalries, ancient gods, ronin businessmen, and NY Times food reviewers. But with all the chaos, it’s essentially about trying to live happily enough as a young couple.

I felt like there was so much drama in romance stories, and I wanted to tell a story about a healthy-enough relationship with the responsibilities of rest of the world often causing the stresses that hurt us. Because, well, sometimes simply making rent is hard enough.

The books I picked & why

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The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

By Sonny Liew,

Book cover of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

Why this book?

This graphic novel is framed as an interview biography with Charlie, a 72-year-old Singaporean comics creator, as he reflects on his life. We see sketches from his old journals, and more interestingly, comics from his long and robust career. His comics start off as whimsical heroic tales about a boy and a giant robot. But as Charlie matures, he takes in the politics of Singapore—the protests, wars, and changing government. As he digests this world around him, his comics change, from action comics to comic strips to satire to autobiographical to, well, all over the board. We see his thoughts on a turbulent, evolving Singapore laced within these comics—sometimes subtlely, often overtly—as well as glimpses into his relationships and his financial struggles. This masterfully told story falls amongst my favorite comics.

How Music Works

By David Byrne,

Book cover of How Music Works

Why this book?

Written by former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, this book explores many facets of music—from the evolution of how certain kinds of music came to exist in certain cultures, to how recording changed the landscape of music, to common monetary breakdowns of independent and large label recordings and distribution. Byrne interlaces these insights with stories from his own music career (which Byrne fans are sure to enjoy)—from New York’s ever-changing underground scene to his many records and collaborations. His own musical tastes and opinions are fraught throughout this book as well. How Music Works is straightforwardly written and approachable in its concepts without dumbing things down. I highly recommend this one for any creative soul.

Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol

By Tony Scherman, David Dalton,

Book cover of Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol

Why this book?

I’ve read a handful of Warhol biographies and this is easily my favorite. It does a good job of breaking down his life experiences, his art and the philosophies behind The Factory, his purposeful creation of himself as an icon, and his adaptations to the American fine art and underground art landscapes that changed throughout his career. The book also has plenty of great party stories involving countless celeb friends. And to offset that all, peaks into his spending. The one bummer for me was that there weren’t enough pictures. But, well, I guess that’s what all my other Warhol books are for.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays

By Steve Martin,

Book cover of Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays

Why this book?

I read this play before I saw it, and it was great as a read. Steve Martin is obviously known as a comedic actor. But if you like the few movies he’s written, think Roxanne and LA Story, then you might want to give this one a try. It’s the fictional meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein circa 1904. Picasso has started gaining fame for his breaking of artistic boundaries, and Einstein is a year away from releasing his theory of relativity. The two men have a chance meeting in a bar and drunkenly philosophize about art, science, society, meaning, and sex. And because it’s Steve Martin, don’t be surprised if Elvis comes along.

Delusional: The Graphic and Sequential Work of Farel Dalrymple

By Farel Dalrymple,

Book cover of Delusional: The Graphic and Sequential Work of Farel Dalrymple

Why this book?

I love the publications of cartoonists’ sketchbooks—getting a peek into the visual culmination of ideas that eventually gets turned into comics. Farel Dalrymple is an indie comics creator whose book Pop Gun War astounded me when I first saw it. His illustrations involve cityscapes and brownstones, and very slow-feeling movements, kind of urban-ethereal. It’s quite obvious Dalrymple has a respect for the settings his comics take place in. In Delusional, we get to see his quiet yet bizarre sketches and unpublished slices of comics that take place in his Pop Gun War and Wrenchies worlds.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in pop music, sound, and the economy?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about pop music, sound, and the economy.

Pop Music Explore 24 books about pop music
Sound Explore 16 books about sound
The Economy Explore 114 books about the economy

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Unknown Pleasures, Making Records, and Love Goes to Buildings on Fire if you like this list.