Over the last 20 years of her career, cartoonist Lynda Barry has increasingly focused her talent toward the question of why we stop drawing. Drawing is an instinctive and universal activity for us as children, until age demands we display some form of mastery over the craft. As we grow older, we no longer draw because it is fun—we must draw because we are good. Finding a means to reconnect with the simple pleasure of putting pen to paper may explain, in part, the trend of adult coloring books. Invoking the childishness of the activity circumvents expectations of producing a masterpiece, allowing adults the freedom to just noodle around with colors and shapes for the simple pleasure of doing it. Despite the faddishness of adult coloring books, any activity that allows a person to spend 15 or 20 minutes a day in quiet creation is worthwhile.
But if you’re suspicious of this line of reasoning, David Bowie: Starman: A Coloring Book isn’t going to be the adult coloring book that changes your mind. It’s the kind of product hastily assembled to capitalize on a fleeting zeitgeist and doomed to reside in the purgatory of the Urban Outfitters gift-book table, that high-concept island of novelty titles existing to elicit a puff of amused exhalation while you kill 10 minutes as your loved one takes a last sweep of the discount jeggings rack.
The coloring sheets consist entirely of tracings of the some of the most common available press photos of Bowie. The line work is sloppy and the lack of effort is immediately evident. It may be asking a bit much for a coloring book hoping to capitalize on the passing of an icon to create entirely new images. But even making something goofy like “the further adventures of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” would demonstrate a level of investment. As it is, the book only allows you to change Bowie’s Man Who Sold The World-era silk dress into the more pleasing shade of vermilion you always wanted to see it in.
The book itself is good quality, though. The pages are a nice medium-weight, cold-press paper with enough tooth to grab whatever medium you choose to draw with. The pages are filled out with various quotes about Bowie and anecdotes of his career. It’s all surface stuff, but a coloring book probably isn’t going to be anyone’s primary source of information on the man.
With a book like this, the best-case scenario is to throw a party and prominently display the coloring book and some pencils on the snack table, so your friends can sublimate their social anxiety into rendering an Aladdin Sane-era Bowie with his signature lightning bolt face-paint reimagined as a slice of pizza. Title it, “Who will order us a large cheese, plain?” and enjoy it for years to come. It’s also worth remembering that even the worst adult coloring book can be transformed into a perfectly serviceable kids coloring book: Just hand it over to the nearest 6-year-old.