I’m a sucker for books; it’s true. However, there are certain kinds of books that are sure to grab me quicker than others. Oversized, coffee table art and photo books do it to me. Every single time.
And if they cover a geeky topic? All the better. Sign me up.
With that in mind, this week’s Stack Overflow includes a few recent (and a couple not-so-recent) art books that cover a range of geeky interests. Lock up your wallet if you have as little self-control as I do.
Ultimate Star Wars by Patricia Barr, Adam Bray, Daniel Wallace, and Ryder Windham (DK Publishing)
Although this isn’t exactly an “art of” book, it’s from DK, so you’re pretty much guaranteed a gorgeous book. Ultimate Star Wars is the latest title to attempt an encyclopedic look at the Star Wars universe, and it’s the first since Disney and Lucasfilm rebooted canon and relegated nearly 30 years of stories to non-canon “Legends.” Therefore, this book covers the six films, The Clone Wars, and Rebels.
It was a monumental undertaking, and the book reflects a deep love for the subject. The text is incredibly detailed and presents both significant events and minutiae with equal aplomb. In addition, it’s just a downright beautiful book (if you’re a fan of Star Wars). Every spread–every page–is filled with full-color photos that make casually flipping through the book an absolute pleasure.
(For background and insight into how this book came to be, check out my interview with coauthor Adam Bray.)
Pinocchio: The Making of an Epic by J.B. Kaufman (Walt Disney Family Foundation Press)
If you’re a fan of Disney history and the making of the early classics (or just animation in general), the Walt Disney Family Foundation has been putting out some incredible titles recently. The latest is a fascinating deep dive into the making of Disney’s second feature film, Pinocchio. It’s also timed to celebrate the film’s 75th anniversary this year.
Libraries have been written about Disney’s first film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but comparatively little has been published about Pinocchio. This book is an exhaustive look at the character (from Carlo Collodi’s 1883 children’s novel through mid-20th century merchandising), but it shines as a comprehensive account of the development of the Disney film during the 1930s.
Throughout, this huge book is filled with simply stunning concept sketches, storyboards, paintings, and behind-the-scenes photographs. It’s a rare look into the creative process behind one of the best animated films ever made, and it’s an absolute must for any Disney or animation fan.
The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe by Tim & Steve Seeley (Dark Horse)
If you’re a child of the ’80s, this one’s a no-brainer. Dark Horse has been absolutely killing it lately with their hardcover art books, and this is no exception. This book is a comprehensive look at the character of He-Man (along with his extensive roster of friends and foes) from his roots as a “generic licensed male action figure” through one of the most popular and successful toy lines and television cartoons of the 1980s to all other incarnations that came after.
If you’re looking for a text-heavy, historical look at the character, toys, and shows, this is not the book for you. This is an art book, and it includes hundreds of photos, design and concept sketches, animation cels, and production models. It’s an incredibly detailed visual history of He-Man, Skeletor, She-Ra, and their development over time.
A bulk of the book is given to the classic toy line from Mattel, the Filmation series, and the character’s appearance in various licensed comics and books throughout the ’80s. Chapters are also devoted to the motion picture with Dolph Lundgren, The New Adventures series (and related toys), the 2002 series (and related toys), and the current line of Classics figures from Mattel aimed at adult collectors.
The book is also filled with great surprises, such as a gorgeous four-page foldout spread that includes the entire Classics line, a reproduction animation cel, and interviews with various people who have influenced the universe in some way (including voice actors, writers, and many others).
The Art of Dragon Age: Inquisition by Nick Thornborrow and Ben Gelinas (Dark Horse)
Full disclosure: I’ve never played a Dragon Age game. But that might change after spending some time with this book. It’s stunning.
It’s easy to forget how much thought and development goes into the design of a video game, especially ones as lush as Dragon Age. This book walks you through the development of the game and includes early character designs, breathtaking illustrations and paintings, and early digital renderings of various settings.
Immerse yourself in these pages and art, and it quickly becomes apparent how similar the process of making a video game is to making a film. Most of the images in the book are accompanied by captions written by the game’s developers and provide insight into nearly every aspect of the game.
For the ultimate fan, there’s also a limited edition version of the book, which has a cloth hardcover (with gilded pages and satin book ribbon), comes in a slipcase, and includes two signed artist prints).
Reflections: Government (Roads Publishing)
I might be stretching it by including this in a “geeky books” roundup, but I know plenty of history and architecture geeks. And it’s my list, so there you go.
This photography book comes out in August and circles the globe, presenting amazing shots of government buildings on six continents. Interior and exterior shots are included for buildings across Europe and in South Africa, Azerbaijan, China, Vietnam, Argentina, Cuba, Japan, North Korea, and many others.
It’s not an all-inclusive trip around the world; many countries aren’t represented at all. And it includes a couple curious choices. For example, Los Angeles City Hall made the cut but the United Nations building did not (though the African Union complex in Ethiopia did).
All told, though, this is a beautiful book with dozens of fantastic photos of architecture on both a monumental and detailed scale. Recommended for history, architecture, travel, and photography nerds.
MM25: Mega Man & Mega Man X Official Complete Works (Udon Entertainment)
This one’s a couple years old now, but it’s one I (and my kids) keep returning to. If you’re a fan of the Mega Man games, this book is an assault on the pleasure senses. The back cover isn’t lying when it declares the book “the ultimate Mega Man artwork collection.”
Flip through the book, and it’s like a Skittles factory exploded all over the paper. It’s over 400 pages of vivid, brightly colored art from 43 games and 25 years of Mega Man history. We get character art for every robot and character from every game, design sketches, promotional illustrations, package designs and artwork, and so much more.
It can be a bit overwhelming, but if you’re a Mega Man/Rockman fan, it’s the best kind of overwhelming there is. I defy you to flip through the book and not get the urge to break out your old cartridges (or discs or emulators or whatever).
The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Hirstoria (Dark Horse)
Finally, we’ve got another entry from Dark Horse and another title that’s a couple years old at this point. I just couldn’t discuss geeky art books without mentioning Hyrule Historia. Similar to the previous entry, this book celebrates the 25th anniversary of a franchise.
The book focuses a bit too much on 2011’s Skyward Sword (which was new when the book was published) for my tastes, but it does a remarkable job of presenting 25 years of Zelda history and artwork that spans 19 games. After an in-depth look at the design and art of Skyward Sword, we’re treated to a detailed (and highly visual) chronology of Hyrule and then a walk through 25 years of concept art and character design.
If you’re a Zelda fan and you don’t already own this one, you should rectify that oversight immediately.