Stack Overflow: Geeky Coffee Tables, Part 2

Books Columns Reviews Stack Overflow


There are a lot of advantages to e-books, including price, convenience, and ease of storage. Most books can make the transition from print to screen rather easily, and very little (if anything) is lost. However, when it comes to oversized art books, there’s just no replacement for print. Digital readers simply can’t replicate the look, feel, and size of a high-quality art/photo book.

And anyone who still says “print is dead” certainly hasn’t taken a good look at this segment of the industry. Art and photo books (i.e., coffee table books) are thriving, and there’s been an explosion of fantastic titles recently.

A few months ago, I did a roundup of some great recent titles, but I think it’s time for a second installment. So, without further ado, here are a few books worthy of any geek’s coffee table…


Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier by Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann (Insight Editions)

Drawing on the entire franchise, including all twelve films and six TV series, this is an in-depth look at the memorable wardrobe of Star Trek. Garish, outlandish, provocative, stylish, overly complicated, or barely there… it’s hard to deny that the costumes of Star Trek sometimes upstage the actors.

This gorgeous book is filled with exclusive photography, stills from the franchise’s history, rare concept art, and hundreds of other visuals. It features extensive information on the creation of each featured costume, and it draws on insights and anecdotes from interviewees such as LeVar Burton, Jonathan Frakes, Ronald D. Moore, and J.J. Abrams.

I should note that the book is heavily weighted to the shows and casts that have the most fervent following. A vast majority of the book (177 of its total 253 pages) is devoted to the original series, The Next Generation, and the ten films associated with those casts. This only makes sense as those two shows are notorious for the innovative clothes, uniforms, and costumes they paraded across the television screen. The rest of the book touches briefly on Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and Nu Trek.

The photos and art are the real draw here, obviously, but the accompanying text breathes life into each shot by providing history and anecdotes that place each outfit into context. This is the kind of book that demands to be “read” again and again, and it will make you crave a museum exhibit with all of these pieces.


The Art of Rocksteady’s Batman by Daniel Wallace (Abrams)

If you’re a fan of the Arkham trilogy of games (Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, Arkham Knight), this book is basically what dreams are made of. It’s the¬†only book to chronicle the making of the series, and it does so in astonishingly beautiful fashion with more than 300 pages of preproduction art, concept sketches, background paintings, character turnarounds, and sketch-to-final-game comparisons for all three installments.

This fully authorized (by Warner Bros and Rocksteady Studios) book walks you through every stage of the creative process, from initial story work through final CG touchups. Candid interviews from game creators and designers provide a fascinating insight into how the games were developed. We get to peek behind the curtain a bit and understand the challenges faced during character design, while building the world, and in staying true to the Batman mythos.

To be sure, though, this is an art book. It’s wall-to-wall art with hundreds of images, and it’s a joy to flip through. It’ll make you want to dig into the games all over again (or for the first time).


An Animator’s Gallery: Eric Goldberg Draws the Disney Characters by David A. Bossert (Disney Editions)

Disney Editions is no stranger to gorgeous art books, and Eric Goldberg is no stranger to gorgeous art. Goldberg is perhaps best known as the supervising animator on the Genie from Aladdin, but he also co-directed Pocahontas, directed two segments of Fantasia 2000, and had major roles in the spectacular Disney shorts Paperman and Get a Horse!

In 2012, Eric Goldberg was asked to create caricatures of various Disney characters to adorn the walls of one of the premiere restaurants at the brand-new Shanghai Disney Resort. He ended up drawing nearly 200 black-and-white portraits that evoke the style of Al Hirschfeld and feel like an animated version of something you might see at a New York bistro or Hollywood’s legendary The Brown Derby.

The book begins with a brief history of Goldberg’s career and Hirschfeld’s influence, but the bulk of the book is devoted to oversized reproductions all of his¬†caricatures. The deceptively simply line work betrays a stunning talent, and all of the characters–from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to Baymax and everyone in between–are masterpieces.

Many of the pieces “link together” as characters and settings reach beyond the confines of the frames… demonstrating that imagination (and Goldberg’s talent) cannot be contained. If you’re a fan of Disney animation, this is definitely one you’ll want in your collection.


Figure Fantasy: The Pop Culture Photography of Daniel Picard (Insight Editions)

I have to admit, I hadn’t heard of Daniel Picard before picking up this book. But the photos here are wonderful. He’s taken familiar pop culture characters (from comics, movies, and television) and set them in real-world environments. However, the twist here is that all of the characters are represented by sixth-scale, 12-inch figures from Sideshow Collectibles.

The book features a foreword by Simon Pegg and an afterword by Kevin Smith, along with an introduction by Picard in which he describes his process and how he came to the crazy world of action figure photography.

Picard’s eye for detail and choice of setting/scenario have created some truly outstanding images. A few favorites include Joker putting together a Batman LEGO set, the Gentlemen (from Buffy) walking their dogs, and Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine rowing a canoe and sharing a sweet moment together. Most of the photos are centered on a single franchise, but there are some inspired mashups here, such as Jason Voorhees fighting a Tusken Raider.

As Kevin Smith notes in his afterword, “if you played with dolls as much as I did, you probably made this book a thousand times on your own without ever actually snapping a picture.”

The standard edition is what you want, but if you’re interested, Sideshow Collectibles has a Collectors Edition that comes in a slipcase with three prints and a signed-and-numbered (of 1,000) card.


The Art of LEGO Scale Modeling by Dennis Glaasker and Dennis Bosman (No Starch Press)

Don’t pick up this book expecting to find fun and easy design ideas your kids might be able to throw together on a rainy Saturday. You’ll instead find detailed photographs of some of the world’s most intricate and complicated scale-model vehicles–vehicles so real, you might mistake them for the real thing.

The book is divided into chapters for trucks, ships, aircraft, racecars, heavy equipment, trains, military vehicles, motorcycles, and cars. Models include a four-foot-long ship constructed from more than 20,000 LEGO elements, a Vietnamese fishing boat, a 1:22 scale FM-2 Wildcat built with roughly 2,500 parts, an Alfa Romeo 8C, a Caterpillar bulldozer, and a 1:17 scale Lamborghini Aventador.

All of the models are fan built, and the photos included in the book represent the work of 24 crazy talented LEGO scale modelers. The models are certainly jaw dropping, but I wish there were more photos for each. Each model is only afforded two or three photos, and it’s frustrating not to see more close-ups and detail shots.

The book even has a section at the end meant to inspire the reader to go out and begin scale modeling on his or her own. It provides some basic information for sourcing and storing parts, building, and customizing models, but it all seems a bit quaint. The photos that lead to this section represent lifetimes of devotion and dedication. It’s hard not to feel a little overwhelmed and inadequate.

When it comes to LEGO, though, I find that more is quite often better. And this book is a treat.

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