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128,000 Words: Art Of BOOM! Studios' book designer Brian Latimer tells a story about BOOM! Studios that goes beyond the paradigm of money versus art.
cover art

The Art of BOOM! Studios

(BOOM! Studios; US: Feb 2011)

The first thing to notice about this magnificent edition (and it is magnificent, it will rest on your coffee table evoking that moment in the Lion King where Simba is shown the kingdom…“Everywhere the light touches…”) is how easily it slots into your environment. The Art of BOOM! Studios isn’t a reference book for the shelf. It doesn’t slide off from a bookcase made of metal and glass in a sleek, ergonomic, Scandinavian design.


The Art of BOOM! Studios is that other thing entirely. It sits on that very small rack of cookbooks in your kitchen. It’s right at the top of the very neat pile of books we’re on your writing desk. It’s kept in a drawer if you work in fashion, or in journalism, or in design or in architecture because it’s inspirational. This book, more than anything else, is all about the portability of comics culture.


In its pages you won’t simply find covers and panels culled brutally from their original context in the comicbooks they first appeared. The Art of BOOM! Studios handles its artwork with care, it’s work and thought in presentation is love made visible. The pages you find are themselves montaged for maximum effect. They’re split into genre. At first you’ll want to read these stories, but there’s nothing to read. Then it becomes apparent…The Art of BOOM! Studios is itself a story. The story of a publishing company. Brian Latimer, the book’s designer, has taken these artworks and made of them individual statements. He’s arranged them in a particular sequence. And the work is certainly appreciated. The story Latimer is busy telling is certainly a powerful one.


But beyond the pure opulent indulgence of the book itself, certain questions need to be asked. For example, is the volume entirely an exercise in Shock and Awe?


The wonder is itself almost palpable, and just reading it you’ll long for immersion in the stories themselves. The artworks are treated with care and presented in a unique way. But the book contains no reference guide to the contributing artists. So The Art of BOOM! Studios at first blush seems less about signaling the artists and more about establishing the BOOM! brand. So, crassly then, the decision begins to feel a lot like money, rather than art.


But is this necessarily a bad thing?


The crux of the matter here is Stan Lee’s Foreword to the project. “Ever since I got connected with the indescribably talented gang at BOOM!,” Lee writes after opening with his trademark “Hi, True Believers”, “I began to feel like a time traveler! It was as though our relationship had brought me back to those great days, so many years ago, when I was lucky enough to be part of perhaps the greatest bullpen of all…”


Lee’s use of his signature phrase “True Believers” makes all the difference.


Pragmatists will agree with the move made by Image founders in the early ‘90s in breaking out on their own. They will argue that these creators, these writers and artists, are invested in defining the core of the company (its characters, its worlds, its setting) for what may come to be generationally relevant. They will argue that, because of this, these creators need not only to be rewarded for their work, but need also to share in the wealth that will shortly come.


Each of us knows this story well. We can rehearse it at moment’s notice. The idea that whole generations of comicbook storytellers, writers and artists alike, have in fact simply been written out of the due rewards.


But there’s Stan the Man’s “True Believers”. And it just changes everything. Comics was always about the ideas succeeding. About the transformative elements in the stories themselves. The notion that for a teenage spider-hero, powers may only serve to complicate ordinary high school dilemmas. That for a blind attorney, justice may only be found wearing a devil costume.


The ‘90s era thinking, while absolutely necessary at the time, serves only to entrench the idea that comics is about money versus art. But has BOOM! Studios’ Brian Latimer found a way to elevate the debate? I think he has.


Not only has a legend identifying the artists involved been omitted, but also a list of the properties themselves have been omitted. Which means not only will you not recognize Todd Herman’s artwork, you also wouldn’t realize that what you’re looking at is Herman’s work on Galveston. So what happens when the names of both artist and artwork are omitted?


Something profound.


The Art of BOOM! Studios then becomes an invitation to pick up a copy of a BOOM! comicbook and to live in its world. And with that, the relationship between art and money suddenly doesn’t seem so adversarial.

Rating:

AB-, ENTJ, PhD: shathley Q is deeply moved by the emotional connection we build with our perpetual fictions, and hopes to answer for that somehow, somehow. He holds a Doctorate in Literary and Cultural Theory. His writings have appeared in Joss Whedon: the Complete Companion and Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men, as well as regularly on PopMatters. Like a kid in a china shop, he microblogs as @uuizardry on Twitter. Or hit him up directly on shathleyq@popmatters.com.


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