Book Review: ‘Tiki Pop: America Imagines Its Own Polynesian Paradise’ by Sven A. Kirsten

There are books on Tiki culture and then there’s Tiki Pop: America Imagines Its Own Polynesian Paradise by Sven A. Kirsten and publisher TASCHEN.

What I mean by that is that this book is the bible on Tiki history in the United States, as it covers its genesis, all of its key elements, how it expanded into everything in pop culture and ultimately, how it faded away and then saw a bit of a revival.

Like all books I own by TASCHEN, this is image heavy and presented on premium paper stock. It’s a legitimate art book that truly delves into Tiki history and displays everything that one could imagine from that pocket of Americana.

This book is a very thick hardcover that covers so much territory, even for being chock full of hundreds of images and also being translated into three languages.

I found every single chapter intriguing and well researched. My only real gripe about the book is that the written part of each chapter is kind of short and I felt like it all could’ve been greatly expanded on. Maybe the author can do that in the future, as this has so many great entry points to different parts of Tiki pop that can be expanded upon in many books.

Regardless of that, this is still the greatest book I have ever come across on the subject. Plus, it’s beautifully and immaculately presented. For lovers of Tiki culture, this is absolutely a must own and it’s also really inexpensive for its size and quality.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other books on Tiki culture and pop culture from bygone eras.

Book Review: ‘Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History Book’ by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson & Sam Witwer

I never got to play Dungeons & Dragons, even though I was fascinated by it. My mum dumped the religion on me pretty hard and then by the time I was older and didn’t care about that, none of my friends really cared about playing D&D anymore.

I’ve always adored the franchise and everything within it, as I’ve always loved fantasy, especially sword and sorcery fiction and movies. I also dug the hell out of the cartoon when I was a kid, which I was actually allowed to watch for some reason.

This big, thick, hardcover masterpiece is a damn fine book to add to your collection. Even if you’re not a fan of the franchise, the artwork collected in this alone makes the book well worth the price tag.

One really cool thing about this is that it’s foreward was written by Joe Manganiello. Yes, that Joe Manganiello, who apparently was a massive D&D fan. Sam Witwer, another actor known for a lot of his sci-fi roles, also contributed to this.

This book covers a lot more than even its large size would imply. It shows the history of the property in just about all of its forms from early role-playing manuals to the animated series to video games to comics to books and just about every other medium and product that adorned the Dungeons & Dragons name.

I love this book. Right now, it’s on my coffee table. Granted, I should probably move it before someone with French fry fingers gets it all nasty. 

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: anything, from any media, about Dungeons & Dragons, as well as other big, hardcover art books on cool nerd shit.

Book Review: ‘The Art of Vampirella – The Dynamite Years’ by Various

Like all the other large format art books put out by Dynamite Entertainment, this one if full of spectacular pieces from my favorite artistic medium: comic books.

Plus, it also features one of my favorite indie comics characters of all-time: Vampirella.

While the Warren Years Vampirella art book blew my f’n mind, this one doesn’t quite hit the mark for me in the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a great book to own for fans of the character and comic art. However, I’m a much bigger fan of the ’60s and ’70s classical art style of the other book. That era was full of work by great fantasy painters from Spain and Italy and it had a totally different vibe.

This collection features modern comic book art. I do like most of it but it doesn’t blow my socks off like the old school stuff.

If these are the sort of books you like to collect, this one shouldn’t disappoint. The art styles have changed over the decades since the original Vampirella stories but there are still great pieces to enjoy here.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other art books put out by Dynamite Entertainment that features the history of the characters they publish.

Book Review: ‘Otomo: A Global Tribute to the Mind Behind Akira’ by Various

I really would love to see an art book that features the best work of Katsuhiro Otomo one day and maybe that exists in Japan but I’ve never come across one, here, in the States.

This is still a pretty cool book though, as it features tribute pieces done by dozens of artists inspired by Otomo, especially his work on the long-running manga Akira.

Honestly, there’s not a bad art piece in the lot and I enjoyed every page of this hefty, oversized hardcover.

Each spread has the art piece to the right with the left side giving you a nice bio of the artist who created it.

There’s not much else to say really. This is a neat book to own if you love Otomo, Akira or cyberpunk styled art.

It’s well presented, looks nice on the shelf and it’s actually pretty inexpensive for what it is.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira manga and other works, as well as other comic/manga art books.

Book Review: ‘The Art of Red Sonja, Vol. 2’ by Various

Where the first volume in The Art of Red Sonja covered a lot of her earliest stuff, this one focuses more on her modern covers since she’s been at Dynamite Entertainment.

While I’d say that this one didn’t captivate me as much as the first volume, the vast majority of the artwork featured here is still great and worthy of being collected into this second book.

I’m a current reader of all the current Red Sonja titles and this book actually makes me wish that Dynamite was still doing covers with the quality of these earlier Red Sonja issues.

That’s not to knock the current art but the stuff featured in this book is much better and more reminiscent of the old Spanish and Italian pulp paintings from half a century ago. The art on many of the covers in this book remind me of the superb art from the Warren Publishing era of Vampirella.

There is also a lot of art pieces that are done in a more modern style but it’s the classic looking stuff that really pops off of the page. And frankly, sword and sorcery artwork, at least the covers, should look and feel like the art decorating the old van of the town metalhead.

Some of the pieces also look like pop art, manga or like Disney run amok. Those styles aren’t really my favorite for this character but it’s neat seeing them alongside some of the more traditional art pieces.

While not as solid, overall, as the first volume in this art book series, this one is still worth checking out if you enjoy Red Sonja or fantasy pulp art.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other art books put out by Dynamite Entertainment that features the history of the characters they publish.

Book Review: ‘The Art of Vampirella – The Warren Years’ by Various

I’ve been going through a lot of comic book art books lately and I’ve gotta say, this one has been my favorite out of the half dozen or so I’ve looked at this year. In fact, I read a friend’s copy and now I’ve got to buy my own.

What sets this apart is the art itself.

Overall, this follows the same format as other art books, especially those put out by Dynamite Entertainment. This is very similar to the other Vampirella ones, as well as the great Red Sonja books I’ve seen.

But again, the art here makes this stand out in front of the pack.

This is a must own simply because the covers from the Warren era of Vampirella are absolutely amazing!

I’ve been trying to collect a lot of the old Warren Vampirella issues, simply because of how great the covers are but with this book, you can own the lot and look through them in one volume whenever you feel like it.

Warren Publishing hired a slew of super talented artists to do these covers and honestly, this is some of the best fantasy, horror and sword and sorcery art pieces ever put to canvas.

It’s the art that got me into comic books to begin with. It’s also my favorite artistic medium. Since this features some of the best covers ever created for comic magazines, why wouldn’t I buy this and cherish it for years to come?

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other art books put out by Dynamite Entertainment that features the history of the characters they publish.

Book Review: ‘The A-Z of Marvel Monsters’ by Various

I came across this encyclopedia of Marvel monsters on Amazon and though that it’d be cool to add to my collection, as I like old school Marvel monster stories, especially with Jack Kirby art.

This was somewhat disappointing though, as it just gives one monster per letter in the alphabet and some of the choices were odd.

This is a pretty thin hardcover and it somewhat serves as an art book as much as it is a reference book. However, the monster encyclopedia entries only take up about half of the book and their info is pretty minimal.

The second half is stuffed full of old reprints of stories featuring some of these creatures.

Honestly, it’d be really cool if Marvel made a monster encyclopedia that was more comprehensive, covered a much larger lot of creatures and gave us a lot more meat to chew on.

This is really more of a kids book and what’s weird about that is I don’t know how many kids in the 2010s will really give a shit about comic book monsters from 60 years ago. I wish that wasn’t the reality we live in but it is and Marvel should realize that but then again, most of what they put out in 2019 shows how out of touch and politically insane they’ve become.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel art books and reference books.

Book Review: ‘The Art of Red Sonja’ by Christopher Lawrence

I liked the recent art book that Marvel put out for Conan the Barbarian, so I thought that I’d check out the first art book that Dynamite Entertainment released for Red Sonja.

The most important takeaway from this book is that it really shows how broad the history of Red Sonja is, as she moved between different publishers, had run-ins with Conan, Spider-Man and others, over the decades she’s existed in comic book form.

She’s sort of become the queen of the crossovers in the last few years but her team-ups with other heroes weren’t as common in the early days, other than being spun off from Conan.

This book has a solid introduction and then it just gives you hundreds of pages of covers and other art pieces featuring the character in all her badass sexiness. It’s actually cool to see, as we’ve entered a time where sexy comic book heroines are being drawn to look like Rebel Wilson, Sebastian Bach or some frumpy hipster with a mental patient haircut.

I’m glad that Dynamite hasn’t caved to social media pressure and I hope they never do. Red Sonja is strong, beautiful and an absolute fucking badass. She has to stay that way because anything else would ruin the great legacy that is front and center in this book.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other art books put out by Dynamite Entertainment that features the history of the characters they publish.

Book Review: ‘The Marvel Art of Conan the Barbarian’ by Various

Overall, this was a pretty cool art book that had enough text and information to give good context to the pages of art that were featured.

My only real complaint is that I wished that this also featured the great art that was used in the Savage Sword of Conan magazines.

But that could be due to a future release where Marvel does another art book focused solely on that unique series.

Plus, this is the art of Conan the Barbarian, as the title specifically states. Although, it also features art from the King Conan series too.

Anyway, this is a pretty cool book to check out if you are a Conan the Barbarian fan. It’s mostly giant art pages with blurbs. But it does have a nice introduction and some pages with more text than those standard blurbs.

Whether or not it’s worth the price point is up to the buyer, I guess. I can’t recommend it as a must own. Full disclosure, I read my friend’s copy and didn’t buy one, even though I was mostly pleased with it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel art books.