The Art of Millarworld Is Underwhelming, Unlike Millarworld Itself

Dave Wallace reviews The Art Of Millarworld for BleedingCool:

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Mark Millar has made no secret that creator-owned comics are where his interests lie these days. In the years since launching his Millarworld imprint with books like Wanted, Chosen and The Unfunnies, more and more titles have been brought under that umbrella – including the hugely successful Kick-Ass series, The Secret Service (the latest of his books to be translated to the silver screen), and many others, all the way up to current books like Starlight and Jupiter's Legacy.

Kick-Ass is perhaps still the most recognizable of the Millarworld creations, however, and it's probably for this reason that his image adorns the front of the latest Millarworld release, entitled simply The Art of Millarworld. Envisioned as a coffee-table art book celebrating the first ten years of the imprint (has it really been that long?), it's a compilation of artwork from various Millarworld titles, interspersed with interviews with the artists, as well as a foreword by Millar himself.

Divided into various sections covering each artist, the book is laid out in a very straightforward and logical format, as dictated by the conspicuous touch of design supremo Rian Hughes. All of the Millarworld books – except for some reason The Unfunnies, which seems to have been retrospectively written out of the imprint's history for reasons unknown (poor old Anthony Williams) – get a comprehensive gallery, with each artist also contributing an interview segment to describe their experiences of working with Millar (some of which are pretty funny – especially Frank Quitely's comments on Millar's dress sense).

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Nevertheless, despite featuring so many great artists (just look at a list of the writer's Millarworld collaborators to see a rundown of some of the industry's best talents), there's a sense that this book could have been so much more.

Initial alarm bells started to ring when I first received the book in the mail, and realized that it was a standard-sized hardcover (think a Marvel 'premiere' hardcover in terms of size), rather than the kind of oversized, luxury book that I had expected it to be. Especially given that it's priced at $39.99, which is a reasonably large amount of money to pay for a book, even in these days of comic-book hyper-inflation.

Looking inside the book, I soon realized that the vast majority of its pages were comprised of cover art from the Millarworld series, with barely anything in here that a Millar fan wouldn't have seen before. Some of the cover images, in fairness, come from rare variants that might have escaped the view of a casual fan – but really, this is the kind of art book that's designed to appeal to the writer's hardcore of followers, so filling it with art that they'll likely already own in the previous collected editions (or individual issues) seems like a surprising choice.

Less surprising, perhaps, is the lack of any real meat in terms of in-depth commentary from the artists involved. Of all of the names listed here, you could pick out a single artist and publish an entire art book based around their work, so it stands to reason that a book that tries to cover them all would find itself restricted in terms of what it can offer in terms of individual insight into their artistic processes or creative choices. Very restricted, as it turns out – because each artist is limited to just a single interview in which to express their thoughts, with each interview taking up just two-thirds of a page (or so) before giving way to the galleries of unannotated cover art.

Even when there are potentially interesting behind-the-scenes tales to tell about a book, they're not referred to here – such as the change in artist for the Hit-Girl miniseries (originally due to be drawn by Leandro Fernandez but later taken over by John Romita Jr.), or the stalling of the War Heroes miniseries with Tony Harris. Six issues of the latter miniseries were originally planned, but here we only see covers for four of them – and to read this book you'd never know that only three were ever published.

Most tantalizingly, the final sections of the book treat us to a selection of images from current projects such as Starlight, Jupiter's Legacy and the yet-to-be-published MPH with Duncan Fegredo. I understand why it was only possible to include a handful of covers from each – not least because not all of them will have been drawn yet – but only including one or two covers from certain titles (compared to a comprehensive gallery for earlier series) leaves this book feeling curiously incomplete and arbitrarily truncated. Later on, it may be that there's a point at which it will feel possible to give a full retrospective overview of the Millarworld imprint, but it doesn't feel like that time has quite arrived just yet.

Lately, I've found myself with a renewed interest in Millar's work, with Starlight and Jupiter's Legacy among his best books in years (and certainly superior to the more mean-spirited likes of Nemesis and the later volumes of Kick-Ass). And as a fan of many of the artists who have their work collected here, I can't honestly say that this is a terrible book, as you're still getting many, many pages of quality color artwork in a nice(ish) hardcover format, and with a few unique comments from the artists thrown in to boot.

Realistically, though, this is the kind of book that's going to be aimed at dedicated aficionados of Millar's work rather than at a casual audience, and I think I would have liked to see more in the way of unique content – whether in the form of unseen sketches/pencilled pages/design work from the artists, or commentary from them and Millar on the approaches taken with the artwork – to make it a truly worthwhile purchase.

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About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.
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