They’re not for reading they’re for looking at. That’s an odd thing for me to think about a comic book but not about an art book. Being an artist it’s no surprise that I have a bunch of art books that I’ve bought over the years. From the history of art to books about individual artists to books of photographs what they all have in common is that they are looked at more than they are read. Sure they have text in them, which I have read, but the text is there to accompany and possibly explain the pictures. The pictures are the reason the book exists and not the writing. In a book that’s made for reading, the vast majority of them, it’s the text that matters. Even in an illustrated text the drawings are just there for flavor. I have an illustrated version of “Frankenstein” that would never have existed if the text didn’t exist first.

This crosses my mind because I recently got two new books that though they can certainly be read are really for looking at. They’re “Artist Edition” books of comic book work of David Mazzucchelli and Wally Wood. Artist Editions are something new in the comic book world. Y’see the way comic books are made is that first they are drawn on paper at 150% of printed size. That means that a page of original comic book art is 10×15 inches on an 11×17 inch piece of paper. It’s usually drawn first in pencil and then the pencil lines are gone over with brush and ink or pen and ink. Most comic book companies these days give the artists paper to draw on that has guidelines and company markings printed in light blue on the paper. That is to ensure proper formatting.

I mention all that to point out that a piece of comic book original art looks a lot different than the finished printed page. It’s bigger, has blue-line guides, is drawn in ink that can vary in blackness, may have correction notes from the editor on it, may have corrections and white out in places, and generally shows more of the process of making a comic on its surface. The human hand can easily be seen when looking at a piece of original comic art.

It’s fun to see a piece of comic book original art and there are plenty of collectors of original art out there. I’ve collected a few pieces myself over the years. Mostly stuff I’ve liked that has been fairly cheap. Almost all of the work by famous comic book artists is too expensive for me. A piece by a famous artist of a famous character can run into the thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars. A couple of hundred dollars is probably as much as I’ve been able to afford on even my most expensive piece. So when I found out that the publisher IDW was putting out “Artist Editions” I was intrigued.

What IDW is doing with their “Artist Editions” is publishing the full size original art of certain comics. When a normal comic is made it’s scanned in such a way as the blue lines, correction notes, and corrections drop out and are not reproduced. With these editions full color scans have been made so that all of that stuff is picked up and can be printed. Even the off-white color of the paper is captured and reproduced. An “Artist Edition” book is as close to looking at the original art as possible. It’s a really nice look into the process and it makes each page an object rather than a page in a story. Plus each book runs around 150 pages. That’s a lot of art.

Oddly enough I missed IDW’s first “Artist Edition” publication entirely. I say “Oddly enough” because usually I check and see what new comic related books are coming out in the near future. Somehow I missed their Dave Stevens “Artist Edition”. I think it came out in late 2010 or early 2011. I only caught wind of it in spring 2011 when the Walt Simonson “Artist Edition” was announced. By that time the Dave Stevens one was sold out and commanding high prices on the secondary market. The book retailed for $125 but I saw it for twice that online. A friend of mine did manage to find and buy a copy for about $150. When he showed me his copy I was blown away by it. It looked really nice.

A handful more of these artist editions have been announced which always leads to a discussion amongst my collector friends about if such and such an artist is worth the purchase. Being that each book is $125 it pretty much comes down to us rationalizing that such and such an artist is not worth the purchase. None of us can afford every single “Artist Edition” that’s been announced so it’s really just sour grapes on our part. If we could afford it my friends an I would all get every single one of them and you’d never hear a rationalization. But alas such is not the way of the world and we have to pick and choose.

At $125 artists editions are really expensive books for me. But being that a single page of original art from any of these editions would run at least five times that it’s really not a bad deal. The odds of me owning a single page of original art from any of these editions is somewhere close to zero so it’s nice to be able to get facsimiles of them. I ended up getting two out of the five that have so far been published. The Wally Wood one is huge at around 13×19 inches and the Dave Mazzucchelli one is about 11×17 inches. Not easy to hold and read like a normal comic.

That brings me back to the fact that they’re really not for reading but for looking at. You can read them. They’re all from the age when a comic book’s lettering was done on the original art (lettering is done on the computer these days and digitally composited onto the art) so everything is there to be read but that’s not really what the book is for. Though I have seen attempt to turn a comic into an art book this may be the first time it’s actually happened. And it’s so simple. Amazing.