Artcade is one of those books that doesn’t arrive too often within the Arcade and retro gaming communities but, when it does, it’s a demonstration and sacrifice of one individual with a huge passion and genuine love for the preservation of the often forgotten and distant art many of us were exposed to, growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s, in local Arcade emporiums.
These incredible and brilliantly designed works of art (marquee artwork) were the advertising signage you’d see at a glance and which encouraged you to check out more closely what this eye-catching graphic was. This was way before even setting eyes on the CRT monitor to see what this arcade game was all about!
Marquee art was incredibly important back in arcade emporiums as these images were fighting for your attention, attempting to draw you into worlds beyond your wildest dreams. This was the inspiration and ultimately the conceiving idea for the author of the Artcade book, this is must-have book for those who love both great artwork and great arcade games all in one book.
Starting out as a crown funding campaign on Kickstarter, Tim Nicholls was one such person with the vision and insight up for producing such a book (a world first) purely based on the preservation and celebration of such artwork in a gallery format book. Tim invested a large amount of his own money in acquiring a large collection of arcade marquee artwork and faced the daunting task of premastering and restoring any marquee artwork that had been neglected by their previous owners. With over 2,000 hours of restoration work, Artcade presents its finished masterpieces in such great detail, clarity and fashion that those who remember seeing these in Arcade halls will have their senses flooded with nostalgia and memories of their youth. Unfortunately after Tim’s Kickstarter campaign, which had been successfully funded, came the worse imaginable thing that could go wrong – his books priniting company went bankrupt and Tim was now faced with many obstacles of how he was going to deliver the finished product to the backers which resulted in some dark times for Tim and the Artcade book itself. But the story has a happy ending. A white knight, under the guise of Bitmap Books founder Sam Dyer, was able to rescue the Artcade book from the clutches of obscurity while also honoring the original Kickstarter backers in the process and adding a further 100 pages to the total size of the book.
Okay, now that little background story is over, how about we get on with the review of the Artcade book shall we? The book itself comes in a horizontal landscape format to allow the Marquee images to spread across two pages for full effect. Personally I felt this was an ambitious concept as many marquees had text dictating the marquee art itself which could have ended up lost to the core of the book, I’ll get back to this more later on in this review. Firstly, I have to mention that the printing is second to none. The quality of the printing is so good that you just feel that you’re holding the quality product we all come to expect from Bitmap Books. As you open the book for the first time you’re greeted with coloured line drawing artwork of the Defender Side art panel artwork as a taste of what is to come within Artcade, followed by a foreword from Tim Nicholls himself followed by a wonderful interview of arcade marquee artist Larry Day.
With a fantastic collection of sketches and rare marquee artwork only found in the Artcade book, the reader is then treated to a wonderful interview piece, possibly the last interview before his passing on April 2014, of Python Anghelo. Anghelo is most famous for creating and designing the artwork for Williams Electronics’ “Joust” Coin-op arcade game.
I felt, though, that the interview was incredibly short with a total of 8 questions. I would have loved more insight to his craft. Now, it’s not that it’s weak, it just wasn’t informative enough in my opinion. The fact he’s at all present in a book so relevant to the content is enough to excuse its being so short. It certainly is a nice little detour from the main content of the book: the marquees themselves. Broken into categories ranging from 1976 up as far as 1994, across a wobbling 320 pages of pure arcade marquee artwork bliss, this is a monster of a book to look through and one which will have you looking through for a while. You will take in the glory and detail of this wonderful arcade artwork. This in turn is broken up with some wonderful photography taken at the Arcade Club in the United Kingdom to great effect, but I feel these should have been given their own section as it breaks the flow of the book and the continuity of the artwork that follows or comes before it. I would exclude the first set of photos from this impression, which follow shootem’up classic marquee artwork which appears randomly throughout the book. Some may like it, but I personally didn’t feel it flowed properly throughout the book. It’s something minor but I thought I’d mention it nonetheless.
Now to what I was talking about in regards to the marquee art that covers titles across the entire marquee artwork being lost in the core of the book. Technically this could not be avoided due to the origination of the book’s dimensions unless the marquee artwork was broken up into two sections split down the middle. This would have looked wrong and ruined the artwork and I have to say that I was slightly irritated by this but, as a designer myself, I can see the reasoning behind it. The only way this could have been addressed was to have the marquee artwork printing as a fold out spread to the full length of artwork unspoiled by the core of the book and possibly had on the facing page screenshots from the actually games themselves with a minor descriptive write up. This would have given the book a huge scope on its content but it wasn’t realized or could of been as I believe that it would have raised the cost of printing and retail pricing exponentially. Maybe even to the point of the book reaching an unreasonable price tag. What you get for the price, though, is extremely reasonable and fair given the print quality, the artwork inside, and the presentation, which is second to none.
The only gremlin I found, as a digital imaging specialist, was that certain marquees throughout the book showed a few signs here and there of not having been entirely repaired for some of the marquees. It isn’t something that stands out to you directly but I did find a few marquees that had defects that seem to have gone unnoticed at the time of restoration or slipped through. This is not uncommon in these types of books but I did come across something that I felt could have being avoided. This is not entirely unexpected given that arcade marquee artwork comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes and conforming them to a specific page size and format can be tricky. This is particularly true when trying not to lose the main premise of the artwork itself. Thankfully only a small sampling of the artwork has been subjected to this issue. One marquee artwork in particular which faced heavy and unnecessary cropping was Atari’s “Cloak & Dagger.” I can’t understand why this was done. Maybe it slipped past the quality check eyes but this should not have been present in the final publication. The biggest issue I had with the book was the inclusion of retro gaming vendor advertisements at the back of the book. This in my opinion, was very unwelcome and dampen the overall experience for me. There are three mini advertisements and a full page advertisement for a company called “Entretenimientos Diana” (an arcade center based in Santiago, Chille) was completely out of sync with this book. At no time should a book, and especially a hardback book, ever feature magazine advertisements of this nature. I suspect that this was one of the high end perks during Tim’s original crowd fundraiser and one that shouldn’t have been included for any book let alone a great book like this. I’m all for promoting those who have material completely relevant to the project, like an interview of the cover story for inclusion in the publication.
So if you can look beyond these small discrepancies in the book, which actually doesn’t take away from the fantastic artwork this book has to offer, you’ll realize that the positives far outweighs the negatives. The attention to detail in the marquee is fabulous beyond words, the printing is, again, fantastic. The layouts could have been perfected a little better but, man, what a book!. So would I recommend this book? I have one answer to that question and it’s a resounding “YES!!!” It has a vast amount of amazing artwork! It includes two famous marquee artists and it delivers on its expectations for a gallery book of this nature. So unless you’re being living under a rock and have a love for arcade games and all they represent and haven’t heard of this book yet, this is a must have retro gaming book for your collection. The books is simply brilliant and I just hope for volume two. So I want to thank you Tim for creating such a brilliant book and Sam Dyer of Bitmap Books for bringing it to the masses.
You can purchase this fantastic book at Bitmap Book’s website : http://www.bitmapbooks.co.uk/products/artcade-the-book-of-classic-arcade-game-art for more information on its content.
Creator of forth coming Coin-Op:Arcade Guide and creator of the Atari Gamer Magazine and the Atari ST Gamer Magazines. Retro gaming expert & fact finder.