Fans of movies, TV shows, and video games have unprecedented access to leaks, spoilers, and detailed trailers online, giving them deep insights into the creation of their favorite properties. But there still seems to be a dedicated and stable fan base for art-of and making-of books, as loyal fans look for tangible, high-quality keepsakes full of official information. “It’s surprising, but there’s still an appetite to know more,” says Eric Klopfer, senior editor at Abrams.
In fact, publishers are increasingly active in the category, and more licensors are forging deals for a wider variety of properties. “It’s more competitive, that’s for sure,” says Ian Tucker, associate editor at Dark Horse Comics. “We need to strike early and often [to acquire the licenses we want] to succeed in this space.”
DK entered the segment relatively recently, releasing making-of titles tied to The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie in 2017, and Bond by Design: The Art of the James Bond Films in 2015. It also has published Bond on Set, a series of photographic books documenting the making of several recent Bond movies.
These opportunities came about through DK’s existing relationships with the licensors, according to Simon Beecroft, U.K. publisher for licensing, and their success has made DK open to publishing more books in this format. “Our sales teams want us to do more, and the fans always want more,” Beecroft says. “There is certainly some scope and opportunity there.”
Prima Games, a DK imprint known for its video game strategy guides, launched a new division in January specializing in pop culture books, including art-of titles. For some time, the company has seized opportunities that have come along in this arena, publishing titles tied to World of Warcraft, Borderlands 2, and Tomb Raider, among others. With the new publishing arm, it is preemptively presenting art-of concepts to licensors along with strategy guide pitches, when appropriate, according to publisher Mike Degler.
TV, film, and video game licensors have also become increasingly active in the segment. “It’s a viable format for the strong fan brands,” says Pete Yoder, v-p, Cartoon Network Enterprises North America, which entered the category with Abrams’s “Adventure Time”: The Art of Ooo in 2014 and has since worked with Abrams on Steven Universe, Titan on Regular Show, and Dark Horse on Over the Garden Wall, Rick and Morty, and soon The Venture Bros. “We see it as a great way of giving our fans a little something different and a unique perspective on how the show is created. It’s a rewarding and successful format for us.”
With so many art-of and making-of books being published, selecting the right properties is critical for publishers. “I think there are probably too many art-of books out there now [on the video game side], and it’s diluting what an art-of book used to be,” Degler says. “We try to focus on triple-A properties with large fan bases that are open to spending on the property.”
That said, properties with narrow but loyal fan followings can work. Prima’s The Art of “Persona 5,” published in 2017, is an example. “The fans are super hardcore and will buy anything,” Degler says. He notes the book was delayed until October, eight months after the February game release, due to a lengthy design and translation process. Prima started taking preorders in March, and they continued coming in even as the date kept shifting; the company has sold more than 10,000 copies since October. “That was a big success for us,” Degler says.
Abrams experienced a similar situation with its Wes Anderson Collection. It tries to publish art-of books within three months of the film release, but its title tied to Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel came out a year after the film. “We still got major publicity and awareness,” Klopfer reports.
Titan Books, which has been expanding its activities in the format over the past decade with properties including Halo and Wonder Woman, is publishing “Okja”: The Art and Making of the Film this February, representing its first art-of title for a Netflix original. “It’s not just the blockbusters,” says Simon Ward, acquisition editor. “There are more alternative properties out there that can work.”
On the other hand, this format is expensive to produce and has a relatively small customer pool compared to other forms of licensed publishing. “The further you go away from the tent-pole movies and established brands, the more there are diminishing returns,” Klopfer explains.
As the market becomes more crowded, publishers are looking for ways to differentiate. “We’re trying to include as many exclusive things as possible,” Degler says, citing sketches of characters that didn’t make it into a game or never-before-seen early concept art as examples. “Our partners won’t let the fans walk behind the curtain and see everything, but we want people to be able to have a peek behind the curtain.”
Design and packaging are becoming more innovative as well. Dark Horse created a slipcase for The Art of “Metal Gear Solid V” that resembled the supply containers used by the game’s main character, put a glow-in-the-dark cover on The Art of “Rick and Morty,” and created packaging for The Art of “Mass Effect: Andromeda” with a clear acetate window through which a swirling nebula on the cover of the book was visible, to mimic the mobile devices used in the game. “The fans want to interact with the IP in any way possible,” Tucker says. “This is a way to connect them to the material on a more personal level.”
Titan has included bonus materials, gatefolds, and artist signatures as added value, but Ward stresses that “the core content is what sells it.” He adds, “Fans don’t want to pay more for a gimmick. It’s about the information.”
In general, art-of books are tightly focused on art, production, and costume design and attract a readership of art lovers and artists seeking inspiration and reference, while making-of books tend to be text-heavy and appeal to a readership that skews toward superfans. “A making-of needs a level of fan interest that not everyone requires of their entertainment,” Tucker says.
Increasingly, however, there is a significant overlap between art-of and making-of titles. For The Art of God of War, Dark Horse hired a writer to interview the staff on how the game was built and included a detailed chronology of the making of the game. Similarly, Prima’s art-of books often include storyboards, sketches, and early renders that didn’t make it into the game, as well as beautiful artwork.
“More and more it’s become art-of and making-of in one book,” Titan’s Ward says, citing The Art and Making of “Alien: Convenant” as an example. “There’s so much material, it seems a shame to leave anything out, and the two formats complement each other so well. You want to cover all the bases.”
Due to the sheer amount of detail in art-of and making-of books, the challenges of licensed publishing—fluid scheduling, short lead times, an on-shelf date coinciding with property release, compressed marketing schedules, lack of timely access to assets, and heavy security to avoid spoilers—are compounded. “None of these books is easy,” Klopfer says. “They require focused attention from the licensor, the filmmakers, and key creatives.”
“There’s an intense amount of art and content that’s needed to create one of these,” Yoder notes. A show creator is often the only one who can provide the desired level of detail and the unique tidbits—such as the storyboarding Post-it notes featured in The Art of “Regular Show”—that fans love.
Perhaps most importantly, the fans want the creators’ perspective. “Some of our show creators have become sort of celebrities with our fans,” Yoder says. Rick and Morty cocreator and executive producer Justin Roiland, for example, tweets often about the show and his personal life and has developed a relationship with the audience. “The fans want to hear his voice,” Yoder says.
As a result, securing creator participation is a prerequisite for an art-of or making-of title. “It’s a laborious process, and lots of time and effort goes into it,” Yoder explains. “We want to make sure the creators have the time before we go ahead. Without their voice it loses a little bit.”
“The official stuff is good, but we want that early drawing of Wonder Woman that’s in a drawer somewhere, and you only get that from talking to the director,” Ward says, adding, “We don’t want it to ever become a chore for them. We involve them as much as they want to be involved.”
Degler stresses that the creators, licensor, and publishing staff all need to be in agreement about what to include, right from the start. “Otherwise it ends up with art you’ve seen in advertising and marketing or at a trade show,” he says. “All of us need to have a synced vision of what the book is before we go forward.”
Luckily, in most cases, it is not difficult to convince the creators. “These types of books are very close to their heart,” Klopfer says. “Many of them were influenced by these books as they were coming up.”