4 out of 5
I’d say this rating is mostly up to my expectations; the book is called ‘The Art of…’ and that’s absolutely what it is: a sequential collection of interior art pages, covers, sketches and more from across the “career” of Usagi Yojimbo, produced in a lovely, over-sized, stitched softcover binding.
However, when I’m teased with more here and there – a couple of process pages; some alternate pages; some minimal explanations as to why a page was designed such and such way – I can’t help but want more of that, and that’s where this collection is rather uneven: that stuff exists, but it’s weighted towards the latter third of the book, which is the “modern” Dark Horse era. Makes sense: this is a DH publication, and so our designer (Cary Grazzini) and editor (Diana Schutz) probably had more work / info to draw on from that time. Still, though, the first two thirds – the Fantagraphics and Mirage era – seem more like strictly an art book, and then that final section turns in to something with a little extra spice. …Which makes me want more of that.
Setting that minor, somewhat unreasonable gripe aside, this is a really handsomely produced book. Thick, translucent, rice-paper textured pages separate the sections; there are plenty of non-comic works throughout – like advertisements, and convention sketches – justifying the purchase as more than just blown up images of stuff you might already own; and there’s a glossy-printed mid-section of painted works, including a retelling of the origin story.
At 200 pages, packed full of such artwork – and including the extra stuff in the Dark Horse section – 30 bucks is a perfect price, and it can only make any Usagi fan more eager to foist the thing on some newbie to expose them to the undeniable artistry of the title.