Book Review: The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade

I’ve mentioned before how big a fan I am of the guys who make the Penny Arcade webcomic, so you can imagine that when the book tour promoting their new volume, The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade, came to my hometown I went to see them. And it was a really fun event! They got up on stage for about an hour and a half, during which Mike (the artist) sketched on a computer that was projected in front of the crowd (80% of which were wearing black tee shirts, I’d estimate) while Jerry (the writer) ran a question and answer session. They really knew how to work a crowd and afterwords I was able to get my copy of the new book signed.

Speaking of which, the first thing you should probably know about The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade (subtitled either “The 11 1/2 years anniversary edition” or “Nearly 12 years of bullshit” depending on if you look at the dust jacket or the actual hardcover) is that it’s not just another collection of the webcomic fixed in a paper medium. They have those for sale if that’s what you desire, or you can just go read the website for free. Rather, this new book is split evenly between reprints of favorite/relevant strips and big delicious blocks of text describing not just the comic, but the entire Penny Arcade enterprise. There’s a biographical recounting of how Mike and Jerry met and eventually got around to creating the comic, there’s articles about the Child’s Play charity they created, and there’s photos and stories about the Penny Arcade Expo that has quickly risen to claim the crown of “Best Public Expo For Nerds Who Like Gaming Ever.” There are even harrowing tales of how the PA guys ran afoul of the law, almost went out of business, and floundered at almost every step of the way. Almost all these pieces are written by the PA staff (most usually Mike, Jerry, or their business manager Robert Khoo), so while they’re not exactly impartial and obviously aim to leave you with the impression that Team PA is totally awesome, they do get you a lot of inside information and are surprisingly frank about things that the creators and their collaborators did flat out WRONG. So if you’re a fan of PA and are looking for a little more biographical information on everyone involved to date, the book should satisfy.

I should mention that despite all the words in the book, its graphical elements are also outstanding. Some of Mike’s best artwork is scattered throughout the book to give it the right flavor, and the layout and typography make the book a lot of fun to just flip through. Coupled with the brief nature of all the stories contained within, this makes it an ideal coffee table book of the kind that friends may just enjoy opening to any page and starting to peruse. I can’t guarantee what they’ll think of you afterwords, though.

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