As one of its stars, voice actor John DiMaggio (who plays Jake on the show), has said before: Adventure Time is a show that’s difficult to “get”; well, for anyone over a certain age, anyway. Once you do get it, though, it’s a terrific mix of whimsical fantasies, irreverent humor, and modern-day fairy tales that kids of all ages can enjoy. One thing that may add to the show’s enjoyment level for older viewers is how its title cards harken back to titles like Looney Tunes or Ren & Stimpy; animated television shows that would routinely feature multiple animated shorts strung together to create full half-hour episodes. Those animated shorts are often introduced with title cards; simple, one-shot screens that tell you the title of the short and show you a single-frame drawing of the episode’s characters and/or the short’s theme. To be sure, there are several animated series out there that do this, and there have been several over the years, but the title cards for Adventure Time always stand out from the pack, so it’s no wonder they’ve been collected for the first time, here, in this excellent art book (which was previously made available early for the select few out there who were lucky enough to attend this year’s San Diego Comic-Con).
The idea of this book is simple; in fact, it could not be any simpler: the title cards that were painted for each and every episode have been collected together and packaged into a single book for efficient consumption. That’s great, in and of itself, because these are terrific pieces of art that were created to be title cards; by the very nature of their existence, title cards are intended to communicate as much as possible, in as little time as possible, because the series needs to get them off the screen and start the episode as quickly as it can. That’s precisely why a lot of title cards you see aren’t great pieces of art; they’re perfectly fine, utilitarian title cards but were clearly created with the bare minimum effort put into them. The artists who do Adventure Time‘s title cards obviously put a great deal of care into them.
As for those artists, the ones featured in this book are: Pendleton Ward (also series creator), Nick Jennings, Andy Ristaino, Phil Rynda, and Paul Linsley. What’s great about this book’s structure is that it’s a bit of a roundtable, so you don’t just get an artist commenting on their own work and telling you why they drew a certain thing or what made them paint a certain way; you do get that stuff, but you also get comments and critique of one of the artists’ work from another of the artists. With this structure applied to the book’s text, it ends up reading very much like a conversation that was had between the lot of them, instead of what could have felt like stiff, stilted prose that just would not have meshed well with the Adventure Time vibe.
Along with the final title cards, each one is also accompanied by concept art and early sketches, so you’re not merely told about the process, but you also have it shown to you. These series of images are coupled with the text that often includes what things may have inspired the artists, like: pulp fiction, romance novels, classic movies, Frank Frazzetta, and even burritos; by seeing the entire process from concept to completion, you ostensibly get to experience every aspect of what it means to create title cards for Adventure Time.
This book is obviously a mathematical gift for Adventure Time fans (or gift it to yourself), but you would be perfectly fine if you give this to absolutely anyone because the book smartly goes through the very quick and painless process of giving a brief synopsis of the series’ creation and its plot, so even people who know nothing about the show can read this and understand. This is the kind of book I would have used lunch money to impulse buy at a book fair when I was a kid, and my parents would have been okay with it. I hope book fairs still happen, and I hope this book finds its way into them.
I absolutely recommend this book, and as with any good art book, a big reason is because I feel like it’s helpful to aspiring artists. The artists featured in this book demonstrate something I love about animated series: the artists are not children; the artists are adults who have knowledge of pulp fiction novels from the ’50s or classic films from the ’30s. If you’re an aspiring artist, take note that you shouldn’t work down to your audience; you can use your knowledge of things your audience probably isn’t aware of to make your job easier, and you’re also exposing a younger generation to older pop culture. Win/win.