Let’s be honest here for a moment: when you see a book titled “The Art of Top Cow,” a specific art style jumps to mind. One that descends from Top Cow founder Marc Silvestri with thin lines (perhaps too many), women with impossible bodies wearing little clothes, and hulking men with guns that just maybe resemble characters from another company. There’s some truth in that immediate impression of Top Cow’s work since those elements are found in the pages of this book, but, surprisingly, that sort of art takes up the minority of this book as Top Cow displays that it has featured some of the top names in comics over the years, many of whom you wouldn’t normally associate with the company.
At approximately 350 pages, “The Art of Top Cow” features, mostly, covers from the various comics the company has published in the past 17 years with particular emphasis on books from the Top Cow Universe itself like “Witchblade,” “The Darkness,” and “Cyberforce,” but also highlighting most of the non-universe like “Rising Stars,” “Wanted,” and the recently launched “Berserker.” It’s easy to forget that Top Cow does just as much publishing of books in the second group as it does of the first, but this book doesn’t simply act as a showcase for some great art, it also acts as a sort of history of what Top Cow has accomplished as a publisher, spanning genres, styles, and intended audiences.
Getting back to the art, most covers are given the entire page to themselves, but, in some cases, four or five covers share a page to maximize space, which is smart. Since this book is both an art book and a history of sorts, some covers need to be included and having them share space is a good compromise. “Witchblade” is the single character/property that is provided with the most space as it is the longest-running Top Cow book with covers by Michael Turner, Chris Bachalo, Dave Johnson, Frank Cho, and Greg Land. Along with “The Darkness,” these covers highlight the striking visuals of these characters and their armors/weapons, which allow for some very original and dynamic designs. While not every cover will wow everyone, there’s something here for everyone.
Outside of the Top Cow Universe, the book continues to provide something for everyone with early work from David Finch and Brandon Peterson, and works by the likes of Michael Zulli, JG Jones, Kevin Maguire, and Tony Harris. A lot of diverse, distinct styles are represented here -— and given the format to shine. Wisely, the layout of pages has the art pushed to the outer edges of the page, while the middle is empty space, so no art gets lost in the crack of the book.
The book, though, lacks context since there are no text pieces or explanations about the characters or art. Since each property/character has a chapter page, a short introduction for each of a paragraph or two wouldn’t be out of place and could provide some necessary information for those who aren’t familiar with titles like “Ascension” or “Cursed.” As well, the focus on covers is smart, but some interior pages would also help give a more rounded view of Top Cow, a company that publishes comics not simply covers.
Top Cow has a certain artistic reputation and, while justified in many ways, “The Art of Top Cow” demonstrates that the company is far more than many think. For lovers of art, this gorgeous hardcover coffee table book is sure to earn a spot on your shelf.