Book Review: Art Of Atari

Art of Atari
Hardcover | Kindle
Written by Tim Lapetino
Foreword by Ernest Cline
Afterword by Robert V. Conte
Dynamite Entertainment
Publication Date: October 25, 2016

Art of Atari, a lavish book which covers all things visually historic and celebratory regarding the storied, pioneering video game company, is out in bookstores now, and without question, if there ever was a must-have book for the video game zealot, the pop culture maven, or the scores of gamers in between, this is it.

Absolutely essential from cover to cover and irresistible in its one-two dazzling punch with its presentment of facts and a literal overstuffed yet 100 percent effective usage of photos containing pretty much every single facet of the company’s output that required some sort of art, Art of Atari leaves no stone un-turned, not even the most minute pebble. From the packaging of the boxes for its line of 2600 VCS games to the sides and front of its successful and now almost legendary line of arcade coin-op games, and advertisements that stretched from stark simple white background designs with a spectrum of colorful game boxes to the most rebel rousing and sensory lifting art of the highest caliber, it’s all showcased this hardcover tome, and then some.

There was something rather majestic about the way Atari used artists and illustrators for its products, particularly for the 2600 line. The Atari 2600, of course, was one of the first home video gaming systems that ushered in not only a hugely successful system in which millions of people played it all over the globe, but also unconsciously brought in a subculture of video gaming and all it spawned. It was also one of the earliest examples of what nowadays is a billion dollar commonplace big business worldwide. Never mind that the Atari 2600 games themselves had a limited capability in terms of graphical output, the literally hundreds of games released during the peak years of the 2600’s line of production (mid 1977 to the early 1980s) were an eclectic 4K cornucopia of classics of the time (Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pac Man) to original stunning in-house and out of house created pieces of visual entertainment (Yar’s Revenge, Pitfall, Kaboom, Raider’s of the Lost Ark), and all in between.

There was an excitement, especially for those of us who were just barely creeping into our teenage years when the 2600 was at a peak, and it was not only a peak for Atari, but also for the video game industry in general. Ushered in by 1978’s Space Invaders and solidified by the double phenomenon of arcade coin ops like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong a few years later and from home systems like the 2600, Intellivision and the later-released but much superior Colecovision to arcade classics like the aforementioned two and others like Frogger, Qbert, and Pole Position, the era was truly a Golden Age for video gaming and the culture of video games in general.

With the Atari 2600 at the forefront, it was only emblematic that there was, perhaps to make up for the limited graphical capability the machine sported, a kind of class applied to the art put on all of its products and ads. Using illustrators who kind of combined a stark realism with the visual best from the stables of Marvel and DC Comics, there was an imaginative and awe-inspiring quality to Atari’s art and it elevated the games themselves to a sort of higher level just on that basis alone. There was something about grabbing an early game like Adventure or Superman perhaps, and seeing the cardboard box it was housed in, with a realist yet fantasy-styled illustration beaming out at the owner of it, the game cartridge itself also adoring the illustration. It showed in a way what the game could be in the highest forms of ultimate imagination in the game players’ mind. Again, it not only lent a class to the company and the products, but it also lent a gravitas that gave Atari an instant style and distinctive energy, which set it apart from the pack and made it a maverick — which it remains in pop culture and video game history culture consciousness — a memorable footnote and benchmark of the entire genre itself.

Art of Atari covers all this and more. Done with expertly meticulous research both textually and graphically, the entire history of the company is covered within. Not only is there a main focus on the art — and there is in spades — but there’s also plenty of ample print time devoted to the ins and outs of Atari, the framework, and the lightning in a bottle synergy that made it what it was then and what it remains today. Wonderful photos of literally every product the company put out grace page after page, showing original box art and items that will even jolt the most staunch collector of this stuff, who may have thought they had absolutely everything and have seen absolutely everything. For individuals like those, this book almost acts as a visual checklist.

Arguably, the centerpiece of Art of Atari is the visual presentments of the art and illustrations for pretty much every Atari 2600 game, with breakdowns of each individual artist, whose work is celebrated and dissected in the most passionate ways, and which is undoubtedly a testament to the passion of the writing style of the book’s author Tim Lapetino, who clearly without question is not only a reporter of these choice facts and history, but also a gushing fan boy, just like most of the readers of this book, your faithful narrator here included. Even though most of this stuff may have been out of one’s middle-aged consciousness for essentially decades, upon simply gazing at the cover of Art of Atari, one is instantly thrust back into one’s personal zeitgeist of the times, washed over with that same excitement one had on Christmas morning 1982, unwrapping a new VCS system (the company’s second incarnation of it which was its most successful) and a sundry amount of games, all with various forms of eye-opening and colorful and zestful art in full embellishment.

Usually, there needs to be an “angle” when it comes to writing a book review. In essence, the writer needs to inform the reader and take them down a certain critical road in order to help their decision to purchase the book or not, whether it’s worth it for them. There’s no need to use anything to push or hawk Art of Atari. It’s spectacular in every way, from the design, to the layout, to the inclusion of — as mentioned before and one can’t say it enough — the just ions and ions of photos that are alone well worth the price of admission (which has a reasonable and in hindsight extremely generous price tag of $39.99). If you are a fan of this era or any era really, like a contemporary baseball fan who wants to know more about the era of the 1930s when Babe Ruth dominated swinging his Louisville Slugger, Art of Atari is for you. It’s not suggested for you, it IS for you. Point blank. This is a tome that belongs in any house that houses video games, enjoys video games, or collects the vast array of generational eras of video games. Simply put, with the monumental release of Art of Atari, your ship has come in. In spades. The Queen frigging Mary.

During this holiday season, where one of the biggest pop cultural items right now gobbled up by shoppers and video game stalwarts is the retro Nintendo Mini, which resembles the original 1986 NES and includes over 30 classic games like Super Mario Brothers and of course owes a huge nod and tip of the cap to Atari for ushering in the wave and opening the door, Art of Atari slots in perfectly as another stocking stuffer for the pixilated and sprite-laden video gamer in your family. A true visual physical zeitgeist of an era not that long ago but in a way light years away from today’s climate, Age of Atari is a true cause célèbre for the genre and the non-fiction, expansive coffee table-styled books that flood bookstores coast to coast. Run, don’t walk, to get your copy as soon as possible.

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