Ever watch DVD “making-of” featurettes for movies you aren’t all that crazy about? Sometimes, if they’re thoughtfully done instead of just being a PR reel, they can help you learn more about certain creative and technical processes. But if you’re an admirer of the film, so much the better. Well, that’s pretty much the case with Kick-Ass: Creating the Comic, Making the Movie. In fact, if you’re fan of either of the pop culture incarnations mentioned in the title, you’ll be in heaven. But even if you’re lukewarm on the property itself, there is much to recommend about this handsome companion volume.
With its inventive layout, well-chosen text, and overall intelligence of presentation, the book resembles a super-extended feature article in a glossy magazine. A magazine that happens to boast a topnotch design department, that is. Imagine Entertainment Weekly doing a couple of special issues on Kick-Ass, then increase the length, trim size, and paper quality so they’re closer to art-book level and you’ll get a sense of how inviting this book is. Of course the real fun in such magazine pieces is exploring all the factoids, asides, and revealing quotes that are tucked away in the sidebars—and one of the main virtues of this book is that it reads like a compilation of such sidebars, all the boring parts having already been cut out.
That should partly explain the above reference to “well-chosen” text. But it also bears mentioning that the text itself, although built around an engaging autobiographical strand from Kick-Ass cocreator Mark Millar, is really an artfully edited collection of interview snippets conducted by Mark Salisbury, Stacy Mann, and Jeremy Smith. As a result, the colorful spreads are peppered with stand-alone paragraphs with intriguing heads like “[director] Matthew Vaughn on The U.S. Ratings System” or “[movie cowriter] Jane Goldman on Hit-Girl and Swearing.”
Yet Kick-Ass: Creating the Comic, Making the Movie isn’t simply a bunch of pull-quotes quickly thrown together to create a trade paperback movie tie-in. What really gives the book value as a true reference work are all the interesting primary source materials that are scattered throughout. There are reproduced pages from both the film and comic scripts, emails between Millar and Vaughn, and even blog posts from Chloë (Hit-Girl) Moretz. And of course there’s tons of production stills from the movie and generous helpings of art from cocreator John Romita, Jr., including sketches and other material that appears never to have been published before. What makes all of this more notable from a media studies angle is that with Kick-Ass we’re not dealing with a conventional page-to-screen adaptation but rather a concept that pretty much evolved as both graphic narrative and film at the same time, so that ideas that surfaced in the movie development context found expression in the later issues of the comic miniseries.
Don’t look for a lot of highbrow analysis about the themes in Kick-Ass or how the film fits into the whole revisionist superhero trend of the past few years (e.g., Hancock, Special, Watchmen). And that’s something we should probably be thankful for. After all, this is a book that puts the creators’ perspectives front and center and listening to the talent sound off about the profundity of their own work is what makes so many DVD commentaries unbearable. Yes, to some extent the book is bit of a love-fest, but it never goes over-the-top with self-congratulation. Besides, as Kick-Ass’s many fans already know, there’s a lot to love about this title.
Reviewed by Peter Gutiérrez on February 23, 2010