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History's Mechanical Marvel

by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett


Boilerplate is a 19th century mechanical man, created to provide an alternative fighter after its creator Archie Campion lost his beloved brother-in-law during a conflict in Korea. Boilerplate, Campion, and Campion’s sister Lily knew pretty much every important name and were part of pretty much every significant event in American history from the 1890s through WWI. This book tells their stories, with copious illustrations in which Boilerplate turns up, Forest Gump-like, everywhere from his introduction at the Chicago Exposition to Rough Riding with Teddy Roosevelt to going over the top at the Battle of the Marne. Even though Boilerplate’s involvement is fictional, it's a wonderful way to get great gulps of history in an entertaining fashion, whether for the young adult you’re trying to get hooked on the subject, or the aficionado who’s already there. After Boilerplate disappears during WWI, the book concludes with another 40 pages of illustrated text covering the rest of the Campions' lives, popular culture depictions of Boilerplate (including some other real publications by these authors), and discussion of other mechanical men in history.  This is emphatically not a book thin on content.

It’s the illustrations that make this book magic and are just an incredible accomplishment, because of how many of them there are and how well Boilerplate is integrated into them. Thanks to the artists’ talent and attention to detail, it looks amazingly like Boilerplate was part of the original pictures, as they carefully duplicate the lighting and shadows, the style, even the degree of blurriness, all while inserting him seamlessly into the other elements of the image. I found exactly one example in the entire book where it was clearly obvious Boilerplate had been edited in, and had to really look to find that.

I'm not an historical or graphics expert by any means; but I've always been a history buff and regularly work with editing text and graphics for projects I'm involved in. That makes me expert enough to have some idea of what went into creating this book and leaves me deeply impressed by its originality and the fabulous results. And even more impressed by how fun it is to read on top of that.

Boilerplate is a book to take time and go through slowly, a number of times, enjoying the story, appreciatively savoring the illustrations (finding new things every time you look), and—if you’re like me—being inspired to find out more about the historical people and events. Just a great thing to have at hand as winter approaches and you need some engrossing indoors entertainment that will last a while.

Highly recommended.

The Book

Abrams Image
October 2009
Oversized Hardcover
Historical fiction / 19th & 20th C / Graphic novel
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The Reviewer

Kim Malo
Reviewed 2009
© 2009