Dec 28, 2005

As mentioned in yesterday's post, I'm featured in this week's Baltimore City Paper. It's a talk about comics, movies, and the perilous journey from one to the other. It even comes with a picture:

(they're laughing at me)

Read, enjoy, comment.

Dec 19, 2005

My review of Merle Haggard's latest album, Chicago Wind, is posted and ready for your enjoyment.

Click here to read it, and don't hesitate to pass it around, leave feedback, etc.

Dec 2, 2005

The Speak Up weblog, a kind of gathering place for folks who know a lot more about design than I do, has a pretty interesting discussion about that new AT&T logo (previously mentioned here).

Most people don't like it, and that's because, as I and many others expected, it's underwhelming at best. But it's this nugget that intrigues me and makes it worth another mention here. According to the firm behind the redesign (quoted in the post), here are some of the reasons why it looks like it does:

...the new globe is three-dimensional, representing the expanding breadth and depth of services...transparency was added to represent clarity and vision...lowercase type is now used...because it projects a more welcoming and accessible image.

In reading over those statements I think I hit upon a major reason why so much modern corporate design tends to suck: it's a problem with the understanding and application of semiotics.

I studied semiotics quite a bit in college, but I'm far from an expert in the field. I'm what you could call an enthusiast, because to be an expert in this field tends to mean you spent more than just 4 years in college (the link above seems a good introduction, though). I do, however, know enough to know when it's being misused.

What seems to have happened with regards to corporate design and semiotics is that the cart has been put before the horse. Making a design choice such as "transparency" because it "represents clarity and vision" is a gross misunderstanding of process. Semiotics works from the ground up as the study of an existing symbol, taking into account not just the thing being studied but also the cultural conditions surrounding its production and the impact (or lack thereof) it makes on that culture. It doesn't work nearly as well as the application of assumptions, however logical. If a design choice is made on the basis that it will communicate a particular message then it's a crap shoot. This is committee thinking, boardroom thinking. A tantalizing but unsubstantiated idea put into play because it seems well thought out.

Now, if the logo also worked aesthetically this wouldn't be such an issue. The relative success or failure of the intended symbols would be academic, and a bonus at best. But when the hoped-for symbolic resonance of something takes precedence over the basic concern of good design, you end up with a mishmash. That's what AT&T and countless other companies are now stuck with.

See, "transparency" might end up being just that - it's clear. It might not end up "representing" anything. A good logo, on the other hand, backed up by a comprehensive branding campaign, will take on the meaning created for it. Through action, not assumption.

I'd like to think that at some point this trend will pass and companies will get back to the days when design was left to the designers, but I'm not holding my breath.

Nov 7, 2005

In stark contrast to most of their peers, the State of Pennsylvania boasts an engaging and well-designed website. The competition is tight, but I'm casting my vote for these webcams as the best feature. Proof positive that while Groundhog Day comes but once a year, being Punxsutawney Phil is a full time job.

Honorable mention goes to the PA Wilds logo:

Also, I've been meaning to post this for awhile: Lethal Beauty, a comprehensive look at suicide from the Golden Gate bridge. I haven't read even close to half of it yet, but it's interesting so far. An impressive piece of work, and nice to see it came from a daily newspaper. This kind of integration with interactive media is the best hope for the print media to stay relevant going forward.

Nov 1, 2005

While at Rite-Aid the other day I overheard one of the clerks repeatedly refer to this product:

as "coke water". What's worse, her thick Baltimore accent made it sound like "coake wutter". I've had trouble sleeping ever since.

Oct 31, 2005

Happy Halloween, everybody.

If you're unsure of how to enjoy this holiday safely, our friends at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation Anti-Crime Unit have issued these helpful tips.

Oct 19, 2005

On the way back from Ocean City we stopped in at a little joint called the Unicorn Bookshop in Trappe, Maryland. A fantastic place all around, wherein I scored this gem:

The 51st Annual of Advertising, Editorial and Television Art & Design of 1971, published by the Art Directors Club of New York. What makes it such a find is that this was the first year of the Club's Hall of Fame, and the list of inductees is awe-inspiring. In particular I've gained a deep appreciation for the work of Lester Beall. Check his biography over at the AIGA, and experience work like this, this, and this. I've come to understand that much of what we know today as graphic design owes a great deal of debt to Beall's work. What might be most amazing, though, is this quote:

As graphic designers of today's printed page, a long depended upon means of communication, we should envision ourselves as the inevitable architects of future revolutionary systems of communication.

He said it in 1956. Respect.

Oct 10, 2005

Can't ever say enough about The Directors Label. DVDs from Mark Romanek and Jonathan Glazer out just recently prove that god invented credit for a reason.

I'm also working on the template for this thing so that I can more properly take advantage of the pop-up window for comments. Once that happens, no more excuses.

Oct 2, 2005

Sep 15, 2005

Last weekend I acquired one of these:

A Moleskine notebook, manufactured in Italy by a company called Modo & Modo. Prior to that Saturday I had never heard of the Moleskine, nor had any particular need of a new notebook. And had I set out to purchase a notebook, the $16 price range would not have been my starting point. I was fortunate enough that this happened to be a gift, but I can nevertheless say that it's worth every penny. It is, in its pre-tech way, much like the iPod - beautiful, deceptively simple, and functional to the utmost. If you do any writing by hand at all, get one. You'll thank me.

Speaking of the iPod, Luke Williams of Frog Design has penned an impressive essay about it that, like much good creative work, is about more than just its subject. A quick but pithy read.

Aug 21, 2005

All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.
--George Orwell

I don't know if he actually said it or not. The problem with finding quotes online is that they've often been diluted and/or misattributed so many times that you're really just getting the quote people want to repeat, not anything someone actually said. In this case, it's me who wants to repeat it.

I found it while taking a break from the screenplay to see if I could find out if this quote...

Write the story, take out all the good lines, and see if it still works

...was ever actually uttered by Hemingway. I've loved this quote since high school, but I've never found a footnote to actually tell me where it came from. I have a suspicion it's simply the stuff of legend, a pithy masterpiece that Hemingway probably would have said, had he gotten the chance, but never did.

Then again, does it matter?

Aug 14, 2005

I still can't say enough about The National. Alligator is a damn fine album on its way to being great. Some proof if you're not convinced:

If you've ever had a deadline to meet and struggled with that pressure, check these lyrics.

I won't fuck us over, I'm Mr. November
I'm Mr. November, I won't fuck us over

I wish that I believed in fate
I wish I didn't sleep so late
I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders

I'm the new blue blood, I'm the great white hope
I'm the new blue blood
I won't fuck us over, I'm Mr. November
I'm Mr. November, I won't fuck us over

Reportedly written as the band struggled with finishing the very album I've been praising. Since when is self-fulfilling prophecy a good thing?

Jul 3, 2005

I'm not going to pretend that what I'm about to address is on any level "important", but I feel like it has to be mentioned.

It's time for people to stop using the word "untracked" to mean "get into one's groove". The latest in a long string of offenders is ESPN's Peter Gammons, but he's far from alone. It happens all the fucking time, and here's why it's wrong.

The Oxford American Dictionary defines "untracked" as "not previously explored or traversed; without tracks", and two other, similar definitions. After that, it mentions its usage as part of a phrase meaning "get into one's stride or find good form". I'm certain that the phrase-based definition was added as a reaction to common usage, but that doesn't make it correct. The basic problem is that it's an obfuscation. The prefix "un" indicates a void, so to use the word in a phrase like "yet to get untracked" suggests, more than anything, that the person being addressed has yet to lose his stride - the exact opposite of what is intended. I suspect that the meaning has been reversed because people started confusing "untracked" with its near-homonym "on track". Repetition has led to acceptance, but it's still wrong. Writing is an exercise in judgment calls. Many of them are difficult, and I'm the first to admit that some of them are made without any actual thought. It's just part of the process. That said, it's communication more than it's anything else, and clarity is worth considering.

May 18, 2005

May 16, 2005

May 13, 2005

May 11, 2005

May 8, 2005

May 3, 2005

Apr 25, 2005

With Monday comes news: tomorrow, 04/26, marks the debut of a new issue and a new site from The Royal Magazine. Nearly everything they do is hot shit, and this re-launch should be no different.

I also wanted to direct you to this (via...something. I can't remember.):

The Powell Peralta Museum. There's so much cool stuff in there I don't even know where to start. The whole site, in fact, is a wealth of information and inspiration. For example, this gem from their "ad archive" for my personal favorite, Mike McGill:

(click on image for larger version/description)

I finally finished up the script for my next graphic novel last night. It took longer than I would have liked, but in my defense there were a few periods where it was dormant while other business got handled. The next project, the aforementioned screenplay (TBM), will be the primary focus over the summer months. I'll also be working with Lynn on getting my website set up (peep the boring holder page, which itself needs an update), along with contemplating a website for the graphic novel, as it is an ongoing series. On that same tip, there will be limited edition prints available at San Diego (designed primarily by Tony Larson) this year to promote the eventual release of the book. They will be amazing. If you want to get dibs on one early, go ahead and email me now (link in the upper right corner). Graphics/price TBA.

Apr 22, 2005

What is the meaning of production?

This is the problem one faces when trying to make a go of things. This article happens to be about writing (and thus its specific appeal to me), but the same thing goes for most any creative professional when work is not a matter of employment (with the possible exception of photographers). What is the "right" amount of production? This dovetails nicely with Jamie Rich's recent thoughts, in which he graciously referenced one of my own previous posts.

I only start to feel bad about my work when I am producing at a level that I know falls short of what I have inside me. Tonight, for example, I went to see the Orioles lose a heartbreaker to the Red Sox. I knew, however, that the last two pages of my graphic novel script were calling, so I came home and put the words where they needed to be. I could have just as easily gone out for a few more beers, but it wasn't the time.

I am as skeptical of extremely prolific producers as I am of people who spend months and months on one "great" work. As much as it is true that you can be lazy and not work enough, you can certainly work too much. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that it's an interesting article.

Apr 13, 2005

A quick sidebar update, to further reflect greatness. Check out The Holy Consumption (Hornschemeier, Nilsen, et al) and Farel Dalrymple. I cannot stress enough the importance of supporting these guys.

Somewhat relatedly, Tony Larson has a series of interviews going on at Skate Mental, and I invite you to read the latest one.

Skateboarding intersects with my life in strange ways. I first picked it up in - no shit - third grade. The only problem was that I wasn't very good at it. I gave it the college try until probably seventh or eigth grade, when the actual skating part of it faded out of my life. But I've always maintained an appreciation for and attraction to the sport and the culture that surrounds it. No doubt it has something to do with the DIY philosophies that are such a key part of that world, along with the commingling with music and art. Growing up listening to indie music and playing in bands, skating was never far away. Now I find in it a ton of inspiration when it comes to things like marketing, design, and doing things the right (or, more accurately, one's own) way. I harbor a secret hope that I'll pick up a board again someday and end up being decent at it. Failing that, I just hope I'll be able to work with or in that world in some form or another. Much respect.

Apr 6, 2005

This is a small thing, perhaps, but nonetheless important:

use the serial comma!

All of us write, whether we like to consider ourselves "writers" or not. We write letters, we write memos at work, we write emails to our friends and colleagues. And when we do we are faced with a host of decisions that can, even if they seem insignificant, dramatically affect what we are trying to say. I've noticed that the serial comma has dropped out of favor in common usage, even to the extent that AP stories no longer use it. This is incomprehensible to me, as the serial comma is critical to maintaining continuity and meaning in a sentence. For example:

"I'll make us a dinner of grilled vegetables, tofu and red beans and rice."


"I'll make us a dinner of grilled vegetables, tofu, and red beans and rice."

In extreme examples such as this (when the third item in your list is compounded) it is absolutely critical to use the serial comma, as not using it results in a clumsy sentence that requires multiple readings. The point remains the same, however, even if the list is simple. Putting a comma before "and" clarifies the sentence and makes things measurably easier on the reader. Since writing is communication, your goal is to never have the wording obscure the meaning (unless it's intentional, and that's another conversation). So, use it. It matters.

While I'm at it, my recent fascination (obsession?) with typography has led me to understanding something else: you should only use one space after a period. The two space habit is a relic of the typewriter era, when fixed-width type demanded an extra space so that sentences didn't run together. Computers have eliminated that problem. Nowadays, adding an extra space (when typing in Microsoft Word or any other program) actually makes things worse: it creates awkward gaps, resulting in paragraphs that look choppy and inconsistent. It might be a hard habit to break, but you should put in the time to do it.

Apr 4, 2005

I haven't done this in ages, so here you go:

Hadriano, your Typeface of the Week.

Designed in 1918 by Frederick Goudy, Hadriano was originally an all-caps display face. It has some pretty impressive serifs, which force you to be particularly mindful of kerning, especially at display sizes. The way the uppercase "N", for example, sits with a lowercase "e" will cause a real problem (which you can see in the example linked above) if you don't dramatically reduce the space between the two letters. When you do adjust it, however, you end up with a very nice interplay.

And today is Opening Day (I don't count last night's game between the Yankees and Red Sox, as I am getting tired of that whole thing). This year feels different than it has in the past, and it's not good different. For every previous year that I can remember, Opening Day has been practically a national holiday. Even casual fans would look forward to it, maybe even take the day off, because it represented something inherently good and enjoyable. This year I've noticed a dramatic lack of buzz surrounding the game. Indeed, there seems to be more talk floating around about the NFL draft than about the start of the baseball season. All I can think (especially as we get news of the first positive test) is that baseball's steroid-induced image problem is finally coming home to roost. People, it seems, just don't want to root for, or spend their money on, something they can so easily and justifiably percieve as corrupt. Who can blame them? It's sad, really. That's more or less all you can say about it.

Mar 28, 2005

Mar 24, 2005

Feb 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson is dead by apparent suicide at age 67.

There is so much to say about much that I can't even begin to compose my thoughts right now. Hunter Thompson was a true American treasure, a great writer (and man) the likes of which we are unlikely to see again. It seems like I've been saying that too much lately...but it's as true of Thompson as it has ever been of anyone else. I always harbored a dream of meeting him someday, since his work has meant so much to my development as a writer. I suspect that I share that sentiment with a great many others, and I join them in their mourning. This is truly sad. I don't know how else I can say it.

In tribute to him, this blog will remain dark for awhile so that anyone who happens to visit it can take an opportunity (whether the first or just one in a series) to remember him.

May he rest in peace.