Dec 18, 2006

Things continue to firm up regarding the second issue of Borrowed Time, and I'm pleased to present the (more or less final) cover (click for large version):

I did a little collaborating with Joe on this, but mostly it's just one more example of his fantastic work.

Dec 13, 2006

I've still got several things to address here, but something new has moved to the top of the list. Unfortunately, it's something I wish I didn't have to mention.

I want do direct you (via my pal Jeff -- thanks for the heads up) to the plight of young Callum Robbins.

If you didn't grow up in the MD/DC area, the name J Robbins might not mean much. But if you have ever listened to independent music you almost certainly know his work. As a member of Jawbox (and other bands) he played a role in formulating a sound that went on to make millions for lesser bands, and as an independent producer/engineer he's made an impressive positive impact -- both directly and indirectly -- on a lot of lives. Now, he and his family need some help.

I generally hesitate to post stuff like this, because at the end of the day it's not my place to tell you where to spend your charitable dollars. Lots of people need help, and there's only so much to go around. But I want to encourage you, if you can, to chip in. While I only met J once or twice (years and years ago), we've long been a part of the same broad social fabric. It's a group of people who helped shape my worldview when I was growing up, and who have always been good to me. It's also a group of people who have, artistically speaking, contributed more than their share to the culture as a whole. They are, in other words, people just like me and, I suspect, just like many of you who are reading this.

So, to me, this is a plea for one of my own. One of our own. I don't have much to give and I suspect you don't either, but in a situation like this no amount is too small. Give it some thought -- that's all I'm suggesting.

Dec 11, 2006

Every time I sign in to Blogger now I'm greeted with the message that my "new blog" is ready, and that I should switch over so that I can (a) sign in with my Google account (joy), and (b) enjoy a host of new features. Has anyone else taken that plunge? Any advice?
A few months back I mentioned that Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. would be releasing a solo album, and that I was quite impressed by the tracks available on his MySpace page. I came into possession of a couple of mp3s and they made their way into rotation so heavily that I couldn't wait to hear the rest. Only problem is, the album's not out in the US yet and won't be until sometime early next year.

Curiosity eventually got the better of me and I put in an order at I justified the high shipping charges by ordering a book that also hasn't been released here, and the album was in my hands a little over a week later. As it happens that's one of the best, if not the best, music purchases I made all year.

Trying to describe how music sounds is always a fool's errand, but I can say that if you like the Strokes you'll probably dig this. But it doesn't really sound like the Strokes. It's got a definite 70s/80s feel to it, and I can hear shades of everything from the Beatles to the Beach Boys to Rod Stewart, mashed up with the indie rock/pop of the 80s and early 90s that played so heavily in my formative years. There are several songs where I'm thinking to myself "that sounds like...that one song...what song was that?" but I just can't get it. Which probably means that it doesn't sound precisely like any one thing, but rather like an original piece of work that wears a lot of outstanding influences on its sleeve.

101 and Everyone Gets a Star are worth the price of admission alone -- two songs that don't need a lot of time to sink in. The rest of the album grows on me every time I listen, and I only hear one dud (Cartoon Music for Superheroes, conveniently located at track 1).

Plus, the album art is great (this pic is small, but it's the best I could do):It may not be worth it to you to pay the import premium, but keep your eyes open next year. This is one damn fine record.
The internet connection is back, for now, and with it comes a desire to dump a whole heap of content that's been building up over the past week. I have no clue anymore what it takes for a site like this to build a loyal fan base (I fear it might be impossible), but my plan is to spread the four or five things I want to talk about over multiple posts rather than dump them all into one. Strategies change on the fly.
Being without a live wire forced me to -- gasp! -- do some long-overdue reading. I did so in style by digesting The Womanizer, the first short story in Richard Ford's Women With Men.

I picked it up last summer on a whim, and it took me until now to really dig in. I wish now I'd done so sooner. Ford's sensibilities remind me a lot of Raymond Carver -- one of my all-time favorites -- but he's a shade more ponderous. Like Carver, he has what I'd call a terrible knack for the human condition. Consider the following passage:
Theirs was practiced, undramatic lovemaking, a set of protocols and assumptions lovingly followed like a liturgy which points to but really has little connection with the mysteries and chaos that had once made it a breathless necessity.
It's a devastating line which becomes more so every time I read it. Then a few pages later he drops this:
Life didn't veer -- you discovered it had veered, later. Now.
Ford, in my limited reading, seems to be one of those rare writers who can address the complexities of human relationships without veering into either platitudes or hard-boiled fatalism. Not only that, but The Womanizer bears an intriguing -- since I didn't know Ford's name when I wrote it -- similarity to my own Last Exit Before Toll.

I suppose that tales of people who feel suffocated by routine are fairly universal, but I found myself contemplating Ford's words through the prism of what I had said, and it was vaguely uncomfortable. I'm not putting myself on his level -- not at all -- but part of me can't help but ask where I stand on that scale. I'd love to hear from anyone who's read both, for better or worse.

Regardless, Ford is a find. If the rest of his work is half as good as this one story then it's certainly worth your time. I'll read more and let you know for sure.

Dec 1, 2006

I'm going to update the Borrowed Time weblog for the first time in awhile right after I write this, but since I doubt most of you check that (and why should you during the doldrums) I'll spill the beans here first: the book has been solicited, and we're looking at February of 2006 for release. The plan now is to coincide the release with the second annual New York Comic Con, which happens the weekend of the 23rd.

As we get closer and closer to the release I'll be doing things like updating the website, updating the MySpace page, and coordinating with Joe and Randy to release pages and other goodies to help pique your interest. Things will be getting mroe and more interesting, so stay tuned...
For several months now I've been reading David Apatoff's Illustration Art weblog, a site where he brings a lot of good analysis to bear on some forgotten/underappreciated illustration talents of the 20th century. It's well worth a spot in your periodic rotation if you've got any interest in that kind of thing. Apatoff brings a refreshingly positive (read: not snarky) and intelligent voice to his subjects, and always peppers his posts with plenty of visuals. Recommended.
For anyone who's curious, the Glaser/Scher article is in the editing phase. No concrete idea yet of when it'll be out, but it won't be a secret.

Nov 27, 2006

There's a great writeup at about legendary paperback publishing house Gold Medal Books. I've written, scrapped, and rewritten about five posts now trying to wrap my head around why there's nothing like Gold Medal around today. The truth is I can't figure it out. I just don't know why the gulf between works of artistic depth and works of mass appeal is so much wider now than it was then. There's no reason why that has to be the case.

But just when despair was about to set in, Speak Up pointed me to a great project from Penguin Books: My Penguin, which allows you to design your own covers for six classic books. Like Beck's The Information, which featured blank art and came with stickers allowing consumers to create their own cover, this is the kind of forward-thinking project that brings hope.

If the future means putting nearly everything in the hands of the consumer, come what may, then the best possible scenario is for that new model to come accompanied by a push for creativity, expression, and thought.

Nov 3, 2006

Working on this Milton Glaser/Paula Scher article ('s not quite done yet) has been more difficult than I thought it would be. That's not a bad thing, though, because it's raising a lot of interesting issues about matters that I've addressed on this weblog before, namely the similaritites between writing and design and the need for practitioners of one to be versed in the other.

During the interview with Paula, she stated repeatedly that "design is planning". In the case of a designer (as such) this means organizing graphic elements (type, color, shapes, etc) in such a way that they visually communicate a message in a given space and medium. Writing is no different. I have a given set of elements (in this case my words and the transcriptions) and I have to organize them in a way that says what I want to say, fits with the publication for which I'm writing, and speaks on some level to their target demographic. This, too, is design.

It ties right in to the "six word story" posts I put up a few weeks ago, an idea that was taken to sublime levels by Wired (thanks to Tony and Russ for the tip).

The more work I do the more I realize that I have essentially two jobs: translator and engineer. First I'm taking a body of thoughts and ideas and rendering them into something meaningful, and then I'm building a structure to contain them. A weakness in either half of that endeavor -- and over the years there have been plenty -- means the other half is inherently less potent than it could and should be. The x-factor in that process is creativity.
According to Tracy Hall's Amazing Inkblot Generator, "Neal Shaffer" looks like this:
Take from this what you far I've got nothing.

Oct 24, 2006

Some stats and thoughts on the Milton Glaser and Paula Scher interviews:

7,949 total words transcribed -- 4,279 for the Paula Scher interview, 3,670 for Milton Glaser. Of those, 1,535 belong to me. If my math is right that means I was speaking approximately 19% of the time. I think that means I did something right.

There are entirely too many writers/journalists out there who approach interviews with the wrong mindset. They want to make themselves into a disproportionately large part of the story. If you have the talent of a Hunter Thompson or a Michael Herr you can do that. But chances are you do not have the talent of a Hunter Thompson or a Michael Herr. At least not yet. Instead, your job is to get the story, and the story, in nearly every case, is whatever your subject wants to say.

That means, basically, shut up. Let your subject speak. This takes a sacrifice of ego, but if your motives are correct then that shouldn't be a problem. The writer is rarely the story. Period.

Now, having said that, here's another taste (some of the language refers to context I'm not giving you here, but you can figure it out):
NS: Design, as such, seems to be a relatively new idea. Where’s the intersection for you between that art, and the idea now of design, as you said, working with people, solving problems. Is it different now? Is your conception of design as a field, as a discipline, is it different than it was then? Or do you still think of it just as art with a different goal?
Paula Scher: That’s an interesting question, actually, because it changed. Design really can be anything. What design is…it’s the art of planning, and it is the art of making things possible. Really, everything is designed. The table is designed, the chair you’re sitting on is designed, the shirt you’re wearing is designed, you look out the window at a park that was designed, the park’s got signage and an entryway that was designed, there’s a thing called Shake Shack in the park that was designed…
NS: Great design.
PS: Thank you.
NS: Was that you?
PS: Well I did do all of the typography.
NS: Ahhh…it’s gorgeous.
PS: The goal of design as it relates to visual things, to tangible things, is to raise the expectation of what something can be. It’s not just to…OK, you can say “I’ve got a problem. I’ve gotta build a hot dog stand in the park.” You can build an ordinary hot dog stand or you can build a spectacular one, and you can do it sometimes without that much difference in money – if somebody thinks about it. So what a designer does is he makes things possible that you didn’t imagine could exist before, and it makes the world a better place. You know, it’s a great thing to be doing. A fine artist does that, too, but they make the expression for themselves, not for others’ use. Design always has a purpose, art has no purpose. That’s really the difference between them. Do I think one is better than the other? Absolutely not. I think they both fulfill functions. But having no purpose is the function of art, so somebody else can look at it and ask a question. Design is different – you’re supposed to understand what’s going on. You can be delighted by it, intrigued by it, but you’re supposed to know it’s a hot dog stand.
I should note here that my approach to transcription -- and this goes back to my first published work -- is to transcribe the conversation as closely as is reasonably possible to what was actually said. It's admittedly imperfect, but nonetheless it's far better than if I were to try to impose written conventions at the expense of spoken rhythm.

Oct 23, 2006

Fewer posts, more content.

It’s an idea that’s been knocking around in my head the past few weeks. Now that I’m operating this, my personal site, and also The Loss Column, a site with multiple contributors and certain long-term goals, I find that I’m thinking not only as a content creator/provider but as a publisher. The two sites serve different purposes, but in each case I have a responsibility to provide content with some measure of value. Frequent and regular updates used to be the difference between a blog and a website. Now that the technology is stable and common what you have, in effect, is really just robust and free access to the means of assembling a publication. And in that, the blog is really no different than a newspaper or a magazine.

Blogs, as such, tend to suffer from “mile wide, inch deep” syndrome. I’m thinking of the various Gawker Media sites, of the Huffington Post, of Stereogum – I like all of them, but I might like them even more if they updated half as often and gave each post more gravity. And, in fact, I’d argue (and this is not a wholly original thought – others have expressed it in one form or another) that the proliferation of RSS and other syndication technologies has rendered frequent updates not only unnecessary, but potentially annoying. I could post five times a week here, but do you really care what I ate for dinner?

So I’ve been posting less but trying to make each post more worthwhile. You may not enjoy every one of them, but hopefully none feel like throwaways. With any luck, that mindset will become more common.

I'm making plenty of progress on the Milton Glaser/Paula Scher article. Much of what I have to say is written, and I'm finishing up the process of transcribing the interviews completely so that I can take a long view of what they had to say and pick the meatiest passages. I thought perhaps a teaser might be in order, so here you go:
NS: How do you feel about your work being borrowed, and more specifically when your work is redesigned. That’s a peculiar state for the designer to have to deal with.

Milton Glaser: It is a funny idea. On one hand you very much want to influence your time and people’s practice. After all, the whole reason for being published and having your work public is to produce an effect. And I like the fact that people are influenced. Influence is certainly a reason that I entered into the profession to begin with. What you don’t like is to be misunderstood. And so when you see bad knock-offs of what you do, which are not central to your intentions, that can be embarrassing and depressing. But I certainly don’t mind seeing my influence on my peers and another generation. That, to a large degree, is why I got into this business to begin with.

Oct 17, 2006

One should never need an excuse to enjoy a good horror movie, but they tend to go down particularly well when the weather turns cold and Halloween looms large on the calendar. And since I occasionally like the challenge of drafting a list, now seems like a good time to throw out a completely subjective rundown of Five Horror Movies You Must Own or Watch During the Halloween Season.

These aren't necessarily the five best horror movies ever made (though they might be), but they are five movies you absolutely should pop into your player over the next two weeks to truly maximize the joys of October.

In no particular order:

Friday the 13th Part Two
directed by Steve Miner, 1981
Certainly there are "better" horror movies out there. There are titles with better stories, better acting, better direction, better cinematography. And indeed, the rest of the moives on this list can claim all of the above. But part of this movie's greatness lies in the fact that it doesn't aspire to anything beyond what it is: a bloody piece of pure exploitation. Jason was at his creepiest when he was less than superhuman -- just a deranged manchild in a hood with a homemade shack and a perverted sense of justice. Had the series stopped here we wouldn't look at it as the joke it became.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
directed by Tobe Hooper, 1974
One of the most relentless, brutal films ever made. It stands strong not just as a horror movie but as a brilliant piece of 70s American filmmaking, something of a lowbrow companion piece to films like Taxi Driver. What more really needs to be said? It's essential.

Night of the Living Dead
directed by George Romero, 1968
Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this is a great film that stands beyond its genre. The whole series is brilliant, but there's an edge to this first installment that can't be denied. The entire zombie genre, and much of the American horror tradition, owes its existence to this film. It's as amazing today as it was when it first came out, and it boasts a startlingly downbeat and thought-provoking ending.

directed by John Carpenter, 1978
More meditative and philosophical than it is gory, Halloween remains the gold standard for thoughtful horror. For all the credit it gets as the film that launched the "slasher" genre, it's more a mind fuck than anything else -- Michael Myers is a villain as well-considered as you'll ever encounter.

directed by Dario Argento, 1977
Enjoying Suspiria requires that you submit yourself to the world it creates. Once you do that, you're in for a hell of a ride. Argento's use of set pieces and music is unparalleled in the horror genre, and he is at his best here. The razor wire death scene may be the most horrifying thing ever put to film, despite the fact that it's not terribly graphic. It's a true masterpiece that remains criminally underappreciated.

Aside from the obvious elements, these films all share one thing in common: nobody wins. There's no redemption. One is left believing at the end that the brutality hasn't actually ended, but that you're simply not watching it anymore. That's the well from which true horror springs.

Turn out the lights, pour a glass (or four) of wine, and enjoy. Then thank me in November.

Also feel free to post your own top five in the comments. As always.

Oct 10, 2006

You might have missed it in the comments, but Bryan took up the challenge of the six word story (read that post to learn more). I liked his submission quite a bit:

He had it coming. Didn't he?

As for me, I offer the following:

One day, I swear we'll go.

I want to invite/ask all of you to try it, as well. I'm thinking in particular of the 20-30 of you who stop by regularly but have never commented. Now's the time. And if you've got a weblog/website of your own, pass this along and send folks here to participate. I think it's a fascinating exercise that could yield some interesting results. Hopefully, better ones than those at the site where I first found this.
You may recall that I participated, along with artist Ryan Brown, in the recent Image Comics anthology 24Seven. I stumbled across a review today that really pleased me:
I think my favorite story in this collection is "The Watchmaker" by Neal Shaffer and Ryan Brown, a clever tale about loneliness in the big city.

Sep 26, 2006

I recommend a visit to Pittsburgh if you ever get the chance. I was born there and returned a few years ago (twice, actually) to find that it's a very pleasant town. Part of the reason is the presence of two fine museums, the Warhol and the Carnegie Museum of Art. You can hit them both in a day if you start early, and it's well worth it.

Failing that chance, though, the Carnegie has labored for the past four years or so on a project of getting their entire collection online. The fruits of that labor can be glimpsed by clicking here. A lot of the stuff didn't make it due to copyright issues, but there's still plenty to see. In particular they have a massive collection of photographs from Teenie Harris, which is pretty astounding (particularly some of the baseball pictures). It's no substitute for seeing art in person, but it's a lot better than not seeing it at all.
If you like the Simpsons, you'll love this. Catch it while you can.

Sep 23, 2006

I don't know how I got there, search led to another and so on, until I was finding out what I could about Rolling Thunder.

This was one of my many arcade obessions as a kid and someday, when I'm wealthy, I will own them all and recreate the 80s/90s mall arcade aesthetic within my estate.
Tom Scocca -- who used to be a Baltimore guy (City Paper) -- co-wrote this interesting piece for the New York Observer about subtle changes in the design of the Times.

At the end, Times design director Tom Bodkin makes a particularly pithy point: "I think a lot of design is to address subconscious issues. Even though people might not notice, they might recognize it subconsciously."

I have a feeling most of you reading this would consider that a fairly obvious statement, but think about it a little harder. Think about things that you notice, and with repetition take for granted, that others just accept. Then flip it. Unearthing intent and effect by deconstructing design never gets old. Not for me, anyway.

-- a refreshingly straight-ahead take on the still-growing controversy surrounding media accessibility and its effect on "professional" creative folk.

-- if you haven't seen it yet, Slate published a graphic novel-esque rendition of 9/11 by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon. Worth a look for sure.

-- Does my RSS feed work?

Sep 18, 2006

I like the happy accidents that can happen when you use technology that's inherently limited and unreliable. Such is the case with this pic from my camera phone.
Interesting profile of Jonathan Ive, the man at the top of Apple's design division. Can you think of another single individual who has had that much influence, direct and indirect, on the way our world looks and works?

Sep 11, 2006

There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. And that, I think, was the handle - that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting - on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark - that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

Aug 20, 2006

Daniel Krall, with whom I collaborated on One Plus One, has a couple of relatively new projects going: a weblog to augment his portfolio site, and a new studio called the Black Box Project.

Paul Hornschemeier, part of the Holy Consumption, and with whom I would collaborate in a heartbeat if I got the chance, has a band called Arks, and they're good. If you don't believe me, there's a ton of free content at their website.

These are all things you should enjoy.

Aug 14, 2006

Going back for 20+ years now, some of the most vital and interesting popular art has been found on the bottom of skateboard decks. From this to this and a host of others in between, it's some of the best work going.

Thinking about this intersection of skating and art led me, thankfully, to remember Neil Blender. In addition to being an accomplished skater in his own right, Blender is/was also an incredibly talented artist. He brought a true illustrator's sensibility to his graphics that transcended his form, and he's one of those people whose influence is huge but whose name is not as known as it ought to be. I'm not going to overstate it by making a "without Neil Blender..." claim, but it's tempting. He's an inspiration.

As far as I can gather, this is what he's up to these days:

And dig this video (w/Lance Mountain), particularly the part with the dog/halfpipe cuts:

Link him up and give him some props.

Aug 11, 2006

The ever-excellent Typographica brings news that is wonderful indeed:

Helvetica, the film

There's some heavyweight talent on both sides of the camera. The director is the same person who produced the Wilco documentary, and the interview list is practically a who's who. What I'm most excited about, however, is the professed point/mission:
Since millions of people see and use Helvetica every day, I guess I just wondered, "Why?" How did a typeface drawn by a little-known Swiss designer in 1957 become one of the most popular ways for us to communicate our words fifty years later? And what are the repercussions of that popularity, has it resulted in the globalization of our visual culture? Does a storefront today look the same in Minneapolis, Melbourne and Munich? How do we interact with type on a daily basis? And what about the effects of technology on type and graphic design, and the ways we consume it?
It's no secret to any of you how I feel about typography. Type is the one constant that runs through written, spoken, and visual communication, and as such carries a weight that can't be overstated. The idea of a film that explores its relationship with our culture and, by extension, attempts to address those complex relationships sounds, to me, like just what the doctor ordered.

I also learned today how to properly format block quotes. I'm always toiling on your behalf.

Aug 6, 2006

Sad news last week with the passing of Arthur Lee. I was never the biggest Love fan, but I always liked what I heard and, of course, I dig Forever Changes. I first heard of Lee and Love courtesy of DC's the Make-Up, who introduced him to me and probably many others via their track "Free Arthur Lee". As a tribute to Lee, here it is:

The Make-Up - Free Arthur Lee (mp3)

Aug 4, 2006

I didn't buy much at Comic Con this year, a marked departure from my usual habits. Lacking money will do that to you. But I did pick up the latest installment of Anders Nilsen's Big Questions series, and I'd be terribly remiss if I didn't mention it.

Nilsen is a serious talent, and I can't recommend his books enough. He has an impressive ability to blend the abstract and the emotional to create work that both moves you and makes you think. He's doing the kind of comics that I wish everyone was reading, because if they did they'd understand the potential of the medium.

While you're at it, he also designed a painfully hot skateboard deck. Check it out.

He's part of The Holy Consumption, and Paul, Jeffrey, and John are equally worth your attention. They're all pretty amazing.

I should also point something out here, not just for this post but for many others: I want you all to know that when I recommend something, it is only because I believe in it and feel as though the folks who come by here, because you're interested in my work and/or what I have to say, will dig it likewise. This weblog is guided by passion (and positivity) above all else.

I also picked up one other book worth mentioning, and I'll do that as soon as I'm finished reading it.

Aug 2, 2006

If you could read my mind, love
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like an old time movie
'bout a ghost from a wishing well
In a castle dark, or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
You know that ghost is me
And I will never be set free
As long as I'm a ghost you can't see

When I first listened to the latest Johnny Cash collection I was immediately floored by his tender and vulnerable rendition of Gordon Lightfoot's If You Could Read My Mind (excerpted above). I listened to it four or five times straight in a row, marveling at not only Cash's performance but at the song itself. I'd heard it a hundred times before, but until it was recast I never had any reason to actually listen. It's a shame, too, because I'd been missing out. Lightfoot, it turns out, is a hell of a songwriter. iTunes has a five song collection from Rhino available for just $3.99, and I heartily recommend picking it up. You'll likely recognize the songs, but try to forget that. Give it a good, honest listen and see if it doesn't impress.

Plus, look at him. He's cool.

Jul 27, 2006

Speaking of fresh looks (see below), the Drawn and Quarterly website got a new coat of paint recently. Fantastic. Buy a book or two while you're there.
With very few exceptions, most of the rebranding and redesigning that has gone on over the past few years has been shit. To cite just a few:

- DC Comics embarrassing themselves by going from this to this

- UPS going from a classic to a throwaway

- AT&T "fixing" what wasn't broken.

I understand, to a point, the need to seem more "now". What I don't understand is why so many businesses can't figure out that, barring masterful execution, "now" eventually means "dated". None of the three logos above will stand up in ten or fifteen years, and the same can be said for countless others.

So I thought I'd give credit where it's due to Duquesne University. What they had was this:

But now...

If what you had was bad, and you come up with something good, you have stumbled upon the one and only powerful argument for a comprehensive redesign. Simple enough, right? In their small way, Duquesne has done good.

Jul 16, 2006

Speaking of Joe, he's going to have a brand-new, full-color minicomic on sale at the con. It's called Mandala, and it looks pretty amazing. Check it out here, then do yourself a favor and pick one up. The guy makes me look good.

Jul 13, 2006

As this sweet photoset demonstrates, interesting typography/design and the World Cup have gone hand-in-hand for some time.

I think I've mentioned before that I think it's a crime that Dale Murphy isn't in the hall of fame. He is, however, keeping busy...

Jul 12, 2006

Welcome Uni Watch readers...

Please feel free to stick around.

(and many, many thanks to Paul for the link)

Jul 10, 2006

I'm an admitted soccer neophyte, so feel free to filter what I have to say here through that lens. That said, I enjoyed the World Cup more than I expected to, particularly yesterday's France-Italy final. And I have a couple of notes about it (broken up into two posts to make the direct linking easier).

The World Cup is, by far, the most aesthetically impressive sporting event I've seen. While American leagues consistently subject us to nefarious goings-on like this and this (the list could go on, believe me), the World Cup gives us gems like these:

click for larger versions

The winner, though, is France. This is one beautifully executed piece:

Everything about it - the simplicity, the balance, the use of color - is fantastic. What really sets it apart, though, is the typography.

The name is set in Bauhaus, and it's an interesting choice. The font itself is a 1974 product from the International Typeface Corporation, which redesigned and added to some of the original Bauhaus concepts. Among type folks it is known that this is not an historically accurate representation of those "universal type" ideals, and it has often been used insensitively (the title credits for Roseanne and this abomination from ESPN are two such examples). As a result, to use Bauhaus now is generally considered a purely stylistic choice, and it is tough to do it well.

But I differ from some of the more strident opinions here. I think Bauhaus typography, even as it is somewhat inaccurately represented by the ITC font, is still serviceable and proper in the right context. The French jersey is a perfect example.

The idea behind Bauhaus type was to put the school's ideals of modernism and universalism in service of a new, more pure typography. Herbert Bayer, the man behind the movement, said that "the typographic revolution was not an isolated event but went hand in hand with a new social and political consciousness and consequently, with the building of new cultural foundations." In the context of the World Cup, an event that brings together a cross-section of world cultures like nothing else, this typography is a natural and intelligent fit. Using Bauhaus doesn't feel "retro" or "kitsch" here - it actually feels right. Nothing about that changes the font's checkered history, and it probably won't ultimately do much in service of the larger good, but that doesn't make it any less great.

There's much more that could be said, but I'm not an expert. If you find it interesting, here are some suggestions for further reading:

Much of my information on Bauhaus type came from this book. It's a little academic, but I'd recommend it nonetheless. And if you're interested generally in the aesthetics of sport, there is no better place to go than the esteemed Uni Watch blog. Soon to be a permanent link, I consider it mandatory.

Jul 2, 2006

An interesting discussion at Design Observer concerning Kafka and Typography. An excerpt:

...several readers have suggested that the "we" in the first sentence is not a human "we" but a set of printed letters. For many, including myself, the voice at the start of "The Trees" belongs to Kafka's letters themselves, speaking directly to the reader: "we are like tree trunks in the snow."

The essay falls apart a bit at the end, but mostly it's an enlightening read.
Another good read (registration required), this one about the continuing cross-pollination of the mainstream and adult film industries. It's of particular interest to those of you who work or might want to work in film, but the broader point at which it hints is what I find most noteworthy. There's a strange duality at work right now that I'm struggling to understand. While we seem, culturally, to be at an overwhelmingly conservative high tide, we are also seeing a lot of broken barriers, both good and bad. If these two forces are destined to meet, I wonder what the collision will look like? My gut tells me to hope it doesn't come to that.
I've said it before, but I'm pretty sure I mean it this time: the return of the Album Cover Project will happen soon. I have the record picked out and sitting right here next to me. You don't need to know that's been the case for over a month.
My San Diego Comic Con schedule is firming up. I'll be signing at least a couple of times at the Oni booth, and I'll also be keeping company with Chip and Nye (Left on Mission and Revenge) at table E 10. Stop by if you're in the neighborhood.

Jun 2, 2006

And now, Tony Larson:

(click as always)

I've already gotten more responses than I expected, and it's been cool as hell to get that window into other people's collections. It just makes me want more, so get on it if you haven't yet.
This is the last-chance reminder: the Borrowed Time release party is happening on Saturday. You can click here for more info.

It's going to be a good time, and if you're in the area you're a fool to miss it. I'm even prepared to go as far as saying that if you want to come from an hour or more away, just let me know in advance and I'll get you in for free.

May 31, 2006

The latest to drop in is artist extraordinaire Joe Infurnari, who correctly pointed out the odd and probably jarring collision of Cat Stevens and Dillinger Escape Plan. That's why we do it.

click for large version, scroll down to see the rest
You know by now how much I appreciate and respect the work of Debbie Millman. She is one of the best thinkers about design, branding, and marketing you're likely to encounter.

While participating in brand movements may indeed give us an illusion of inclusion, they will never be able to substitute for the prehistoric mammalian instinct to meaningfully connect with other humans through what I believe is our most profound need: the need to love.

The text is lifted from this post, which I encourage you to read in its entirety.

The broader point to draw, while not necessarily directly addressed there, is that alll creative activity is tied up in notions of marketing and brand, whether you choose that path directly or not. And that's OK because there is nothing inherently evil about the idea of marketing and selling creative work - the only issue is intent and approach. If you keep those things pure then there is quite literally nothing to worry about.

I'm more sensitive to this issue than many, I think, because I grew up around Dischord and the DIY ethos, and that experience informs most everything I do. I've also seen the negative effects of retrograde thinking and misplaced notions of "integrity". What it comes down to is this: real integrity needs to be considered and maintained at all costs. Cosmetic integrity is damn near poisonous.

May 28, 2006

Wade Harpootlian, one of Tomorrow's Brightest Minds:

Dig the Brainiac.
I've been seeing a lot of Evel Knievel lately, and I couldn't be happier about it. First I saw him during the coverage of Mike Metzger's jump a few weeks back, and again during the coverage of David Blaine's water stunt. Then tonight I caught the last twenty minutes or so of his "True Grit" documentary on CMT (check it if you get the chance - it's good).

Why is Evel suddenly part of the zeitgeist again? No idea, but I'm damn happy about it.

Knievel is a true original, an American great along the lines of Houdini or P.T. Barnum or Robert Ripley. Folks like these are rare, indeed - wholly unique individuals who not only make history but define it on their own terms.

Sadly, Knievel is in failing health and likely only has a few years left at best. It's good to see that he's enjoying a renaissance of sorts while he's still around to enjoy it.

May 27, 2006

And now, Russ Lichter:

I don't know if I have enough daily readers to really get this rolling, but I find it fascinating. Send 'em along, folks - I'll post them as soon as I can.

And just for the hell of it, here's another one from me:

Both of those, and Chip's below, can be clicked for larger versions.

May 25, 2006

Whilst cranking away on the script for Borrowed Time volume two, an idea struck. Not a terribly original one, admittedly, but potentially interesting and fun nonetheless.

partyshuffle 01
click for large version

I've been using the built-in shuffle feature in iTunes a lot lately and it has led to some intriguing collisions. Some sublime, some grating as hell - in that transition from track to track there is the potential to hear things that weren't there before. Even more than that, though, it's just an interesting snapshot of taste.

So I thought I'd share. I opened up iTunes, hit party shuffle, and took a screencap of what it had to offer. I'm inviting you all to do the same, if you're so inclined.

This particular batch represents a pretty fair cross-section for me, Christmas tunes notwithstanding.

May 12, 2006

I think it's pretty rare to take a camera phone pic that's worth a damn, but I took this one today and I think it's worth sharing:

The Path

Click it for a larger version and see if you agree.

Apr 23, 2006

When I set up the Myspace profile for Borrowed Time (feel free to add us), I chose Erik Satie as background music. I don't have any idea where this came from, since I hadn't listened to or even thought about Satie in five years or more. It literally just popped into my head. I took that as a sign that I needed to dig in, so I picked this up:

Satie: Popular Piano Works by Aldo Ciccolini

I'm not nearly well-versed enough in classical music to attempt a review, but I can tell you that I'm extremely glad to re-make Satie's acquaintance. His work is tinged with dramatic melancholy, but it never feels morose. To my ears it sounds like proto-jazz, and for some reason it reminds me of the solo works that Charles Mingus did on piano. This is a far from academic opinion, I know, but trust me. If you dabble in classical at all and haven't given Satie a try, do it. His most famous work is the Trois Gymnopedies - you'll get what you need by starting there.

I also couldn't help but note the similarities between the album cover and the book cover, something that was completely unintentional. There seems to be some way in which these two things belong together. I hope to find it.
I don't have all the details worked out yet, but it looks like Saturday, June 3rd will be the date for the book's release party. If you're in or can make it to Baltimore, pencil it in. I'll keep everyone posted as things firm up.

Apr 20, 2006

Five new Borrowed Time preview pages have been added at the book's official weblog. Head on over for some fun, and for a surprise or two. Comments are welcome and encouraged, as always.

I also set up a Myspace page for the book, so anyone out there who's into that sort of thing should hit us up.
Staying on the art tip, Sam Gilbey, of Pixelsurgeon and elsewhere, has updated his portfolio site with some new illustrations. Click here to check 'em out and show Sam some love - he's a good fellow. And that L'Oreal illustration is hella good.

Apr 13, 2006

The Album Cover Project, Part Four
(One, Two, Three)

The content: Considered minimalism: illustrations and text in silver rest on a deep, flat blue. Emblematic of the time. The Message: Enigmatic but strong, with an artiness rarely found in more mainstream releases. The Picture: Magic Hour. Not that I necessarily maximized it, but it's a start. As always, click for larger versions.

The Crownhate Ruin were born from the ashes of Hoover, one of the most impressive and influential of the early-nineties Dischord acts. This kind of thing happened a lot in that era. It was a special time for independent music, as a raft of really talented people caught their second and third creative waves. And in many cases, it wasn't just the music. Most of the folks involved in these bands were (are) good at something else, as well. Often, "something else" was design.

This particular cover is by Jeff Mueller, who also played music in Rodan, June of 44, and the Shipping News, among others. It's a nice example of the kind of high-level minimalism that was popular at the time. Strong, simple ideas were paired up with quality materials to create a stylistic backdrop that, looking back, defines that era almost as much as the music. It's hard to say how far the influence stretched, but the body of work is impressive.

Apr 9, 2006

I put up three (the first of many to come) Borrowed Time preview pages over at the weblog. Check 'em out!

Mar 29, 2006

As I expected, part two of the Borrowed Time feature went up today at CBR. Click here to get Joe's thoughts on the book and learn a little bit about his art and his process.
The second part of the Borrowed Time feature at CBR was supposed to be up yesterday but, for reasons beyond my knowledge, it never appeared. Well-placed sources tell me it should be coming today, and I will link it when it does.

We're also going to be featured sometime soon over at Newsarama. More info on that as it becomes available.

May 10th. Save the date.

Mar 22, 2006

The Album Cover Project, Part Three
(Part One, Part Two)

It's a two-for-one this time, owing to the fact that I might be a bit late with the next installment. First up is Forever Changes by Love:

The content: a beautiful illustration by Bob Pepper (also known for some very fine Philip K. Dick book covers, among other things), presented with the simplicity it demands by designer William S. Harvey. The message: psychedelic mind meld = quality tunes. The picture: not special. I never said they'd all be brilliant.

Couple that with Sound Verite, from Love's spiritual descendants, The Make-Up:

The content: a pleasant homage to the original Pepper/Harvey collab, rendered this time in simple but virulent red and black. The message: we love Love, and you should too. The picture: see above.

The Love cover is one of the best of the psychedelic era for two reasons: the illustration itself is brilliant, and it's presented well. One would forgive the designer in this case if he had chosen to go over the top - that was the style of the time - but Harvey wisely opts instead to let it stand on its own, adding only a simple border and minimal typography. A lot of covers from this era fall short of greatness because they try too hard. The Forever Changes cover remains relevant because it tries just hard enough.

The Make-Up was one of the greatest bands of the nineties, hands down. That may not be widely known but it is nonetheless true. This particular cover is emblematic of their tendency to borrow from the past and put their own spin on it, a fact also reflected by the music it contains.

What we have here is one great band paying tribute to another, not just through music but also through graphics. It's been tried plenty of times (do we ever need to see another ripoff of the Abbey Road cover?), but seldom is it done in a way that's this pure and positive. Good stuff.

Mar 12, 2006

The Album Cover Project, Part Two
(Manifesto/Part One)

Miles Davis - In Person Friday Night at the Blackhawk, San Francisco, Volume One

(click for larger version)

The content: a haunting black and white shot of Miles lighting a smoke, alone save for the face of a woman. The message: mood, and lots of it. The picture: shadows, scotch, smoke...what else? Obvious, maybe, but so be it.

This is one of my favorite jazz album covers, owing largely to the fact that the composition is exquisite. Strong, even vibrant typography sits side-by-side with one of the most evocative pictures ever to grace a sleeve. The sense of Miles as a personality is obvious, both in terms of his figure dominating the scene and the way in which he's striking an indifferent, thoughtful pose. But this cover also has a way of bringing out a sense of Miles Davis the man. Look closely at the face of the woman: what is she thinking? Is she worried? Jilted? Intimidated? Has Miles just left her following a tryst? Or is he simply enjoying a smoke after a particularly hot performance, and this woman wants nothing more than a piece of his world? These and any number of other possibilities are all suggested, and by doing so the cover both stands on its own and serves the music it holds.

I don't know much about this cover, which means that I sadly can't credit the photographer. I do know that the album was recorded in 1961, shortly after Coltrane left the group, and that this was the first official live recording Davis ever released. This particular record is a small sliver of the complete recordings, which have since been released on CD with basically the same album art. I'd recommend it to anybody with even a passing interest in jazz.

I didn't include a picture of the back cover this time because it's just text and wouldn't translate very well to this forum. The notes, however, are interesting. They're more a subjective portrait of Davis than they are liner notes for the record, but I prefer that in a way. In particular I'm fond of this excerpt:

At one point, almost as if seeking to get his mind off recording, he gave a vivid lecture, with illustrations, on the theory and practice of the art of picking pockets.

One of a kind.

Mar 11, 2006

I've been spending as much time as I can over the past week or so trying to put together the promo website for Borrowed Time. Here's a preliminary screencap of the homepage:

(click for larger version)

That illustration is the work of Tony Larson and his collaborator Mark Penxa, and it quite obviously rules. It's an image that will be making several more appearances before all is said and done.

I'm working with Apple's iWeb to build the site, and it's the strangest program I've ever used. It's easier than Dreamweaver or GoLive, but not nearly as flexible. It's harder than Blogger or Wordpress, but more versatile. It happens to suit my purposes pretty well, but at the same time I can't imagine it being useful to a large number of people.

There's going to be a weblog, as well, which should be up and running very soon. Also don't forget to stay up to date with Joe Infurnari, without whom this book just doesn't make as much sense as it does. His arrival on this project was serendipitous in a way that can only mean big things. The wait has been worth it for me, and it will be worth it for you.

Feb 25, 2006

Initial reaction to the Borrowed Time press release has been very good. The t-shirt/product placement idea has been, so far, having the desired effect in terms of getting people intrigued and talking. I plan to keep the dialogue going as much as possible between now and when the book is released, and I've updated the sidebar to make it easy to find information from this front page at all times. The promised blog is on the horizon, as well, and so is the website if I can pull it together in between my other projects.

Many thanks to Chip, Geoff, Chris Arrant, and Bryan & Elias for their comments and their present and future support. It matters.

You know what else matters? You and everybody else you can turn on. Normally the money you spend on a product goes into a black hole. That's not the case here. When you buy this book, and when you buy the t-shirt and/or the poster, you are directly benefitting me, Joe, and Tony - no joke. That's one of the greatest things about working on an independent/DIY level. It's harder on both the wallets and the souls of the creators, but it also means that your money is going where it counts. I'll take that over shitting out five issues of a DC or Marvel book any day. As long as you will too.


Feb 2, 2006

Wired, of all places, has this nice, if short, writeup about Paul Pope and his work on the upcoming Batman: Year 100 book(s) for DC. I'm a little ashamed to say I didn't know much about this before the article, but it's one to watch for without question. Paul Pope is a modern master, and I don't think there's a comics icon better suited to his style than Batman.

Every once in awhile Marvel or DC will get it right, and on those rare occasions I'm reminded of what a goddamn shame it is that they don't do it more often.

I don't know that I've ever before devoted two straight posts to comics...odd, given my occupation.

Jan 20, 2006

One of my favorite bands of the past year or so, The National, has popped up on one of the better mp3 weblogs I've come across lately, the estimable So Much Silence. Four live tracks from a WOXY in-studio, available now for your downloading and listening pleasure. Highly recommended.

Click Here

Also, both So Much Silence and The Ryde have been added to the links sidebar. This is one-stop shopping for good taste, folks, and I work hard to keep it ril.

Jan 19, 2006

The Ryde is all about the things we love; the things that friends laugh over, cheer for and smile about. Right now we are making clothes, we don't make them to promote our politics, our company or ourselves. We make them to promote a feeling, the joy of seeing a friend on a great wave and the glory of seeing that movie you love for the 112th time.

Got an email the other day from Ricky, an operative at The Ryde. He wanted to trade links, so I put his site through my comprehensive, 7 step worthiness evaluation. I'm finished now and pleased to report that these guys appear to be cool and on the level, and that there's some good work over there. Plus, they're into a lot of the same stuff that I am, which is always a plus. So check 'em out.

Jan 6, 2006

I've settled on the conclusion that the world is some exact percentage better (exactly how much is hard to say, but it's substantial) for having Ellen Lupton in it. Her approach to design - treating it as a way of thinking that is accessible and beneficial across lifestyles and disciplines - is precisely what the doctor ordered in these troubled times. Honestly, I just can't say enough about her and her work.

I'm talking specifically now about her latest endeavor, as editor of DIY: Design it Yourself (also check out the companion site). I haven't picked this up yet, but I can tell I'm going to love it. Putting the idea in people's minds that they should create first and consume second, then helping them discover how? Awesome. And inspiring.

Speaking of Ellen, she's one of the guests this year on Debbie Millman's radio show/podcast, Design Matters. The whole schedule is actually pretty amazing: Lupton, Chip Kidd, Jonathan Hoefler & Tobias Frere-Jones, Hillman Curtis, Carin Goldberg...the list goes on. I don't know if the show itself is good or not, but I'm betting yes and making it a point to find out for sure.

The thing about stuff like this is that I don't believe you necessarily need to have interest in design to find it interesting. People who are this creative and accomplished tend to have a lot to offer regardless of whether or not you share their particular passion. You heard it here.

Jan 5, 2006

Oft-mentioned (and for damn good reason) friend/collaborator Tony Larson has been interviewed for Slap magazine. Good stuff in there - click here to read it.

Staying on the design tip...check this out:

Coming straight out of Ornette Coleman's heyday, I challenge anybody to identify a collection of four dudes cooler than that. And, on top of that, the design itself is perfect. It's dominated by its strength, which is the photo, but rounded out by a nice, clean modernism that reflects the music it holds. A style like this might be called "simple" today, but I won't get down with that.

I arrive at this point because yesterday I bought the new Strokes album, First Impressions of Earth (which I'll be reviewing for Pixelsurgeon). The cover and packaging are absolutely dynamite:

What you can't see from that picture is the die-cut digipak that houses the "deluxe edition" CD - worth the extra buck or two by itself. It takes me back to the way I feel about many of the pieces in my vinyl collection, where the packaging and the artwork enhance the listening experience. Lately I've been lazy, buying whole albums off of iTunes for no reason other than convenience. It's a bad idea.

As for the album, it's also quite good, and I'll have more to say on that later.