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Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn has been dog-paddling the waters of sidestream culture, as a participant and chronicler, for his entire adult life. He's been involved in the commune movement, the DIY and zine scenes, cyberpunk, steampunk, punk-punk, and has written for bOING bOING (print), Mondo 2000, Wired, Esquire, Details, and numerous other magazines and dailies. He is the former Editorial Director of MAKE magazine and has just released his eighth book, a best-of collection and “lazy man’s memoirs,” called Borg Like Me & Other Tales of Art, Eros, and Embedded Systems.

Let’s Go Letter Hunting

Hello, my name is Gareth Branwyn and I’m a blank journal addict. I love the romantic, aspirational aspects of a blank book, the allure of the possible.

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Intelligent Sentient - psychoactive pictorial trip to another world

I’ve got to tell you, I had a real mind-warping moment with Intelligent Sentient?.

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The Art of Neil Gaiman

You can learn a lot by peering into an artist’s process. In The Art of Neil Gaiman, Gaiman friend and fan Hayley Campbell is given generous access to Gaiman’s notebooks, sketches, archives, and even the details on some of his failed projects.

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A book of smart ideas about design

I found 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School (part of the popular series) in an airport bookshop. Thumbing through it, I learned three or four new things about design, presenting design, and how to think about design. That was enough for me. I nabbed a copy.

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A lovingly curated scrapbook biography of the late Nick Drake

When English singer/songwriter/musician Nick Drake tragically died in 1974 (ironically from an overdose of anti-depressant medication), he was not tremendously well-known. But in death, his hauntingly beautiful compositions have transformed him into a highly influential musical figure who’s inspired generations of musical artists.

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All Quiet on the Martian Front

It's not easy designing a fair and playable game of asymmetrical warfare. But that's what we have here as lumbering tripods armed with devastating heat rays take on puny human forces. Read the rest

The Thing The Book: a monument to the book as object

Wink is a site that’s dedicated to the unique and glorious qualities of the print book. Similarly, The Thing The Book celebrates all aspects of this amazing medium that revolutionized the world. Created by John Herschend and Will Rogan, the Bay Area artists behind one of my favorite subscription-based art projects, The Thing Quarterly, The Thing The Book gathers together over 30 well-known writers, artists, photographers, and thinkers, and asks them to riff on some traditional element of the book: cover, bookplate, table of contents, footnotes, endnotes, index, endpapers, etc.

The result is a collaborative art piece in book form, brilliant at times, mysterious and intriguing at others, and sometimes just plain odd and inexplicable. See celebrated author Jonathan Lethem’s single footnote, performance artist Miranda July’s tipped-in purple erratum, artist Dave Muller’s adorable flip book dancers (featuring Thom Yorke from the “Lotus Flower” video), filmmaker Mike Dion’s gallery of vintage book covers, and conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner’s ponderous thumb tab.

Essayists include art and music writer Andrew Hultkrans (on the dying book), artist and geographer Trevor Paglen (on the lonely painting of Lascaux), and artist Lucy Pullen (on story telling). Lest one forget that this book really is a celebration of the book as an object, a thing, the promotional video for it shows it being used to prop open windows, as a food serving tray, as a sleep mask, etc.

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Lynda Barry’s irresistible lesson plan for “drawing the unthinkable”

Professor Lynda Barry has been on a roll of late. First, she published her astonishing and inspired writing-workshop-in-a-book, What It Is. She followed that up with Picture This: The Near-sighted Monkey Book, which covered drawing in much the same way that What It Is approached writing. In Syllabus, Barry has published her actual hand-drawn lesson plans from her popular college class entitled “Drawing the Unthinkable.”

There is something profoundly dream-like in Syllabus – in all three of these books – like you’re mainlining Barry’s bizarre and fertile imagination, and tapping into your own via a kind of contact high. There are visual invitations on every single page of this composition-styled, hand-drawn notebook to get out your own crayons, pens, and notebook and get to work. There are a series of lessons in the book, class announcements, examples of student work, and related class notes. Where I loved and was inspired by Barry’s first two workshop books, Syllabus finally pushed me to start doing a daily art journal, one that grants me permission to play, to “draw the unthinkable” (i.e. just do it, don’t overthink it, and do it for the process, not the product). I’m 19 days in and absolutely having the time of my life.

See sample pages of Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor at Wink.

The first career-spanning book of Mark Mothersbaugh’s art was worth the wait

We all know the multimedia artistic brilliance of pioneering New Wave band Devo. And many of us know that Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh is an artist who works in other media. But even other moderately devoted fans such as myself may be surprised to realize just how multiple Mothersbaugh’s artistic talents are, how persistent, or how significant when surveyed as a whole. This is all remedied in an impressive new volume, Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia, assembled by Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Denver Director Adam Lerner.

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Beyond the Dark Veil – beautifully macabre collection of Victorian post-mortem photography


Beyond the Dark Veil is a handsome new volume exploring a fascinating, now seemingly macabre death practice.

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A post-apocalyptic quest novel about kids trying to save the world, or at least themselves

The Wrenchies is one of the most intense, dizzying, and labyrinthian graphic novels I’ve ever encountered. I’m still not exactly sure what I just read. But I liked it.

It’s hard to describe The Wrenchies. It’s a gorgeously drawn and colored 304-page graphic novel that takes place in several time periods (including a post-apocalyptic, post-adult future). The Wrenchies is a comic book within the comic book, about a group of young crusaders out to save the world. And there are the future Wrenchies and the original Wrenchies that are actually the Wrenchies from the comic book within the comic book. Confused yet? There are also wizards and magic, dark elf energy vampire zombie thingies that are filled with bugs, aliens from Proxima Centauri, mad scientists, time-travelers, a future world populated only by kid gangs (one of these gangs being the titular Wrenchies), and a scientist who lives inside of a robotic Golem-like creature. Intrigued yet?

This Lord of the Flies on acid story with Watchmen-like ambitions has so many layers, characters, plot threads, and graphical eyeball kicks on every page that you give up after awhile trying to keep everything straight. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The beautiful and richly detailed art is an absolute delight to drink in. The numerous cutaways of the various underground forts and lairs that the kids live in, the wacky inventions, the fourth-wall-breaking arrow-marked call outs on many of the pages, and the sheer crazed inventiveness of the Wrenchies’ world and its contents are worth the price of admission (and the understandable confusion).

Everything about this book requires your time and attention. We tend to breeze through comic books… er… graphic novels. This really is a 304-page book that needs to read at the pace of a novel, lingering for awhile on every page (and there are many hidden gems to encourage you to do just that). Everyone that reads it (and likes it) says they’re definitely going to read it again. I’m definitely going to read it again.

Although it’s basically a young adult novel (in attitude and subject-matter), it has some disturbing violence and a fair amount of profanity in it. But if you have a YA reader for whom these are not issues, they’ll likely adore this book. And as an adult, if you’re OK with a book that defies easy digestion but rewards deeper engagement, join The Wrenchies on their perilous quest.

Check out a gallery of sample pages from The Wrenchies at Wink.

WWI trench poetry given gorgeous graphical treatment

I’ve always been fascinated by WWI trench art – objets d’art fashioned from bullet and shell casings and other materials found in the trenches and battlefields of that hellish quagmire. My general interest in WWI military history has also brought me to other artistic expressions of it, like Benjamin Brittens’ War Requiem and the war poetry of Wilfred Owen. 

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics was put together by New York Times’ bestselling editor, Chris Duffy. The collection honors the centennial of the “Great War” in a unique way, by combining some of the most celebrated “trench poets” of the time with some of today’s most accomplished cartoonists. The works of such poets as Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen are given the comic strip treatment by Garth Ennis, Peter Kuper, Hannah Berry, Anders Nilsen, Eddie Campbell, and others.

The textual spareness of the comic form really does lend itself to poetry, so it seems a perfect marriage. But I have to admit, while I really enjoyed and was moved by the experience of this book, the disparity between the writing style of early 20th century poetry and modern comic art did seem at odds at times. And as poetry is supposed to be personally-evocative, I thought the pieces that worked best were the ones that kept the art sparse, moody, and not a literal interpretation of the verse. I really enjoyed the soldier’s songs and how they were comically interpreted.

All in all, Above the Dreamless Dead is a very bold and innovative way of re-enlivening this literature in a new way. The poetry is intense, haunting, and sad, the art is top-notch, and the production on this little volume is impeccable. Bravo to First Second, a publisher I get a bigger crush on with each new release.

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics by Chris Duffy (editor)

Take a look at other beautiful paper books at Wink. And sign up for the Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

Mein Führer, I can walk!

I finally hit on the idea of going as Dr. Strangelove for Halloween. I already had the 50s slim-cut suit, the glasses, the cigarette, the black leather glove. All I really needed was a blonde wig. By Gareth BranwynRead the rest

Megahex - An occult-dressed stoner comic

Megahex, by Simon Hanselmann, is a collection of his Megg and Mogg strips, first featured on his Girl Mountain Tumblr. The comic is an existential stoner tale that is part Furry Freak Brothers, part Beavis and Butthead, and part Jean Paul Sartre (with some Jackass thrown in for good measure).

The comic concerns Megg, a green-skinned witch, her familiar/friend, the cigarette and weed puffing black cat, Mogg, and a whack-a-doodle supporting cast: Owl (an anthropomorphized owl), Mike (a warlock), Robot (guess), Booger (a female Boogeyman), and Werewolf Jones (who likes to cheese-grate his scrotum). This bizarre group of friends do little more than sit around, bong-ripping themselves into oblivion, while playing cruel pranks on each other and pontificating on the state of their miserable lives. The witch, warlock, and other horror movie “dress,” at first seems superfluous (the series takes its name and affect from the 70s Meg and Mog comics, about a witch and her cat). But after awhile, it’s obvious that the monstrous nature of the characterization is an outward expression of crippling alienation and how they truly feel about themselves. They are not monsters, they just feel that way.

It would be easy to dismiss Megahex as another stoner comic. But there’s so much lurking beneath the seemingly superficial surfaces – questions about friendship, loyalty, love, drug addiction, sexual identity, and hopelessness. There are plenty of hysterical Darwin Award-worthy situations in Megahex, but that’s not likely to be your takeaway. And what you’ll leave with is far scarier than any spook house frights; the fear of looking deeply at yourself in the mirror and finding a monster (or nothing) in your place.

Note: I love that more publishers are starting to do book tour videos, where an unseen hand pages through the book. You can see one such video for Megahex here.

Megahex by Simon Hanselmann

Take a look at other beautiful paper books at Wink. And sign up for the Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

Thoughts on Design – Paul Rand’s iconic design manifesto back in print

Decades ago, when I was a budding graphic designer, I found a copy of iconic designer Paul Rand’s then out-of-print Thoughts on Design at the annual State Department book sale in DC (a mecca for bookworms). The modest little tome made a big impression on me. Rand’s insistence on the integrity of form and function, his immaculately modern designs, and his brilliant sense of humor (often with cleverly hidden visual puns in his designs) really helped wire my nervous system as a designer.

Sadly, this seminal book has been out of print since the 1970s. But no longer. For the centenary of Rand’s birth (Aug 15, 1914), Chronicle has re-released Thoughts on Design. The new edition remains faithful to the 1970s edition (the one I had), with the addition of a new foreword by designer Michael Bierut.

One impressive thing about Rand’s book to me was always how much he was able to say about the nature of good design in 96 short pages (with the majority of those pages reproductions of his work). He was a master at arriving at designs that boiled down the essence of the intended messages, be it an advertisement or a corporate identity, and he similarly renders out the heart of basic design philosophy in this book. Take passages like:

There are, however, instances when recognizable images are of sufficient plastic expressiveness to make the addition of geometric or “abstract” shapes superfluous.

So, with that principle in mind, he inverts wooden coat hangers to make a flock of birds for a spring apparel poster.

Looking through this book, you realize how many monumental logos he was responsible for: ABC, UPS, Westinghouse, IBM, Ikea, Adobe, the list goes on. As a designer, I always marveled at the Westinghouse logo. Something so absurdly simple, so potently suggestive of electronics and light bulbs, and something that was just so pleasing to look at (and easy to apply in branding/packaging). To me, that logo boiled down the essence of Paul Rand’s genius, and the wisdom and the portfolio of work found in this book.

Thoughts On Design, by Paul Rand ($12)

Take a look at other beautiful paper books at Wink. And sign up for the Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

What It Is – How to channel your inner cephalopod

David Letterman sometimes says, of certain eccentric (usually brilliant) people: “She (or he) ain’t hooked up right.” He means it as a compliment. Lynda Barry definitely ain’t hooked up right – and we’re all more enriched for the strange wiring.

So, it’s no surprise that when the well-known comic artist sat down to write a book about the craft of writing (based on her popular writing workshops), she’d end up with something utterly unlike any previous writing guide. Like all of Barry’s work, What It Is is disarmingly personal and brilliantly playful and chaotic.

This densely collaged book is utterly uncategorizable – so many modes of expression are at work here: a textbook/workbook on inspiring creative writing and cultivating creativity of all kinds, a comic-memoir of Barry’s personal struggles with creativity and self-expression as a child, a stunning and challenging piece of collage/altered book art, and a sort of extended fever dream on the nature of memory, imagination, play, and creativity.

Barry’s ultimate message is about waking up to yourself, to your potential as a creative being. It’s an extended pep talk on finding the inspiration between your ears and using your senses and memories of life experiences to express yourself in ways that can truly enrich your life. It’s hard not to open up this book, poke your head into its dream-like sea of memory-ticklers, imaginative ideas, creative inspiration, and surreal imagery, and not want to put it down immediately to go make something of your own. As if to drive home the beastly, manifold nature of our deepest reservoirs of creativity, Barry introduces the Magic Cephalopod (aka squid), a sort of creature from the Id, who swims through the murky depths of the text, its many appendages constantly in creative motion, gently encouraging us to swim off on some grand adventure inside of the Mariana Trench of our own imaginations.

What It Is
by Lynda Barry
Drawn & Quarterly
2008, 209 pages, 8.5 x 11 x 1 inches

Take a look at other beautiful paper books at Wink. And sign up for the Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

Into the Future! The Making of Beyond Cyberpunk!

The gestation and birth of Beyond Cyberpunk! and Borg Like Me as narrated by Gareth Branwyn. Read the rest

Bomb Run – 1950s-era war comics filled with intense ironic twists and surprise endings

Part of Fantagraphics’ fabulous EC Library series, collecting and beautifully-presenting the best of Max and William Gaines’ EC Comics, Bomb Run collects the 50s-era war comics of Kurtzman and Severin.

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Borg Like Me

Inside Gareth Branwyn there's a Duroloc 100 acetabular titanium cup with sintered titanium beads for in-bone growth adhesion and a bleeding-edge Marathon polyethylene liner with irradiated cross-linked polymers for tighter bonding and longer wear rates.Read the rest

Mind Blowing Movies: Blade Runner (1982), by Gareth Branwyn

Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark

Like Tears in the Rain, by Gareth Branwyn

[Video Link] In 1982, my wife and I had just moved from a rural commune in Virginia to Washington, DC. We moved to the city so that she could pursue her music career (among other reasons). We were still country mice, easily awoken in the morning by street traffic, bothered by the air quality, and longing for the open skies of the country -- where, at night, you could see the stardust of the Milky Way clear as day.

Every year my wife would go to Nantucket to perform at a restaurant called The Brotherhood of Thieves -- a place that wouldn't look at all out of place in Treasure Island. It was dark, brick-walled, candle and lantern-lit, with big oak-slab tables and wooden ass-numbing chairs. In 1982, she was performing a duo act with well-known New England folkie Linda Worster, with whom she frequently played on the island.

Seeing them perform every night was a joy, but some nights I'd want to drift onto the streets of Nantucket, get swept up into the tide of pink and Nantucket-red golf clothes and flouncy summer dresses, and see where the night might wash me up.

On this night, a somewhat cold and cloudy one, I ended up under the marquee of Nantucket's Dreamland Theater, a giant, creaking, wooden ship of a building that smelled of mold, popcorn grease, and sunscreen.

Blade Runner, it read. I knew nothing about the film, but it was sci-fi and had Harrison Ford in it, so I figured it'd at least be the perfect way to kill a couple of hours before the ladies' last set. Little did I know that I was stepping into a portal and would emerge a different person, on a different life trajectory than the person who was stumbling down the shabby carpet in the dark, looking for a seat.

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RAW Week: Mindfucking Since 1976, by Gareth Branwyn


Above: Gareth's original copies of The Illuminatus Trilogy.

“It's not true unless it makes you laugh, but you don't understand it until it makes you weep.” -- Illuminatus!

I first discovered Robert Anton Wilson when I was 18 years old. I'd just moved to a commune in the tobacco fields of central Virginia and was working for the magazine that the community published. Wilson and Bob Shea's Illuminatus! trilogy had just been published and I sent off for a review copy on the magazine's letterhead. I was shocked when Dell actually sent me the books. I had no idea what Illuminatus! was; I thought I was getting some free trash sci-fi to kill time down on the farm.

The first few chapters in and I knew I wasn't reading sci-fi, not any kind I recognized, anyway. Reading the first book, The Eye in the Pyramid, then the second, The Golden Apple, and then the third, Leviathan, was like going on an extended acid trip, complete with that phasing delirium of humor and the absurd, flashes of diamond clarity and numerous a-ha moments, awkward sexual arousal, plenty of cartoonery, fear, paranoia, and maybe a little out-and-out terror. (It's no coincidence these books are divided up into ten “Trips.”) There is so much to Illuminatus!, an almost fractal density, that you have to unhinge your mind (like a serpent would its jaw) to fit it all in. I read the trilogy, and then read it again. (When my late-wife and I hooked up, we read them out loud to each other, and after Bob died, I read them for a fourth time.)

There are few works of art or pieces of media that have altered my nervous system to the extent that Illuminatus! has. In 1976, I was this awkward, alienated Wiccan teen, a restless seeker. But I was also a science and space nerd. I could never reconcile these two and constantly switched between them, rejecting one for the other, at least for a time. But here was a world where these points of view were not mutually exclusive, a playfully plastic world where open curiosity, creativity, absurdity, and skepticism leavened all explorations, whether religious/mystical/artistic or scientific. It was Robert Anton Wilson who turned me onto the concept of “hilaritas” (what he described as being “profoundly good natured”). These books (and all of RAW's oeuvre) are steeped in that spirit.

Illuminatus!, and all of the Robert Anton Wilson books that I read after that (which is all of them), have formed an amazingly steady through-line in my life. I've gone through many intense changes since that 18 year old kid scammed free reading material, and my belief systems (or “BS” as RAW called them) have oscillated wildly, but most of my takeaways from Wilson have remained. His basic approach of being “open to anything, skeptical of everything” is how I've tried to live my life. This allowed me to finally embrace both parts of myself, the part that wanted to be open to magick and spirit and the part of me that needs extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims.

In recent past, I'd somewhat fallen out of touch with RAW's unique brand of “guerrilla ontology” until a few years before he died. Some friends were on their honeymoon, traveling through the deserts of Utah. They found the 5-volume set of audio interviews that Bob had done called Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything: Or Old Bob Exposes His Ignorance, in the bargain bin of a truck stop. They aren't particularly into this sort of thing, but more based on my interest, they bought the set. They listened to it on their honeymoon and enjoyed it so much, they bought me a copy. I now listen to it regularly and can't recommend it highly enough.

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Signing Off

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

Well that, as they say, is that. It's time for me to clear out my desk, return the keys to the executive washroom, and bounce. It's been a profound pleasure hanging out here for the last two and half weeks. It was so much fun to write about things other than technology for a change. But that seems to be my calling -- to write about tech that sucks less and people doin' it for themselves -- so back into the datamines I march. Speaking of which, I just finished guest editing the Lost Knowledge (aka Steampunk) theme for MAKE Volume 17. Content includes an amazing Whimshurst Influence Machine project by Jake von Slatt, how to build a tea cup Sterling engine, and how to create your own Wunderkammer (Cabinet of Wonders). I also have a piece on William Blake and his invented method of relief-etching. The issue hits newsstands March 10th. A million thanks to Mark, David, Xeni, Cory, and Joel for this outstanding opportunity. I owe you all indecent favors. Here are all of my posting, shamelessly reiterated, for those who may have missed some (and so I have one place to link to): UPDATE: People have been asking me about the robo-portrait of me in this post. It was done by Ben Rollman. Info about my "sitting" here. A video of it is here. He'll do one of you for $15.

The Musical Illusionist, Now Appearing at the Hotel St. George

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

Like McSweeny's, Hotel St. George is a painfully hip lit website and print publisher that satisfyingly delivers on its pretensions. Their website is stunning, one of the more impressively-designed sites I've seen. And their print publishing efforts are truly unique, infused with wonder and playful, brainy ideas for presenting and telling stories.
I'm currently reading writer and filmmaker Alex Rose's The Musical Illusionist and Other Tales ($14.95). It's one of the most imaginative and unconventional collections I've read in years. It's really fired up my imagination. Here's the back cover copy which, while typically breathless, accurately describes the whimsy and weirdness contained within.
Disappearing manuscripts. Profane numbers. Extinct bacteria. Cities without shadows. A language spoken entirely in rhythms. A man deaf solely to the waltzes of Chopin. These are among the many anomalies to be found in the Library of Tangents, a vast underground archive whose beguiling exhibitions are detailed by Alex Rose in his exquisite debut collection, The Musical Illusionist. A masterful fusion of science-historic precision and magical-realistic caprice, this Pandora's Box of curious tales stands in the tradition of Borges, Calvino and Pavic, blending the playfulness and mythic wonder of folk tales with the complexity and richness of modern thought. Together, these interlaced parables chart an inebriating realm of possibility, the secret passageways that lie between words and meanings, neurons and thoughts, space and time, fact and fiction, sound and music–and in doing so, activate that rare, dreaming rapture one felt as a child, entranced.
The book is as beautiful as it is eccentric, with real scientific illustrations, religious art, maps, and cryptographic manuscripts helping to sell the bait and switch of the "truth" where each story begins with the farcical world where each story ends up.
The latest offering from Hotel St. George is Correspondences ($50, incl. shipping), by Ben Greenman, a limited-edition series of letterpressed stories on thick accordion-fold paper tucked inside of pockets, inside of a slip case. Three two-sided accordions hold six stories. A seventh story is contained on the packaging and there's also an included post card that you can return with your idea for finishing the seventh story. Worthy submissions are being posted on the HSG website. This is a beautiful piece of book art that will especially appeal to collectors of new letterpress work.

Random Acts of Poetic Bookmarking

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

I love sites like Bookcrossing (where books are left out in public and their journeys, from reader to reader, are tracked vis the web) and Where is George? (when stamped dollar bills are tracked in a similar way), so I was tickled to have someone send me info about NamelessleTTer, a collaborative art bookmarking project, where bookmarks are made and stashed inside of library books, books in stores, etc.
The goal is to provoke curiosity (to encourage people to visit libraries and bookstores in hopes of discovering one of these bookmarks), to bring a new and exciting aspect to book reading in a world that is becoming increasingly digital, and to interact with other people.
The bookmarks usually offer some commentary or comic relief on the title in which they're placed. Here are a few bookmarks from the site and the books in which they're found:
Left in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire


Left in Where Is God When It Hurts?


Left in: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Moving Paintings From Inside

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

In 1993, I was honored to be asked by my friend, artist and musician John Bergin, to write the precis for his graphic novel From Inside. It was an exciting time. Kevin Eastman, fat with cash from the meteoric success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, created the Tundra imprint and published such ground-breaking work as Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz's Big Numbers, Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell, Stephen R. Bissette's Taboo, and Dave McKean's Cages. Bergin and his friend James O'Barr brought over The Crow, Kerosene, and the Bone Saw collection. And then there was From Inside. In the introduction, I wrote:
John Bergin's work exists in a world of perpetual darkness and droning ambiance. His artistry lies not so much in his ability to maintain this consistent dark vision (which he does with a vengeance), but in his ability to build a rich and complex world inside such a singular dimension. He has the ability to dance right on the edge of suffocating nihilism, while providing just enough oxygen to sustain life.The beauty of his art uplifts you, while its devastating message crushes you to dust.
From Inside has always been a film, even when it was a comic book. When I first got the galleys and began thumbing through it, I saw storyboards, I saw frames and camera angles, I saw sweeps and transitions. The experience on the page was extremely cinematic. So it makes sense that John would want to go the other way and make a film that feels like reading a comic book in motion. And no, we're not talking about a comic book being adapted to the big screen as a full-blown animation. John worked with the original art from the book and did the ol' Ken Burns Effect on the panels, adding some animation elements, and 3D models and set pieces. The result feels like a mash-up between a static comic book, a pop-up book, and full-blown 3D animation. Its "bookness" is more intact than other comics made into films.
The main characters of From Inside are Cee, a young pregnant woman, and a seemingly endless steam train. John has always had a "thing" for trains and that adoration comes through in the immense detail of the 3D models and animation, the texture maps, the sounds, and smoke effects. It's a giant beast of a machine (literally in some scenes). It's mind-boggling to consider that John did nearly all of this work himself (the credits for the over-one-hour film are ridiculously short) on a Apple G5 Dual 2.7 running Maya, Photoshop, and AfterEffects. Some shots took weeks to render. One took over a month. John ended up spending 2-1/2 years of his life on this effort. The story of From Inside opens with the pregnant Cee on the train as it traverses a post-apocalyptic landscape. As we fall into the sonorous rhythms of the train, we hear the gentle voice of Cee:
I have tried and tried to remember how this wasteland came to be. I don't remember where I got on this train and I don't know where it's going. What difference does it make? When the end of the world has come, it's too late to wonder why.
From there, the train slows and stops at one whistle stop of horror and devastation after another. Cee's experiences on and around the train bleed into the dreams and nightmares she's having in the little womb-like compartment she's been given by the engineers. Through her narration, we learn of life on this helltrain and are made privy to her most intimate fears, her grieving over the loss of her husband, and her total apprehension over bringing a child into this world. And it's that last bit that From Inside is really about. It's a nightmare meditation on fears of being pregnant, questioning the sanity of bringing a child into an insane world, and the generalized, frequently irrational, fears young pregnant couples have over the devastating impact a newborn will bring down upon their lives. However it will work out in the end, it will surely be catastrophic to your pre-child life. And the certainty of that can be terrifying.
If you're looking for happy endings here, look out. (John jokingly calls it "the most depressing film ever made.") Like the novel, John rations use of the oxygen throughout. When the film ended, it was all I could do to keep my head out of my oven. But in the end, I was more satisfied than bummed -- I'd had the unique opportunity to climb inside of a book, a world, that has intrigued me since the day I was introduced to it. You can watch a preview of From Inside on the movie's website and read the blog John has kept throughout the project. The film is currently traveling the animation and film festival circuit, and not surprisingly, scooping up a number of awards. See the News section of his site for the screenings schedule.

"Mysteries" Magical Tour

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

Manly Palmer Hall has been called the America Madame Blavatsky, which probably isn't far from the truth. Like the controversial Russian-born founder of Theosophy, Hall seemed dedicated to quantity over quality in his writing (authoring more than 50 books on esoterica and self-help), and like Helena, the troubling smell of snake oil swirled in his rotund wake. Manly P Hall is one of the people principally responsible for the birth of the New Age religious movement in the United States, first in LA, starting in the '20s, and then beyond, through his writings and endless lecturing. While some of his lesser works, like Questions Answered on the Problems of Life by Manly P Hall, Philosopher, may have proven less than influential, his occult encyclopedia The Secret Teachings of All Ages was a bedrock influence on New Age thought then, and to some extent, remains so today (Secret Teachings still sells well, as is now in its 16th edition). LA Times staff writer Louis Sahagun's biography, Master of the Mysteries: The Life of Manly Palmer Hall (Process Media) is an engrossing look inside, not only the life of this self-taught philosopher and spiritual teacher, but the growth of the often bizarre alternative religious movements that were busting out all over Southern California in the first half of the 20th century. This is Hollywood Babylon in Egyptian ankhs and yoga pants. Actors, artists, musicians, politicians, and scientists of the time flocked to hear Hall lecture on the mysteries of East, self-help psychology, and secret societies. Allegedly blessed with photographic memory, Hall was capable of absorbing huge amounts of information and then reformatting it into his own books, frequently under suspicions of plagiarism and playing fast and loose with facts and legitimate sources (another dubious distinction he shared with Blavatsky). Through Sahagun's engaging text and lots of photos and bits of ephemera (lecture ticket stubs, news clippings, plans for Mayan temples in downtown Hollywood, hand-written death threats), we're taken on an amazing LSDisney trip through the most surreal spiritual theme park imaginable. We get lots of juicy gossip along the way about the Hollywood of the times, a creative-community as hungry as it will ever be for deeper levels of meaning, rejuvenation, and fulfillment. As if to cap off this bizarre tale with a scene cut straight from gas-lit celluloid, Hall died under gruesome and mystery circumstances. Foul play was suspected when he was found dead on top of an unslept-in bed with traces of dirt around his face and thousands of black ants streaming from his nose, mouth, and ears. The LA Coroner's Office subsequently botched the autopsy, the investigation was poorly handled, and the case was never solved. Even when I was a teen seeker and into a lot of fluffy New Age beliefs and practices, I got a bad odor from a lot of Manly P. Hall's work and tended to steer clear of it. (Color me an unimaginative skeptic, but I found the whole Mayan temple in downtown Hollywood to be a tad on the flamboyant side.) So, I went into this book without a lot of respect for its subject. I can't say that opinion was significantly changed, but I do think I understand "Dr" Hall a lot better now. This was obviously an extraordinarily smart man who fervently believed in what he was talking about. You gotta give the guy props for passion. He remains the most prolific writer of mysticism and the occult and he continued lecturing until his likely-murder at 89. What I found most interesting in this story was the parallels between Hall and another Southern California occult resident of the time, Jack Parsons (covered in another recommended Feral House book Sex and Rockets -- Process is an imprint of Feral House). Parsons was also self-educated, began his occult career at an early age, had matinee-idol good looks and an impressive ability to learn things quickly, hobnobbed with bohemian Hollywood, saw himself as birthing a new religion, and died under mysterious circumstances (though Parsons' death was likely an accident). They also each had their own court "confidence men," Hall, the mysterious colonic-loving "Dr. Fritz" (suspected in Hall's death), and Parsons, the reality-barnstorming L. Ron Hubbard. Ultimately, the most fascinating character in Master of the Mysteries is the City of Angels herself. Through the tale of one of her more extraordinary residents, we can almost feel a new city emerging, one with an identity like no other. And with her naive sense of wonder and an openness to new ideas, new beliefs, and novel experiences comes a lot of seriously weird shit. Previously: L.A.’s occult roots: Master of the Mysteries

Shuffle Deep the Gathering Gloom

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

For all of my writing about role-playing and tabletop wargaming (I used to host a sci-fi tabletop modeling site), I've actually not spent that much time heavy-duty gaming, at least not since I was a teen/20-something. Most of my gaming time in adulthood, and definitely my most enjoyable time, has been playing various light-duty card games. Since a lot of my friends are not as deeply geeky as I am, it's often hard to get them to sit still long enough to learn rules for an RPG or tabletop game, and by the time they've created a character or an army, the little lightweights are tired (many of them have these bizarre constructs I don't understand called "day jobs") and they need to head home. Card games usually have easier rules, quicker play times, and tend to be more social/less serious (proverbial beer and pretzel games). I've never played a game of Steve Jackson's Chez Geek without everyone involved, regardless of how into such games they are, not coming away having had a ball. I can't recommend that game, and its spin-offs (Chez Goth, Chez Guevara -- for all your leftie-commie friends, etc), highly enough. And for the anarcho-libertarians in the chez, there's always Illuminati. It's more "medium-duty" than Chez Geek, but still suitable for general play. I've been playing that game since it was one of the infamous "pocket box" games (go Car Wars!). My most recent attempt at feeding my friends a gateway drug to deeper gaming nerdom is Keith Baker's Gloom, from Atlas Games. I tend to be attracted to games with gimmicks and this has a great one. The cards are printed on clear plastic. As you play your hand, and cover the cards you've laid down with further draws, the cards change values/capabilities, depending on which attributes show through the card stacks. The other thing that attracted me to the game is the objective. As you play, you try to increase the happiness of the other players' characters, while increase the miserable things that happen to yours (you choose from four families of dysfunctional freaks in the core game). You want to end up with the gloomiest family in the end. Gloom good, happy bad. (Does Morrissey know about this?) The artwork on the cards is really lovely, evocative of Gorey, Addams, and Lemony Snicket. The game is designed for 2-4 players and the rules are fairly simple, so even older kids can play. Unfortunately, since I bought it over Christmas, I haven't been able to cajole anybody into playing it with me yet. Pocket-Protector Barbie sez: "Being a geek is HARD."

Fractally-delicious Papercraft

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jen Stark, and seeing her work, at the wonderful Civilian Art Projects in DC last year. Her paper-based sculptures are mind-bogglingly meticulous (lots of precise snips and X-Acto slices of construction paper), and lyrical as all get-out; bursts of unwinding cellulose sunshine. Above is an Art Street profile of Jen. Previous post on Boing Boing

Last Gasp on My Doorstep

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

There are a lot of things that can suck about being a freelance writer: long, solitary hours, throwing pitches at magazines like so much spaghetti against a wall (with nothing sticking), low pay, no benefits, having to discipline yourself to stay in the saddle, while sunshine, or a nap, or The Daily Show strum their sexy siren songs. One thing that does not suck is getting lots of free shit: books, CDs, movies, t-shirts, free trips to exotic locales (if you're the type that succumbs to the latter, somewhat questionable, job perk). When I knew I was going to be doing this-here Boing Boing Guest Blogging gig, I wrote off for some books I might want to review. I saw in my latest issue of Hi-Fructose that there was a new Chris Mars book, called Tolerance. And there was that new Attaboy postcards collection. Oh, and there was also that last Ron English book. I sent an email off to the Last Gasp PR guy and asked if I could see review copies of these. He wrote back and said sure and he'd send some other titles I might be interested in as well. A week or so later, a box showed up on my front porch which was so heavy, I could barely muscle it into the house. I can't tell you how excited I was as I recklessly knived into it. It was crammed tight with thick, nutritious tree meat. Besides the books I'd asked for, there was a collection of legendary montage artist Winston Smith's work, called All Riot on the Western Front, the horror-comedy manga of Tokyo Zombie, a book from the godfather of low-brow Robert Williams, called Through Prehensile Eyes, an oversized book of unsettling kiddie-pink perversion from Gary Baseman, called Dying of Thirst (taken from his "I Melt in Your Presence" show), Limited Edition: The Art and Design of GAMA-GO (the only place you'll find all of GAMA-GO's limited-release designs), a lovely, hefty tome of Basil Wolverton's lifework, called The Original Art of Basil Wolverton, the list goes on. This motherload of fringe-art awesomeness arrived just days before Christmas. It was like my very own Christmas Story, except my winning prize sucked a lot less than a mannequin leg lamp. I ended up getting some nice gifts for the holidays, but I couldn't help coming back to that box, both literally and figuratively, as the real Yuletide score. So, a million thanks to Last Gasp. I cherish these amazing books that you sent, but I may have to boil and eat some of them if times get any tougher.
Interestingly enough, with all of these books to ogle and sniff, it was the two I asked for in the first place, Chris Mars' Tolerance and Ron English's Abject Expressionism, that got the biggest rise out of me, and my art-student son, Blake. Chris' work is undeniably strident in its political message, but the rawness of the anger, the clarity of the shouting, is so crystalline-sharp, and its all rendered with such technical virtuosity. This guy is definitely the George Grosz of the 21st century. I love the way all of his figures look almost like they've been flayed alive to reveal their naked truth beneath. Like Grosz, he manages to render macabre beauty in the most staggering depictions of ugliness and terror. My son and I reverently paged through Ron English's book, laughing, gasping, and generally marveling at the perverse genius behind it all. It reminded me of being high and watching TV with the sound off, the rank idiocy of "the Spew" so clearly revealed. English Cuisinarts cultural icons, commercial trash, and sacred cows (literal cows, even) into such an intoxicating slurry, I literally felt like my consciousness had been altered by the time we were through. Ron English shreds icons and brand identities like a guitar hero. He's the Jimi Hendrix of culture jamming.

Show Us Your Saints

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

I was raised Catholic (thanks, I'm better now). I also spent my teen years studying meditation, yoga, and eastern religions. So maybe through this upbringing, I tend to think in terms of teachers, gurus, saints, heroes, muses, angels, and daemons -- no longer in a theological sense, but I still find use for these concepts, at least in a poetic, symbolic sense. When I was kid, I loved all of the trappings of the saints: the icons, the medallions, the miracle stories, the statues, relics, the veneration. I'm a pagan at heart, and when you think about it, this is nothing more than high paganism, ceremonial magick. I loved the idea that there are different saints that help, guide, and protect you under different circumstances. And I loved that they represent different virtues and qualities you could meditate on and try to emulate, as you lit candles and prayed to icons. Recently, I've come to the realization that I still engage in something of this practice. I have various "teachers" in my life -- writers, philosophers, artists, and scientists -- whose work holds a powerful influence over me. They've become hugely symbolic in my life and have come to represent different aspects of myself that I wish to improve and magnify. I keep them close to me, mainly in collections of books in my library that I browse and "meditate" on whenever I am in need of a little inspiration. Below is my list of "saints." Do you have such a pantheon? These are more than your heroes. These are the people that you think have taught you the most, that you near-venerate in your love and respect for them, and whom you feel have helped form the bedrock of your beliefs and worldview. My "Saints" (and what they represent to me) William Blake - I venerate this guy above all others. He's the closest thing I have to a guru. His entire mission in life was to use his art and ideas to wake us all up from the somnambulism he believed the State, organized religion, even our own sensoria, were cursed to induce in us. I use him as my constant reminder to stay awake and creative, keep my imagination expansive, and to "fight the power." Gregory Bateson - A father of cybernetics. Bateson was something of a saint to the Whole Earth folks and Whole Earth was a huge influence on me. Bateson was the one who introduced me to Blake. Bateson reminds me to look at relationships over objects and for patterns that connect. And to tie all of my ideas and beliefs with slipknots. Robert Anton Wilson - In the CD interview series with Bob Wilson, Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything, the interviewer states that RAW had spent a career collecting, trading in, and writing about conspiracy theories, the paranormal, and the like, but he doesn't appear to buy into much of it. So why does he spend so much time exploring such things? "It keeps my mind supple" is Wilson's reply. That elevates him to sainthood in my pantheon. Wilson also embodied the virtue of hilaritas to me. And he remind me to embrace the absurd. Wilson was also "open to anything, but skeptical of everything." Bucky Fuller - Fuller's mission in life was to see how much a single "human intelligence unit" could create, learn, and experience -- what one person could do to make the world a better place -- in a lifetime. Amazingly, he embarked on that mission, on the other side of an aborted suicide attempt, in his mid-30s. Everything we know about Buckminster Fuller happened after that. I also venerate Bucky's optimism, faith in human ingenuity, and in the transformative powers of science and technology. Aleister Crowley - I hate "The Beast" as much as I love him. He represents my faith in the powers of thelema (will) and agape (love) and the notion of syncretism. And I try to live by his motto "The method of science, the aim of religion." Say what you want against him (and there's plenty to say), but his influence on modern, at least bohemian, culture and on alternative religions has been huge. He was such a significant influence on me in my youth it would be disingenuous to not include him. And every list of apostles needs a Judas. (Sadly, there are no women on my list. I racked my brain. I could come up with women I greatly admire, lots of artists and musicians, but no one who's risen to the level I'm thinking about here.) So, who are YOUR saints? What lessons, virtues, ideas, or qualities do they represent for you?