Boing Boing 

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.

William Blake's final drawings given a spectacular send off

The story goes that William Blake worked until the very day he died. His final drawing was said to be a portrait of his wife sitting by his deathbed. Earlier in the day, he had spent his last shilling on a pencil. He'd been commissioned two years earlier by friend and patron (and fellow painter) John Linnell to do a series of illustrations for Dante's The Divine Comedy. Friends would frequently give Blake work to keep him and his wife fed and to keep him creating art. It was these images that he was working on when, on August 12, 1827, he finally laid down his pencil and left his “mundane shell,” allegedly drifting away “signing songs of his own design.”

There have been other published editions of Blake's 102 sketches and watercolors in his Dante series, but nothing has ever come close to this stunning edition from Taschen. We've come to expect impressive art books from Taschen, but the “out of box experience” on this gem was off the charts. First, it's impressively big and heavy, at an outsized 18” x 12” and 324 pages. When I opened the shipping box and found a cardboard briefcase inside, I thought whatever was inside better be something special. Hefting this giant buckram-covered tome from the case and cracking it open soon had me gasping, squealing, and feeling as dizzy as a teenage girl at a Beatles' concert.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a serious William Blake obsession. I have a significant library of and about him, have traveled far to see his exhibitions, and I've memorized dozens of his poems. And yes, even some of his long-form prophetic ones. Preface to Milton, anyone? But even with all that, I was ill prepared for the impact of this book. It is breathtakingly beautiful. The production is impeccable. The paper they used is so heavily woven, the book is basically printed on linen, thick and sumptuous. I don't know how they managed to produce such spectacularly vivid images on such textured paper, but the printing is just that—spectacular.

The book not only contains the 102 illustrations, fourteen of which fold out, but there are also extensive excerpts from The Divine Comedy as well as two fascinating essays about Dante and Blake and the tradition of artists inspired by Dante's work, including Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Doré, and Auguste Rodin. And, of course, the works of these other artistic giants are given the same glorious treatment.

This is the first book I've ever reviewed where I don't feel guilty about telling you that I haven't finished it. In fact, I'm not even halfway through. This book is so impressive and high-impact to me, I can only handle a few pages a night. And I look forward to those before-bed sit downs every evening.

The other impressive thing about this book is that it's available at Amazon for under $95. Even at its full retail of $150, it would be a bargain. William Blake: The Drawings for Dante's Divine Comedy is almost as impressive as the Folio Society's Edward Young's Night Thoughts (with over 530 watercolors by Blake) and that book costs $1700.

William Blake: The Drawings for Dante's Divine Comedy
by Sebastian Schütze and Maria Antonietta Terzoli
Taschen
2014, 324 pages, 12.8 x 18 x 3 inches
$94 Buy one on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Olympians Zeus, Athena, Hera, Poseidon, Hades and Aphrodite are each featured in this beautiful 6-volume boxed set

When I was a teen, I really wanted to like Greek mythology, but the complexity of the pantheon and some of the absurdities of the stories lost me rather than sucked me in. I quickly became confused and bored. Over the years, I've gained a greater appreciation and understanding of classical mythology, but I haven't gone back to try and relearn everything I couldn't retain in school. Until now, thanks to George O'Conner's impressive Olympians box set.

The set contains six volumes, Zeus (King of the Gods), Athena (Warrior Goddess), Hera (Goddess of the Air, Sky, and Heavens), Poseidon (God of the Sea), Hades (Lord of the Dead), and Aphrodite (Goddess of Love). Each one runs 85 pages, and besides the origin story (and a few other key tales) for each god, there are also author notes, a summary of the key characters in each book, a recommended reading list, and even a series of discussion questions. The author and publisher definitely designed these books to be taught to young people and I would definitely recommend them to teachers, home schoolers, and students who want to learn of the “august residents of Mount Olympus” (as the back cover puts it) in a fun and resonant way. These books are really beautifully illustrated and produced. Most of the book covers include spot foil stamping. The Zeus cover is seriously cool, with the silver lightning in his hands actually flashing dramatically as you move the cover to catch the light. I dare you to hold this book in your hands and not want to move it around and make thunder sounds like a ten year old (OK, maybe that's just me).

The six volumes come in a handsome slipcase, which also includes a large full-color poster of the pantheon on one side and an extensive Olympian family tree on the other. Although these books are in comic book form, with spare dialog, they still manage to pack in a lot of story and paint a fairly complete portrait of each god. I wish I'd had these books when I was a kid.

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Olympians Boxed Set
by George O'Connor
First: Second
2014, 480 pages, 7.6 x 10.2 x 1.6 inches (paperback)
$36 Buy one on Amazon

Unstick stuck doors, windows, and drawers

When we moved into our house in 1999, it came filled with stuff. There was an old lady who was retiring so she didn’t need to take the weed-whacker and snow-blower to the retirement home, so she just left everything and they were obviously people that loved really good perennial tools. One thing they left was this thing called Door Ease, which is a stick of wax for unsticking drawers ($4.71 on Amazon). I thought, “Oh, that’s cool,” and then one day five years later I had a sticky drawer and I said, “Wait I have the technology!” so I went downstairs and got my Door Ease and it hasn’t stuck since.

Dörfler by Jeremy Baum is a hallucinogen in print

Two worlds, a futuristic dystopian city, and a dense, dreamy forest realm with a mysterious stone temple in it. Two reoccurring sigils, an eye inside of a 7-pointed star and a square inside of a square. And three women who seem to leak in and out of each other's dreams. This is the ponderous world of Jeremy Baum's debut graphic novel, Dörfler. You don't so much read this book (the narrative is quite sparse) as dream along to it. I read it once, had no idea what had just happened (in a delightfully disorienting kind of way), read it again, and still had no clearer idea of the point. But whatever Jeremy Baum is selling, I bought it. This is a very lovely and compelling piece that rewards repeated visits without ever completely resolving itself. Like Luke Ramsey's Intelligent Sentient?, this book is a hallucinogen in print. It is obviously meant as a kind of graphical meditation on time, memory, dream states, erotic revelry, and the mysteries of consciousness.

Baum doesn't so much tell a linear tale as frantically point (through the artwork and dream logic narrative) into the dark corners of his world, towards things that seem wildly important but ultimately defy tidy explanation. David Lynch's Eraserhead came to mind several times while floating through Jeremy Baum's dreamtime. Peter Chung's Æon Flux is even closer in both structure and intent to Dörfler. Like that wonderfully avant garde animated series, nearly every frame here seems to ooze equal amounts of sinister intent, dark eroticism, and high weirdness.

Baum's obsessively detailed artwork is distinctly his own, achieved using pen and ink with meticulous marker shading and washes. The majority of the drawings are black and shades of gray with spare pops of a color, often blue. Or the red of spilled blood. Baum's influences are a dizzying array of Möebius/Heavy Metal, D&D artwork, bombastic teen notebook art, fairy tales, Tarot and occult symbolism, pin-up and erotic art, and much more. All of the women in Dörfler look somewhat similar, and inexplicably, they all have big bunny teeth. And inside the forest dream world, everyone has elf ears.

So, why the name Dörfler? No idea. The main character's name is Nola. Like everything thing else in this book, the title seems to point to some deeper meaning that the book is unconcerned in delivering. Sometimes, it's best to just let a dream have its way with you.

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Dörfler
by Jeremy Baum
Fantagraphics
2015, 104 pages, 8.3 x 12.3 x 0.7 inches
$17 Buy one on Amazon

Keep Fresh Stay Rad with 100 funky typography-themed postcards

I love all of the boxed postcard collections that are being published these days. There's something of a resurgence of interest in mail art, snail mail correspondence, zines, and other mail-borne art forms and these postcard boxes might be a reflection of that. The amazing font designers, House Industries, published a postcard collection of their fonts a year ago and Princeton Architectural Press has recently published the Animal Box of animal-themed postcard art from celebrated artists.

Keep Fresh Stay Rad, also from Princeton Architectural, is a collection of typography-themed cards (many hand-drawn) from Friends of Type, a loose-knit collective of New York and San Francisco artists and designers. I reviewed the group's wonderful Let's Go Letter Hunting notebook on Wink Books. These postcards make a perfect companion to that book. You could have a lot of fun re-drawing the letterforms from the Keep Fresh postcards in your Letter Hunting journal. Everything about this product is lovely, from the colorful and vibrant thick-board storage box, to the theme tabs that organize the cards (with plenty of room for your own cards), to the sweet little typography “zine” inside. And, of course, the 100 funky and fun postcards themselves. The cards in the box are divided into themes, including Salutations, Encouragement, Affection, Strong Language – there are ten themes in all.

One criticism I have of the set is that the card stock is rather thin, not traditional postcard thickness. Also, it's great that the box is roomy enough to store additional cards, but because the Keep Fresh cards are on thin stock, they are already slightly bowed, even with the cardboard spacer that comes in the box. These are minor criticisms, though, given the overall goodness that can be had here for under $18. I'm looking forward to doing some mail art using these cards as a background.

Keep Fresh Stay Rad Postcard Box
by Friends of Type
Princeton Architectural Press, 100 cards
$17 Buy one on Amazon

See more photos at Wink Fun.

Fill a pocket sketchbook, send it, watch it tour the globe

The Sketchbook Project is a unique Brooklyn-based global arts initiative that's been operating for the past ten years. Anyone who wants to participate buys one of their pocket sketchbooks. You fill the book up with your art, send it back, they scan it and make it available online. It also goes into their collection (now over 33,000 volumes) which the public can access, and there's even a mobile museum touring the collection.

The Sketchbook Project World Tour is the latest collection of the project's sketchbooks. The project now gets submissions from some 135 countries. This 224-page book is divided into six continents with each section including an introduction, interviews with a few of the contributing artists, and numerous examples of the sketchbooks from that area of the world.

The quality and styles of the work vary greatly. I see this as a strength, a sort of anyone-can-play “zine” mentality that I appreciate. But your mileage may vary. If you're interested in the Sketchbook Project itself, you can find out more here.

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

The Sketchbook Project World Tour
by Steven Peterman and Sara Elands Peterman
Princeton Architectural Press
2015, 256 pages, 8.2 x 10.2 x 1.0 inches (paperback)
$21 Buy a copy on Amazon

A very dark, sumptuous, tripped-out take on the classic tale of Pinocchio

A dark noir rendering of the classic Italian children's novel, this tripped-out reimagining of Pinocchio comes from the fevered mind and hand of Winshluss. Pen name for Vincent Parannaud, Winshluss is the award-winning French artist and filmmaker perhaps best known for the animated feature, Persepolis, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes and was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Cannes' Palm d'Or, among others.

It's hard to express just how beautiful Pinocchio is. And how dark. Using pen and ink, watercolor and paint, and brilliantly style-checking Georges Méliès, Windsor McCay, Walt Kelly, Walt Disney, Zap! and decades of underground comic artists, Winshluss uses the basic tropes of Pinocchio (artificial boy, characters inside a whale, and Jiminy, here a cockroach) to frame and interweave several dark, often disturbing, tales. As the moods and motives of the narrative shift, so do the styles and colors of the art. Throughout, everything feels overcast, bone-damp, sooty, and rusted shut. This is a world overwhelmed with desperation and decay, death and naked human immorality.

In this telling of the tale, Pinocchio is not a puppet who becomes a boy, but a toy soldier built by Geppetto for servitude. And war. He and the book (with some exception) are speechless, and like a hapless Mr. Bill or Chauncey Gardner in Being There, Pinocchio becomes a sort of dumb foil for the dramas and characters interwoven throughout the book, at once comical and tragic. And unlike the original novel by Carlo Collodi, the main characters basically never interact, although Jiminy Cockroach lives inside of Pinocchio's hollow head and their interweaving stories impact each other (e.g. when Pinocchio gets “fired” from an assembly-line job for not producing enough toys and thrown into a furnace, Jiminy feels the heat). Perverse takes on Snow White, the Seven Dwarves, Bambi, and other Disney staples also make appearances.

I have reviewed several very post-modern comics on Wink, like Big Questions and Beautiful Darkness, that employ similar thematic and artist strategies (dark noir, referencing/coopting different artists, stories, and styles, exploring social issues through surreal, often wordless storytelling). But Winshluss' Pinocchio feels the most cinematic and affecting of them all. And have I mentioned how ridiculously beautiful this book is? One reviewer likened the “performance” of it to high opera. I can't think of a better allusion. Or bigger artistic compliment.

A very dark, sumptuous, tripped-out take on the classic tale of Pinocchio

Pinocchio
by Winshluss
Last Gasp
2011, 192 pages, 10 x 12 x 1.2 inches
$31 Buy a copy on Amazon

Cthulhu Dice – Curse your opponents before you lose all your marbles and go insane

The Cthulhu Mythos is turned into a game of dice in Steve Jackson's Cthulhu Dice. The demonically beating heart of the game is a large, beautiful, and gem-like 12-sided die covered in Cthulhu-related runes. Each rune has a different effect in making one person or another go insane (or taking some of their insanity away from them). Players take turns choosing someone to curse and then casting the die against them. Every player has a stash of Sanity Tokens (little glass disks), a.k.a. “marbles,” and when you've lost all of your marbles, you go insane. But this is a game from the world of H.P. Lovecraft, so you're still not out of the game. Insane players continue to play just to try and drive other players mad. The goal of the game is to be the last sane Cthulhu Cultist standing. If everyone goes rubber room bonkers, Cthulhu wins.

Cthulhu Dice is very easy to learn and especially fun to play in situations where you want the social interaction of gaming, but don't want to play a long game, or you don't want to be tremendously engaged in the game you're playing. People always talk about “beer and pretzels” games, well this is a game you could actually play in a boisterous bar or as a sort of palate cleaner between main attraction games at a gaming night.

Cthulhu Dice
Steve Jackson Games
Ages 10 and up, 2-6 players
$7 Buy one on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Drawn and Quarterly's lavish doorstopper of a book on 25 years of indie comics

It’s hard to imagine what contemporary culture would be like without the existence of the comic, graphic novel, and low-brow art publishers Last Gasp, Fantagraphics, and Canada’s small press darling, Drawn & Quarterly. In Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-five Years, D&Q are given their due. This lavish doorstopper of a book contains numerous historical essays about the company, with lots of great photos, a timeline, reminiscences, interviews, and more. The rest of the book is mainly comprised of full strips and excerpts from some of the many award-winning and pathbreaking comics and graphic novels that D&Q has published over the past quarter century. Some rarely-seen comics are included. Peppered throughout are appreciation essays from the likes of Jonathan Lethem and Margaret Atwood along with many artists appreciating the fellow creators of the delightful devil’s picture books known as comics. Artists featured in the collection include Seth, Julie Doucet, Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Lynda Barry, Chester Brown, Peter Kuper, Tom Gauld, Daniel Clowes, Anders Nilsen, Ariel Bordeaux, and dozens more.

Again, imagine for a minute a world in which the work of these talented artists had never reached the masses, and how far less rich, interesting, and strange our world would be as a result. Congrats to Drawn & Quarterly for bringing these artists to us, for celebrating 25 years of beautiful high weirdness, and for producing this impressive and yummy book. The ink smell of it alone will make a book nerd’s eyes roll back in her head.

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Encyclopedia of Electronic Components

When I was one of the editors at Make: Books, one of the projects I was proudest to have helped conceive of and edit was Charles Platt’s Make: Electronics (which has now been a best-seller for years). Growing up being absurdly visual and suffering from mild dyslexia, I found it incredibly difficult to learn electronics using the books of the day. They were usually very poorly written, with bad editing, dark and dreary photos, and crude diagrams. Forrest Mims’ 1983 Getting Started in Electronics, beautifully hand-drawn on graph paper, with succinct and clear text and playful examples, was a revelation to me.

For Make: Electronics we wanted to create a Getting Started for the early 21st century – well-written, beautifully photographed and illustrated, and in high-quality, full-color. Charles Platt and Make: delivered on that promise, in spades, with Make: Electronics and its follow-up volume, Make: More Electronics. And Charles continues to knock it out of the park with Encyclopedia of Electronic Components, currently in two volumes, with a third on the way.
 Volume 1 covers batteries, power supplies, motors, resistors, capacitors, inductors, switches, encoders, relays, diodes, transistors, and more. Each entry describes what it does, how it works, variants on the component, how to use it, and what can go wrong with it. Each entry is illustrated with well-shot photos (the components are shot on a graph paper background, so you can get some idea of their size), charts and graphs, and cut-away diagrams. The writing is very approachable while not shying away from technical rigor. These are fun books for picking up and scanning a component listing to learn more about the component, its variants, applications, and how it might fail. And, the books are an invaluable reference if you’re working on a project and want to gain a deeper understanding of the specific components you’re working with.

Volume 2, subtitled Signal Processing, covers LEDs, LCDs, audio, amplification, digital logic, and more. The two books together cover a lot of the common components you encounter in most basic-to-intermediate electronics work. Volume 3 (available now for pre-order) will fill in the one major missing component class – all manner of sensors.

I cannot imagine what it’s like to be growing up today with an interest in electronics and DIY high-technology. Smartly written, visual, and well-produced books like the Make: Electronics series and these Encyclopedia of Electronic Components volumes open up the world of electrical engineering and high-tech tinkering to a wider audience than ever before. – Gareth Branwyn

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

John Bergin goes pop-art post-apocalypse in new Wednesday comic

Wednesday is chockablock with Warrrior-worthy car chases and road battles, rival gang-tribes, beautifully and memorably-rendered characters, those 80s pop-art colors and sensibilities, and that bad-ass, supercharged blown-hemi Barracuda.Read the rest

How a WWII unit deceived the enemy with audacious fakery

They jokingly called themselves Cecil B. DeMille Warriors. To others, they were the Ghost Army. To the Army itself, they were the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. To everyone, they were undoubtedly the most surreal soldiers of WWII.

Created in the summer of 1944, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops was comprised mainly of artists, engineers, and movie effects technicians. Amongst the unit’s ranks were a young future fashion icon Bill Blass, Color Field painter Ellsworth Kelly, wildlife artist Arthur Singer, and photographer Art Kane. Their top-secret mission sounds like the punchline to some drunken soldier’s joke: to use an inflatable army of tanks, vehicles, sound effects, and other movie trickery to convince the Germany army that there were significant forces where there were none. Well, none other than DeMille’s finest. The unit plied their trade from Normandy to the Rhine.

So, what do you get when you send a lot of nervous artists and creative types off on a dangerous assignment? Lots and lots of art – made in boredom, in fear, and in celebration. The Ghost Army of World War II is a beautifully-produced print documentary of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops and the role they played in WWII. The book is filled with countless paintings, sketches, cartoons, photos, hand-drawn maps, sketchbook pages, letters and post cards, and the military ephemera of the 23rd. All of these visuals are beautifully animated by the writing of authors Rick Beyer (who also produced a 2005 PBS documentary on the 23rd HST), Elizabeth Sayles (daughter of Ghost Army vet William Sayles), and the amazing stories recounted by the soldiers themselves.

It is unclear the full extent to which the deceptions of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops changed the outcomes of battles and the course of the war, but there is no doubt that their audacious and dangerous actions saved the lives of thousands in its waning hours.

Note: Our Discordian readers (and fans of sketchy Jim Carrey thrillers) will certainly appreciate the auspicious number of the unit.

Previously on Boing Boing: WWII's "Ghost Army" that tricked German troops with inflatable tanks and sound effects

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

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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