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 Branwyn’sRead the rest
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
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.
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
The gestation and birth of Beyond Cyberpunk! and Borg Like Me as narrated by Gareth Branwyn.Read the rest
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
This 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.
Read the rest
“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.
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):
- The Musical Illusionist, Now Appearing at the Hotel St. George
- Random Acts of Poetic Bookmarking
- Moving Paintings From Inside
- "Mysteries" Magical Tour
- Shuffle Deep the Gathering Gloom
- Fractally-delicious Papercraft
- Last Gasp on My Doorstep
- Show Us Your Saints
- Music from the Hearts of 'Space
- Tripping Through Video Vaults
- Maker's Notebook Hacks
- J & B, Still on the Rox
- Seek Ye the Hilaritas!
- Attention "Paper-based Romantics"
- Linda Hesh's "Bench Project"
- My Wallet Just Got Raptured
- Seanie Blue's Night Light
- DIY 33 1/3 Books
- Oblique Tweets
- Playing my Widower Card
- Surfrider's "Catch of the Day"
- Down the Rabbit Hole with the World's Smallest Postal Service
- Mr E's Beautiful Blues
- Nightly Meditations on 33 1/3
- Gareth in no-man's land
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.
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
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.
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
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."