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. Read the rest
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.
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. Read the rest
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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I’ve got to tell you, I had a real mind-warping moment with Intelligent Sentient?.
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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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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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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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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.
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. Read the rest
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. Read the rest
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 is a handsome new volume exploring a fascinating, now seemingly macabre death practice.
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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). Read the rest
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. Read the rest
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
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. Read the rest