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.
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.
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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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.
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)
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
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.
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“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