Mick Rock: The Rise of David Bowie, 1972-1973 – An amazingly impressive object, even by Taschen standards


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Mick Rock: The Rise of David Bowie, 1972-1973 by Mick Rock (photographer) Taschen 2016, 300 pages, 10.8 x 15 x 1.2 inches $44 Buy a copy on Amazon

When I asked Taschen’s PR person for a review copy of the hardback edition of Mick Rock: The Rise of David Bowie, 1972-1973 (after sheepishly asking in vein for the $800 Limited Edition), she warned me that it was an amazingly impressive object, even by Taschen standards. Don’t laugh, but this intimidated me to the point where, after receiving the book, I waited over a week to look inside. I had damn-near passed out while first perusing the uncompromising art publisher’s recent Blake book.

Mick Rock: The Rise of David Bowie, 1972-1973 is about as woozying of a tome as you’re ever going to stick your nose into. And this “regular” edition, available at Amazon for the remainder-bin price of under $45, is anything but regular. Every single aspect of this book is elevated. The cover sports a lenticular panel which contains five iconic Mick Rock images of everyone’s favorite glam commander. This could have gone horribly wrong, too gimmicky or tacky, but this technology seems to have been invented to flash the ever-changing personas of David Bowie at the height of his (and Rock’s) artistic powers. There is no more perfect cover for this book.

And that’s just the cover. I was right to psych myself up. The first time I went through it, I got about 20 pages in and had to stop. Read the rest

The beautiful grotesques of Megahex are back with more tales of depravity and friendship


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Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam (and Other Stories) by Simon Hanselmann Fantagraphics 2016, 164 pages, 6.6 x 9.1 x 0.8 inches $14 Buy a copy on Amazon

The entire loveably dysfunctional freak family that stole our hearts in Megahex (and sold them on the black market for hookers and blow) are back in Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam (and Other Stories). Once again we enter the bizarre funhouse world of Megg the witch, her cat familiar/lover Mogg, and their coterie of hangers on: Owl, Werewolf Jones, Mike the Gnome, Booger (a boogey woman), Dracula, Jr., and others.

On the surface, little has changed. The revolving door of Megg and Mogg’s house still spins to let their drug-addled crew enter, hatch a series of ridiculous schemes, inhale all of the drugs and fast food, and then we get to watch as one nightmarish scenario after another plays out like a slow-motion train wreck. But there are deeper relationship themes that run through Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam. Over the course of the book, strips begin to introduce trouble in Megg and Mogg’s relationship, and Megg’s growing attraction to Booger. Werewolf Jones also is having trouble in his marriage and is fighting to retain custody of his two sons (while doing every boneheaded thing in the world to ensure that doesn’t happen). The title of the book refers to a trip that Megg and Mogg take to Amsterdam to try and patch up their failing relationship. Read the rest

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus – An exploration of prostitution as found in the Christian bible


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Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus is a strange, effectively touching, and surprisingly rigorous exploration of prostitution as found in the Christian bible. After doing extensive research on the subject, Chester Brown offers his graphical reimagining of the prostitute stories from the bible. Besides the tales of Rahab, Tamar, Ruth, and Mary of Bethany, we also get scenes from the lives of Bathsheba, Mary, Mother of Jesus, Cain and Abel, and others. Some of these stories seem out of place with the rest of the collection (e.g. Cain and Able and Job), with no apparent link to prostitution. But with them, Brown is sharpening one of his main points about following the spirit versus the letter of the law of religious obedience, a theme which runs throughout the book.

The meticulously rendered stories, eleven in all, have a strange, disarming innocence about them. There are moments of truly felt compassion and generosity encoded in some of these panels. But the comics are really only half of the book. The second half, over a hundred pages, contains all of the notes from Brown’s research. I found it an absolutely fascinating look, not only into the academic research and religious texts that he cites, but into his own thinking, and his confirmation biases. The whole book feels more like a captured thought process, a research notebook, than a typical narrative or expositional work. That’s part of what makes this book so unique and interesting to me, but it may turn off others for the same reason. Read the rest

Feathers – A sublime meditation on the brilliance of the bird feather. Released today!


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We live in a world of backgrounded miracles, entire worlds of wonder and beauty that we either can’t see or stopped noticing a long time ago. Look closely at the wings of a fly on your window sill, stare into a bisected piece of fruit, or look carefully at a growth of mold on a dish. Millions of such micro worlds surround us, breathtaking examples of design, engineering, and evolutionary artistry. When we bother to look.

Feathers is a photographic examination of one such overlooked natural wonder, the lowly bird feather. A single bird has thousands of feathers, of different types, and there are some ten-thousand species of birds. Feathers takes a broad view of the evolution of the bird and its feathers while focusing its lens on the plumage of 75 or so notable species. Each species gets a few pages, with one or two impressively photographed feather close-ups and a brief explanatory text.

This book reminded me a lot of Rose Lynn Fisher’s BEE (which I loved). Both books are minimal in content and feel, but that only helps to narrow and maintain your focus on the world under examination. The text in Feathers doesn’t try to tell you everything about the species of the bird and feather that you’re looking at, but the bits of fascinating science it does contain are probably far more memorable. Like BEE, I felt like I got to peer into a world I don’t normally see and came away greatly enriched by the experience. Read the rest

An inventor, maker, and toy designer shares his favorite projects


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The first thing that struck me about Make Fun!, a collection of toy and game projects from former Mattel designer Bob Knetzger, was how many of my favorite projects from the pages of Make: magazine were his. Bob has contributed to the magazine for over nine years, and this collection represents a best-of from that run (with some original projects as well). WINK’s own Mark Frauenfelder (founding editor-in-chief of Make:) also contributes the book’s introduction.

Make: Fun! features full step-by-step instructions for some 40 projects. They range from the very simple, fun, and ephemeral, such as the actuated “Ouija Be Mine” Valentine’s Day card and “Gnome Holiday Hats” to a classic “Diving Spudmarine” bathtub toy to more elaborate builds, such as constructing your own “Kitchen Floor Vacuum Former” and building a “Desktop Foundry.” Some of my favorite projects include the “Monster Candy Snatch Game” (think: Operation), the “E-Z-Make Oven” (think: Mattel’s Thingmaker), and vacuum forming your own “Tiki Masks.”

Make: did a really nice job on the production of this book. The projects are well photographed, in full color, and the instructions are well laid out and easy to follow. And there are fun little “gimmicks” that serve the playful spirit of the book (a flip-book animation on the page edges, QR-code videos for some of the projects, and colorful templates and paper project components in the back). You can see the videos, view the templates, and find out more on the book’s companion website. Read the rest

An artist tours the spaces of 24 fellow artists, then makes art inspired by his visits


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I’m a gigantic snoop. I love to peruse people’s bookshelves, rifle through the magazines on their toilet tank, look at their media Likes on Facebook, etc. I am endlessly fascinated by people and the media, tools, and ideas that inspire them. I also like workshops and the unique way in which people set up and use their spaces. These interests converge to great effect in artist and author Joe Fig’s Inside the Artist’s Studio.

Given my nosey proclivities, I have read a number of similar collections of artist studio tour books. This book has a slightly more satisfying weight to it. The questions Fig asks are more interesting and far ranging, from childhood memories to working techniques to each artist’s working “creed.” And the photographs he takes are especially lovely, artful, and create a distinct mood that reflects each artist.

The really special dimension to this book is Joe Fig’s artwork. Fig is known for being an artist whose subjects are often art, artists, and art spaces. In this book, after interviewing and photographing such artists as Ellen Altfest, Byron Kim, Laurie Simmons, Adam Cvijanovic, Tara Donovan, and Roxy Paine (24 artists in all), Fig creates a piece of art inspired by that artist, their studio, and their work. The subject of each piece is the artist’s studio. All of this works to create a surprisingly rich, intimate, and informative collection. Read the rest

A dark, psychedelic coming-of-age story by award-winning comic artist Michael DeForge


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Big Kids by Michael DeForge Drawn & Quarterly 2016, 96 pages, 5 x 6.2 x 0.6 inches $12 Buy a copy on Amazon

I have been fascinated by the work of Canadian comic artist Michael DeForge for a while now. If you like unvarnished explorations of the human psyche and the high weirdness that an unhinged mind and a free hand can render, check out Michael’s Lose series, Very Casual, and Dressing, all from Toronto-based comics publisher of note Koyama Press.

Big Kids is something of a departure for DeForge, or at least it starts off seeming that way. On the surface, Big Kids is a dark and mopey coming-of-age tale. It concerns a troubled teen boy who lives with his parents and a recalcitrant uncle in the basement and has awkward, restless sex with his best friend, in-between dangerous dares, bullying, bouts of petty vandalism, and other adolescent antics.

When the boy’s uncle gets kicked out of the house and a female college student moves in – a girl with a very different take on life who hangs with a group of more sophisticated, less juvenile delinquent friends – something extraordinary happens. Too many other reviews of this book spoil what comes next, which I think is a shame. I knew nothing of what was about to happen and was really stunned by the whole thing as a result. The book is obviously meant to be a meditation on the profound transformations we go through at different stages in our lives (especially in becoming a teen), and how strange, terrifying, and wondrous those changes can be. Read the rest

Odin's Raven – A well-loved card-based racing game gets a swanky upgrade


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Odin’s Ravens is a gorgeous, quick, and easy-to-play card game for two players. The story behind the race at the heart of the game is simple: The Norse god Odin has two ravens, Huginn and Muninn. Every morning, he sends them out to circle the world and report back on what they see. The ravens have turned the daily ritual into a competition, as they race around Midgard to see who can return to Odin first. To win, neither of them are beyond calling on Loki, the trickster god, to thwart the journey of the other.

I absolutely love the production on this new edition of Odin’s Ravens, from the sturdy, very tome-like clamshell box, to the vivid and handsomely designed cards, to the two wooden ravens that serve as the playing pieces. Since the game itself is rather simple, it was smart of Osprey to up the aesthetic impact of the game. These two elements, ease-of-play and pleasing components, coupled with the mythological gloss of the backstory all combine to create a very satisfying gaming experience.

Odin’s Ravens is played out on a racing track of land cards. Each card depicts two different land types (mountains, forests, plains, desert, frozen northlands). Each raven starts on one of the two land tracks depicted on the two-part cards and races through all of the domains to arrive back at the beginning. Players have a deck of cards depicting the five different domains and must show a matching card from their hand that depicts the next land type they want to move onto. Read the rest

Letter 44 – Aliens lurk in the asteroid belt, sending Earth into turmoil in this tense graphic novel


On the day of his inauguration, Stephen Blades, the 44th president, finds a letter left on his Oval Office desk simply marked “44.” In it, outgoing President Carroll reveals a dark secret that he’s kept throughout his administration. An alien presence has been detected in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. And the beings there are building some sort of massive and potentially threatening structure.

President Carroll (obviously “inspired” by George W. Bush) has dragged the United States into two protracted wars and nearly broken the back of the country in the process. Now incoming President Blades learns to his horror that these wars were largely a ruse for achieving combat readiness for a possible alien attack. He also learns that, besides there being a deep black ops program for building next-gen military technology for confronting a possible alien menace, a secret one-way mission, with nine astronauts, has been dispatched by Carroll to the asteroid belt and will be arriving at the site of the alien construct soon. “Mr. President, they’re ready for your swearing in.”

And so begins the thrilling and surprisingly complex and tense ride that is Letter 44. Author Charles Soule and artists Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque, Guy Major, and Dan Jackson do an impressive job of creating a rich and layered world within this satisfying sci-fi comic series. The book confidently lays the interleaving stories of the first contact space drama, the cutthroat politics on the home front, and the geopolitical dramas as President Blades tries to carry on with two wars he now knows are shams and to prepare for a potential war coming from the stars. Read the rest

Fear and Loathing – The gonzo classic gets a brilliant graphic novel treatment


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Anyone who's read Hunter S. Thompson's iconic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas knows that the technicolored, bug-eyed, meth-fueled craziness of that narrative is hard to capture in another medium. The Tim Burton movie did an admirable job of conveying the “savage journey” of the book, if sometimes overdosing on the goofballs in the process.

When it comes down to it, the madness of Fear and Loathing is probably best expressed in comic book form (as Ralph Steadman showed in the original illustrations, Gary Trudeau hinted at with Uncle Duke, and Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's Transmetropolitan paid impressive homage). If Hunter S. Thompson didn't exist, it would be necessary for comics to invent him. And I can't think of anyone better suited to fully render Thompson's warped vision of the American dream (aka 70s Vegas) than Eisner Award-nominated Troy Little. His 176-page comic adaptation manages to effectively distill the roman à clef gonzo masterpiece into a form that feels completely natural, managing to retain and celebrate inspired moments of Thompson's brilliant prose-poetry.

Little's art has the right kind of energy and violence to effectively convey Thompson's unusual subject matter. He knows how to render the drug-amped fear, anger, outrage, and surprise on Raoul Duke's face, his beady eyes forever burning behind gigantic amber-tinted aviator glasses. The book itself is beautifully produced, with a spot varnish hard cover and brilliant, vividly printed interiors that reproduce the colors of crazy in a way that would do Ralph Steadman proud. Read the rest

Explore the history of invention through cool-looking patent models


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What many Americans may not be aware of is that, from the introduction of the U.S. Patent system, in 1790, up until 1880, every submitted patent document required a model of the invention to accompany it. Thousands upon thousands of models were submitted, so many that buildings had to be built to house them all. In 1994, an upstate New York couple, Ann and Allan Rothschild, began collecting some of these surviving models, eventually amassing some 4,000 items. This model collection forms the basis for Inventing a Better Mousetrap, a beautiful and fascinating exploration of these models, the patents they illustrated, and the sometimes profound import these inventions had on the growth and development of the United States of America.

One of the more fascinating dimensions of history is context, understanding the unique circumstances out of which something developed and the impact that development had upon history’s larger canvas. Besides gorgeous photographs and details of each of the models, every chapter (e.g. Steam, Heat, Light & Fire, Leather & Shoes, Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms) provides background on the circumstances that gave rise to the developments it examines. So, for example, in the ATF chapter, we learn about how the 1779 “Corn Patch and Cabin Rights” law, enacted for the Virginia territories (giving settlers 400 acres in what is now Kentucky, if they built a cabin and planted a corn crop), led to massive corn yields in the extremely fertile soil of the region. Read the rest

A graphic novel about a leaf - it's better than it sounds


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Being a fan of wordless graphic novels like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and Thomas Ott’s The Number, I was eager to experience Chinese artist Daishu Ma’s Leaf. Like those previous efforts, Leaf is rendered in meticulous black and white pencil sketches. Unlike those others, spot colors, namely blue and yellow, are used as a narrative device.

Leaf is about a single tree leaf that unexpectedly blows into the life of the book’s young, unnamed protagonist. Where thousands of similar leaves have surely blown by this young man before, unnoticed, this one has an inner yellow glow like no leaf he’s ever experienced. A fascination with his discovery sends him on a journey through the rather dystopian, labyrinthian world in which he lives as he tries to learn more about his pet leaf and then to try and recover it after it gets lost.

You’re never quite sure exactly what is going on in Leaf and the meaning of the story is definitely open to interpretation. Some may find this “openess” in the wordless narrative annoying, but I really enjoy this aspect of such books. Leaf is filled with hundreds of soft pencil illustrations and many of them have a very touching, lyrical quality that effectively captures human emotion, community, memory, and the innocence of youth (as well as the dreariness of the world of Leaf). The artwork and book production are really beautiful and there is a gentle quiet at the center of this work that perfectly mirrors the muffled quiet of fall. Read the rest

Wytches – A terrifying trip into the dark heart of parental fears and malevolent forests


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Scott Snyder's Wytches really worked its creepy magic on me. This trade paperback edition collects the first six issues of the popular comic series, which has received widespread praise and counts Stephen King among its many vocal fans. Read the rest

Golem Arcana – Conjure mighty golems and send them into combat in this hybrid miniatures and computer game


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“The Great Khan is dead.” So begins the rich backstory to Golem Arcana, an exciting new hybrid miniatures and computer game. The world of the game, Eretsu, is thrown into turmoil at the death of its powerful leader as the Khan's Gudanna Dominion attempts to retain its power while the neighboring Durani decide that it's time to try and seize control of a now-fractured world.

The golems in the title refer to monstrous magical constructs that each empire summons to prosecute its wars. Knights ride into battle upon these giant, terrifying creatures. Each of the factions in the game use different substances as the material basis for their golems – bone, flora, blood, stone – and this gives each of them slightly different abilities, limitations, and appearance. The materials also influence the color schemes of the armies (e.g. blood magic-made golems are red, stone golems are gray, etc.). This helps keep the miniatures straight on the board (there are also banners and banner poles that you can use to further identify your forces).

While Golem Arcana is a pretty straight-forward tabletop wargame where you build and field points-based armies, play out various attack and defend scenarios, and resolve combat with percentage dice, there is something very special going on with this game. In addition to the six gorgeous pre-painted miniatures and very lovely game components and terrain tiles, you also get a Bluetooth-connected wand which communicates with a free app you download to your phone or tablet. Read the rest

Game the real world with this deck of social interaction mission cards


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It is perhaps a sad testament to our disembodied lives that we need a deck of cards to coax us into interacting with strangers in meatspace, but that's exactly what Sneaky Cards: Play It Forward are designed to do. And they make their game of social interaction and random acts of kindness surprisingly fun.

Sneaky Cards began life in 2009 as a winning submission, by a 16-year-old kid, to a contest held by Boing Boing and the Institute for the Future. The game became a free online download. You printed and cut out your cards, then played them in the real world. The creator, Harry Lee, described the game as being about “creating fun and creative social interactions,” and for “breaking up the tedium of everyday life.”

This current commercial version, from the wonderful folks at Gamewright, sports all new card designs, new card “missions,” unique card-tracking numbers, and a website where you can register your cards and find out what becomes of them as they circulate. This “Play It Forward” version was designed by Cody Borst, with the blessing of Harry Lee.

The Play It Forward deck consists of 53 cards divided up into six different mission categories: Engage (tests of audacity), Connect (finding people and things), Grow (self-challenges and learning experiences), Surprise (hide things for discovery), Care (do-gooder tasks), and Create (socially shared art challenges). The cards come in a handsome and sturdy flip box with a magnetic catch. Read the rest

Explore super-detailing, weathering, and finishing in this gorgeous, comprehensive modeling encyclopedia


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I have always had a great attraction to obsessive hobbies. When I was a teen, I didn't just want to have model trains, I needed the fully detailed train board, with forests, a mountain and tunnel, a town, and a coal mine. I didn't just want to play tabletop wargames with salt shakers and napkin holders for obstacles – I had to build an entire terrain board, with homemade buildings, impact craters, command bunkers, and the like. And when I'm not dabbling in my own all-in hobbies, I'm frequently found online, looking at forums about other people's hobby obsessions. One of these is super-detailed scale modeling.

Anyone who has done any military modeling is familiar with the AMMO brand of Mig Jimenez. Mig and AMMO are known for making the most amazing products for super-detailing models, paints, powders, and effects for painting, weathering, and basing, and high-end how-to books on model painting and finishing. Soon they will also be known for creating this incredible series, Encyclopedia of Aircraft Modelling Techniques.

I got Interiors and Assembly Volume 2 in the five-part series because I was looking for inspiration for interior detailing of some tank models that I'm building for a tabletop wargame. I was not disappointed in what I found in this book. These volumes are crammed with hundreds of high-quality, close-in photographs showing many tried and true techniques for using aftermarket parts, making your own parts, and getting the most out of the parts that came in your model kit. Read the rest

Carry a galaxy in conflict around in your cargo shorts with Pocket Imperium


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Pocket Imperium is a surprisingly big game in a very small box. The “Pocket” in its name refers to its microgame stature, while “Imperium” offers a clue to its galaxy-spanning scale and 4X game mechanic (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate), popular among galactic empire games. The first thing you notice about Pocket Imperium is the quality of its components. The box and art are lovely, as are the command cards and seven main “sector tiles” (the game board). The game also comes with 52 brightly colored wooden spaceship markers in four designs. There's a lot stuffed into this box, and with everything placed on the table, it really makes for a satisfying game spread. But at $40, you do pay for all this.

The rules for Pocket Imperium are deceptively simple. Each player plays three cards (six if it's two players) that contain movement commands (Expand, Explore, Exterminate). These moves are “pre-programmed” before each turn with the cards turned over simultaneously and executed in the sequence of Expand, Explore, Exterminate. So, one player may want to expand first, another explore, and maybe another exterminate. If you're the only player commanding an expansion that turn, you get two bonus ships; if two players execute the same order, they each get one extra ship; if all of the players execute the same turn command, no one gets extra vessels to field. The turn sequence and bonuses are indicated on quick reference cards you can keep on the table. Read the rest

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