• Cool figures in the new 007 pinball game

    Designer George Gomez and the gang at Stern Pinball have announced the latest in their huge line of baby-boomer-licensed pinball machines. They've already done The Beatles, classic TV Batman, The Munsters… and now: 007.

    If you haven't played a pinball machine lately you'll be overwhelmed by the current state of the art execution with worldwide gamer community connection, over the top graphics on every surface, and insanely deep gameplay levels and features. The 007 game has terrific "toys" (pb lingo for the molded 3D elements).  The iconic Aston Marin shoots a pinball up and out of the ejector seat roof. A jet pack Bond flies the metal ball around the playfield with an electromagnet! I think the sculpting on the figures is fantastic: great detail, awesome gestures, and excellent likeness of Sean Connery. Here's some top-secret pics from Genius Gomez's lair:

    James Bond 007 [Stern Pinball]

  • Art posters from old "Rockford Files"

    48 years ago this month "The Rockford Files" debuted. Its LA street scenes and 70's vibe remind me of living there back then.

    About seven years ago I was back in LA on business and had some time to kill on a late Sunday afternoon. I wanted to check out a hip letterpress shop in Santa Monica but it was closed. I called anyway and the guy said he'd be working and I could stop by.

    I loved my visit to Church of Type. The proprietor Kevin Bradley had worked at Hatch Show Print and it showed. He had the same design sensibilities and love of traditional typography. Cool.

    As he set some type (kids, ask your grandfather) I wandered around. Something in the shop caught my eye: a series of posters of non-sequiturs set together in stream-of-consciousness raps. He called them "storetry" (a portmanteau of poetry+story). Very cool.

    He explained these were verbatim bits of dialog from syndicated rerun "Rockford Files" shows that had been playing in the background as he worked long, late nights. He'd jot them down and typeset them later. Ha. Exquisite corpse low-brow pop culture poetry posters. I had to buy a bunch.

    "..I never ate a store bought cookie in my life. Tough stains are easier to get rid of than in-laws. What's normal about a grenade in your bedroom?…."

    These remind me of a sun-scorched Pico Blvd, the wise-assery of James Garner, and the smell of greasy, wet ink.

    The shop is closed up but you can go check out Kevin Bradley's Etsy site.

  • Illustrator James Gurney explores AI art

    "Dinotopia" artist/author James Gurney interrupts one of his YouTube art demo videos to announce his own beta access to AI art program Dall-E 2. It's interesting to have a professional artist like James Gurney walk you through his personal experiences using this a text-to-image generator. He's not so much worried that AI art will eliminate art jobs or violate copyright. He more concerned about being told "You're not allowed to imagine that." How do you collaborate with a black box? I enjoyed his thoughts on how AI art generators should really work.

  • See the Japanese art of paper theater—Kamishibai—in Seattle this fall

    During the Depression and just before the advent of television, kids in Japan enjoyed a unique form of entertainment: Kamishibai ("paper play"). Traveling storytellers would roll up to a street corner with their bicycle-mounted wooden box theater. They would clack their noise-making sticks to summon the neighborhood  kids, who'd gather around to buy penny candy and hear the stories. The wooden box held a stack of colorful illustrated panels, which would be revealed and flipped through by the storyteller. Many believe this was the one of the origins of manga and anime. With the advent of television, the quaint Kamishibai disappeared…

    But there is one full time Kamishibai storyteller left in Japan. Tatsuo "Ta-chan" Kawakami travels around Japan to recreate the Kamishibai experience and will be appearing in Seattle for just a few performances this fall at the Seattle Japanese Garden. Don't miss it. (I hope there's candy, too!)

  • Thunderbirds are Go…again!

    We fans of Gerry Anderson can't get enough of his Brit puppet shows. Even in a time of AI art, deep fake videos, and CGI technology breakthroughs, we still love his "Supermarination" (super + marionette + animation): old school puppets on strings combined with wacky practical effects. "Fireball XL5," "Stingray" and "Thunderbirds" were huge TV hits in the UK and USA in the 60s.  More recently they were featured in an episode of "Endeavour." Puppeteers who were locked down in the London apartment during COVID improvised household items to create all new puppet episodes of "Nebula-75." (go check those out on YouTube!) And now the 2014 documentary "Filmed in Supermarionation" has been issued on Blu-Ray with a companion book. Trailer here:

  • More Milwaukee wackiness

    Here's a nod to more Milwaukee wackiness: it's home to the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. It's a crazy collection of thousands and thousands of bobbleheads.

    Sure, there're the usual sports–themed b'heads of baseball and football players and their team mascots, but also plenty of pop culture icons, political figures, kid's product mascots, and much more. There is a group of famous Wisconsinites, including Liberace, Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, and Harry Houdini. I loved the historical bobblers, especially the Milwaukee Braves Indian from my childhood.

    Here's a virtual tour:

  • Secret malt shop speakeasy hidden in TV repair store

    On a recent trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin I was reminded of the city's love of unpretentious, wacky fun. (Milwacky?) 

    I met a friend for breakfast but he said first he had to drop off a VCR to be repaired. Huh? On a corner nearby the defunct Allen-Bradley factory "Don's TV Repair" shop was dark and closed. The sign said to go to the shop next door. There we found a small grocery store with a pinball machine and counter. My friend mentioned loudly "I sure could go for an ICE COLD 7-UP!"—and voila!—the vintage soda machine swung open like a door to reveal a secret passage. By saying the secret password we were admitted to the speakeasy hidden inside!

    Now it all made sense: the sign out front had actually said "LIQUID REPAIRS, TV DINNERS." The décor is dark bar and booths combined with TV repair shop, complete with vintage picture-tube tv sets, Zenith and RCA signage, video games, and even a repair shop/party room with a tool-filled pegboard wall. 70s/80s/90s pop culture memorabilia abounds with StarWars, ET, and even Lew Alcindor on the cover of an old magazine (ask your friend's grandpa from Milwaukee). It's like being on the set for "Stranger Things."

    The menu has crazy offerings like Fruity Pebble Pancakes, Bourbon Donut Holes, and Milwaukee Fish Fry "all day, every day." Best of all: the Boozy Shakes, like the "Commodore 64" with Korbel Brandy, cherry, orange, bitters, vanilla ice cream, served with Cool Whip and a Hostess Cherry Pie on top (and the malt glass is rimmed with multi colored sprinkles)!

    Shh—don't tell. It's our secret…

    Don's Speakeasy

  • Cartoonist and sign painter Justin Green remembered

    The Comics Journal has assembled many wonderful remembrances of the late cartoonist Justin Green. Fellow cartoonists, former editors, friends and family—and his sign painter peers—contribute stories about the gifted and troubled creator of the seminal (sic) "Binky Brown Meets The Holy Virgin Mary."

  • Flip out with book of retro record sleeves

    It was Record Store Day last weekend—a great occasion to support your local record store. Vinyl LPs are retro hi-fi audio fun, and the BIG 12" LP sleeve format is also a visual throwback to a different time. The book "Designed for Hi-Fi Living" [Amazon] is a cool collection of vintage record sleeves with detailed notes on the recording artists, cultural references, and guides to the Mid Century Modern furniture used in the photo shoots. The various travel, space age, and "gracious living" themes are a hoot.

  • "The Perfect Sound" is a perfect book for audio fans

    Poetry professor Garret Hongo's new book The Perfect Sound [amazon] is aptly named. It's the perfect book for any fan of all things audio. It combines a personal family memoir with midcentury Hawaiian and Southern Californian culture, pop music personalities, audio recording, technology, jazz, vacuum tubes vs. transistors, surf music, steel guitars, and so much more. You'll smell the smoke and hear the sizzling solder as Hongo recalls wiring up early hi-fi amps with his dad, just the first step in his life-long quest for the perfect sound.

  • Of course Chris Ware's "Monograph" is HUGE

    Fans of Chris Ware's comics ("Jimmy Corrigan," New Yorker covers, etc.)  will really enjoy this GIANT retrospective book of his work. I'm taken by the scope and variety of things presented. Sure, it includes all his amazing books but also early student work, personal projects (like color photos of his fantastic models of puppets, toys and automatons), museum displays, and class notes for a workshop he produced for art students.

    The level of detail and the amount of his work is astounding and this enormous book is just the same. The reproductions of his actual camera art are fascinating. See in-progress versions at nearly full size with blue line pencils, lettering and brush work, cut Zip-a-Tone, and corrections. Even at a whopping 18" x 26" double-spread size I still had to use a magnifying glass to see the details!

    Critics will complain it's too big, it's all too much, and it's too cold. Maybe true, but I think that kind of misses the point, like Emperor Joseph telling Amadeus "too many notes."

    Best of all are Ware's notes with remembrances, research, and personal history with his thoughts about comics, architecture, history, and life.

  • "Watch" this upcoming clockmaker docu

    A few years ago I saw historical horologist Brittany Nicole Cox at one of her fascinating lectures on automaton and mechanical curiosities here in Seattle where she has her workshop. I'm looking forward to seeing her again—this time in an upcoming live stream from NYC of a new documentary, "Keeper of Time."  It looks to be a visual treat of stunningly beautiful, fascinating mechanisms and their makers.

  • Free Frisco fresco 

    There are three amazing murals by Diego Rivera in San Francisco. "Allegory of California" is at the The City Club (tours closed for now), "The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City" is at the Art Institute, and now on display after being in storage for years is "Pan American Unity" at the SFMOMA.

    It's awesome! 22 feet tall and 75 feet wide. It took me an hour just to look at it. It's masterfully populated with dozens of personalities important to Rivera as he hoped to influence American in joining the fight against fascism in WWII. Ancient Aztec goddesses are mirrored with Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin—and mocked by Charlie Chaplin.

    You can see it for free.

  • Remembering the Automat

    I have fond memories of a family tip in 1964 to NYC to see the World's Fair. It was exciting as a kid to see all the big city attractions, but some of the more memorable things were simple. I loved going to the Automat with my Dad for a piece of pie from behind the little door.

    At least there is still pie…and this new documentary about The Automat featuring Mel Brooks. It's screening now in several cities or on demand.

  • Watch this 1960's jazzy junkie flick

    1961's "The Connection" is director Shirley Clarke's film of a play about making a cinema verite film—got that? In a dingy flat, some junkies await their "connection" to score a fix. In the process of "shooting" their footage, the filmmakers themselves become the subject of their own docu. Fake reenactments become a flop house hall of mirrors as real jazz musicians fake their way through syncing their own actual recordings. Hey, man, it's all twisted up but you'll make your own connections. As a character addresses us in the final "It's all yours now."

    I watched it for free on Kanopy.

    Trailer here:

  • No tubes for you, komrad

    In addition to everything else that Putins's invasion of Ukraine has wrought, rock and roll guitarists may loose their tone. The owner of Electro-Harmonix, Mike Matthews, announced Russian-made audio vacuum tubes would not be available due to a ban of certain exports for the rest of the year. Look for a run on sales (and spiking prices?) of your favorite Tung-Sol, EH Gold, Genalex Gold Lion, Mullard, Svetlana and Sovtek tubes