• Meet Marvin Glass, the "Troubled King of Toys"

    Enjoy this local Chicago TV profile of toy inventor Marvin Glass–if you can.

    His toy development company created many famous toys and games (Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, Operation, etc.) which brought joy and mirth to millions of kids, but Marvin Glass himself had a dark side and was often depressed. He was famously profiled in The Saturday Evening Post as the "Troubled King of Toys."

    In this 1972 interview Glass comes off as defensive and negative, like Dan Akroyd's SNL Mainway Toy Company President or Martin Short's sweaty attorney Nathan Thurm.

    For more info on Marvin Glass and the famous toys he helped create, check out the Maker Media book Make: FUN! Create Your Own Toys, Games, and Amusements.

    [The amazing interview starts here. Glass could have been a character in a Mamet movie — Mark]

  • Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters: Inside His Films, Notebooks, and Collections

    If you were one of the lucky Del Toro fans who got to see the At Home With Monsters show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this year I hope you found the photo-mural of his house on the way out and took a selfie there — it looks like YOU are right there inside Bleak House, Del Toro's home of monsters! (see my pic above). Seeing that show was about as close as any of us will ever be to getting inside to see his collection. If you missed the show, then this book is the next best thing.

    Any fan of horror, sci-fi, and Del Toro films like Hellboy, will love this handsome book designed to go along with the museum show. The legendary film director's collection of original art, movie props and extraordinarily realistic life-size figures is truly amazing. His appetite is omnivorous and wide-ranging from low- to high-brow and everything in between: William Blake etchings, pulp novels and comic books, Japanese woodblock prints, Simpsons vinyl collectibles, Phillip Guston paintings to Todd Browning Freaks stills, and much, much, MUCH, more. Also included, are pages directly from Del Toro's own notebook with sketches and notes for his films, including Pan's Labyrinth and Blade.

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters: Inside His Films, Notebooks, and Collections

    by Guillermo del Toro (Author), Guy Davis (Illustrator), & 3 more

    Insight Editions

    2016, 152 pages, 8.0 x 0.8 x 10.0 inches, Hardcover

    $20 Buy one on Amazon

  • Pictorial history of vending machines, from Ancient Greece to today

    I didn't appreciate Japan's ubiquitous vending machines until I was on a hike through the countryside outside of Tsumago on a sweltering July afternoon. The bamboo forests and rolling verdant hills were beautiful but what really satisfied me was a cold drink from a vending machine in the middle of nowhere. A swig of "Calpis" never tasted better! How did that machine get there, and why is Japan crazy for vending machines? Read about it in this fun photo essay book.

    Sure, there is plenty about Japan's fascination with vending machines — are there really coin-operated machines that dispense used girl's panties? Find out here! But there are also other great and unusual machines from around the world. See and read about machines in Italy that make pizza from scratch, or dispensers of perfume in the city of Köln, Germany (the origin of "Eau de Cologne" — get it?), or Clark Whittington's witty re-use of old mechanical cigarette machines as vendors of fine art. (I found one of these fun machines in Chicago!). I loved all the stuff about candy, claw games, and capsule toy machines, called gachapon for the sound of turning the crank (gacha!) and the sound of the capsule dropping (pon!).

    As your reward for making it to the end of the book you'll find a free toy in the endpapers: a miniature Japanese drink vending machine (motomachi) you can cut out and assemble — no coins required!

    Vending Machines: Coined Consumerism

    by Christopher D. Salyers

    Mark Batty Publisher

    2010, 144 pages, 7.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches, Hardcover

    $6 Buy one on Amazon

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • One of a kind book that illustrates in word and art the highlights of the Pontiac

    Way back in the early 1970s, during the prior "pre-Photoshop" millennium, my fellow industrial design students and I labored to create photo-realistic renderings of products and cars with old-school, analog materials. Air-brushed gouache paints created super-smooth graduations of color, magic markers made deep shadows, and razor-sharp details like sparkling highlights and chrome reflections were added precisely with colored pencil.

    Our shining inspiration was a series of print ads by Pontiac, which appeared in popular magazines like National Geographic. Exaggerated perspectives made for dynamic views of the "Wide Track" Pontiac cars, and the far-flung settings included romantic, young couples doing exotic things like surfing or rally racing in Europe. These dramatically lit and staged renderings of cars and people were totally believable and more glamorous and compelling than any photograph ever could be. And who were the artists? Each of fantastic renderings was signed only with the mysterious initials: "VK AF."

    VK was Van Kauman, a former Disney animator who painted the wonderful figures and background settings. AF was Art Fitzpatrick, a long-time automotive illustrator. Together they created 285 of these magical masterpieces for Pontiac.

    This book brings you the art of Art Fitzpatrick, featuring new paintings of many of the muscle cars and other "Wide Track" Pontiacs. The large format is fitting — the square book opens up to a wide, two-page layout and the car renderings are reproduced in the eye-popping panoramas. The exaggerated perspective of AF's early work is best appreciated at this big scale and even at that, some of the cars literally burst out of the layout frames.

    But wait — there's more! The text contains the stories behind the cars from the time when Detroit ruled the roads (and showrooms). Automotive marketer Jim Wanger's remembrances will be of interest to any fan of muscle cars. The competition for bigger and bigger engine displacements, competitive racing sponsorships, even pop culture cars like the customized Monkeemobile GTO and the Smokey and Bandit Firebird are all included. Come for the art — stay for the stories.

    Pontiac Pizazz!

    by Jim Wangers, Art Fitzpatrick

    Dave Anderson

    2007, 64 pages, 12.4 x 0.6 x 12.2 inches, Hardcover

    $39 Buy one on Amazon

  • The Twilight Children mixes spunky kids, complicated adults, and government goons with magical realism

    Any fan of Love and Rockets creator Gilbert Hernandez and of Batman, Catwoman, and New Frontier writer and artist Darwyn Cooke will be excited to read The Twilight Children, a four-issue series by Vertigo collected in this soft cover book.

    The Twilight Children is set in a seaside town and the cast of characters includes his familiar mix of spunky kids and "complicated" adults. There are also government goons, a metaphysical siren, and mysterious, powerful orbs. People disappear, children are blinded (yet see again), and what is the deal with the glowing balls?!?

    It's great to see the wonderful art of Darwyn Cooke again, but sadly he died suddenly at age 53 in May, 2016 and this may be one of his last books (reason enough to get the book). Cooke's commercial art style with lively character design and simple, bold brushwork gives a more "slick" look than what you'd usually expect from a Gilbert Hernandez book. Dave Stewart (my favorite colorist and the best part of many Dark Horse comics!) does a spectacular job. His painterly, subtle palette and restrained use of color hold line art fits Cooke's drawing perfectly. No gradient mesh or lens flare effects, just solid sponge- and dry-brush painting. The bright and colorful seaside setting is a good contrast to the darker story elements. Also included in this compilation are some nice extras, like full-page paintings between chapters and a sketchbook of characters with storyboards by Hernandez.

    Warning: Some readers may feel unsatisfied with the ending. Much is left unexplained and mysteries persist. If shows like Twin Peaks piqued you, you might feel the same about this book. And, although the book looks like a colorful, mainstream comic, it is a Gilbert Hernandez story and is marked "SUGGESTED FOR MATURE READERS."

    The Twilight Children mixes spunky kids, complicated adults, and government goons with magical realism

    The Twilight Children

    by Gilbert Hernandez (author) and Darwyn Cooke (illustrator)


    2016, 144 pages, 6.7 x 10.2 x 0.2 inches (softcover)

    $10 Buy a copy on Amazon







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    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • Memento Mori – Spectacular book of essays and 500 photos of the dead among us

    One of my most unforgettable travel experiences was visiting the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora, near Prague. This small 19-century monastery chapel would be unremarkable, except that it is decorated with thousands of human bones and skulls. There are skull- and femur-decorated columns, hanging garlands of bones, a chandelier made of every bone in the human body, and a replica of the Schwarzenberg family coat of "arms" – that also includes leg, finger, scapula, and coccyx bones! The memory of that space makes any Halloween display seem tame and unimaginative.

    If Kutná Hora isn't in your travel plans, check out Memento Mori, a spectacular book of essays and photographs by UCLA PhD and art historian Paul Koudounaris. His 500 color photographs here are arresting, both in subject matter and photographic technique. The handsome hardbound book includes a stunning centerfold of a bejeweled and gold-encrusted mummy. The detail and visual opulence of the photo justifies the giant four-page spread. I enjoyed reading the informative essays about the use of human bones as a form of remembrance in cultures around the world, from Europe to Thailand, Japan to Peru, and from ancient times to the present day. Here's just one fun fact: there are two venerated human skulls (ñatitas) enshrined in the homicide division of the national law enforcement agency in El Alto, Bolivia. These two cranium crime-stoppers have provided "clues to difficult cases and have been credited with helping to solve hundreds of crimes."

    Memento Mori: The Dead Among Us

    by Paul Koudounaris

    Thames and Hudson

    2015, 208 pages, 9 x 13.3 x 1 inches (hardcover)

    $39 Buy a copy on Amazon

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • Fun book about toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s

    There are lots of books about baby boomer toys, but this fun collection is presented from the viewpoint of the kids who played with the toys and includes lots of personal memories and photographs. Sure, there are many interesting facts and histories about well-known toys and their creators. Classic toys and games that are still made today like Tonka trucks, Easy-Bake Oven, G.I. Joe, Matchbox and Hot Wheels, Twister and Mousetrap are featured in loving color photographs and vintage ads. Their stories are well-known, too. For example, writer and artist Johnny Gruelle patented his rag doll design in 1915, the same year his daughter Marcella died after a controversial smallpox vaccination. The Rageddy Ann and Andy dolls and books helped Gruelle keep his memories of his daughter alive.

    Famous fads include the '50s Davy Crocket Coonskin Hats, the '60s Troll dolls, and the '70s Pet Rock. Toys always reflect the times they're from and this book provides plenty of cultural and historical background. Only after the heady 1960s and '70s with women's liberation, the sexual revolution, and Black Power movement would there be an anatomically correct African American baby boy doll, Mattel's Baby Tender Love, molded in life-like vinyl skin called Dublon.

    Other less well-known toys are long gone from the toy store shelves but live on in the very personal memories (and actual childhood photographs!) featured throughout the book. Home health training specialist Lisa Crawford (b 1963) appropriately recalls the insanely dangerous metal-tipped lawn Jarts. I was delighted to find Make editor and fellow WINK contributor Gareth Branwyn's (b 1958) recollection of using his own Johnny Horizon Environmental Test Kit to get an A+ on a school project (and to keep tabs on any hometown polluters!). Learn the mysteries of Ike-A-Doos, create a Cootie, and check out Schwinn's Lil' Chik for-girls-only line of bikes.

    I was charmed by these personal toy stories. I was also lucky enough to see this show of toys at Seattle Museum of History and Industry. Even if you weren't able to see this traveling Minnesota Historical Society-curated show, which ended last month, you can explore these memorable toys with the book.

    Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s

    by Kate Roberts and Adam Scher

    Minnesota Historical Society Press

    2014, 208 pages, 8 x 10 x 0.7 inches (softcover)

    $23 Buy a copy on Amazon

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • Industrial Strength Design profiles the most famous designer you've never hears of: Brooks Stevens

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World

    by Glenn Adamson

    The MIT Press

    2003, 300 pages, 9.5 x 11 x 0.8 inches

    From $10 Buy a copy on Amazon

    This excellent book profiles the most famous industrial designer you've never heard of: Brooks Stevens. Sure, you know of designer Jonathan Ive and his Apple products, and maybe Raymond Loewy, who slimmed the Coke bottle and decked out Kennedy's Air Force One, but flipping through this book you'll instantly recognize Brooks Stevens' equally famous mid-century creations: that 3M "Mondrian" packaging, The Excalibur custom car, the Miller beer "soft cross" logo, the "boomerang" patterned Formica, and yes, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile!

    Stevens grew up in Milwaukee, and his unpretentious Midwestern work ethic and pro-business attitude was clear in all his work and writing. Unlike other designers who indulged in fantastic and lofty, theoretical designs, Stevens applied his styling skills and practical design sensibilities to suit local manufacturers of lawn mowers, outboard motors, cookware, and vehicles, resulting in increased sales and efficient manufacturing (if not design awards).

    One of his most famous creations is the phrase "planned obsolescence," which was widely attacked at the time by Vance Packard in his book The Waste Makers as an example of the manipulation of consumers and crass commercialism. Stevens proudly defended his approach of constant improvements and questioned so-called "good design" as actually elitist, unpractical and most damning of all in his mind, ultimately unprofitable. The debate goes on and you'll have to come to your own conclusion: are manufacturers' frequent new product variations kaizen-like progress, or just needless churning of the consumer. (Do you really need that new iPhone 9x?)

    As an industrial designer trained in the old-school skills of drawing and rendering, I loved seeing the many samples of marker sketches, gouache renderings and airbrushed presentations drawings. Check out the crazy concept cars and boats – it's like a trip back in time to a mid-sixties auto show.

  • Formica Forever celebrates the sleek century-old material and its indestructible beauty

    See more sample pages from this book at Wink.

    Formica Forever

    by Formica Corporation

    Metropolis Books/Formica Corporation

    2013, 408 pages, 6.5 x 9.4 x 1.2 inches (softcover)

    $37 Buy a copy on Amazon

    This handsome book on Formica is really a love letter written to itself. Formica Forever celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Formica Group with interesting histories, rich visuals, a little chemistry lesson, and cleverly excerpted quotes from literature all in a witty format designed by Pentagram. You'll learn of Formica's origins as an industrial material developed as a synthetic electrical insulator (substituting "for mica"), its evolution to a durable and decorative finish material in ships, trains, and, most famously, its use in post-war American homes. That's when and where the "wipe-clean world" reached its pinnacle, with Formica saving mankind from eons of grime, crud, germs and smells – and looking great, too, due to its indestructible beauty. The spectrum of colors, foils, wood grains, patterns and finishes are well represented in these gorgeous graphics. As a bit of an inside joke, the images of ads, ladies magazine photo spreads, pattern sample chips and endless uses of Formica are printed on pages that have been perforated, just like a tear-out catalog or sample book.

    I'll leave it to you to pick your favorite of all the images of Formica in action. I loved Lee Payne's giant Neapolitan ice cream and Frank Gehry's illuminated fish sculpture. Sprinkled throughout are short quotes (printed on the back of Formica "sample chip" cartouches) from famous authors who have used Formica in their writing: John Updike, Sue Grafton, Ian Flemming, Harlin Ellison, and Margaret Atwood. Formica is everywhere!

    America's taste in kitchen countertops has largely moved on to marble, but these classic Formica ads and colorful swatches are still a treat for any fan of mid-century modern design or Americana.

  • Primitive but clever inventions that predate today's smart phones

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    Where Discovery Sparks Imagination: A Pictorial History of Radio and Electricity

    by John D. Jenkins

    American Museum of Radio and Electricity

    2009, 224 pages, 8.2 x 10 x 1 inches

    $16 Buy a copy on Amazon

    If you're ever up near the Canadian border in the little college town of Bellingham, WA make time to check out a gem of a museum there: The SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention. It's fully charged up and literally crackling with excitement (and a 4-million volt Tesla coil!). SPARK showcases all manner of fascinating artifacts all about the history of electricity from early static electricity generators to advanced vacuum tubes that went to the moon. Can't make the trip? Then get this wonderful book!

    And even if you do go to SPARK in person, you'll also want to read Where Discovery Sparks Imagination. It features lavish color photographs of hundreds of the items on display together with the interesting stories of the people and places that go along with the things. I learned even more about Alessandro Volta and volts, Andre-Marie Ampere and amps, and Georg Ohm and ohms. See the recreation of the Titanic's radio room. Learn how an undertaker in Kansas City invented the first dial phone to short circuit his competitor's switchboard shenanigans. Anyone who has used a phone, listened to a recording, or turned on a lamp will enjoy seeing the primitive but clever inventions that predate today's smart phones, PCs and LED lights. Fans of steampunkery will geek out at the endless array of 19th-century wonders like Wimhurst generators, telegraphs, "electro-magnetic motive machines," as well as a forest of vacuum-tube devices, handsome wood-burl radio cabinetry and brassy mechanical sound players.

    I was delighted to see included whimsical touches, too, like the mascot characters that put a friendly face on electrical consumer products: sure, they have a "Nipper" (the RCA mascot dog), but also the very cool 1920s Maxfield Parrish designed "Selling Fool" point of purchase display doll (with wooden jointed, posable limbs with slits for holding ad cards – and a radio tube for a helmet!). Until I can go back to SPARK (Science Powered Adventures for Real Kids) in person, I'm digging this book!

  • Before anime, Japanese paper theater entertained 1-million kids a day

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater

    by Eric P. Nash

    Abrams ComicArts

    2009, 304 pages, 8.6 x 9.2 x 1.1 inches

    $29 Buy a copy on Amazon

    Manga Kamishibai tells and shows the fascinating history of Japanese paper theater, a lost storytelling form and the link between Edo-era Japanese ukiyo-e prints and modern day manga and television. I say "and shows" because this art form combined the spoken word with compelling visuals in uniquely Japanese storytelling performances and this book is rich with many wonderful reproductions of the hand-painted artwork.

    Picture this: In devastated post-WWII Tokyo, a man stops his bicycle on a street corner. On the back of his bike is mounted a large, sixty-pound wooden box. The man flips a few panels around to reveal a stage-like picture frame. He noisily clacks together two wooden sticks, hiyogoshi, to call the neighborhood children. As they gather to see and hear the free show, the man sells them home-made penny candies, including a not-too-sweet taffy that's pulled and stretched using a chopstick (like today's movie business, the real money is in the profitable concessions!). The paying customers get a front row seat to the performance. The man slides a sequence of large, colorful panels in the frame "screen" as he tells adventure stories, quizzes the audience, and weaves tales of suspense, all with character voices and sound effects. As the story ends on a dramatic, to-be-continued cliff-hanger, the man packs up his two-wheel theater and pedals away … until next time. They are all but vanished now, but these performances date back to the 1930s when 2,500 kamishibaiya in Tokyo alone entertained 1 million kids a day.

    Any fan of manga, anime, as well as comics in general will devour this book. The reproductions of the lurid images of action heroes, monsters, villains, and damsels in distress in the stories embody a potent mix of influences: Japanese ink brush work, movie posters, silent film and cinematic design, and plenty of Western references. The army of artists that painted these panels freely borrowed from many genres, from Betty Boop to folk tales. In turn, kamishibai set the stage for the manga and anime that took its place (many of the same artists moved along with them). As the advent of television made these live street performances obsolete (television was first called denki kamishibai, or "electric paper theater"), the artists lifted from popular TV shows for their dying art form. Holy copy-cat, Batman!

    You'll enjoy the witty captions, wide–ranging historical references and the clever writing style. This book also shows and tells how kamishibai was used to disseminate news, spread propaganda, illustrate war survival techniques, and fight prejudices. In a parallel to the congressional hearings and criticism by Wertham of the U.S. comic makers, kamishibai also was investigated and regulated. You'll read (and see) other interesting facts, like the technological and historical reason why comics have always been an important media form in Japan. (Hint: what if your language doesn't suit itself to using Gutenberg's movable type?). Manga Kamishibai is a real treat for any fan of Japanese pop culture (candy not included).

  • The Collector follows an 1880's rogue and dandy as he travels in search of treasures

    See sample images from this book at Wink.

    The Collector

    by Sergio Toppi


    2014, 252 pages, 8.5 x 11 x 1 inches

    Buy a copy on Amazon

    I was delighted to discover this terrific collection of comics by Italian artist Sergio Toppi. Although I'd never seen his work before, it instantly got my attention and seemed familiar. It combines a flat graphic art style, a swashbuckling sensibility and witty writing that I found irresistible.

    Sergio Toppi (1932-2012) was an artist and illustrator from Italy, whose books have been published for decades in Europe but only recently translated and available in the U.S. through Archaia, a division of Boom Entertainment. The Collector won the Soleil D'Or prize for Best Series at the Soliès-Ville Festival. It's easy to see why.

    The book follows the exciting exploits of an 1880's rogue and dandy, known as "The Collector," as he travels the globe in search of treasures. Not a seeker of gold or jewels, he collects only artifacts with historical significance. This sets the stage for adventures featuring Hopi Indians in the American Southwest, camel-riding Ethiopians, Mongol tribesmen, warring Irish clans, Maori chieftains and more. Although the artwork is in black and white, it's most highly folkloric and historically colorful. The separate wide-ranging episodes and characters are knitted back together into a satisfying finale.

    Each page is laid out in dramatic fashion with bold layouts. Some pages have conventional multiple comic panels, while others feature free-wheeling compositions, along with other full-page designs, more fine line illustration than comic book. Toppi is a master of drawing the human figure and the characters are richly rendered in various cultures' costumes and in far-flung settings. That, combined with his inventive crosshatching, splatters, scratches and bold use of solid blacks, reminds me of two of my favorites: Bernie Fuchs and Mike Mignola.

    I enjoyed the cinematic approach of the staging and the clever use of scale. Tiny figures draw you into a wider landscape, then are immediately juxtaposed against a close-up portrait, all within one page's layout. If you remember that scene from the film Lawrence of Arabia where a nearly infinitesimally tiny camel–riding Peter O'Toole is boldly placed into a Cinerama desertscape, you'll know what I mean – wow! I'm looking forward to reading another translated Toppi book: Sharaz De: Tales from the Arabian Nights.

    – Bob Knetzger

  • A book about Theo Jansen's amazing wind-powered creatures

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    You may have seen my earlier Wink Fun review of Elenco’s terrific Mini-beest Kit, a working miniature model kit of one of Theo Jansen’s amazing animated creatures. I wanted to know more about him and his work so I found a copy of his 2009 book, The Great Pretender. The 240-page volume contains notes, timelines, photos, sketches and family trees for Jansen’s “Animarus,” as he calls his species of moving, breathing, and thinking constructions. He creates magnificent beasts out of the cheapest and lowliest of raw materials: thin wall PVC pipes, packing tape, empty soda bottles, and zip ties. When assembled, the giant, articulated creatures walk along the beach in the Netherlands, powered only by the wind.

    In the book’s format, each of the verso pages (on the left) have color photographs of the many details about his designs and their construction: hinges and movable joints, leg linkages, molds and fixtures, pneumatic tubing muscles, etc. Each artifact is artfully depicted with low-key lighting and muted backgrounds, like specimens in an archeological volume. There are also beautiful photos of the fully-assembled creatures in their native habitat, strolling along the shore.

    The recto pages (on the right) carry the text, with chapter-length explanations of his thoughts and processes on how and why he came to create the various versions of his animated “life forms.” There’s Animarus Sabulosa Adolescense (young sand-coated beach animal) and Animarus Vermiculus (worm animal) and about 30 more, each as amazing as the last. Along with explaining the origins of his animals, Jansen also muses about life, evolution, natural selection, sex, gender roles, memes, and many other topics.

    Jansen originally studied to be a physicist, but ultimately he became an artist. His writing evidences this dual nature. His radical (to the “root”) thinking and his very personal (and humorous!) impressions on even dry, technical matters combine to make for an interesting read. He’ll offer a thought like “animals move by changing shape. Repeated changes in shape result in repeated changes in place.” He expands on the concept, going from worms, to shellfish, to limbs, and then shows examples of his design process, which embody these abstract principles in very concrete and ingenious constructions. By limiting his palette to just a few “junk” materials, he has to be fiendishly clever. He coaxes precision out of low tech materials, “nerves” out of tubing, “muscles” out of bathroom caulk, and even creates a rudimentary type “thinking” that lets his creatures sense and respond to sand conditions.

    A valuable addition to the volume is a DVD with video interviews, examples of his many other art projects, and plenty of sequences of the Animari in action. After reading the book I had a much fuller appreciation of the mind of Theo Jansen and an understanding of his improbable creations.

    The Great Pretender

    by Theo Jansen

    nai010 publishers

    2013, 240 pages, 8.5 x 11.2 x 1.1 inches

    From $90 (used) Buy one on Amazon

  • Build a 5-story school building, then knock it down with SmartLab's demolition Wrecking Ball

    See more photos at Wink Fun.

    With toys, sometimes simple is best: no batteries, no electronics, all kid-powered. Such is Wrecking Ball, the latest addition to SmartLab’s line of award-winning Demolition Lab build-‘em-and-wreck-‘em DE-construction toy sets. Build the five-story school building, then knock it down with the wrecking ball. Simple concept – and that’s where the fun just begins.

    First you assemble. Punch out the realistically illustrated wall and roof panels and add the plastic stand-up feet. Each panel depicts part of an abandoned schoolhouse, complete with hazard tape warnings, broken windows and bell tower. Also snap together the wrecking ball crane with extension feet and pre-assembled lever mechanism. Colorful stickers add a finishing touch to the wrecking crane.

    Then build the five-story schoolhouse by stacking the walls and roof panels. The stand-up feet make this easy so even the youngest kid can do it without needing delicate “house of cards” dexterity. Add the bell tower on top to finish.

    Now for the big moment. Adjust the telescoping arm to aim the wrecking ball so you can strike the building just where you want. Pull back on the handle as the wrecking ball s-l-o-w-l-y swings back and rises up with a dramatic “click-click-click…” Make any last minute fine adjustments, then press the red button to release the wrecking ball. The ball swings down and – kaBLAM!– the panels tumble as the school walls and roof collapse. Classic tension/release play pattern.

    Simple enough for any kid. But there’s more: suggestions in the instruction propose other challenges. Can you knock the entire structure down in a single blow? Make other structures and designs to demolish. Try to knock out only certain sections with a controlled swing of the wrecking ball while leaving the rest of the structure intact – kind of a kooky Jenga game. Kids will devise their own games and activities, add action figures and vehicles, improvise Rube Goldberg constructions, etc. What’s nice is the control you have by setting the length of the arm and precise amount of backswing: you can deliver just the right amount of force exactly where you want. And, besides, what kid wouldn’t enjoy a little school-wrecking fantasy this time of year?

    Note: Full disclosure: I’ve done design work for Smart Lab in the past but not on this product line – wish I did!

    Wrecking Ball Building Kit

    by SmartLab

    Ages 8-12

    $30 Buy a copy on Amazon

  • King of the Kustomizers is an enjoyable feast of George Barris' hot rods, customized cars and other kooky creations

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    I was initially reluctant to order this book unseen, given the high list price, but once I had it in my hands I was completely won over. This profile of George Barris is a highly enjoyable feast for any fan of cars, movies, TV shows, pop music and culture. Clearly a labor of love, this hefty, nearly-500 page book was written by George Barris’ son Brett.

    The embossed and shiny spot-varnished cover perfectly embodies the King of Kustomizers and his creations: bold, glitzy and over-the-top. The hundreds of color and black and white photos inside lovingly show Barris’ astounding automotive output, which includes early hot rods, dragsters, customized cars for the stars, TV and movie vehicles, corporate promotional cars, wild buggies for musical groups, and more. The list of his clients is a who’s who of mid-century Hollywood: The Beach Boys, Elvira, Sonny and Cher, The Boogaloos, The Munsters, Beverly Hillbillies, Farah Fawcett, Bob Hope, Elton John – far too many to list them all. The Batmobile on the cover may be his most famous car, but the scope of the book will amaze you. And not just Hollywood: if you were a company like Lipton, Vox amplifiers, ToysRUs, Coppertone, or Big Boy and needed a custom car to promote your brand, George Barris’ shop Kustom City was the place to go for that head-turning vehicle that literally embodied your product. You get page after page of kooky kustom cars!

    It’s no surprise that Barris was as brilliant a businessman as he was a car customizer. With a little help from his friend actor/director/photographer John Derek, Barris turned his interest in photography into a synergistic sideline: he repurposed the in-progress and reference photos he took of the cars he was customizing and sold them along with the article about them to the popular car magazines, which then in turn became nation-wide promotion for his customizing business. The book contains many of Barris’ own historic shots of his most famous cars. See the Batmobile being made. What’s hidden in the back seat of the Munster Koach? Is that a REAL coffin on the Dragula? All is revealed!

    But wait – there’s more! Barris the businessman designed toys, assembly model kits, boats, car accessories, bicycles, and on and on. If it was FUN and had wheels, Barris did it. How much fun would it have been if your dad drove the Munster Koach home from work and parked it in your driveway? It’s easy to see why Brett Barris says in the foreword that he felt like the luckiest kid in the world. This book is a real blast from the past for any baby boomer.

    – Bob Knetzger

    Note: A collection of Barris' kustom creations will be on display in Los Angeles at Galpin's annual car show this Sunday, September 20th. Click here for details.

    September 17, 2015

    King of the Kustomizers: The Art of George Barris

    by Brett Barris and Douglas Nason

    Last Gasp

    2015, 496 pages, 9 x 11.5 x 3 inches

    $57 Buy one on Amazon

  • This beautiful Tintin tome is full of all wonderful things Herge

    If you're a fan of Tintin comics and of Hergé (Georges Remi), this is one book you’ll want to own. Nothing “comic book” or throw away about this beautifully produced volume. The form factor and details are wonderful: a square format with an elegant embossed black and white drawing close-up of Tintin with his trademark quiff on the cover. It has also red- and white-checkerboard page edges, just like the iconic rocket ship from “Destination Moon.” This one will display nicely with the rest of your Tintin collectibles.

    It won't stay on the display shelf for long. The 480 pages inside are just as delightful. It’s full of colorful images of all things Hergé, from enticing photos of the Hergé Museum in Brussels (you’ll want to go!), to artifacts and models used in the production of the Tintin books, snapshots and promotional pictures of Hergé, and lots of images of actual camera art.

    You’ll see up close and in detail how Hergé created his books, from preliminary rough sketches and figure drawings, pencil layouts and revisions, reference materials and photography, original camera art line (with all the corrections) and the final colored print version. A real look “inside” that the comic fan will appreciate.

    Tintin: The Art of Hergé

    by Michel Daubert

    Harry N. Abrams

    2013, 480 pages, 8.5 x 8.5 x 1.8 inches (paperback)

    $31 Buy one on Amazon

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • Photo book shows Eames' beautiful details

    Eames: Beautiful Details

    by Eames Demetrios

    AMMO Books

    2014, 408 pages, 12.5 x 9.2 x 2.2 inches

    $41 Buy one on Amazon

    One of my favorite speakers at San Mateo Maker Faire this year was Llisa Demetrios, granddaughter of Charles Eames. Her talk included very personal remembrances of times with her grandfather and with his wife Ray Eames. Llisa shared family photos taken at their iconic home, Case Study House #8, as well as playful letters from her grandfather in rebus form and rare snips of their short films. All very charming and enjoyable to get an inside look at Charles and Ray Eames. If you missed it, you now have a second chance to explore the personal side of the Eames in Eames: Beautiful Details.

    The title is apt as the unusual format with 400 twice-as-wide-as-tall pages makes for panoramic layout spreads, not unlike the multi screen format of their films. You may think you have seen some of these images before, but not like this with extra detail and context. And as Charles Eames famously said, “The details are not the details; the details make the product,” or in this case, the book.

    This elegant book is organized by chapters for each of the various aspects of the Eames’ work, e.g., graphics+textiles, furniture+experiments, toys+games, etc., with personal essays and quotes by three generations of the Eames family: Charles and Ray, daughter Lucia Eames, and grandkids. It’s like sitting down with the family and their photo album. The many candid (and cleverly posed) photos depict their proto-Maker life, with work, family and home all blended together in and around their lively house/studio: Charles at a Moviola at work on a film, Ray designing textiles and painting, then, later, the same space reconfigured as a giant play area for visiting grandkids with a mountain of boxes for stacking (and crashing!).

    The Eames’ love of color, design and detail are evident in the book’s many full-page photos and generous layouts. Even lowly, everyday objects become a colorful kaleidoscope of tools, kites, flowers, textures, and more. You can tour the historic Eames house today, but it’s like a quiet museum. All that’s left now of the Eames’ original design office in Venice, CA is a memorial wall with a few photos. On the other hand, Eames: Beautiful Details is very much alive with the life and work, family and friends of Charles and Ray Eames.

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • Build a top quality kinetic Rhinoceros Mini-Beest from a kit

    Dutch engineer and artist Theo Jansen has created the most amazing kinematic sculptures, which he refers to as life forms. The incredibly ingenious mechanical linkages are powered by compressed air, harvested from the wind. They are made of PVC pipe, recycled bottles, and scrounged wood from shipping pallets. From a pile of junk, Jansen creates articulated multi-legged beasts which run free on the beaches of Holland. (Okay, amazing is a word that is thrown around a lot, but here is your proof.)

    The astounding and huge creature that you see at 5:00 into the video is the inspiration for this excellent book/kit sold by EDU-TOYS. This combination assembly kit and booklet includes the plastic parts engineered by the Japanese educational product producer Gakken and a new 24-page English language booklet. You’ll get fascinating photos of Jansen and his various creations in their natural environment as well as well-written and illustrated instructions. And you’ll need them! The kit has over 130 parts, which at first seems a little intimidating. However, simply follow the clear line drawings for each step of assembly and the sequence and logic to the parts become clear.

    The engineering and molding is top quality with polished molds and flash-free parts. No glue or tools are needed. All the press fittings are snug, the snap junctions crisp, and the gears mesh perfectly with seemingly no friction. You’ll appreciate all the attention to detail when you finish the build: place the Mini Rhino on a flat surface and gently blow on the squirrel cage fan. The beest comes to life and walks across the table! The multi-link legs are driven by a central camshaft as the drive gears spin smoothly. WOW! What’s also nice is because it’s a kit you assemble yourself, you’ll have a feeling of accomplishment and a full understanding of how the clever design works (not something you’d get by simply buying an assembled version).

    Rhinoceros Mini-Beest Science Kit

    by Elenco

    Ages 8 and up, over 130 parts, includes 24-page science booklet

    $25 Buy a copy on Amazon

    See sample pages at Wink.

  • Okonomiyaki – A "Japanese pizza" kit that is as fun to make as it is to eat

    Fans of Asian cooking will enjoy this kit for making okonomiyaki at home (Buy a kit on Amazon). It's essentially a frittata made with batter, cabbage, plus whatever you want like shrimp, or pork, etc, kind of like different pizza toppings. (Okonomiyaki roughly means "grill what you want.") We were introduced to these kits by one of our high school exchange students, Kazuki. His mom sent them to us from Japan, but you can get them at your local Asian food store or from Amazon.

    Each kit comes with little bags of yam powder, batter mix, tempura crisps, seaweed flakes, and shaved bonita. (BTW – do not let your cat get a whiff or taste of the bonita flakes and then leave the package on the counter. Ask me how I know.) You add eggs, green onion, cabbage and bacon, as well as mayo and okonomi sauce (be sure to get some of this delicious sauce when you get the kit – it's NOT included!). Each kit will make 2-3 okonomiyaki "pancakes."

    You'll also get translated English instructions. I like the cute kawaii style Japanese instructions with a little boy and girl making their own okonomiyaki together. It's like a free mini comic. But one thing puzzled me and I had to ask Kazuki what this part meant: "The little girl is saying 'cook the bacon until it is the color of a fox!'"

    Top the whole thing off with squiggles of mayo and okonomi sauce (kind of like tonkasu sauce – both sweet and savory). Then sprinkle on the seaweed and shaved bonita flakes (dried tuna). The thin flakes stand up on edge with a wriggling action: they "wave" at you from the heat rising up off of your skillet-fresh okinomiyaki! Look closely to see the waving action in this video I shot in Kyoto.

    The total effect is an insanely rich and delicious flavor of sweet, salty, bacon-y, umami, and tangy… all at the same time. Your entire tongue's taste buds fire at once!

    See more photos of Okonomiyaki at Wink Fun.

  • Make this display frame that holds 10 comic books

    I looked everywhere for a solution but finally came up with this frame hack. It holds 10 comics inside and stands by itself or hangs on the wall. You can open the front and take out the comics with the bookmark ribbons. It keeps my comics clean and dust-free and proudly displays the book of my choice on the top of the stack: a BRPD #1 comic singed by the entire Dark Horse team, creator Mike Mignola, colorist Dave Stewart, artist Guy Davis, and editor Scott Allie!

    Best of all it's super easy to do: cut two wood spacers, paint them to match and glue them in place with the ribbons underneath. Bazinga!


    I found the perfect frame to start with: it's a Studio Décor front opening shadow box, 8" x 10" size. If you want to find a different one I suggest you take an actual comic book with you to the store to test out frames. The dimensions of the inside (where the comics will go) aren't always exactly the size as listed on the frame. I chose this particular shadow box as the inside vertical dimension, 10 3/16", is a perfect fit for current comics. Older comics are a different size so check with the comics you want to use.


    All I had to do was make some spacer bars to go on both sides to hold the comics in place. I wanted a snug fit so I cut two bars, ¾" wide by 10 3/16" long out of ¾" plywood. Check the fit inside the frame and sand the bars for smooth edges and faces. Paint the wood on five sides with flat finish black spray paint. Leave the backs plain and unpainted.


    Check the fit before painting! Leave a little extra sideways clearance for the thickness of the ribbons.


    When the paint is dry add some ribbons (they'll make it easy to remove the comics later). I used ¾" black velour ribbons. They visually disappear inside the frame. Cut two pieces about 9" long. Hot glue the ends of the ribbons to back of one of the bars.


    When the glue is set slip the bars inside the shadow box. A tiny bit of hot glue will keep the bar in snugly in place. Done!


    Place your comics inside on top of the ribbons. The shadow box frame will hold up to ten comics. Flip half of the comics the other way so that that the thicker stapled side are distributed two ways.


    You can use the easel back to display the frame on a tabletop or shelf.


    Or you can hang the frame on the wall and open the front and remove your comics for reading or to change the top displayed comic cover. Of course if you have really valuable comics (like Action Comics #1!) it'd probably be best be to use actual archival storage and keep them UV protected, etc. — but I'm really enjoying displaying my comics this way!



    Lift on the ribbons to remove the comics without dog-earring them.