Monday, October 29, 2012

Staying Ahead, Just

Another calendar page, in an ongoing series. Before it gets filled up with appointments and swimming workout notations. Stalling, while paint dries. Truly.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Google Hails McCay

This has been much commented upon, and was pointed out to me by a number of friends as word of it broke across the interwebs. A Google doodle celebration of Winsor McCay, one of the great graphic geniuses, gifted with an inexhaustible imagination and a work ethic for the ages. Embedded below, for posterity.

I have posted on McCay before, many times. Links to three examples: on how his work in comics anticipates his pioneering animation work; in a discussion of caricature and melodrama; and, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, an appreciation of his propaganda film, The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918).

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Run, Turd Boy, Run!

Illustrator uncredited, cover illustration for The Gingerbread Boy, Platt and Munk, 1932.

Really, difficult to comment upon. But wouldn't you run from a woman in that outfit? Nostradamus foresees the Berenstain Bears. Holy crap. And what's with Farmer Redshirt? Serious ambiguity. You can buy this book. Act now!

Friday, October 12, 2012

It's That Time Again

The weekend has arrived when the students in my senior course receive the 100 figures assignment, described in some detail here, complete with commentary from survivors from prior years.

As Friday winds down, a wish for a good weekend to the group, with a set of pictorial reminders that figures need not be (sharp intake of breath) The Figure, but rather pictures of people.

At the top of this post, a Harry Beckhoff, interior fiction illustration for Collier's, June 12, 1941. Above, a petroglyph group from Nine Mile Canyon, in Central Utah. Photo by Stan Strembicki, with whom I went tramping around after these things. Fremont culture, between 700 and 1300 CE.

From Harlan Tarbell's Chalk Talk Stunts, Denison and Company, 1926. Recollections of the war in France inform these pictures, which are among the least objectionable in the entire book. (Another time.) Below: different French figures, also rendered in line, printed several hundred years earlier:

Death makes new friends, 15th or 16th century. The skeleton with the dark patch on his belly isn't a skeleton, but a dried-out partially decayed corpse, probably washed from an overcrowded (five or six deep) Parisian grave during a storm. 

A Lego policeman, reminding us the range is broader than we imagine.

Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I. 1907. Fluctuating between forest and trees.

Or people among trees. Milton Caniff, the Steve Canyon Sunday strip, October 14, 1947.

Richard Scarry, in Cars and Trucks, a Golden Book. 1951. A detail of a bus-boarding process.

Elegance is possible, too. From Gerlach's Allegories, 1900.

Mickey may not be people, strictly speaking, but his gigantic hands and feet are relevant for cartoon personages. From Steamboat Willie, 1928.

Finally, in a weekend languor–ooh, maybe another time–a Robert O. Reid Collier's cover girl, from October 14, 1939. Good luck everybody!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Quartz and Corn

Today I'm happy to report that I have a visual essay running on (in?) Quartz, a new offering from the folks at Atlantic Media Group.

The American Drought: What it looks like at an agriculture collective struggling with a blighted crop of corn.

The publishers of The Atlantic have made big investments in electronically delivered content. In the process they've helped blaze a trail out of the Totally Free Content Wasteland. That is, the Atlantic folks aren't willing go down with the print ship. They're working to generate enough online revenue to keep the Atlantic viable, and to build new properties. (I am a periodical junkie. I have long admired the folks who write and edit the Atlantic.)

Quartz has been conceived as a competitor to The Economist and the Financial Times: an international business entry, digitally native, designed for tablets and mobile devices. It's barely a week old. The enterprise does not charge for its content; rather, it's supported by sponsorships: Boeing, Credit Suisse, Cadillac and Chevron are signed through the end of the year.

Almost exactly four years ago, I was gearing up to produce a real-time Election Day Sketchbook project in St. Louis. I recruited two students to assist in the process, mostly shuttling sketchbooks back to the university to be scanned and uploaded. One of my recruits was David Yanofsky, a graphic designer, Red Sox fan, and all-around ball of fire.

We had a fun day.

After graduation David went on to work in journalism at Bloomberg News. Now he's taken a position as a reporter for Quartz. It's understood that David's information design skills are basic to his work, but by calling him a reporter, his employers integrate him into the journalistic enterprise on a fundamental level. By historical standards, that's quite provocative and forward-looking.

I'm in the same boat as a freelancer. My work for Quartz on this project was grounded in textual reporting, focused on the consequences of this year's historic drought on the corn harvest and agricultural businesses. I focused on Top Ag, a cooperative based in Okawville, Illinois. My visual reporting supported and expanded my writing. I generated a text plus five illustrations. Critically, I wasn't cast as a decorator; I built the story with words and pictures. If you'll pardon the pun, that's newsworthy.

I've written plenty about the history of visual journalism and the role of illustration here, here and here. I have been convinced that we're on the edge of a revival of visual reportage, and this project has underscored that belief. Good luck to David and the folks at Quartz; here's hoping we'll be working together again soon. Honored to be part of an exciting new and–for the periodical publishing industry–surprisingly historically aware entry:

"Like Wired in the 1990s and The Economist in the 1840s, Quartz embodies the era in which it is being created. The financial crisis that recently engulfed much of the world wasn’t just a cyclical decline or a correction or even a bubble bursting. It was a breaking point. And its shockwaves exposed a fundamentally changed economic order with new leaders and ways of doing business." From Welcome to Quartz, September 2012. 

Images: D.B. Dowd, Slow Day at the Granary, Trenton, Illinois, as seen on Quartz ( October 8, 2012; Dowd, Poll Workers, South St. Louis, November 6, 2008; Dowd, Mike Fuhler, Grain Merchandiser, Top Ag, Quartz, October 8, 2012; William Glackens, Loading Horses on the Transports at Port Tampa, Inkwash and Chinese white, field sketch on assignment for McClure’s Magazine, 1898. Collection, Library of Congress.

An Absence

The baseball playoffs have begun. The Cards won a dramatic, if sloppy, game against the Braves to get a crack at the Washington Nationals. The first game of that series went Washington's way today, 3-2.

I recently passed an old sports bar I'd seen an All-Star game in, years ago now, on Manchester in Richmond Heights. I was surprised–yet not–to observe that they'd torn the place down. The building was one of those old clapboard houses that grew porches and wings and extensions on its way to becoming an ad hoc monstrosity.  For some reason, I can't summon the name of the place. A cliche, like "The Dugout" or somesuch.

Anyway, I made a drawing in that parking lot a few years back. The absence of the strange, metastasized building reminded me of it, and I dug it out. Presented above. Vehicles plus satellite dish, far less than fully realized, yet now reminiscent of an obliterated spot. A quickie scan with a little shape support, like pictorial Spanx.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Visual Items

People absorb many images without even seeing them. Illustrations for learning and communication often fall into this category. But of course there's no reason why necessarily clear images have to be lame.

Today, a set of such images for the benefit of students, with little comment.

Several examples from Our Play Together, Book 2, published by Golden Pleasure Books, London, in 1963. Objects in a two-color setting. (The value relationship of the purple to the black is problematic in spots, especially the headline.)

A detail.

 These images are simple and straightforward, but also visually knowing. They're designed.

Alas, they're also culturally essentializing, like many sources of comparable vintage. The Chinese upturned eyes are a little much. Borderline space alien.

A bag of toys, each described simply, yet fashioned into a tangle

Formally, sort of nice.

Alas, the balloon lady is pretty creepy. A possibly lobotomized Eastern European grandmother. Those droopy strings make the balloons look like jellyfish after a boob job.

Books on science and technology for young people from this period are crammed with explanatory images. The pictures are more complicated, but they still rely on fundamental shape and color relationships.

Another source, from an earlier post: the pink-field illustrations above and below are picture lotto cards, akin to a bingo card, used for collecting game pieces. The images in both cases are credited, incompletely, to one C. Clement, noted on the box cover (not shown). My friend and colleague Linda Solovic found them at a flea market... she took the box and the game pieces, I got these. The game was produced by Samuel Gabriel and Sons Company, circa 1950.

What's not to like about these things? I associate them with the open-ended learning and discovery of childhood. I remember poring over pictures in the World Book Encyclopedia and other sources (Time-Life Books: another time!); they were fascinating then, and comforting and/or amusing now.

Some objects and categories of things are better-designed and lovelier today than they were 50 years ago; others are decidedly less so. Second topic for another time.

But it is worth pausing to note how quaint and anachronistic some of these nouns now seem. A pinwheel?

Technological subjects cut in interesting ways. Old sewing machines are cleverly-conceived and quite complicated things. The increasingly hidden mechanical workings of the world have left us feeling superior (Digital technology! Yay for us!) but less adept in the face of malfunction.

I actually like making descriptive/informational pictures, when they're called for. Above, building off the pink theme: a gila monster, for the MySci project, 2005.