Uncertain Certainty

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki. Machines of Death, 2010. 9780982167120.

This Is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki. Grand Central Publishing, 2013. 9781455529391.

Sarah: You may have already heard of this: Machine of Death!
Gene: Oh, I have heard of that.
S: I really liked it. It’s the first of two volumes, I realized I don’t have the second volume because I gave it to my brother for Christmas. But I have read both books. So! This is a premise that originated in a Dinosaur Comics strip, and it’s in the book. The idea is that there is a machine that is able to tell you, with a simple blood test, how you’re going to die. It will sometimes be obscure and sometimes it won’t be totally clear how that would cause your death, and no matter what you do you can’t change the fact that that is your destiny. Sometimes it’ll happen despite your efforts in a weird Twilight Zone twist. The book is an anthology by a bunch of different people all using that premise. It’s like the most wonderful anthology show, like if you got a Twilight Zone series where every episode was on one premise but interpreted radically differently by different artists. I would LOVE to see that.
G: It has a sci-fi feel?
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Nice Package!

The Packaging Designer’s Book of Patterns, 2nd edition, Lászlo Roth and George L. Wybenga. John Wiley & Sons, 2000. 0471385042.

Folding Patterns for Display and Publicity, drawings by Laurence K. Withers. The Pepin Press/Agile Rabbit Editions, 2002. 9057680408.

Sarah: I looked up the addresses and hours… (thumps book on table)
Gene: You scared my cat!
S: I looked up the addresses and hours of all of the Powell’s Books locations in Portland recently and I probably knew but had forgotten that they had closed Powell’s Technical Books.
G: That was across the street from the big bookstore?
S: Yeah, it was all of their… not just computer stuff, but technical books in every field. If you need super-technical books about constructing drainage systems, they had those. Super specialized books in every field.
G: Do they have those books in the main bookstore now?
S: I believe so. Powell’s Technical is where I picked up this first book, The Packaging Designer’s Book of Patterns.
G: Wow!
S: I thought you’d really like it.
G: Oh my god!
S: Because it’s about how to die cut, where to fold, where to glue to make all of these different possible paper and cardboard packages. From really simple stuff, like a cereal box, to one that looks like a cathedral. You can make a box look like a specific famous building if you want to sell a souvenir whatever. This is aimed at people who are designing packaging and need some ideas.
G: You paid $65 for this???
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Wow: Adventure Time!

Adventure Time: The Art of Ooo by Chris McDonnell. Harry N Abrams, 2014. 9781419704505.

Sarah: I am a terrible person to lend books to. I have the biggest to-read stack in the world, so if you loan something to me your book is just going to live at my house for a while.
Gene: This book of mine lived at your house for… six months?
S: Yeah. I’m very sorry!
G: It’s okay! I gave it to you to review because I couldn’t make a coherent pitch for it. But I am glad to be getting it back.
S: It starts with the background of Pen Ward, who designed and created the Adventure Time cartoon, with some of his art from before he worked on it then some art as he was developing the show.
G: Is he an animator?
S: Yeah, he’s a cartoonist and animator.
G: What was that first cartoon he did? There’s art from it in here…
S: Flapjack. There are his notes as he built up the Adventure Time world, figured out who the characters were, what it looked like…
G: Was he making a series bible in the form of notes?
S: It’s interesting, because this was when they were still working it out. Eventually there’s series bible stuff. Like this, “How to Draw Adventure Time.” They do new ones every few years, because the style evolves. Here, “Can Finn’s mouth leave the circle of his mask? NO.” So it will look like this, but not like that.
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Go Outside and Paint

Colors of the West: An Artist’s Guide to Nature’s Palette by Molly Hashimoto. Skipstone, 2017. 9781680510973.

Sarah: I got this book, Colors of the West, it’s a gorgeous book and the writing is wonderful but I realized I am the worst person to review this. I’m an indoor kid, I don’t go to a lot of state or national parks, I’m not a visual artist, and the author does a lot of amazing programs for my library so there’s no way I can be objective. So I gave it to my friend Bibi to review. You have a degree in art, right?
Bibi: Yes, a couple of them, actually.
S: And you actually go to national parks and camp and hike?
B: Yep.
S: So what did you think?
B: It’s fabulous. It really reminded me of places I’ve been. I would turn a page and say, “Oh, I’ve been to Olympic National Park!” Hashimoto really captures the feeling of the places she paints. There’s a painting of a pueblo in New Mexico and I remember being there and trying to take photographs and they just did not get the essence of the place. Her painting did, it caught the light and the feeling of it.
S: She’s got paintings of animals in the book, too, wild animals, and I know she sometimes uses stuffed specimens from Seattle’s Burke Museum and the Audubon Society as models.
B: I love how she will pick certain animals and not do a big background, just really make the animals the center of the paintings. She gets the character of their actions and how they live in their environment. It’s really sweet.
S: This book isn’t just her paintings and her views of these places, it also teaches how to use watercolors, techniques and materials.
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How to Take the Gravel Road

If Found Return To Elise Gravel, translated by Shira Adriance. Drawn & Quarterly, 2017. 9781770462786.

Gene: This is Elise Gravel’s sketchbook. It’s got this nice elastic band on it, to hold it closed like a real sketchbook! Like the elastic bands on Moleskine notebooks.
Sarah: Yeah!
G: Do you know Elise Gravel?
S: Yes, I read her books Jessie Elliot Is A Big Chicken, I Want A Monster, The Rat
G: What is that series called…? Disgusting Critters! Did you read The Great Antonio?
S: Yeah!
G: I like her drawings, she has a very loose, fun style. This is her book about making art and creativity. It has an emphasis on just letting go and drawing. Look, the endpapers at the front are deer, with the most marvelously simple pictures of plants that I’ve ever seen. And the back endpapers…
S: (gasps) OH!!! Those shrimp are great! They remind me of Ed Emberley‘s drawings.
G: Yeah, very much so. The book is all done on graph paper. What I really like about Gravel’s work, I’ve realized, is her lettering. She just has so much fun lettering in different colors, outlining and coloring around words, she’s clearly having a great time. Basically she says that her sketchbook is just full of complete nonsense. After her kids go to sleep she just draws, paints, puts anything she wants to in her black notebook. It contains all her bizarre ideas, she doesn’t critique herself at all, and in the morning her kids look at it and they all have these crazy ideas about what she drew.
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What do you need?

Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz And The Art Of Peanuts by Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear. Abrams, 2015. 9781419716393. 304pp.

Sarah: People ask what is the use of core strengthening classes? Look, I can grab a book from behind me and move it out front.
Gene: (revealing the book with a flourish) A heavy book like Only What’s Necessary?
S: Ooooh.
Gene: It’s beautiful, so you can tell at a glance that it was designed by Chip Kidd, who is the best book designer in the world because he’s the only book designer I can name.
S: And I can’t stop touching the cover because the ink that makes up Charlie Brown’s face is in relief.
G: The thick boards make it feel like a box, so they give reading the book the sense of opening up a box of treasures. The endpapers are comic strip art. But after the title page, there is a two page spread of those tiny paperback Peanuts comic collections we grew up with. These pictures elicit pure joy from me because I read them as a kid. They’re creased and imperfect and wonderful.

S: I have no idea why we loved Peanuts and Garfield so much because I think we didn’t get any of the jokes!
G: I disagree — I think we did. Chip Kidd has designed several books on comic books for Abrams. One is on Batman, and it’s full of objects and art from Kidd’s collection. It’s also got what I think is the first Batman manga translated and published in the US. It convinced me that I don’t need to own every collectible that I love, I can just have photos of them. Then Kidd did a similar book on Shazam, who was my favorite superhero when I was a kid. I think I loved him because he’s a kid who magically becomes a super powerful adult. And this is his Peanuts book in that vein. It is full of so many amazing things.
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You sank my battleshit!

The Song of Roland by Michel Rabagliati. BDANG, 2012. 9781894994613. 192pp.

Gene: Rabagliati is a Canadian cartoonist. This is part of a graphic novel series about a young man named Paul who grows up in Quebec and raises a family there. They are (I think) semi-autobiographical.
These books are beautiful because of Rabagliati’s cartooning and his style — his storytelling craft. And this (of the ones I’ve read so far) is the best of them, and it’s probably the most well known.
It begins in 1999, when Paul and his wife, Lucy, are on their way to see her parents and family. Her parents recently moved from Montreal to a place called Saint Nicholas, near Quebec City, where they used to have a summer cottage. And all of Lucy’s sisters are there, too. It’s a crazy, chaotic scene. Lucy’s dad calls his girls “rabbits” so his grandkids are all “little rabbits.”
Sarah: The art sort of reminds me of one of the cartoonists in Mad who drew in a really classic style. (I think I’m thinking of Dave Berg.)
G: It’s classically cartoony but somehow it’s way beyond that, too.
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