Curious, Volume 3

Curious Constructions: A Peculiar Portfolio of Fifty Fascinating Structures by Michael Hearst, illustrated by Matt Johnstone. 9781452144849.

Hearst’s previous collections, Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Some of Earth’s Strangest Animals and Extraordinary People: A Semi-Comprehensive Guide to Some of the World’s Most Fascinating Individuals, were two of my favorite booktalking titles in past years. Hearst has a great eye for lesser known animals and people and includes the most interesting and entertaining facts about each. Now he has a book on constructions: from the famous (Stonehenge) to the humble (various Paul Bunyan statues scattered across the US) to the odd (El Pulpo Mechanical, a massive robotic octopus originally built for Burning Man). He even includes one that’s not man-made: the cathedral termite mounds in Northern Australia. Each gets two pages: one big illustration and a description of what it is and why it’s cool, along with an occasional quiz or poem. It’s perfect to pick up and browse. Hearst has composed albums for his previous two books, I hope he’ll do one for this, as well.

No Camera Required

Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph by Geoffrey Batchen. Prestel, 2016. 9783791355047. 200pp.

Large gallery show and museum catalogs are reliable repositories of reproduced art. In Emanations Geoffrey Batchen does more! And he made me sad I couldn’t take a trip to the Govett-Brewster gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand, back in 2016, to see his work.

He disingenuously bemoans the lack of a general history of cameraless photography in an introductory 47 page essay with 33 “figures.” In addition to these smaller illustrations, there are an additional 144 “plates” where the large format and heavy, glossy paper make for breathtaking reproductions. Anyone wanting to author a general history of cameraless photography now has a fastidiously referenced place to begin.

The breadth of the selected works in the book might upset a reader’s established view of photography. As early as 1839, astronomer and botanist John Herschel painted his pioneering mix of photochemicals on writing paper so he could, in mid-letter, make a print of the plant he was writing about! Many of the artists in the 1920’s and 1930’s used photo paper post cards, conveniently available back then, and an easy size to work with. Others went big: Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Weil draped human models over large sheets of blueprint paper; Zhang Dai’s “Man and Woman on Bikes” was exposed on a 91 inch by 118 inch canvas coated with cyanotype media; and Robert Huarcaya’s “Amazonagramas” works were made using 30 meter (98 feet, 5 inches) rolls of photo paper!

Not all exposures are with visible light. Wilhelm Roentgen made sure to include the feminizing touch of his wife’s wedding ring when he made an X-ray picture of her hand. More recently, and more ominously, Shimpei Takeda used soil samples taken near the failed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor complex to expose his media.

The two most-represented of artists are Man Ray and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy. Six of Man Ray’s “rayographs” and six of Moholy-Nagy’s works are reproduced.

In Emanations passion, vision, and inspiration are on display. There are also incidental traces of the history of photography as art, craft, and technology. It is both an ambitious and rewarding book.

Guest review by Robert (no longer in San Diego).

Doug, right?

The Collected Doug Wright: Volume One: Canada’s Master Cartoonist by Doug Wright. Introduction by Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse). Drawn & Quarterly, 2009. 9781897299524. Beautifully designed by Seth. 240 wonderfully oversized 240pp.

Gene: Do you know who Doug Wright was?
Sarah: No.
G: He was kind of…
S: Is he that Canadian guy?
G: He’s that Canadian who the Doug Wright Awards are named after.
S: Oh yeah.
G: I was going to say he’s kind of like the Charles Schulz of Canada? His comics don’t look much like Peanuts, but they were beloved. They ran for a long time in Canadian newspapers. His most famous was Little Nipper or Nipper, which became Doug Wright’s family.
What I really like is that this is an oversized book that has blown up some of his drawings, especially from the beginning of his career, and it shows you how amazing his comics were. They were mostly, I think, black and white and red, so black and red ink plus white space on the page. They’re all about a little boy, Nipper, and his family.
There’s a huge biographical essay in the book about Wright’s life, which I didn’t read much of. But there are some pieces of his art that are very cool. It’s supposed to cover 1949 – 1962, so it’s before this smaller format Nipper collection which I also have, which covers 1963 – 1964.
Look, his early comics were so old school.
S: Lots of detail!
Continue reading “Doug, right?”

Four More Years!

Liartown: The First Four Years by Sean Tejaratchi. Feral House, 2017. 9781627310543.

Sarah: It’s weird, I recognized the image of the possum on the cover because it was the author’s twitter icon. He’s one of those guys, I don’t know if I ever followed him, but everyone thought he was hilarious and retweeted him a lot, so I saw his tweets. Then once I got into this book, I realized I know him from like five other things. He’s super creative and you will recognize some of these pieces from his Liartown blog.
Gene: It’s a sort of Photoshopped looking cover.
S: Almost photo collage. Tejaratchi’s background is in design and among other things he makes props for films. He also makes the things in this book. One of the reasons I like it and thought you’d really like it is

we’re both really into book and magazine and album cover design. We can recognize things from different eras. We’re trash collectors of cultural items.
G: We’re trash collectors! That’s a good way to put it.
S: He absolutely is the same kind of person. Here’s the first pieces, grocery ads that are… weirdly confused? Like if you had a grocery ad written by someone with a severe head injury or…
G: Like an English as a second language thing? I see peanut loaf, river nubs… I like this because it looks real and you wonder “Why am I even looking at this?” and then, oh!
S: Everything in the book is like that. They absolutely look like real things, real books and magazines and ads, then the jokes sneak up on you.
Continue reading “Four More Years!”

Temps de l’Aventure

France is a Feast: The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child by Alex Prud’homme and Katie Pratt.  Thames & Hudson, 2017. 9780500519073. 208 pp.

Julia Child was a California girl who knew nothing about France and its cuisine when she and her new husband, Paul, took up residence there. She claimed she was astounded by the flavors of French food and was also shocked to be drinking wine during lunch. When Julia found out she and Paul were going to be living there a good while, she began cooking lessons to bridge her personal cultural divide. This anthology is filled with beautiful black and white photographs of the young couple, of French landmarks, and of course, of Julia teaching students how to master French cuisine. It is apparent through these pictures that Paul and Julia were very much in love with both one another and with their lifestyle.

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom.

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.
Continue reading “Wow: Adventure Time!”

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.
Continue reading “What do you need?”