Strong is Beautiful

Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves by Kate T. Parker. Workman, 2017. 9780761189138. 256pp.

strong-is-the-new-prettyGene: It’s the ultimate coffee table book. Photos of girls, a lot of them doing sports – it’s a celebration of how strong and tough girls are. It’s not quite against the idea of dolling yourself up, but it makes it clear you don’t have to to be strong and pretty.
Sarah: So a wider variety of pretty than you’d see in a lot of books.
G: Right. The photographer, Kate Parker, said she was shooting pictures of her daughters and their friends and the ones that resonated were the photos where they are 100% themselves. They’re celebrations of who the girls are. (Reading) “I wanted my girls to know that being themselves is beautiful, and that being beautiful is about being strong.” There’s a quote from each girl next to her picture, with her age and her first name. Continue reading “Strong is Beautiful”

Unsolved Mysteries

The Voynich Manuscript. Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library in association with Yale University Press, 2016. 9780300217230.

voynich-manuscriptAn unassuming little book, the original Voynich Manuscript is hand-written on vellum with no intricate binding or decoration, and there is no clear history of its authorship or ownership. (It pops up from time to time in historical records, then disappears.) The text is written in an unknown language (possibly a code) using an unknown alphabet. The botanical illustrations found on most pages are of plants that don’t exist. The celestial charts at its center are indecipherable. No one has been able to understand the text, and there is only speculation as to the book’s purpose. It is the world’s most mysterious book.

This is a page by page reproduction of the original with lots of space in the margins for you to scribble your theories. Plus there are essays on what the book might be and the results of various scientific tests done on it. It’s your own copy of a real mystery. I was pretty excited to finally get to see it after hearing about it for years, but then I was somehow disappointed that to me (not an expert on languages, codes, alchemy, or any esoteric arts) it’s pretty much still a mystery. I guess I was hoping that I would somehow be able to divine it’s true meaning.

I (Heart) Sequential Art

Sequential Drawings by Richard McGuire. Pantheon Books, 2016.  9781101871591.

sequential-drawingsSpot illustrations from the pages of The New Yorker by the author of the graphic novel Here. Some are groups of related objects, others sequential. Luc Sante, in his introduction, points out that “McGuire has a special gift for endowing inanimate objects with personalities. He accomplishes this with the most minimal means.” In “Three Friends” a parking meter on a bent post looks like Munch’s The Scream. “Rock, Paper, Scissors” stresses violence as well as cooperation. (The entire sequence can be seen at the top of this GQ review.) “Flamingo Umbrella” starts with irritation but ends with pure delight. “Pigeon” is my favorite sequence — the birds’ poses perfectly express their ridiculousness.

The beautifully minimalist illustrations seem designed to remind me both that anything can be represented via a few simple lines and that creating such pleasing drawings requires a level of skill few possess.

And, you know, if you know a comics geek like me, there could be no better Valentine’s Day gift than this.

Wow, Speaking American

Speaking American: How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk, A Visual Guide by Josh Katz. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 9780544703391.

speakingamericanSarah: This guy who was in charge of making infographics for the New York Times, with the help of a massive four-volume reference work on American regional English, made online  tools to show what people call things in different parts of the US, and other regional variations in language. It was one of the most popular interactive features the New York Times ever published.
Gene: So these images were all on its website?
Sarah: Yeah. They gathered information, then used those to make graphics that look like heat-maps that show ways people say things where. The more common the word or phrase, the darker the color. Continue reading “Wow, Speaking American”


Art of Atari by Tim Lapetino. Dynamite Entertainment, 2016. 9781524101039. 352 pp.

art-of-atariGene: My birthday was last month, and I’m very nostalgic for old video games again. So I built myself a MAME emulator in a Raspberry Pi computer so that I can carry it around easily. I’m a little embarrassed, but not enough to not tell you about it apparently. But this book fits in perfectly with that —

Sarah: Ahhh!

G: I don’t normally like video game art books, but this is Art of Atari, and it focuses on the art of the Atari 2600. [There are other Atari systems’ / games’ art in there, too.] I never though the box art was done by hand.

S: Yeah!

G: Atari had a lot of in-house artists. The book has the history of the company, a lot about industrial design, an introduction by Ernie Cline (who wrote Ready Player One), and a lot of Atari’s advertising art that I remember from comic books.

S: And this is back when the ad art was three billion times nicer than anything you would ever see on a video game screen.

breakout-boxG: Right! Here’s one for Breakout. It’s the game with the little bar across the bottom that would hit the ball up to the top and knock out a square, like a tooth, and you had to use it to destroy the rows of blocks on top.

S: One person destructo Pong. My mother played that for hours on the Commodore 64.

G: That is totally what they should have called it. That game’s art is my favorite, bar none. They were trying to figure out how to pitch it. My least favorite art is from licensed games. There was a Pigs in Space video game. The box has a photo on it from the show and it just looks sad.
Continue reading “ARTari”

Monster Island

Yokainoshima: Island of Monsters by Charles Fréger. Thames & Hudson, 2016. 9780500544594.

yokainoshimaEvery town in Japan, from neighborhoods in Tokyo to tiny fishing villages, has festivals throughout the year, and each of these has its own mythological creature or folkloric character that is said to visit only during the festival. These yokai are represented by people dressed in costumes that can be clearly homemade or huge and elaborate. Photographer Charles Fréger photographed people in these costumes on a single island. His book seems to capture a vast pantheon of monsters, one you could never hope to see in a lifetime of travel in Japan, in a single magical place. It’s really cool.

The folktales and legends that the yokai are drawn from are unfamiliar enough that the creatures seem even stranger. They reminded me of the people who dress up for the turnip-hurling festival in Spain or for the festival of Corpus Christi.  Would Seattle’s Seafair Pirates look this strange to an outsider?

Big Fashion

The Little Book of Big Babes, edited by Rachelle Abellar. Archive Six, 2015. 9781519121004.

bigbabesThis was only supposed to be a little 24-page zine featuring “fatshion” — fashionably dressed fat people who don’t hide themselves or their bodies. But there were so many contributions from amazing people around the world that it ended up being a full-color book with 213 pages! As the editor says in the introduction, “…choosing to be visible in a world that would prefer fat people hide their bodies is a remarkable act.”

The finished book is revolutionary: the sort of people you’ve never seen in Elle or Vogue wearing clothes that range from elegant to sassy to just plain loud. Some of the models design and market their own clothing lines, and even more are eagle-eyed thrift and vintage shoppers. Each photo includes details about the model, her style inspiration, and info on where she got her clothes. (The format is a lot like the Japanese Fruits).

I’ll be using this book to direct my shopping and as emotional support in the fitting room. As Jess Baker points out in Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls and Lindy West points out in Shrill, you can program your brain to see the beauty in fat women (and hate yourself less if you are one) by simply exposing yourself to more beautiful fat women. This book, full of spectacular fashion on people of all ages, colors, and gender expressions, is a great way to start.