Interesting bit of news, at least to me, in the latest update from the College of Design at dear auld ISU. Professor Roger Baer is 1) beginning the last year of “a phased retirement,” and 2) to receive the 2014 Christian Petersen Design Award.
I had not heard of this award, frankly, but as a former student I would say Roger meets the criteria “alumni, staff and friends of the university [recognized] for distinguished work that advances the design and art professions.” Indeed, more than anything else, the fact that Prof. Baer has been at the College of Design for all but two years of my entire life and is only now receiving this award persuades me that it must be a very selective honor; if he had to wait 30+ years the other recipients must be an impressive bunch.
Because Roger was, and I’m sure still is, one of the good ones.
My graphic design teachers were a mixed bag of many good, a few great, and, well, others who make for interesting stories at least. I still believe that I could walk into a classroom tomorrow and match the average efficacy of the instruction I received, but, 1) I must recognize that this is partly a product of my own high opinion of myself and 2) that is, again, measured against the average.
A few design faculty were distinctly better than average, and Roger Baer was one of these. In fact there was a bit of a joke, probably not entirely without truth, among students that Roger and Ed Lehner were held back for the final semester’s core studio classes so that each year’s soon-to-be-alumni were sent off with positive last experiences. (As opposed to those of earlier years and the occasional representative of the “interesting” teacher category.)
To whatever extent this might have been intentional, it was an entirely sound idea. Ed Lehner, retired some years now, was my adviser and support in a little independent study project. I drew Roger for my last graphic design professor, and would probably rate him as highly as any art or design teacher in all four years.
In reviewing every book cover I’ve designed over the past 10 years, as part of selecting a top 10, I also pulled aside a few that didn’t make the top 10 but I feel like recalling anyway. Thus, an honorable mention category…
This is where it all began. My very first professional book design project, a full 10 years ago. It was two-color, as most were in those early years, though I don’t believe I’ve designed a two-color cover for quite a long time now. (I have the impression that two-color printing has been in a decline generally, really.) I’m still satisfied with it. There are criticisms one can make; obviously the tracking is really, really tight, e.g. But all in all, this still feels decent to me, today, let alone for a decade-old first-time-out. read more…
Continuing the top 10 cover designs from 10 years making them…
This one has been a favorite for a long time. Still is. Perhaps one reason I like it is that isn’t boxy. If you look back at numbers one through five, you’ll recognize that most of the images shown fit in neat frames into which other images could (and in many cases have been) swapped at the whim of various of the effective committee of decision-makers. That was largely a conscious, practical compromise, which I suppose to some extent I eventually internalized so much that it became unconscious reflex… one makes do.
I made (or at least attempted) occasional exceptions, but this one may have predated the rule anyway. At all events I think it it has advantages of motion, and simple artistry. To some extent this is probably a late echo of that “Photoshoppy” look that was ubiquitous during my 1990s adolescence, but at this late date I think it stands effectively by itself. Everything just seemed to work, here. From details of texture to overall concept; this definitely has a dreamlike quality that I believe complements the subject reasonably. In retrospect, it reminds me a bit of this, though I don’t specifically recall having seen it before my visit to Detroit last year… read more…
I am approaching ten years of professional book cover design. As it happens, this 10th anniversary summer looks like it will also see the continued, slow winding-down of that work, at least for the time being. At this moment, I don’t have any open, in-progress front cover designs for the first time in years, probably. For all of these reasons, this seems like an appropriate time for a look back. What have I to show for my decade (hopefully not my only decade) of creative effort?
Among other things, I have a lot of cover designs. It’s hard to say exactly how many, given that there’s no easy way to say what counts as a genuinely new cover design by me; there’s a good deal of fuzziness in practice. Plus, OS X 10.9 seems to have dispensed with any easy way to count the number of items in an open window (god dammit, Apple). But I think 200 probably wouldn’t be an overestimate by much, if any.
Of these, I’ve decided to pull out highlights, starting with a top ten. I’ve basically been doing this for a while, of course, here and in my formal online portfolio and in The Inside-Out Book, and many of the same designs reappear. But, for whatever it’s worth, this will stand as my “official top ten cover designs after ten years” list, in no particular order. The first half follows…
I have discussed works of Seth at some length, a time or two. My notes on his Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists were, by comparison, rather brief. The book didn’t really feel as impressive as the author’s other work. Yet, much as the author himself found, it has slowly grown on me.
I have re-read it a few times, now. Of late, I’ve been thinking about doing a little research into its cast. Which is a bit funny, or at least odd, in a couple of ways. For a long time, I presumed that most of the cartoonists in GNBCC were made up, just like the club itself. Then, a while back, I encountered some snippet somewhere or other about Doug Wright and discovered that he was a real person. Which is ironic because he may be the only cartoonist whose nonfictional nature is evident from the pages of GNBCC itself; it isn’t spelled out explicitly, but had I given it any actual thought, the introduction makes it obvious that Seth did not invent Wright.
Oh well. In my defense, I am far from the only person who read GNBCC without any clear idea of which characters were creators and which were creations. Ian McGillis, writing for the Montreal Gazette*, confided that “I don’t always know authoritatively exactly which ones are real and which are invented (Doug Wright I grew up on, so that was easy, but Bartley Munn? Darnley Coote?) and I resisted the urge to google and find out.”
I didn’t grow up on Doug Wright, and other than Chester Brown, had genuinely never heard of any of the cartoonists in GNBCC before reading it. Or, other than Wright, since reading it either.
Digression: to some extent, I think I very easily assumed that nearly everyone in GNBCC was fanciful, not only because I had not heard of them but because the whole idea that a distinct cartooning community existed in Canada seemed, well, silly. I’m not sure how far to go into this because I think Canada is just great (excepting the present government, an exception that also goes for my own state and nation fwiw) and have no desire to belittle it… and yet I guess that even I still have some tendency to think of Canada, or at least Anglophone Canada, as a kind of Mini-Me America. I mean, Canada’s population is not tiny and obviously some people have followed their muse into cartooning… but I couldn’t imagine why the 49th parallel would represent any kind of real division in North American comics as whole. Wouldn’t all of us (again, Quebec potentially excepted) have had more or less the same comics? Obviously in the days of the traditional “funny pages” you got a slightly different selection from one city to another, but I would have guessed that Toronto and Edmonton and Winnipeg were mostly drawing from the same overall pool of syndicated strips as Chicago and Boston and Dallas. Most strips are sufficiently generic in their cultural background that they would seem to “work” for just about any affluent urban society; I know that at least some of the biggies are even syndicated in translation. Why would Canada actually have an entire separate comics history that I’ve never even heard of?
I guess that there are a lot of ways to answer this. One is that there are, probably, quite a few American cartoonists I’ve never heard of. I think I have at least a decent grasp of comic books, but there’s a lot of cartooning outside of that. And it does occur to me that when it comes to comic books, the creators in GNBCC and Wimbledon Green are almost entirely made-up. So from that perspective, it isn’t really dumbfounding that Canada has something of a “secret history” of cartooning. You could probably find comparable sections of American cartooning that are still “secret” to me, really. Anyway…
It still feels a little bit weird, though, to discover that all of the following people were real and that I hadn’t heard of any of them… read more…
On a—somewhat—more positive note, I feel like I ought to take a moment here to say thanks and farewell to the brilliant Hayao Miyazaki.
I made a brief comment to the same effect on Twitter after seeing his yes-for-real-this-time last film, The Wind Rises. But a recent story by The Guardian has prompted me to return to that theme one more time, at somewhat greater length, as well as chew through the multiple fascinating tidbits in the article a bit.
I was aware of some controversy surrounding the film before seeing it, and could certainly understand the criticism. I’m not sure it’s what the movie is about, per se, but the spine of the plot is at any rate the development of the Mitsubishi Zero. Which was not only an instrument of war, but, at least here in America, has remained one of particular “infamy.” The Wind Rises finds awe and beauty in this process of creation, and while I wouldn’t by any means describe the film as celebrating either war or weaponry, it did strike me as noticeably elliptical about what the Zero was for “down at the sharp end.”
So I was intrigued to read that, per The Guardian, “It has also proven politically contentious both in Japan and America; at home for being anti-war and ‘anti-Japanese’ and abroad for apparently absolving Jiro of guilt for his actions.” The story elaborates, later, noting
Amid the domestic controversy over The Wind Rises, there was a sense that Miyazaki had been out of step with contemporary Japan (He rarely does interviews). His movie was accused of preaching pacifism just as prime minister Shinzo Abe was looking to revise a pacifist clause out of the Japanese constitution. Miyazaki responded typically, devoting the entirety of Ghibli’s house journal to a rebuke of militarism. It only earned him more rancour.
I’m not entirely sure how to parse this. The popular notion that “we get criticized by both sides so we must be striking the right balance” generally makes my eyes roll nearly right out of my head. I do think that there’s definitely some significance here, though, probably about context and cultural distance. No work stands entirely independently. Aside from the clear antiwar perspective Miyazaki has expressed through his career, World War II is not exactly obscure so I felt that it was at least a reasonable creative choice to gesture toward its events instead of engaging them more directly; I don’t think this was perfect, but I concluded that it was reasonable. It’s difficult to avoid finding some support at least for such an understanding of the film’s choices upon reading that, in the cultural context of its origin, many people actually found it provocative.
Update: This isn’t really what I had in mind, though at the same time, it certainly doesn’t change my overall perspective…
Fear not, Adobe. I haven’t forgotten our anniversary.
It has been one year to the day since “the press release heard ’round the world,” which as one observer noted the next day took “689 words just to say” a phrase that I try to avoid using on this blog, too often, but can link to.
Where are we, a year on?
For me personally, nothing major has changed, really. I am still using Adobe programs, which I own (a perpetual license to use), and have so far not even seen the “Creative Cloud” versions let alone used or paid for them.
Meanwhile, in the larger landscape, it certainly appears that “the dust has settled” and Fort Creative Cloud stands, victorious. I haven’t seen anything explicitly conforming this, but I haven’t seen much of anything about Creative Cloud lately. I haven’t really gone looking, but I visit enough sites that would likely be reporting on developments were there any to report. The “Suck it Adobe” Twitter account has been silent for months. The protest petition seems to have topped out a bit shy of 50,000 signatures. It’s difficult not to imagine a handful of executives sitting around a table with cigars and scotch, basking in deep and rich “we got away with it” smugness.
Is there any reason they shouldn’t?
Yes and no, I think. Right now, it’s difficult to see any reason. From their perspective, at best the remaining unconverted “cranky customers” like myself are totally out of touch, and both corporate accounts and incoming Millennial designers are perfectly happy to replace old-fashioned ideas of “ownership” with subscription access at a predictable and consistent rate. At worst, my dissatisfaction is much more widely shared, but Adobe has its users over a barrel and needn’t much care about whether or not we like it. A couple of months ago, a frequent colleague referred in an e-mail to “the Creative Cloud (Adobe extortion)” … but the context was alerting me that his office will be implementing the software some time this year, anyway. It seems like that about sums it up.
For now, I think it does. Yet…
A few brief notes on the latest AIGA portfolio reviewer experience, before I forget it completely…
The experiences surrounding this year’s review were extremely frustrating, which is the main reason more than a week has gone by without my making any comment. Setting those aside, though, the review itself was fine. Let’s see…
First of all, re: my big plan to get to the bottom of these web site splash pages that students kept bringing in long after the concept has effectively vanished from the real world… I guess that now, like the great Tootsie Pop enigma, “the world may never know.” Because, of course, this year I didn’t see a single one of them. Oh well. I guess that’s sorted one way or another; hey ho.
Students also seemed better dressed than last year. At least, those I met with; whether that’s indicative of anything, who can say. Hopefully it helps them.
I met a number of students who had converted their process sketches into a scroll-y thing (apparently made with InDesign, I learned) for the iPad (which most of them seemed to be toting). The first time I saw one, it was interesting; as I saw more of them it struck me as increasingly dumb, for whatever my opinion is worth. I mean, to the extent that there’s any point to examining process work—personally I wouldn’t care, though I know some people want to see it—doesn’t a “cleaned-up” and organized version kind of defeat that point? I don’t know.
Also for what it’s worth, I did something similar once, back 14 years ago, all the same. For at least one of my senior year projects, I created a little process and notes minisite using html and (crap 1990s) CSS. (InDesign and magic tablets—and, for that matter, good CSS—being then fantasy dreams of the unrealized future.) So I understand the instinct I suppose. My professor liked the idea, moreover, finding it a novel break from “all those ITOYA notebooks.” Though, had he encountered more such, maybe the novelty would have worn off quickly for him as it did for me. Again, who knows.