15 October 2014

[literature] What Did Not Kill Harlan Ellison Obviously Didn't Try Hard Enough

We have been following the news of the travail of a man called, by himself, 'possibly the most contentious human being in the world' with some interest.

Above: L: Susan Ellison, R: This mook she married.
Photo: Steven Barber
Harlan Ellison, we have heard, has suffered a stroke, since about a week now. He's been in the hospital, and we hear, is doing quite well actually. He has, it is reported, lost a bit of use of his right arm and right leg.

This will do some damage to his legendary typing speed, though how his right leg entered into it, I'll never know.

I've admired his writing and watched with amusement and awe as the legends about the man grew and got spread. I've heard him described in glowing terms; one person I knew once referred to him as "The Ego That Ate Corvallis."

What he was ever doing in Corvallis, I'll also never know.

My exposure to him began with a copy of the collection Approaching Oblivion, which has eleven short, crisp, sharp-edged stories which range from the almost-too-abstract-to-be-a-story "Ecowareness" to the dark "Cold Friend" to the barbed "Knox" to the warmest, most humorous Jewish story I've ever read, "I'm Looking for Kadak", almost Sholem Aleichem in miniature. I came to this book as a 11-year-old who sent in a penny to the Science Fiction Book Club without telling my Mom; if I had had any actual ambition, this probably would have spurred my rise to becoming an actual author; as it was, even though I didn't comprehend the stories, I sensed kind of a kindred spirit there. At 11, I was a bullied social outcast, and knowing, even though not clearly, that there was someone out there who saw the world as I did, while it didn't spur me on to any artistic destiny, at the very least it helped me cope.

It is a beloved book. I still keep a copy (Book Club Edition for memory's sake, bought from Powell's) on the headboard of my bed.

He is, thankfully, recovering. His wit, they say, is as sharp as ever. I have the good fortune as having as online friends some people who are personally very close to Harlan, and they have collectively described the scent at the hospital as one of more than a fair amount of mirth. When a stroke victim is entertaining his guests, you know that's a good sign.

So, for what it's worth, whether you like him or dislike him, he's still with us.

What did not kill him should have tried harder … but I'm glad it gave up.

Steven Barber, a/k/a The Thumbnail Traveler, has a short heartfelt thing to say about it. The photo above is also via his gracious aegis, for which I am doubly grateful. 

[creativity] Inspiration Pad Dares You To Ride The Wave

Of all the interesting ways to challenge your creative brain to keep up, this is one of the most interesting and simple I've seen.

Designed my Mark Thomasset, the Inspriation Pad at first seems like just another of the incredible range of paper notebooks we've been seeing all over. About the same form factor, thickness, dimensions. It's a ruled notebook, red margin line, blue writing lines. But you open one and maybe you see this:

Or any one of a bunch of different patterns, from other waves, to mazes, to off-kilter registrations of the pattern, to sphereized and pinched lines.

The closest analogy I can come to is that of the Zen koan which, as I understand it, is a riddle without a logical answer. Considering the koan causes your mind to go places where logic cannot follow and the answer to the riddle as such is equally ineffable.

One looks at the wavy pattern above and the mind jumps on it and tries to ride it, and out of that creative tension, ideas may flow.

This has apparently been around for a while, but this is the first I've heard of it and I was delighted when I did. I can see why this might work but, of course, as the response to a koan, I can't put it into words.

The first version of this is displayed as a Behance project here: https://www.behance.net/gallery/Inspiration-Pad/430578,  and the current Pad is available through design firm TM's website, here: http://www.tmsprl.com/shop.html 

07 October 2014

[teh_funnay] Meanwhile, somewhere near Westeros…

GRRM hasn't killed all 140 characters … he still uses Twittah …

06 October 2014

[art, map] The Story of the Void in Jerry Gretzinger's Map

Back last year I posted here about a most singularly delightful thing, Jerry's Map.

To recap, the story goes kind of like this: One day, in 1963, during lulls in what is only described as a tedious job, Jerry Gretzinger, a resident of New York State, started drawing a map of an imaginary city. The city reached the edge of the sheet; he attached another, and kept on going. He kept this up for 20 years.

In 1983, life offered sufficient distraction to cause him to put the map of Ukrainia on the shelf. Then, after 20 years of sleeping, the land awoke again when Jerry's grandson discovered the map and it lit the creative fire again. Since 2003, he's been expanding it even farther using a system of playing cards pained and decorated, that give him directions on what to do next.

The cards rule.

Over the past 51 years, Jerry's been working on the map for 31 of them. The map has expanded into areas of collage that are truly impressive. But some things of Jerry's world tend to stick harder than others, and the most haunting aspect is that of "The Void". See, when Jerry draws a certain card, areas of his map that aren't watched over by defensive works get transferred to The Void.

What exactly The Void is has been left as an exercise to the reader up until now. Some hint has been extended by the creator himself that The Void is not simply an oblivion where people disappear into utter annihilation. As noted in my earlier report on Jerry's map, when a section of the city of Fields West, pop about 700,000, was Voided, …
this largely unprotected city of over 700,000 souls saw the relocation of an estimated 15,700 individuals to the alternative dimensions inside the Void.  This portion of historic old town will be greatly missed by the remaining residents.
While the amazingness of Ukrainia itself is pretty entrancing, the idea of a Void incursion as an occasional thing has a hauntingness about it, and the author's evident idea that the victims within the Voided precincts actually go to another place is compellingly fascinating.

Jerry has begun posting YouTube videos about his process: the channel is https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCl07nZ3C1kGhnFiDW87EvBQThis video, however, answers the central question about just what the Void is, while raising further questions, which Jerry is no doubt exploring as we speak:

Again, Jerry's blog about all this, which is interesting following, is http://jerrysmap.blogspot.com/

03 October 2014

[caturday] Kiki ArtKitty Provides Supervision

Whether or not I waste time in the studio, she's watching me.

Almost like she's keeping score.

Sure, I can screw off, but I'll have to answer to the fluffball.

[design] The ABC Of Lettering, A Type Handbook From the 50s

I'm not quite sure where I got this gem, but it's going to be a valuable resource.

The book is called The ABC of Lettering, and the author is J.I. Beiegeleisen. It was apparently first published in the 1940s, and this copy that I scored somehow was apparently published around 1958.

It is in excellent condition, considering.

Extensive instruction on how to letter, what strokes to do - script as well as manuscript, and big, big, beautiful specimen displays, as thus:

I think this particular edition was published around 1958, and sold for $8.50.

I got it for $6, which means it held its value better than some cars and most houses.

01 October 2014

[artist] Jack Ohman Comes Back To Portland

… but just for a night. But one night is better than no nights, then, isn't it?

I will admit to being a rather giddy fan of Jack. During the 80s, the 90s, and the double-aughts, as he defined political humor for The Oregonian, I became a fan. Impossible not to, as far as I'm concerned. His wit, so dry as to make the planet Arrakis seem a rainforest, and an unmistakable drawing style were first-class to me, and I was smugly proud that, being The O's cartoonist, he was ours.

I've been a fan of the editorial cartoonist in general since I was a little kid who was one of the few I knew who could pronounce the word Watergate. I've been a political news-obsessive for that long. All of my favorites, I found, served their wit on wry; Toles, Danziger, MacNelly, Oliphant, Herblock. An acid wit was a must for me. Still is.

When me and a lot of local Ohmanites found out, just about two years ago this month, that Jack had decided to leave The Oregonian, devastated … well, that word will have to do, though it be somehow inadequate. Tear out our hearts, why don't ya, Oregonian?

Well, that was then; this is now. Jack's gone on to the Sacramento Bee, and has cut an amazingly funny (and aptly trenchant) figure; anyone who can make Rich "Governor Goodhair" Perry cry is just my kind of cartoonist. The drawings remain as crisp and funny as ever, though now focussed on California politics, and this isn't a bad thing, really … I can't remember having this much fun following lower-left coast politics. When I heard that he was coming back to Portland to do a talk on political cartooning, I was hooked; when I found out it was free, I was netted and boated; when I hit the World Affairs Council of Oregon's website and found that I was early enough to nab a couple of seats, I was served for dinner.

The conditions of Monday were covered in the previous missive; I shant retread that path, trompe l'oeil or no. I will make the short, shameful admission that I've never, unto now, have visited the Oregon Historical Society, and it's shameful because my taxes make it so that, as a Multomah County resident, I can visit for free. I should know better than this.

Tickets were unnecessary; all that was required was to check in at the door. We entered the spacious atrium area and was able to get a seat up at the front.

The casualness of the crowd could belie the importance of some of the people that were there that night. But a bit more on that presently.

Jack recognized me in the front row and shot me a friendly hello; I returned thumbs up. I am fortunate to have his friendly custom on FB, and that's how he recognized me. If anyone remembers how sharp and witty the humor in his cartoons were, I can tell you that Jack's one of those rare people who come off in reality as advertised virtually. Warm, generous of spirit, and funny as hell.

On the left, OHS director Kerry Tymchuk. On the right, Jack Ohman.

Somehow I got a photo of his shoes.
The talk began right on time, and OHS's Kerry Tymchuk did the wisest thing in letting Jack roll about his times here in Oregon. You may have heard Jack was smart; I had an inkling, reading his cartoons and writings through his Oregonian years. Forgive me the obvious joke, but I didn't know Jack; the man is an encyclopedia of mid-to-late 20th Century lore on everything Oregon Politics from the legendary Senator Wayne Morse forward, and I suppose it stands to reason. Uncurious people do not make good or memorable political cartoonists. Sharp wits collect the best stories.

And now, I have more reading to do.

I found it funny, though it stands certainly to reason, that politicians who get japed at by political cartoonists want the originals, even if the portrayal isn't always that complimentary. It's a little like "Wierd Al" Yankovic in a way … you know you've arrived if Jack makes fun of you in the paper. It's a sign you've arrived.

I remember a certain Ohman cartoon which showed Lon Mabon losing it over two men grasping hands in a certain way, and the man who was with the Mabon character telling him to relax, it was only a secret fraternal handshake. I find myself wondering if Mabon ever asked for that original … I'm betting no. Lon Mabon didn't strike me as a man with much humor in him.

The field of political cartooning is nowhere near what it once was, with the national supply going, sadly, down. According to what I heard, not only did a lot of smaller-market dailies have political cartoonists, but the bigger ones had two or even three (when Jack started out, at age 19, at The Columbus Dispatch and later at the Detroit Free Press, if I heard correctly, he was in one of those arrangements). I still feel a deep loss that The Oregonian wouldn't hang on to Jack, but as far as the role he's playing at the Sacramento Bee, where I still follow his work, I'm thrilled that some actual-news-7-day-delivery-paper has the good sense to support him.

The talk was capped by Jack talking about various cartoons and cartoonists and their impact on their subjects. This was where I heard the story about subjects wanting the originals, and we all got to chat and shake hands. Jack, I found was a very encouraging presence. A woman who wondered to me how someone would get a start at editorial cartooning, who was asking on behalf of her kid, was treated as a new friend; I stood for a few minutes next to Norma Paulus, who was almost Oregon's governor circa 1986, and was momentarily within about an arm's length of David Sarasohn, who still writes pretty much the best opinion articles The Oregonian publishes, which crackle with dry wit and great style.

I did shake Sarasohn's hand and just thanked him for being who he was, which I think is a necessary thing, especially these days. and yes, I'm a giddy fan, so there's me for you.

I don't know what its like for other people who meet people like this who are nationally acclaimed and that one really sincerely admires. But the few minutes I spent near Jack made me feel like a friend. This was a big experience for me, and I'm thankful.

Jack, as you can see, did me the ultimate benediction sketching me an quick-self-portrait in my diary (yes, this is my diary. Not even my wife has seen the inside of it but Jack has). It's in volume 19, which happens to also be my favorite number, but now I'll be able to find it, too.

And, you know, I don't usually let people see the inside of my diary, but when I do, it's because a remarkably inspiring friend has made a sketch there.

Thanks for hitting Portland again, Jack, and thanks for being a friend.