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Posts Tagged ‘books’

Flying Saucers Over the Art Department!

September 13, 2016 | by

How the book designers of the fifties and sixties tackled alien invasions. 

A still from Forbidden Planet, 1956.

It’s impossible to know what sort of cover design will make a book fly off the shelves. Through timidity, this often leads to a certain monotony in covers, especially when they’re genre specific—“If it worked before, it’ll have to work again, eventually.” At times the uniformity is comical: it’s hard for book people of a certain age not to remember, say, the gothic romance subgenre without bringing to mind the same cover that was on every one by the end of the sixties—a woman, at night, dashing (often in a white nightgown) from a darkened mansion in sinister woods. Familiarity bred contentment; every reader knew what to expect when they saw the lady running.

Flying saucers as a phrase entered the modern English vocabulary at the end of June 1947, immediately after the initial sightings by Kenneth Arnold in Washington State—which, as it happened, turned out to be the first of thousands of such sightings. The subject was becoming more popular by the week, and publishing houses such as Henry Holt, Fawcett, and Citadel were quick to recognize the need for books on it. But what kind of a cover should go on a book about flying saucers? At the outset, there was no consensus as to what the saucers even actually looked like: they were described as blinking lights, purple blobs, flying wings, boomerangs, shiny metal balls, floating kerosene lamps, pie plates, hubcaps from an old Terraplane; in photos, during the first ten years, the most popular model resembled either the top of a chicken incubator, or part of the casing of a 1937 Electrolux vacuum cleaner. Read More »

The Case of the Shrinking Mannequins, and Other News

September 13, 2016 | by

English mannequins ca. 1950.

  • If you’re in New York, you’ve surely noticed them, those well-heeled people bolting down the sidewalk looking pissed off and holding enormous cups of coffee. That frisson of exclusion … that perfume of condescension: it’s Fashion Week! And what better time to remind ourselves that the industry promulgates a whole range of body-image issues, not just in the models it chooses but right down to the mannequins? M. G. Zimeta, at a shop in London, tried to get some answers about those mannequins: “Nearly a year ago I complained about the mannequins at the entrance of the ladies’ department in John Lewis on Oxford Street … Months passed, and I received no response … The ‘Fashion Queen’ mannequin range I’d seen in John Lewis is produced by Bonami in Belgium and has the following dimensions: height 185 cm (6'07"), waist 59 cm (23"), hips 87 cm (34") and bust 87 cm (34"). A Fashion Queen mannequin is taller than the average British man, but with the waist of a ten-year-old girl in John Lewis sizes. Some of the clothes on the mannequins at John Lewis were discreetly pinned in place because the outfits would otherwise, even in the smallest sizes, be too loose for their frames.”

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Staff Picks: Jaguars, Jim Beam, Japanese Divorce

August 26, 2016 | by

From the cover of Gringos.

Fifty-three years ago, James Baldwin published The Fire Next Time, on the experience of being black in America. The title comes from a slave song: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign / No more water but fire next time.” This month, Jesmyn Ward published a compilation of essays called The Fire This Time. She wanted a book, as she writes in a brilliant introduction, “that would reckon with the fire of rage and despair and fierce, protective love currently sweeping through the streets and campuses of America … A book that a girl in rural Missouri could pick up at her local library and, while reading, encounter a voice that hushed her fears.” Ward has packed a multitude into a modest volume and fulfills, I think, her desire to provide a full and rich accounting of black life, one that is infrequently given voice. The lead piece is a sharply evocative prose poem by Kima Jones about a trip home to North Carolina for a funeral and time in the woods with her cousins, “with red cups, Black and Milds, Jim Beam, a blue lighter plucked from the card table.” Another favorite is Garnette Cadogan’s essay on walking, as a boy in Kingston and as a young man in the United States. The dissonance between the two is startling but not surprising: in the former, “I’d get lost in Mittyesque moments, my young mind imagining alternate futures,” and in the other, walking is “a pantomine undertaken to avoid the choreography of criminality.” —Nicole Rudick

I often go back to Gringos, the 1991 novel by Charles Portis, when I find myself between books. Portis is a fount of comedy; his books brim with deliciously absurd characters. Gringos features a clique of eccentric expats idling in the Yucatán: there’s Rudy and Louise Kurle, a blond duo, in Mexico recording evidence of aliens; Doc Flandin, an aged historian and anthropologist whose life work comprises a comprehensive account of Mayan culture; Refugio Osorio, a native of Mérida who deals scraps from his land in the jungle (I’m fond of his pup, “Ramos, son of the late Chino, bravest dog in all Mexico”). Their comedy comes from the wry observations of Gringos’s hero and narrator Jimmy Burns, a fortysomething deliveryman and former hustler of pre-Columbian artifacts. Jimmy lives at the marvelously shabby Posada Fausto hotel in Mérida, taking hauling jobs to pay his rent. His life there “rocks along from day to day”—he drinks in bars and heads to the zoo “to look over the fine new jaguar”—until he finds himself caught up in violent hippie rituals at ancient ruins and adventure in the Yucatán. —Caitlin Love Read More »

No Filter: An Interview with Emma Ríos & Brandon Graham

August 9, 2016 | by


Brandon Graham draws late into the night, so he promised me he’d set his alarm to wake up for our interview at ten A.M. his time. He was up when I called him by Skype in Vancouver, then we dialed in Emma Ríos in Spain, where it was already evening. “Let’s pretend it’s morning across the world,” Graham suggested. Ríos and Graham are the editors of the monthly comics magazine Island, launched last summer, which they have modeled as a kind of global conversation about the form. Printed in color and bound in an oversize format, each hundred-page-plus issue is a mix of comics, essays, fashion illustrations, and other pieces that approach the medium from diverse angles. Island has attracted significant talents—among them, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Fil Barlow, and Emily Carroll—whose work is published alongside that of lesser-known creators and recent art-school graduates. The anthology is currently nominated for a Harvey Award for Best Anthology. The tenth issue will arrive later this month.

Graham and Ríos balance their work on Island with other projects. Ríos is the artist on the best-selling, Eisner-nominated Pretty Deadly, with writer DeConnick and colorist Jordie Bellaire. Graham writes and runs the popular reboot of Prophet. Together, Ríos and Graham also edit another series, 8House, in which discrete stories take place in a shared fantasy universe.

Ríos and Graham founded Island as a platform for experimentation; they wanted to create a space in which artists could feel comfortable exploring riskier work. The first issue of the magazine opens with a short comic by Graham in which God bestows the “ultimate freedom to do whatever you wish with your time on earth,” adding, “don’t screw it up.” Island is about taking comics seriously, but, as Graham says, it’s still “a very serious joke.” 


What was the response when you launched the anthology?


It’s a risky thing, because anthologies are generally not thought of as a good idea in the comics market. But then, just as the first issue came out, Grant Morrison announced he’s taking over Heavy Metal. And suddenly people are talking about magazines again.


Was Heavy Metal an inspiration?


Island is a product of nostalgia. Magazines from the eighties, like Heavy Metal and Métal Hurlant in France and Zona 84 here in Spain, came immediately to mind when Brandon proposed starting a magazine. Island doesn’t look like Heavy Metal, but it shares the desire to collect different story lines, include articles, and expand the medium as well as the viewpoint of readers. Those magazines are where I discovered artists like Moebius. I’d buy an issue to follow someone in particular and by chance discover new creators. In Island, we are bringing together artists from Europe and Asia—creators whose work we aren’t used to seeing on the shelves in the U.S. every Wednesday.


We’re following the history but also working against Heavy Metal. That was a very “teenage boy” magazine, and we’ve been conscious with Island about making comic books for ourselves, as adults. We are trying to make inclusive work that isn’t just made for—no other way to put it—masturbatory fantasies. Heavy Metal was very high-minded when it launched in France as Métal Hurlant. The modern equivalent became a bit of a joke, an airbrushed Amazonian woman on every cover. If you were a woman or gay or otherwise didn’t fit into the minor slot of its readership, Heavy Metal wasn’t the ideal magazine for you. Island is for a bigger community—not just dudes who like sexy barbarian women. Read More »

Boon Companion

August 5, 2016 | by

Evliya Çelebi’s Seyahatname is one of history’s greatest travelogues.

Evliya Çelebi painting (c) Sermin Ciddi

Edward White’s The Lives of Others is a monthly series about unusual, largely forgotten figures from history.

According to his own recollection, Evliya Çelebi, the seventeenth-century Turkish writer and traveler, experienced a life-changing epiphany on the night of his twentieth birthday. He was visited in a dream by the Prophet Muhammad, dressed nattily in a yellow woollen shawl and yellow boots, a toothpick stuck into his twelve-band turban. Muhammad announced that Allah had a special plan, one that required Evliya to abandon his prospects at the imperial court, become “a world traveler,” and “compose a marvelous work” based on his adventures.

As religious missions go, it was a pretty sweet deal—and for Evliya it came at the perfect moment. His feet itched to travel and his fingers to write, but he could never find a way of telling his parents that the life they had proudly mapped out for him—a stellar career, a virtuous wife, and a brood of smiling children—played no part in his vision of a meaningful existence. Muhammad’s intervention, whether an act of providence or not, spurred three decades of globetrotting indulgence. Evliya took in Anatolia, Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Cairo, Athens, Corinth, Sudan, and swathes of Europe from Crimea to—supposedly—the Low Countries. His path crossed Buddhists and crusading warriors, the Bedouin and Venetian sailors, ambassadors, monks, sorcerers, and snake charmers. Along the way he wrote the Seyahatname (“Book of Travels”), a magnificent ten-volume sprawl of fantasy, biography, and reportage that is utterly unique in the canon of travel literature, and which confirms Evliya as one of the great storytellers of the seventeenth century. Read More »

Summer on the Stones

August 1, 2016 | by

Chekhov, Thomas Mann, and the longueurs of vacationing.

After a proposal from a rich but ridiculous suitor, Tony Buddenbrook, the high-society heroine of Thomas Mann’s first novel, leaves the German city of Lübeck for Travemünde, a resort town where the Trave River meets the Baltic Sea. “I won’t pay any attention to the social whirl at the spa,” she tells her brother Tom. “I know all that quite well enough already.” Tony stays instead in the modest home of her father’s friend the harbor pilot, whose son, a medical student named Morten Schwarzkopf, is also on vacation. On her first day, he accompanies Tony to the spa, and she invites him to meet the friends she had pledged to avoid. “I don’t think I’d fit in very well,” Morten says. “I’ll just go sit back there on those stones.”

By the end of the summer, Tony and Morten have fallen in love, and “on the stones” is a “fixed phrase” in their relationship, Mann writes, meaning “to be lonely and bored.” I visited Travemünde recently and after a few hours felt rather on the stones myself. The Baltic Sea was impotent at raising waves, and an incontinent gray sky drizzled on the city. The riverside homes along the Front Row, where the harbor pilot lived, are now tourist shops and restaurants filled with old German couples not talking to each other. The other nineteenth-century landmarks of Tony and Morten’s romance haven’t aged much better. The Sea Temple, a waterfront gazebo where they sit so close their hands nearly touch, fell into the Baltic in 1872, drowning with it the records of young lovers who scratched their initials on the walls. Read More »