Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fire Water 

Recently I was walking home when I noticed a broken bottle on the sidewalk (I was near the liquor store in Parkdale after all). Holding a denture of jagged glass together was a label for Fireball Whisky (previously known as Dr. McGillicuddy's Canadian Cinnamon Whiskey).

Cinnamon Whisky? A fire breathing dragon-headed demon? Probably tastes like cough syrup, I surmised. Apparently it’s tasty. It is unlikely that I’ll ever find out. Still, I thought the label was fun with a fairly bad ass demon logo. Only a few metres away, locked to a nearby railing, I saw a great looking fixed gear bike with a sweet custom paint job and yes, weirdly, a Fireball Whisky label stuck where the frame maker’s mark would normally be (affixed in a decoupage style). It was probably this coincidence that made the label that much more memorable. File under “interesting ephemera” – continue walking, continue with my life.

Lately I’ve been listening to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast and been surprised by how much of the talk comes around to therapy and twelve steps programs. Mentioning this to someone else, I was pointed to a recent Harper’s article about “the cult” of AA. It’s a engrossing personal essay and I don’t mean to trivialize the topic but I was struck by the cover illustration accompanying the article. The illustration bore the recognizable fingerprints of the talented Tomer Hanuka (you can see some of his process on his twin brother’s blog; I don’t want to get into this now but c’mon, twin brothers who work in very similar styles in similar medium? That can’t be healthy, can it?)

image via Tropical Toxic

I think you can see what I’m getting at. Not only is the addiction to alcohol demonized, the addiction is actually anthropomorphized as a demon over the shoulder of the addicted. In one image, the Fireball Whisky label, the demon indicates a rollicking good time, in the other, the demon indicates a rollicking good time that will ruin your life. Six of one, a half of a dozen of another.

It did occur to me that they might sell less of this liquor if the demon were portrayed as one that robs you of your life.

Friday, March 25, 2011

From Portlandia to Torontovia

I've been watching this program from IFC called Portlandia with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. The show gently pokes fun at the residents of Portland, Oregon (the second show this year set in the Pac-Northwest), using recurring characters in short vignettes. The truth of it is that most of the jabs are reserved for absurdly hip urbanites on fixed-gear bikes, who are obsessed with how local of their organic chicken is or who proudly display their full sleeve tattoos while playing a child's game in Portland's Adult Hide and Seek League. That said, it could be poking fun of hipsters anywhere. I've taken to referring to the show as Torontovia. If you live in any larger city, you'll be more than familiar with characters such as this unbearable affected and oblivious hipster cyclist, I was going to assume he was a bike courier but I don't know if that is necessarily true. In any case, within a week this guy goes from realizing "Everything is over" and within a year to becoming what he most despises; unhip.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Footnotes from Innis Hall

image via Comic Book Resources

Joe Sacco spoke at length to an audience of over 200 at Innis Hall on U of T's campus Thursday night as part of a speaking series on the arts. His journalistic comic books focus on conflicts in places such as Gaza and Sarajevo. They tell of the impact of war on regular civilians. He brings an evocative eye to both the horrible conditions and everyday life of refugee camps such as Rafah. You hear a term like refugee camp and you're picturing some wind swept collection of tents, not a muddy city of thousands that's been there for 60 years. It's this unique blend of journalistic storytelling and comic book arts that set Sacco apart. While others have created autobiographical works of a more personal nature no one else really reports the way Sacco does.1 Especially when you see his work together you can really see the importance of it.

It was a pleasure to hear him talk about how he works with reference photographs, recorded interviews and first hand experience. After his talk he took a lot of questions and it's a little unexpected just how congenial a guy Sacco is. I mean he takes in a lot of dire stories in some awful settings and situations. He did admit that his latest book about Gaza which took about 7 years to create was probably the last one he'll do about Palestine or Israel for awhile. Fair enough.

FN1: I sort of forgot that probably the only other person creating this kind of reportage comic is Guy Delisle, a Quebec cartoonist and animator who has written about his travels to Pyongyang, North Korea and Burma (aka Myanmar). Again, though, you'd probably categorize Delisle's work as a travelogue or autobiographical comic essay rather than journalistic like Sacco's. They probably would prefer not to be compared to each other anyway with each artist's work standing on its own merits. You can see a sample of from Pyongyang below.

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Daniel Clowes' latest book, Wilson. Image via Drawn and Quarterly

I got this book for my birthday but just read it recently. I wouldn't call it classic Clowes as surprisingly it's his first complete "graphic novel", but more of an expansion of his Ouevre that he's been exploring for years. Despite his other books being compilations of individually printed comics, those books seemed to have a more clear narrative than this one which feels more like a serial comic that's been compiled. I assume that was in part due to the formal story structure Clowes has chosen. What Clowes does with these one-pagers is tell a very complete story with remarkably little. I suppose it's like a great piece of music where the spaces mean as much as the notes. Typical of a Clowes' character, Wilson is a deluded loser but his tale of woe (mostly brought upon himself) is not only sad but incredibly and wickedly funny. Dan Clowes' humour has always been present in his work but I don't know if I had ever laughed out loud as often as I did with this book. Even though there is a repeated form to every page and a formulaic construction of every joke, the last panel was always the dagger that drew laughter (and a little blood). Of course, the writing uses explicit language and humour so it's not exactly a Sunday School Special but fans of Clowes will appreciate both his writing, and seeing his full range and knowledge of the medium as he manipulates comic book clichés and styles in creating Wilson's story.

Yeesh, this post is written like a bad weekend review hacked together to meet a Friday night deadline. My most sincere apologies.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Come Out and Play 

We just watched The Warriors (after bookmarking it in Netflix ages ago) and coincidentally it showed up as A.O. Scott's Critic's Pick on the New York Times online.

I wasn't aware of the film being based on the Greek epic Anabasis by Xenophon but that explains why it endures, why it resembled Centurion, a version of Roman soldiers trapped deep in enemy territory or why it seemed to have attributes of tales of yore (like when separated members of the gang are lured to a party by a gang of women called the Lizzies). It's funny that Scott enjoys the fight sequences saying they are like elaborate dance sequences whereas we thought the fights were campy, like elaborate dance sequences and that they really do have more in common with the television series Fame than with other gang movies.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

2011: A Space Legacy 

After watching some promo videos of Apple's new iPad 2 it struck me how the FaceTime app looks like something from a sci-fi movie come to life, then after seeing the white version, it really reminded me of a Dieter Rams Braun creation or something from 2001: A Space Odyssey. When I did a quick look for images of A Space Odyssey, it was obvious the influence that film has had on art directors ever since. Not just art directors but designers of technology who are still trying to catch up to Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's vison ever since.

Get the flash player here:

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

A Bike to Ride Home On 

After going to the Toronto Bike Show, I'm as confused as ever about what bike to get this spring for commuting. These are my criteria: an upright bike, either single gear or 3-speed internal gear hub, chain guard and fenders, front or rear rack. Also, it must look great. That last little parameter, "must look great" is obviously flawed, subjective and apparently adds about $250 to the cost. Really, no kidding. You can get plenty of bikes that fit that description for over $1000 but you'd be hard pressed to find one like that between $500 and $750.
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Saturday, March 05, 2011

Seen In February

Still from Incendies (2010)

Six French films this month (well, five in French language, one set in France), and a couple from Scandinavia. The theme of February seemed to be seeing depressing films and then trying to temper those with something cheerier. Here's the list.
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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Pine-clad Hills

Image of the Long Studio, Fogo Island, Newfoundland via Todd Saunders

Last night I attended a talk at the University of Toronto by Canadian ex-pat architect, Todd Saunders whose practice is based in Bergen, Norway. Saunders is originally from Gander, Newfoundland (you read that correctly) and has recently begun an ambitious project on a pile of rock known as Fogo Island, in Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland (which is really out there in the North Atlantic). The instigator of the project is a success story herself. Zita Cobb made her millions as a top level executive at JDS Uniphase and had an idea to create a sort of cultural resort and artists retreat on the island, sort of in the mould of The Banff Centre. Saunders had been slowly gaining international attention for his beautifully detailed and captivating projects (usually set against striking and wondrous Norwegian landscapes) when he received a call from Cobb. Funny story; he said Cobb called him on his mobile while he was on a kayaking trip and as he was so tired of work he sort of blew her off. When he got ashore, he wandered into an Internet café and searched her name online. After discovering who Cobb was (one of those “Holy Shit” moments) he called her back right away (a few of his stories were punctuated that way).
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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Jane Russell, 1921 - 2011

Jane Russell, 1921 - 2011

An informative and respectful tribute to Jane Russell at Mubi.

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