Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 15)

I tried a little experiment where for each week of the month I added an item to the list, with the fifth slot reserved for any particularly fantastic week. Bizarrely, several of entries for this month ended up involving travel in some way, but it’s strictly coincidence. Anyway, with that in mind…

Moonrise Kingdom
I enjoy Wes Anderson’s movies (which reminds me that I still need to finally see Bottlerocket and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou one of these days), so seeing Moonrise Kingdom was a given. Bill Murray’s and Jason Schwartzman’s presences were almost a given, but it was nice to see him working with a lot of new-to-Anderson actors; Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton were all great, but the kid actors stole the film over and over again. Just a charming film from start to finish, with an ever-increasing level of insanity as it progresses. By far my favorite film of 2012 to date. Also, for about two days I wanted to live on an island off the coast of Rhode Island. (Fortunately sanity reasserted itself quickly.)

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle
Guy Delisle’s travel graphic novels are fantastic; he’s a cartoonist who’s in the past written about taking trips for work to China (Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China) and North Korea (Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea), as well as—thanks to his wife’s job at Doctors Without Borders—living for a year in Burma (Burma Chronicles). Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City places Delisle and his family in East Jerusalem as his wife works in Gaza and Palestine. I love Delisle’s comedic tone mixed with moments of serious reflection, and Delisle does a nice job of making you feel you are there with him thanks to little details like trying to find playgrounds for the children, or going through security whenever he returns to the country after a business trip. There are a few moments that are head-scratchers (how did he not know what Yom Kippur was before moving to Jerusalem?) but on the whole I’m enjoying it a great deal. I’m reading just small chunks at a time to make it last longer; it’s been four years since Burma Chronicles so I want this experience to stretch out as much as possible.

Silverdocs 2012
It’s taken me 10 years, but this time I finally made it—briefly—to Silverdocs. Silverdocs is the AFI’s documentary film festival, held at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, Maryland. Every time I’ve heard about it, I’ve wanted to go, and every time it comes and goes without my presence. This year with Silver Spring just around the corner, Charlie and I finally made it up to the festival at the end to catch a showing of Beauty is Embarrassing, which is about artist Wayne White. (You’re probably most familiar with him via his design on a lot of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse; in fact he even voiced several of the puppets, like Randy and Dirty Dog.) The documentary was fun (and I hadn’t made connections until seeing the film to some of the other people and projects he’d worked on, like the Smashing Pumpkins video Tonight, Tonight, or his collaborations with people like Gary Panter and Mimi Pond), although the Q&A afterwards was dreadful and we should have left as soon as it ended. But still, it was a blast to finally make a showing, and I am now determined next year to see a lot more. (I might even take a day or two off from work and go whole-hog and spend a day or two seeing the documentaries, workload willing.) It was a good time.

This American Life #467: Americans in China
Oh look! Another travel story. (Well, sort of.) This episode of This American Life (one of my favorite radio programs, although I primarily listen to it via the podcast) spotlights Americans living in China, with two main stories. The first story about a Chinese-American man who grew up in the United States to Chinese immigrant parents, then moved as an adult to China, was good… but it was the second story that really grabbed me. It was about Michael Meyer (no, not that one), a writer who lives in Manchuria in a tiny town called Wasteland. It was a fascinating story about living in a remote, rural community as an American, and I was entranced for its entire 17 minute portion. Meyer does a great job of dipping you into that culture and making you feel like you’re there, which is exactly what I want from my travel writing. It turns out it’s part of a book that will be published later this year titled In Manchuria: Life on a Rice Farm in China’s Northeast. I will absolutely be buying this book.

Potential Work Trip To Somewhere I’ve Never Been
No details yet, because I don’t want to jinx it (and because it could easily not happen in the blink of an eye) but if everything lines up just right, I get to go on a work trip at the end of August to a country and continent I’ve never visited before. Fingers crossed!

Matching Sets

I’ve always found a row of matching books, lined up just so, to be extremely aesthetically pleasing. A small part of me enjoys it because of the completest gene in me (although over the years I’ve managed to beat that down a great deal), but there’s also something about the overall design sense with the series of matching spines that makes me think, “Yes, yes, that looks lovely.”

It doesn’t have to be overly ornate. For example, I’ve always liked Small Beer Press’s Peapod Classics line (which sadly only had three books and then appears to have stalled out), and not just because they’ve selected good books for the line. The cover design is simple but effective, and having Kevin Huizenga provide the cover art is an added bonus.

And to be fair, it’s not even just books. DVDs, magazines with spines, anything with a nice design sense has always been appreciated. It’s why I’ve found the Criterion Collection’s shifting from one font to another to be frustrating (and I’m not even a big Criterion geek), and why other publications have managed to stick around in my home because they look so good.

I say all this because as a big ol’ comics geek, it’s always pained me to see some truly hideous design work on what should be two of the nicest lines in comics; DC Comics’ Archive Editions, and Marvel’s Masterworks. These lines reprint the company’s oldest and most classic comics; the original runs of books like Superman, Batman, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and so on. We’re talking about superhero comic royalty. How bad are they designed? I own exactly zero of these books.

The original Marvel Masterworks design was ghastly; a fake marble background with a foil stamped frame in the center and the artwork crammed into that small portion. They’re ugly, and while the redesign a while ago shifted to a black and silver look that isn’t as bad, it’s still not terribly attractive. The artwork is larger, so that’s good at least, but it’s still not an attractive or eye-catching look.


I’m not letting DC Comics off the hook here with their Archive Editions, though. They’re also uninspiring; a single image of a character (or sometimes a group of characters), the inverted triangle and circle, and a pin stripe background. Once again, there’s a lot of space wasted here. It’s not energetic or exciting, and they don’t make me want to buy them at all.

Kurt Busiek (via Dan McDaid) recently pointed out online where Jon Morris presented his ideas for a redesign of the DC Archive Editions. The entire post is here but I’ll just show you one or two of his (many) mock-ups.

These are already so much better it’s not even funny. I love the big image on the top, with room for four additional smaller ones. (Sure, the images in these mock-ups could use some brightness and contrast touch-ups, but you get the idea.) The books have room for creator names, what they reprint, additional material, and even two more images on the back. And when lined up on the bookshelf?

Well, be still my beating heart. Quite frankly? If DC announced they were redesigning the Archive Editions to look like this (plus a small, initial-orders only printing of the original design for any new ones for people who want a complete set – Marvel does this for theirs, which is a nice touch), I’d start buying the new editions. As these are expensive books, it’s probably just as well that DC shows no signs of doing so.

The sad thing is that DC does have a nice design for their black and white, low-cost Showcase Presents books. It’s simple but effective; a small band up along the top, room for an entire cover on the front, and they look nice when lined up, as seen on the top two rows on the photo below.

Wall of Comic Goodness [365portraits: 242]

And who knows? Maybe someday they’ll redesign the Archive Editions line and I will finally spring for them. My bookshelves are sad that we aren’t getting them, because they sure would look nice. My wallet, on the other hand is just fine with that.

Soap Opera Comic Strip Characters

I used to think, back in the day, that no one could possibly be as stupid as a character in a newspaper comic strip soap opera. (Not that they’re all stupid, of course. I still miss Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For.) Now that I am near the very end of my 30s, though, I’ve come to the grim conclusion that yes, people really can be that stupid.

On the bright side, it’s acceptable to point and laugh at a fictional character in Apartment 3-G.

With any luck, this story will conclude with Nina giving birth to an alien. Or perhaps Nina will decide that babies need to eat human flesh and she feeds herself to her offspring. If only she’d read those books!

“Meet the Artist”

I didn’t participate in Artomatic this year, mostly because I didn’t have the time to prepare for it and felt that it would end up with me doing something that I wouldn’t be thrilled with (and probably feel was more half-assed than normal). I like Artomatic a great deal, and I’ve enjoyed participating in the past. But when we went on Saturday night, it was “Meet the Artist” night, and I was reminded of one of the few things I did not like about participating, and one was that very event.

When I’d participated my two other times, I skipped Meet the Artist entirely the first time, and the second time I went but instead walked around and met other artists rather than staying in front of my own space. I know you might think it’s a little silly, but today I read Julia Wertz’s latest comic strip about exhibiting at comic book shows, and it was nice to see that I am not the only one who sees the following unfold far too often:

And that is why I do not miss that particular little event one bit. No doubt if I’d participated this year, I would have once more avoided it like the plague. I’m already my own worst critic, I don’t need others to try and prove me wrong.