Index: Vintage Illustration

Pour la mer et de la Lune!

As good as it gets, as far as the futuristic sub, menacing shark, and heavy-duty diving suit genre goes. You can almost feel imagination catch fire. Oh, and to add to the radness factor, the book has its own logo – a submarine crossed with a rocket! The whole jacket is amazing, and can be seen here.

Damned Flappers

I’ve had an itch to read Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned lately… mostly because I’ve had the phrase echoing in my noggin, thanks to an odd propensity of my iphone to play the the similarly titled song by Ultravox!

Anyway, poking around online for a suitable edition led to some fine discoveries. First and foremost are the two volumes above, designed by the able Megan Wilson. In fact her whole Vintage Classics series is gorgeously rendered – spare and powerfully evocative. Browse them, and more, on her site, here. I found Beautiful and the Damned over at the Caustic Cover Critic, an excellent Australian book design site. Its author, James Morrison was kind enough to refer me to Mme. Wilson’s work. The editions above are available, priced to move, here & here.

Ultravox!: The Wild, The Beautiful & the Damned [download]

Neil Krug & Joni Harbeck

A most excellent series of handcrafted hemp-soaked vignettes by photographer Neil Krug and his wife, model Joni Harbeck. Krug had long harbored a desire to shoot in a style that would evoke Bob McGinnis’ paperback cover paintings. One frisky late night while fooling around with a Polaroid camera, some expired film, an Indian headdress and a cigarette, the couple stumbled on something close – a sunburnt, grainy buy vicodin in spain instance of pulp. This led to a formal series, Pulp, which drew on Sergio Leone westerns, weathered thrift store records, Italian giallo flicks, and woolly late night b-movies for inspiration. The project culminated in a hardbound LP sized book, available this month, here. Both their Flickr pools and websites are worth visiting – here, here, and here – as is an interview with both, here.

The Outfit

Splash pages from Darwyn Cooke’s masterful comic adaptation of Richard Stark’s hard-boiled noir, The Outfit. In and of themselves they are wonderful pieces of art – gestural, sketchy, but deliberate, brilliantly composed, and thoughtfully detailed. The whole book, though, like it’s predecessor the Hunter, is fantastic, distinguished by innovative graphic storytelling techniques. The most striking is a bravura sequence detailing a series of simultaneous heists, illustrated in successive retro styles that evoke Noel Douglas Sickles, the UPA Studio, and classic Hanna-Barbera. Examples from it can be seen here, as part of an in-depth interview Cooke conducted with the Comics Alliance. With the now classic New Frontier, Cooke transcended his inspirations. With the Parker series he’s securing his reputation as one of comics defining talents.

Summer Stock

Spotted this at a stodgy antique mall in Ballston Spa, New York… Rarely have any of Norman Rockwell’s paintings struck me as powerfully as this one, entitled “Summer Stock”

Thing is, I have acres of respect for the considerable chops of Norman Rockwell, but his obsession with capturing and venerating everyday life often leads to him to over-compensate. A strained exaggeration creeps in, cracking the integrity of his scenes, exposing them to gusts of corniness.

Here, everything gels… As the young actress applies her lipstick she is, for the moment, utterly divorced from the opulent costume she inhabits – a separation underscored by the abrupt shift between her strawberry blond hair and the bight brick red wig atop it. The power of this painting lies in locating this ordinary moment underneath and amidst the artifice. This is Rockwell’s wholesomeness at its most subtle – theater, and by extension, art, letting down its guard to remind us of its essential humanity.

Erik Nitsche

I like my Modernism with club soda and two limes… Which is why I am so taken with the work of Erik Nitsche; it is positively effervescent.

My affection for his work is rooted in repeated sightings of the same thing – his poster for the Betty Davis showbiz melodrama All About Eve. It’s one of my favorite pieces of design… the cutout photos, clean but playful layout, and the signature Missile Command-esqe fusillade of arrows. I’m struck every time I come across it, and it has been big influence on my aesthetic, especially my collage work.

I finally did further research and discovered a wealth of amazing, brilliantly composed and crafted design that has since slipped under the waterline. Nitsche worked for a broad spectrum of clients including General Dynamics, Decca Records, Revlon, Saks Fifth Avenue, MOMA, 20th Centrury Fox, and the Container Corporation of America. Or to put it another way, across virtually the entire cultural landscape.

Poring over his work made me think of the title of a famous Mondrian – Broadway Boogie Woogie. It’s the painting whose emanations border on music, where the grid begins to pulse and shimmy. Piece after piece of Nitsche’s had this almost musical vitality – a backbeat of patterns and repetition over which he improvised variations punctuated with perfectly deployed grace notes and accents.

There doesn’t seem to be a published monograph or survey of his work, but you can cinch one together from across the inter-web. U&lc and New York Times Book Review art director Steven Heller wrote an excellent short biography and career assessment for Typotheque called the Reluctant Modernist that is well worth reading. BustBright, the after-hours studio of Los Angeles designers Katie Varrati and Derrick Schultz, maintains an excellent and growing Flickr survey of his work… and below you’ll find my own homage to Nitsche from a few years back:

Risk, 12″x 12″ Collage on board, 2008

Back to the Future

Near as I can figure, the only way to explain the frequency and quality of 70’s designs that kept turning up as I was trawling the antique circuit of Bethany Beach, Delaware this past weekend is this…. Someone in my vicinity with wizardly control of time was struggling buy vicodin thailand mightily to conjure a temporal shift back to 1978. Billy Joel’s wretched My Life crackled through the ectoplasm as they wrestled to control their magic. Occasionally time would tear, and when it did, prime pieces of Carter era ephemera would slip through the rift…

Frank Frazetta: 1928 – 2010

In weighing the loss of Frank Frazetta I think about what I always think about when I think about Frazetta – Caravaggio.

That is, he, like Caravaggio, took the fables and fantasies he passionately depicted just seriously enough, a precise ratio of rigor and rapture. It’s why the work is so powerful, so definitive – Frazetta painted with just enough supple realism, while conjuring just enough alien atmosphere, that he imbued the fantastic with the weight of fact.

(above, Frazetta’s covers for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series)

Bright Young Things

From 1915 till about 1940 or so, the Brinkley Girl cut a feverish swath through the cultural imagination. As drawn by illustrator Nell Brinkley, she was like the Gibson Girl on an absinthe bender – exuberant line, riots of splashy color, and buckets of joie de vivre. Girls obsessed over her adventures, hairstyles and fashion shifted in her wake, and she was feted in songs, films and theater.

Nell Brinkley’s specialty was the episodic themed series. Golden Eyes and Her Hero followed our heroine’s exploits and derring-do during World War One. Betty and Billy and Their Love Through the Ages, my personal favorite, featured a besotted glamorous couple in various romantic historical vignettes – intrigue in Southern plantation society, among Medieval troubadours, Phoenician swashbucklers, etc… The format begins to open up in the 20’s with sophisticated frothy flapper larks like the Fortunes of Flossie.

Fantagraphics Book’s wonderful new survey, The Brinkley Girls, collects these series and more, along with a fascinating introduction by the book’s editor, Trina Robbins. Aces.

Mr. Bass’s Planetoid

Simply magical illustrations by Louis Darling for Eleanor Cameron’s 1958 young adult lark, Mr. Bass’s Planetoid. The book is the third in the six volume Mushroom Planet series. The books follow the adventures of two young boys, David and Chuck, and their travels to the Mushroom Planet, a small class M moon in an invisible orbit 50,000 miles from Earth covered in various types of mushrooms and populated by little green people.

I love how Darling’s illustrations merge the feel of classic mid-century boys adventure books with the epic, scientifically rigorous space art pioneered by artists like Chesley Bonestell.

The book has some personal significance as well. It’s like this – The whole Mushroom Planet series begins when the two boys, spurred by a mysterious newspaper advert, construct a rocket from everyday materials. Well, when I was a squirt, my cousin can i buy vicodin in cozumel convinced me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I could build my own functional rocket. More about that in this post, here, but suffice it to say, I spent the better part of that summer absolutely sure I was space bound.

The vividness of my belief was, to this day, one of the most powerful manifestations of my imagination. So when my cousin brought over Mr. Bass’s Planetoid recently, it was quite something to feel that childhood fantasia reduced to an idea in a book I was holding in my hand 30 years later. Rather than a cold shower of demystification, though, the moment gave a fresh gloss to a tired conceit – the power of the best fiction and art to make imagination tangible.

The Aesthetics of Synthetics: Lycra

A small selection of ephemera used to market DuPont’s’s Lycra Spandex fabric from the late 60’s into the late 70’s…. These are taken from an article I’m writing for Uppercase Magazine. It’s a visual survey of the design and aesthetics of DuPont’s marketing of synthetic fabrics from the 1920’s to the early 80’s.

The history of the development of synthetic fabrics is a fascinating nexus of science, industry, design, advertising, fashion and culture. In turn, the same goes for focusing specifically on the marketing and promotion of the fabrics themselves. It is a rich core sample of prevailing trends in design, typography, advertising illustration and photography, etc over the decades. Anyway, while putting the piece together I was especially buy vicodin portland charmed by the different modes and looks behind Lycra… not to mention being sent into sheer nostalgic tizzy over the very idea of the Dichter Institute Motivation Study of Women’s Attitude’s About Pantyhose. Who says advertising doesn’t contribute mightily to how we understand ourselves and our world? I’m sure that handy tome borders on philosophy….

Anyway – the article will be in the fifth issue of Uppercase Magazine. A few more previews to come. Stay tuned, etc.. (If Uppercase Magazine is unfamiliar to you, well then, get yourselves over to here for a gander. A lovingly assembled magazine about beauty squirrelled away in the nooks of the everyday…My full mash note to its awesomeness is here.)

The Illustrated Bond, Part I

Macario Gomez, Spanish 39×27, 1963
Boris Grinsson, French 63×47. 1963
Averardo Ciriello, Italian 79×55, 1965
Robert McGinnis, British 30×20, 1971
Robert McGinnis, British unused art, 1971

Queen of Hearts Cookbook

Found this treasure over the holidays. It rings all the bells – charming line art and hand drawn type, gorgeously sturdy and nuanced typesetting, substantial textured stock, all printed with flair and care. Also, the recipes themselves are awesome – 50’s era comfort foods, full of egg, onion soup mix, cream, anchovy, steaks, chops, Jello, Roquefort blue and crumbled bacon. Yum.

A quick scan of the Internets yields little additional info on this cutie. Peter Pauper Press, according to their site, has been at it since 1928, but now churns out a sea of uninspired novelty books and journals that clog the front of Barnes & Noble. More sadly yet, nothing on illustrator Josephine Irwin, who, judging from this work, had quite the knack. I can tell you that its part of a series – when I found this one it was nestled with four or five of it’s siblings. I wince at not having snagged them all. Well, if you ever find yourselves on Rt. 52 between Pennsylvania and Delaware, deep in Wyeth country, the place is called Barbara’s Books….

Draw 50 Aircraft & Spacecraft

Illustrations from Draw 50 Airplanes, Aircraft, and Spacecraft, by Lee J Ames, published by Doubleday in 1977. If I remember correctly, besides following the steps accurately, a successful drawing required that you loudly mimic the sounds of the craft as you drew it.

Toddler Britannica

The early 70’s edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica was a three stage rocket of concentrated knowledge. The base stage was the sturdy brown and gilt edifice we all know, and remember fondly as it fades into its new role reinforcing the foundations of used bookstores the world over. The second stage was the crimson leather bound Junior edition, the starch and fibre of a million middle school book reports. The final stage was the now nearly forgotten toddler edition – “The First Adventure in Learning Program” (See a vintage ad of the whole set here.)

They where co-produced with the Golden Press folk, which goes a long way to explain their graphic excellence. At first blush, what impresses is the serial design – amazing palette, spare but strong unifying compositions and type. And a totally killer logo – the thick-lined little birdie wearing a mortarboard. But they really blow your noggin when you grok the distinct styles and nuances of the illustrations. No surprise – the volumes were illustrated by a veritable who’s who of classic kid art – Joe Kaufman, Trina Schart, JP Miller, Dagmar Wilson, June Goldsborough, Caraway, and Art Seiden. (Another post will cover the inside art of the volumes, which is just as good)

The series grouped knowledge around experiential themes like math, comprehension, metrics, etc… one, though, was much more profound – “The Magic of Everyday Things.”  Basically it was a kid manifesto for the idea you can discern art, beauty, and coolness in just about anything, provided you’re receptive, enthusiastic and imaginative enough to try. An insight for a lifetime, and when I think about how long I marinated in these books as a squeaker, I figure I owe them a mighty debt. Take a bow little mortarboard birdie!

What might have been…


The great physicist and raconteur Richard Feynman suggested a concept in which the possible past histories of a given event have a real existence. I hope this is so, because that means there is a universe out there where the movie of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle starred Raquel Welch, with a smart and ambitious script by the screenwriters responsible for the French Connection II, with a plot that hued closely to the original 40’s Fiction House comics. Our universe is left with only this tantalizing scrap of unused concept art (which happens to be a top notch example of the gouache comp in its own right.) [larger image]