It has been an undeniably grim few days, but if you’re looking for a moment of light-relief, take 15 minutes and watch the brilliant (and joyously silly) ‘Super Science Friends’pilot episode. Successfully kickstarted November 2014, ‘Super Science Friends’ was created by Brett Jubinville, and animated by Toronto-based Tinman Creative. It features a team of time-travelling super scientists led by Winston Churchill who travel through time to fight Nazis, Soviet zombie cosmonauts, and all manner of evil science villains:
Rauschenberg’s references to other media aren’t just tricks. They’re an integral part of the way he connects the language of his images to that of a wider world. Collagists had always done this, ever since the invention of collage. Braque and Picasso brought newspaper clippings and headlines into their images, though these had to be scaled to the actual size of the printed page—you couldn’t effectively do a cubist collage six feet high, it would need too many elements.
The same was true of Kurt Schwitters, with his bus tickets and cigarette wrappers and bits of wood or rusty iron. But around 1962, Rauschenberg began to use not things but the images of things. He gathered photos and enlarged them into silk screens, so that they could be printed directly on the canvas. This had two main effects. First, it enormously increased his image bank, because just about everything in the world, from mountains to beetles, from spermatozoa to Thor-Agena rockets, has been photographed. And second, by reusing silk-screened images from one painting to the next, it let him use repetition and counterpoint across a series of works in a way that wasn’t possible, or not easily possible, if he had been using things themselves. In doing this, he was adapting to the great central fact of American communication, its takeover by the imagery of television.
Originally founded in 1995 as a publishing house for sophisticated hardcovers and reprint paperbacks, Picador USA is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this month with a set of four small limited edition modern classics with covers designed by Kelly Blair. Printed on pearlized cream stock, with rounded corners and colourful full-bleed imagery, the books look like exquisite pocket-sized treats.
According to creative director (and long-time friend of the blog) Henry Sene Yee, the books were the brainchild of Stefan von Holtzbrinck, head of Macmillan Publishing. “With Picador’s 20th Anniversary approaching, Stefan wanted us to celebrate it with some special printings. There were these tiny volumes in Europe that caught his eye, and he wanted us to do something like that.”
While still deciding which titles to include, and on the exact format and size, Henry worked out some early ideas in a notebook-sized format, using lines and shapes to represent the theme or narrative of each book. Facing a tight deadline however, Henry didn’t have time to finish the project by himself. He had a difficult decision to make. “Giving away a dream project is the hardest thing to do, but you have to be selfless and match up the best talent with the books.”
Henry, who has been at Picador from the very beginning, was determined to acknowledge the art department’s contribution to the publisher’s history. “One of my very first assistants was Kelly Blair. She is a brilliant designer and illustrator, and is now herself an Art Director at Pantheon / Knopf. If this project was going to celebrate the history of Picador and I couldn’t design it myself, I thought it should be someone who was there with me at the very beginning. Kelly made poetic sense, and made it feel better about letting go. A little.”
Kelly’s initial ideas included illustrations and some all-type solutions. “All were great,” says Henry, “but Kelly wanted to send me one more last-minute idea even though she wasn’t sure she liked it as much as her first ones. Of course that was the one we all loved and printed! Sometimes when a solution seems simple, we doubt its value.”
In addition to the new covers, Steven Seighman redesigned and re-typeset each book making them easy and inviting to read, even at the smaller size. “Even though they look great online,” says Henry, “it’s not until you have the actual wrapped and bound book in your hands that you appreciate its power and the beauty of print in the small format size.”
The Twentieth Anniversary Picador Modern Classics — Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson, Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse, and The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides — were published last week in the US. Thanks to art director Henry Sene Yee for talking to me about the project.
(I previously included Devin’s cover in my November 2014 post before discovering that publication had been postponed until 2015. It’s so good that I figure it deserved a second shot now the book is finally coming out this month.)
Because film is a visual medium, each project comes with an established aesthetic, which for a designer can be inspiring but also sometimes limiting. The challenge is in figuring out how best to channel that aesthetic—either by distilling it down to a single still composition, or somehow bouncing off of it in an interesting way.
I try not to make such a strong distinction between “illustration” and “design.” Almost everything I make involves some custom-created components, whether it’s type or image or decorative elements or whatever, so for me it’s not such a hard line between the two disciplines. Whatever technique will best solve a problem—assuming it’s within the limits of my abilities—I’ll give it a try.
Because we have access to such great films, we’re lucky enough to be able to call on the best illustrators in the world to work on them, so really it’s total hubris that I ever design anything myself. When I draw something myself, it’s usually because I have such a strong, specific idea of what it has to be that I would be literally dictating exactly what to draw and how, which is no fun for anyone. You’ve got to leave room for the artist to surprise you, otherwise why bother?
For me, a light goes on: we are supposed to be—are required to be—interesting. We’re not only allowed to think about audience, we’d better. What we’re doing in writing is not all that different from what we’ve been doing all our lives, i.e., using our personalities as a way of coping with life. Writing is about charm, about finding and accessing and honing ones’ particular charms. To say that “a light goes on” is not quite right—it’s more like: a fixture gets installed. Only many years later… will the light go on.