The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Midweek Miscellany


Furious — Writer and herstorian Trina Robbins talks to Imprint about her new book on pioneering female cartoonist Tarpé Mills and her newspaper strip Miss Fury:

I’ve always been a lover of noir and of good adventure strips in the noir mode, as typified by Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates. They are adventures that are good, fun escapist reading. As you know, there were a number of cartoonists during the 1940s who worked in that genre, but only Tarpé Mills was a woman. That alone would have been enough to attract her to me. But add to that: good art, solid storytelling, memorable characters… including three of the strongest female characters in comics…

Mills’s characters also wore great fashions… at a time when many of the male cartoonists dressed their female characters in featureless red strapless evening gowns or equally featureless short red V-necked dresses. Of course there are exceptions – Caniff was very up on women’s styles. But I think in general one sign that a comic is by a woman is that attention is paid to the clothing – Miss Fury, Brenda Starr, Mopsy, I could go on and on – and that men tend not to show much awareness of what real women are wearing, even today… especially today!

And on the subject of comics…

Word as Pictures — Designer Rob Harrigan has launched a new series of interviews about design and comics. First off is designer Rian Hughes:

Comics, in a broader sense, are simply words and pictures – and words AS pictures, which as a designer, and especially as a font designer, is what fascinates me the most. The formal aspects of communication – this is the very language designers manipulate for their own ends, the medium culture uses to spread memes.

Still Great, Still in Production — Alexander Lange reviews Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible by Sophie Lovell for The Architect’s Newspaper:

Open Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible. Turn to page 64. There you will find the Braun product line circa 1963. I would buy any one of those products today, save the cameras, were they sold in stores. Which is to say, you will get no argument from me about Rams’ greatness as an industrial designer and the superiority of his achievement as head of Braun’s product design department from 1961 to 1995, where he designed or co-designed 500 products, lighters, door handles, coffee grinders, hi-fis and televisions, hair dryers, and cameras. Plus those Vitsoe 606 shelves, still great, still in production.

And finally…

Steven Heller on designer, art director and inventor of the album cover Alex Steinweiss, who died on Sunday aged 94, for The New York Times:

Mr. Steinweiss preferred metaphor to literalism, and his covers often used collages of musical and cultural symbols. For a Bartok piano concerto, he rejected a portrait of Bartok, using instead the hammers, keys and strings of a piano placed against a stylized backdrop. For a recording of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” he used an illustration of a piano on a dark blue field illuminated only by an abstract street lamp, with a stylized silhouetted skyline in the background…

Mr. Steinweiss said he was destined to be a commercial artist. In high school he marveled at his classmates who “could take a brush, dip it in some paint and make letters,” he recalled. “So I said to myself, if some day I could become a good sign painter, that would be terrific!”

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