Wednesday 13 May 2009

leif Peng is showing all 21 of Cliff Roberts' illustrations from the Book of Jazz.
The style here seems to have been de riguer in the 1950s for Jazz music subjects. Leif attributes its origin to Jim Flora. there's a whole blog devoted to Flora

At The Hollywod Reporter:
The Palme d'Or may seem like a twee, only slightly relevant prize to the American film industry.
But it's been an oddly accurate barometer of the state of U.S. filmmaking - or at least the high-end film world's view of it -- since its modern incarnation began several decades ago.
When American directors were driving the car at the studios in the 1970's, they were winning it more frequently than the word 'cinema' is cited at the Palais -- Scorsese, Altman, Coppola. They took a break in the 80's, but when the indie movement hit, they were back with a vengeance -- Soderbergh, the Coen Bros and David Lynch took it three years in a row from '89-'91.
But it's been mostly fallow since then --
my pal Bryan Talbot is showing his Grandville video:


Tuesday 12 May 2009

From time to time I find myself mucking around with the html template on Blogger. Just changing the codes around and trying to personalize ever so slightly the design of the basic 'classic' page. The problem is always that what is visible in one browser may not be visible in others. For example, I've been playing with a drop shadow on the header above for the last week, but it's only visible in Safari. A few days ago I discovered that if my initial letter is big enough it can sprawl all over the header (1000px ampersand in Book Antiqua, color #FF7F00). I was up most of the night with a sick cat. Profound thoughts are far away. I'll see if my pal White is up for lunch. (the next day it was all over Bryan's vid so I crushed it)


Monday 11 May 2009

_______________here's a stirring piece from the Guardian on the writing of one of the great books of the twentieth century.

The masterpiece that killed George Orwell
(It's quite long. A couple of snippets:)
The circumstances surrounding the writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four make a haunting narrative that helps to explain the bleakness of Orwell's dystopia. Here was an English writer, desperately sick, grappling alone with the demons of his imagination in a bleak Scottish outpost in the desolate aftermath of the second world war...

On Jura he would be liberated from these distractions but the promise of creative freedom on an island in the Hebrides came with its own price. Years before, in the essay "Why I Write", he had described the struggle to complete a book: "Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist or [sic] understand. For all one knows that demon is the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's personality." Then that famous Orwellian coda. "Good prose is like a window pane...

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published on 8 June 1949 and was almost universally recognised as a masterpiece... It was a fleeting moment of happiness; he lingered into the new year of 1950. In the small hours of 21 January he suffered a massive haemorrhage in hospital and died alone... aged 46.

I read on wine label last week that the wine i was drinking is 'iconic'. While i was trying to figure out how a liquid can be 'iconic', I subsequently read that the new release of the great Grange Hermitage is 'iconic'. How can a 'release' be 'iconic'. Somebody make these people stop.


Sunday 10 May 2009

following upon my subject of yesterday, i was curious as to the originators of the fascinating woodcuts of the Davy Crockett Almanacks ( 1835-1856). I have an insatiable longing for information about obscure artists from long ago. Mostly the woodcuts are unsigned, but a handful of names is recoverable from the material upon scrutiny, and various scholars have tabulated the information (condensed here):
" In the 1839 Crockett Almanac Alonzo Hartwell engraved at least three images after designs by Croome. Hartwell also engraved the title page and six other full-page cuts for the Crockett Almanac for 1842. The title cut was after a design by William Croome." Hartwell had a reputation as a portrait painter in Boston in the 1850s. Croome is the artist on a book titled The Golden Sand of Mexico, completely viewable online, and sampled at left above.

The one that has particularly caught my attention though is: "John H. Manning (born c.1820), an engraver and designer in Boston, was one of the artists for Gleason’s (later published as Ballou’s) Pictorial Drawing Room Companion. Among his other illustration credits are Turner’s Comic Almanac (1845), Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition (1845), and Boy’s Own Book of Fun (1847). Manning’s work for the Crockett Almanacs included three illustrations in the 1840 edition, and in the 1841 edition Manning designed four cuts that were then engraved by Hartwell.."

Manning was far above all of the other artists whose unsigned work filled up the pages of the Crockett almanacks. This one is unsigned but i feel confident, based on three other signatures by him that I have identified his hand in it and besides, I find it to be the single most striking image of all that I have seen from these booklets. The unusual word-balloon is particularly exciting.

There is another book I'm reading at present, titled The Flash Press: Sporting male weeklies of 1840s New York (published 2008). Nicholson Baker wrote a great review of it for the NY Times. The Flash Press, a clutch of naughty papers published for a short spell between 1841 and 1843, did not tend to attract signed illustrations, but it occurred to me to dash ahead to the index and see if any of my artists were about to turn up in its pages. To my delight, Manning is present, and in fact was the only artist to sign his work in those papers. Here is one of five examples reproduced:

The large heads are atypical of the artist's work, but all of it is recognizable by a vitality, the spark of the true cartoonist. It's worth noting that the monumental British Punch magazine only started in 1841, and that Manning's work as we see it in these samples is as good as anything in the earliest Punches.

Other items of interest in the Flash Press include a completely reproduced account of Charles Dickens' visit to 'the Five Points.' Dickens of course wrote his own, but it's interesting to see the same event written up by another, a Flash Press journalist who was in the entourage. Another character who turns up as a publisher of the naughty stuff is George Washington Dixon, whom I know from accounts of blackface minstrelsy, where we find him the composer of Old Zip Coon, an early landmark of American popular music, later stripped of its racist text and rerwritten as Turkey in the straw. William J Snelling, a writer well regarded by posterity, also plays a part in the story, though his doings in these years have fallen outside the scrutiny of his online biographical summaries. The authors of the Flash Press have done a service to nuts like me who like to fill in all the details (or as my wife would say, 'who need to know the ins and outs of a chook's bum.')

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