Three years before it was published, Kurt Vonnegut treated a select few to a preview of Breakfast of Champions. Before beginning his reading at the 92nd Street Y he informs his audience that not even his wife has seen the work . Vonnegut clearly enjoying himself as the audience is unable to contain their own joy.
Ward Jenkins has ‘unearthed’ a corker of chidlren’s book. Space Alphabet by Irene Zacks first published in 1964. Now I’ve never been one to advocate the dismantling of a book but imagine how wonderful it would be to have each one of Peter P. Plasencia’s illustrations framed and hung in a child’s room! You can view all the pages here.
By the way I just wanted to thank everyone who has offered such kind words since the launch of this site. I truly never expected it to get the reaction it has. I’m still discovering a rythm and voice for the site but so far it’s been tremendous fun. I do plan to post something soon to answer all of the great questions I’ve been getting so stay tuned.
Sure I’ve considered cycling to work, especially on gentle spring days but then there’s bound to be some level of physical exertion which invariably leads to copious volumes of perspiration and all in all that just can’t be very sensible or healthy. Many will scoff but I’ve read up on the subject. I refer to the March 1906 issue of ‘The Captain’ for evidence. For those not familiar, The Captain was a monthly magazine for young boys published in the U.K. from 1899 to 1924 and is most notable (as far as I’m concerned anyway) for publishing some early works of P.G. Wodehouse.
In the afore mentioned issue of this publication is a column entitled The Cycling Corner penned by one Archibald Williams (there aren’t nearly as many Archibald’s running wild as there used to be). A full page of this particular column is available for one and all to view here but allow me to highlight two of the more salient points raised:
Point the first: "Sensible folk dislike to see a boy crouching low on a cycle, like a monkey on a stick, in the endeavour to ape the ’ speed merchant’ of the racing path."
Point the second: Moral Dangers "...the fact that a cyclist can cover the distance from X to Y much quicker than a pedestrian has its dangers. It is apt to breed a habit of leaving things to the last minute."
I am not a monkey on a stick nor am I a speed merchant and I always do my level best to give moral dangers a wide birth. Add to the mix overly agitated thermoregulatory activity and you have yourself one non-cyclist…with knobs on.
The stunning example above is the work of Studio On Fire, letterpress printers extraordinaire. You can read more about the project here. It’s encouraging to know that such studios still exist and thrive and that there are designers out there producing this level of work. I had hoped to use them a while back for some letterpress business cards, but alas budgets weren’t what they needed to be. Some day though…some day…
Ogling Studio on Fire’s work got me thinking about those business cards again and I realized that I’ve been seeing some really inspiring designs of late which is somehow comforting as it seems the business cards of our more recent history have become generally dull and uninspiring. Quite unlike some of the cards that came before.
First made popular in the early 17th Century and used not only as a point of introduction but for advertising and maps as well.
More commonly known as Calling Cards, these date back as far as 15th century China, making their way to Europe by the 17th century. By the 19th century they started becoming a little more stark though they still might retain some reserved flourishes and the card cases were themselves often fairly ornate.
I don’t think we’re going to see the demise of the business card any time very soon which I’m glad of. There is something so fundamentally pleasing about holding a well designed card printed on quality stock. Smart touches such as UV spot varnishing or the tactile loveliness of letterpress register deeply with our core.
In 1962 David Lean’s epic masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia was released in all its Super Panavisual glory. Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness - those cats knew what was what and cinematographer Freddie Young…that guy…he knew how to work a camera.
Early in the film a young Lieutenant Lawrence is given orders to go to Arabia to determine the intentions of Prince Feisal. Lawrence, thrilled at the prospect is reminded by Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau that for ordinary men the desert is a "burning fiery furnace."
"No, Dryden. It’s going to be fun", Lawrence counters and extends a lit match to Dryden’s cigarette. There then comes a seemingly simple sequence. Lawrence, pushing up his sleeve, brings the still burning match to his lips, smiles and extinguishes it with one deliberate puff of air. Instantly the film cuts to a shot of the morning sun rising over the desert.
In under a second we’ve been transported from the relative cool of a well appointed office in Cairo to a desert ready to ignite under a scorching sun all through the simple act of blowing out a match. Transition perfection.
Film scholars can speak with greater authority on the technique of such a jump cut (and lordy do they ever). All I know is that as a boy, I exhaled with Lawrence as he blew at that match and then just as quickly drew in a sharp breath as the transportation registered. Sublime.
Fanny Brice dropped out of school in 1908 but managed to land herself a cherry gig with the legendary Ziegfeld Follies in 1910. While with the Follies she wrote a skit about a toddler named Snooks. The character would later become a major radio hit.
With the fame that Baby Snooks brought Fanny she was of course straddled with great responsibility. How best to use her fame to guide the legion of young fans that very fame brought her? Her path was obvious; imbue each sketch with clear and valuable life lessons.
In the above track Baby Snooks teaches young children the importance of road safety through songs of monkey massacres and tales of child abuse.
The art of letter writing is an art swiftly dying. So with the assistance of a 1908 edition of The Complete Letter-Writer for Ladies and Gentlemen I hope to remind myself how best to manage such weighty social matters as an invitation to stay in the country if you happen to own a castle and know a Colonel who enjoys a spot of ‘tramping’.
I do not, and I do. Entry No. 17 is a God-send.
Above is a preview of the stunning jacket design for the US First Edition of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. You can view a full, large version here. Go on…I’ll wait.
While the US First Edition was published in 1967, Bulgakov actually started writing the novel in 1928 but burnt the first manuscript in 1930 convinced that there could be no future as a writer in the Soviet Union. A thoroughly wonderful read I’ll not attempt a review of what many consider to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century but I will throw out a fun fact that many music lovers may already be aware of. Sympathy for the Devil as written by Mick Jaggar was inspired by The Master and Margarita (a gift from Marianne Faithfull).
All that said - can we focus on the artwork created by Mercer Mayer? I believe this to be the very same Mercer Mayer responsible for the Little Critter children’s book. I do hope this is true because I can remember as a child leafing through my sister’s copy of Little Critter and finding it utterly creepy. Having conduct the briefest of research I can’t wholely confirm this is the same M.M. but it does seem likely as Mayer had moved to New York City in 1964 where he soon persuaded editors at Harper & Row (publishers of this particular edition) to give him work as an illustrator.
This fine edition now sits proudly on a shelf awaiting the companionship of further Bulgakovs if I can find a little time to read them. I’ll really just have to make the time.