My 10 Best (and One Worst) Design Items of the Half-Year

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Page from The Black Incal (L’Incal Noir), Moebius, 1981.

My editor told me, “Everyone likes an end-of-year list, right?” Well, I don’t. But this one’s for you, James. Happy 2011!

These date back to early July, when Imprint officially launched.

First the Worst.

The worst “Mad Men / Creative Revolution” quote during the last half of this year ~“So fuck you, Mad Men, you phony gray-flannel-suit, male-chauvinist, no-talent, WASP…” etc.~ George Lois, Playboy, August 2010

According to Lois, the Mad Men series is “oblivious to the inspiring civil rights movement, to the burgeoning women’s lib movement, the evil Vietnam War, and other seismic events…” of the decade (see Playboy page, below). But regular viewers should instantly realize just who’s being oblivious here. Mad Men is about nothing but the social, cultural, and political changes of the decade. And as I alluded to in an earlier column, creator Matthew Weiner has been handling these events in depth, and with great intelligence and subtlety, throughout the entire run of the show, through his masterful story arcs and character trajectories.

But Lois insists that a show about advertising during his early career must therefore be about “the upbeat world of culture-busting creativity.” Upbeat. Screenwriters wanted: Arthur Miller types need not apply. Plus, he prefers ad agency amateur softball games to all those Mad Men scenarios about humping and screwing. Seriously. He also writes: “This Creative Revolution exposed the traditional advertising world for what it was: WASP-driven, hackneyed, untalented – simply put, hacks [sic].” Here he’s actually exposed himself for what he really is: an ego-driven, self-righteous glory hound with an almighty, “In the Beginning was the Big Idea” attitude: 1950s advertising? No, nothing to see here. Move along, move along.

It’s not a photograph, it’s a present. Doyle Dane Bernbach, 1966.

This isn’t obliviousness, it’s willful ignorance. Lois knows the roots of modern advertising. He was there, he lived it… a detail he and his defenders routinely use to bully and intimidate all challengers. If you weren’t part of his era and his milieu, and you have the audacity to offer an alternate perspective that he doesn’t share, you should just shut the fuck up.

By overt implication, Lois has dismissed as unworthy the likes of Rosser Reeves – “It’s Toasted!” – and Norman B. Norman – “It’s not a spaceship, it’s a time machine” – and Shirley Polykoff – hello, Peggy Olson! – and several other significant figures who helped create and develop the very foundation upon which his Revolution was built. They may not have Lois’s status as one of the most creative and influential figures in the field over the past half century, but they were hardly hacks. They were pivotal practitioners of their craft.

Okay, enough about Mr. Lois. Well, almost enough. Because it’s time to shut the f@¢# up about the Worst, and transition over to a more positive, lighthearted review of the half-year in design.

– #1 –

The best “Mad Men / Creative Revolution” quote during the last half of this year:“Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” (see inset ad, above).~ Mad Men, October 10th, 2010.~ a.k.a.: Don Draper, New York Times, September 1965.

– #2 –

The best “Steven Heller” articles that weren’t actually written by Steven Heller but were published during the last half of this year in a magazine that also contained a Steven Heller article that was actually written by Steven Heller:“Skull!” by Bill North and “Ax the Axis! Propaganda Caricature Art of WWII” by James Lowe, from BlabWorld #1, fall 2010.

Vintage paperback covers and a carnival ball toss, illustrating North’s and Lowe’s BlabWorld feature stories.

– #3 –

The best screen font development of the last half of this year outside of Web Open File Format:Ken Perlin’s Tiny Font, declaring its independence from sub-agate illegibility.

– #4 –

The best prediction at TypeCon during the last half of this year:Roger Black‘s declaration that in the future, through Google and other such systems, everyone with a computer will be able to have their very own signature web fonts, at 99¢ each per year.

Photos by SaeRi Cho Dobson.

– #5 –

The best bookstore magazine stand near the Pasadena Museum of California Art that maintained the best organization of design publications during the last half of this year:Vroman’s (est. 1894).

Photo by Michael Dooley.

– #6 –

The best bookstores on the West and East sides of L.A. with the best speaker events that involved comics and graphic design during the first and last halves of this year:Meltdown and Skylight’s Arts Annex.

Left: A panel discussion at Meltdown, about the crossroads of graphic design and comics, moderated by Michael Dooley; from left: Chris “Coop” Cooper, Rick Ross, Kenny Keil, and a slide of Coop’s “Origin of the World.” Photo by Joan Dooley. Right: A panel discussion at Skylight’s annex, about criticizing American comics criticism; from left: moderator Ben Schwartz, Brian Doherty, Bob Fiore, Sammy Harkham, and Joe Matt. Photo by Michael Dooley.

– #7 –

The best place in Burbank during the last half of this year to discover why illustrators should become animators:CTN animation eXpo, November 19 – 21, with appearances by Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Stefan Bucher, etc.

One of Bucher’s monsters created during a drawing demo and one of the Talent Marketplace aisles at the eXpo. Photos by Stefan G. Bucher.

– #8 –

The best response during the last half of this year to ICON conference concerns that the future of magazine publishing is in peril:Elephant, the best design related magazine that launched in 2009 and is still available at Vroman’s and Skylight.

Left top: photo at Vroman’s by Michael Dooley. Left bottom: spread from issue #4, autumn 2010. Right: spreads from issue #1, winter 2009 – 10; #2, spring 2010; #3, summer 2010; #5, winter 2010 – 11.

– #9 –

The best “appearance” of Steven Heller in L.A. during the last half of this year:A slide shown at Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden’s presentation about their Metahaven book, “Uncorporate Identity,” at Otis College of Design’s “Double Dutch” forum in July (see photo, below).

Photo by Michael Dooley.

– #10 –

The best Google during the last half of this year that has nothing to do with Roger Black’s 99¢ Web fonts:Barney Google, edited and designed by Craig Yoe and published in July.

Sunday strip, August 22, 1926.