June 2, 2009

If I only knew how to read...

In my five years of residence in Asheville, I can count the number of books I've read on my fingers without having to resort to toes (that's not counting Graphic Novels, which I read obsessively when I find something worth reading.) The last year has been especially bad-- the only thing I've read since January 2008 is an anthology of short stories by Paul Bowles. I've bought up every last McSweeney's issue and continue to do so, but haven't so much as cracked open a single issue in years. Mostly, its a matter of time and distraction. I used to love to read, and always dreamed of having one of those jobs where you can sit behind a counter with a book waiting for somebody to need you to do something, but these days the world crashes around me on a day to day basis and it is impossible for me to engage a book for longer than a week before I abandon it.

That didn't stop me from attending the 2009 Book Expo America, at the invitation of being snuck in to the Javits by my buddy Buzz, who was running the Mark Batty Publisher booth.

I walked the whole floor, 50 some ailses spread over two city blocks, and I gotta say, there wasn't much to look at. Mostly what I saw were books that make money, i.e. children's books, books by celebrities, mass market books I have no interest in reading. There were a few little surprises on hand, so I'll make this quick and dirty.

What the hell? Didn't I just see these guys at the NSS?

Because the world is getting smaller everyday, I immediately bumped into Carrie from Red Cap cards. I'm not sure what card manafacturers were doing at the Book Expo, and they didn't seem too sure either. Hal asked me if I had any beer on hand. Do I look like I'm made of alcohol? Red Cap is the best selling line that we carry in the BBH retail store.

During my walk on the North end of the building I overheard Neil Gaiman's name being mentioned. On my walk back from the South end I saw a line 14 aisles long and had a sneaking suspicion that dude would be at the end of it. Sure enough I ended up standing 3 feet from the table where he was signing autographs.

Neil Gaiman puts up with his depraved followers.

For those of you not in the know, Neil Gaiman is the madman behind DC Vertigo's cult hit, Sandman, in which the history of the world is cleverly rewritten and the gods of the human experience run amok with mortals. Beautifully drawn and so satisfyingly complicated, without a doubt it is my favorite comic series.

Gaiman also co-wrote an apocalyptic novel called Good Omens with Terry Pratchet, and is probably best known for the recent animated children's movie, Coraline.

Comic artist Chris Giarusso signed a free copy of G-Man for my 7 year old son.

The comic section left little to be desired. Some reputable indies were present but there were only eight of them in a single section. I did get offered a free copy of G-Man by Chris Giarusso, creator of Mini Marvels, a series that depicts Marvel super heroes as children. Being for children, G-Man wasn't able to hold my attention for more than two pages. Toby, however, ate that shit up in a single sitting and asked for seconds.

I don't know everyone's names here, but Mark Batty is the gent to my left, editor Buzz Poole and designer Christopher Salyers to my right.

In general, the expo was a snore. Buzz said he'd seen members of McSweeney's tooling about, which would have made the show more exciting, but after a seemingly endless search for their booth we determined that they were in attendence but not exhibiting. So go figure, the crown jewel of the endless aisles ended up being the same folks who snuck me in, MBP. I've tried to explain their aesthetic in countless ways, but first I'll just mention Mark Batty's resume: former president of ITC fonts and former editor of every graphic designer's wet dream, a typography publication called U&lc. Rather than talk more about what they do, I'll end this post with some nods to a few of my MBP favorites:

Designer Ji Lee has devised a way to reclaim our public spaces. It’s called Bubbling. Blank Bubble Stickers are put up on ads, in wait of passersby to fill them in with their own messages, some as funny as they are profound, instantly transforming the corporate monologue into a true public dialogue.

A book for type aficionados and their children, the serif fairy cleverly uses typography to create a world made of letters.

This brilliant novella by colleague Garth Hallberg was originally slated to be part of Em 5, back when BBH was doing books. When we canned Em Literary, Buzz immediately scooped it up for MBP. Field Guide classifies the aspects of the American Family experience as one might classify birds in a field guide, while simultaneously unravelling a heart wrenching tale of two families in a typical American suburb. You can get a taste for the book here.

This book by MBP designer Christopher Salyers documents contemporary versions of the bento box, inspired by the rampant popularity of movies, television shows and manga. These charaben, made by parents (mostly mothers) eager to bring attention to their children’s lunch boxes, comprise food crafted into visually creative, appealing and recognizable forms, and are as much about planning and preparation as nutrition.

Culled from the collection of movie-poster aficionado Sam Sarowitz’s Posteritati Gallery, Translating Hollywood examines how the posters used to sell the same film in different countries speak volumes for how cultural tendencies are reflected in graphic design and how the differences are about much more than language.

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