June 2, 2009

NSS 2009 Part the 5th: An Outsider's View from the Inside

by Buzz Poole

If you're reading this, that means, presumably, you've read what came before. Brandon's been saying lots of nice stuff about my day job. But he's biased, as am I when it comes to the world of letterpress.

I've known Brandon for a long time. I’ve changed his kid’s diaper, helped start his business, caused mayhem with him, been his press monkey, played peacemaker between he and his belligerent doppleganger, stayed in close contact after we both moved across the country, ballyhooed him and his endeavors whenever the opportunity arises. Such thoughts preoccupied me as I rode a cross-town bus to the Jacob Javits Center to visit Brandon at the National Stationery Show. We've met up in Manhattan this way several times now in the last few years: I arrive to the show a little early, walk the floor with him, drink some beers, watch him close up the booth and then we have a night on the town. But this time new factors were in play. I had work to do. Brandon asked me to guest write for the BBH blog, my job was to report on the show as an outsider. Also, I had a feeling there might be trouble, given some information that Brandon had neglected to mention until the day before we planned to meet.

Though I was curious to see what beautifully mad-capped printed ditties the BBH crew had created for this year’s show, I was unsettled by the news that his brother Tony was back on the scene, and would be meeting us for drinks after the show. Neither Brandon nor I had parted on good terms with Tony when the two of us pulled up anchors and left the Bay Area. You'd think the mythical evil twin is the stuff of terrible television writing, the brothers Mise have a way of making bad fiction an inconceivable reality. It was when Brandon called me up from the show on Sunday to make arrangements for the following day that he broke the news of Tony's return to the States. When I learned that he would be hanging out with us, I had second thoughts about showing up.

"You're kidding me, right?"

"He's gotten better. He's only a dick if you set him off."

"I don't know. You should hang with Tony tomorrow. You and I can meet up on Tuesday."

"He's here all week. He's asked to see you." At that point a customer entered Brandon's booth and he excused himself. "C'ya at 4:30. He'll be good. I promise."

Then the line went dead. I'd been promised this before.

Brandon and I met in the gridded atrium of the Javits Center, Brandon sporting a “MILF Academy” hoodie, griping about Manhattan’s dearth of PBR (a fallacy). Brandon ushered me past security and into the fray, shouting out at sales reps and checking in with letterpress cohorts and other spirits kindred by edgy bawdiness.

Take Olga Krigman of Offensive + Delightful. The company may be out of Los Angeles but the cards read like eavesdropping in some long-gone Hudson River sailor bar. The designs pit vintage images with Oh no you don’t sentiments, saying the things that most of us never say out loud. Have you ever seen a “Congratulations on Your New Pooping Machine!” card? Me neither.

The front of the catalog insists: “I’ve broken lots of bones and even sank a car in a lake once... but deep down inside I’m really very shy.” I don’t believe it.

I was drawn to the Bob’s Your Uncle stand by virtue of the company’s name. I travel to London often and this is one of the most mystifying idioms I’ve encountered. It’s kind of an all purpose “There you go” but to my American ears it always sounds a tad dodgy. Unsurprisingly, the company’s owners are British, though they live in Boston. When we spoke with designer Martin Yeeles he didn’t really elaborate on the company’s name but the website provides the best theory on the origin of the term, which I will forever assume is a historical fact: “Possibly inspired by Victorian Prime Minister, Robert Cecil, who appointed his nephew to a ministerial post, therefore to have Bob as your uncle was a guarantee of success.”

The cards, coasters, luggage tags and abecedaries comprise clean, sans-serif typography, emboldened by bold colors. They also produce placemats and melamine that feature photographic images of Americana and its signage, the loopy large-scale lettering of the word “motel” serves as a great counterbalance to the other printed matter. Not boring, not offensive, well designed – I’d be hard pressed to think of people that wouldn’t enjoy this stuff.

The most arresting image I encountered while walking the floor with Brandon was this heart by L2 Design Collective. Wow. What awesome screen printing these folks do. From nostalgia chic to wonderful original illustrations and lettering – they even have a “Mad Props” graffiti card – this collective exemplifies contemporary design, with that all important handmade touch.

Lots of other cool purveyors of stationery of course, as well as toys and doodads, like my friends Noted. But the day was winding down and we were out of beer.

Walking off the show floor with Brandon and Kyle to meet Tony in the atrium, the voice inside my head made me wonder why I was being made to engage with the jackass who had once impersonated his brother to frame me for stealing art from a collector's home.

Like a waft of smelling salts the stench of cleaning disinfectant knocked me out of my thoughts. And then I saw Tony, puddled up in the chair by the Jacob Javits statue. He was emanating the smell, incredibly cheap whiskey. Brandon kicked him awake.

"I need more money," were Tony's first words. He looked at me through one eye and slurred. "I remember you." Then his eyes closed again.

Brandon smacked him in the face a few times to wake him up. "Couldn't hold it together for a day . . . a single fucking day?" Passersby turned their heads as Tony woah-woah-woahed and assured us he was cool.

Brandon sighed. "Let's get this picture over with."

We managed to fake an air of normalcy. Tony lost his lunch in front of the statue as Brandon retrieved his camera from the stranger who took our picture. As Tony slumped over to examine what he'd done, Brandon, flushed with embarrasment, snuck Kyle and I through a crowd of folk exiting the lobby and hurried us out to the street. We caught a cab just as Tony appeared and ran after the cab, beating on the window as Brandon and I urged the driver to keep driving. We made our way in awkward silence to Press New York, where the four of us were supposed to have cocktails.


  1. I'm amazed Buzz and I were able to get so close to Tony without being vomited upon.