March 26, 2010

I was just wondering when Adobe would make a new CS version worth purchasing, when...

The Content-Aware Fill feature being developed for Photoshop CS5 is a complete mindfuck. (So you might want to go full screen on this one...)

March 22, 2010

Nostalgia Fix: Don Bluth, Ya'll.

A screen shot from the 1983 Star Wars arcade game, a space simulator in which you are seated behind the steering controls of an X-Wing Fighter. It's amazing that this is all that was required to take a seven year old's brain to untold planes of existence.

It was the year before the release of Van Halen's classic album, 1984; the year they called 1983. MJ's Billie Jean and Bowie's Let's Dance played incessantly on the radio, and arcade classics like Galaga, Centipede, Ms. Pacman, and Spy Hunter were the cutting edge of video game technology. War Games, Return of the Jedi, and Flash Dance lit up the silver screen, but there were no animated feature films to speak of that year.

Rewind to 1959. Walt Disney Pictures is pretty much the only studio releasing animated features for the screen, and Don Bluth gets his first (uncredited) animating gig with Disney on Sleeping Beauty, followed by another stint on The Sword in the Stone. Don Bluth, a Mormon boy hailing from Utah with an English degree from BYU, forged his way to the top of the Disney animation studio, and was an uncredited director of such animated flicks such as Robin Hood, The Rescuers, Pete's Dragon, 101 Dalmations, & The Fox & the Hound.

From the animated classic, Rubbin' Hood. Ooh-da-lolly!

But Walt Disney's head was put in a freezer in '65, and Bluth watched the studio's films, written and run by suits in committees, steadily "lose their charm." In '79 Bluth left Disney, taking 11 other disgruntled animators with him, to start Don Bluth Productions. In 1982 they released Bluth's masterpiece, The Secret of NIMH. It was the first successful animated feature made by a non-Disney studio since the 1950s.

The Secret of NIMH

Some signature trademarks of Bluth's work are his snaggle-toothed cross-eyed toddler creatures ...

..and his blindingly electric lighting effects.

Back to 1983: The
youth of that era were well-submerged in all kinds of jerky and blocky video game fantasies, when out of nowhere Bluth follows up NIMH with an epic animated odyssey arcade game called Dragon's Lair. The heads of many an arcade rat exploded that day.

Back then, Dragon's Lair seemed to me a video game from some far-away utopian future. It was fifty cents a game, and nearly impossible to beat, but what this machine had to offer (vs. the rest of the arcade) was beyond compare, and I've never really lost that ache to be immersed in it. Bluth went on to release a less cohesive but equally interesting sequel to Dragon's Lair, as well as Space Ace, Bluth's nail biting 11 minute long metaphor for impotence and virility. Except with lasers and exploding space ships and shit.

Today, though Dragon's Lair is still prettier than what most games these days are offering, it's fairly obvious as an adult that on the gaming level it's a simplistic one trick pony, the idea that you are making "choices" for the hero is for the most part an illusion. But I still can't help but get all bent in the head when I play inside such a wildly imaginative and gorgeously rendered world, and I'm tickled that Bluth had spent a near equal amount of time animating all the horrible ways the hero could possibly die as he spent animating the actual adventure.

Being able to find and play Bluth's games after the slump in the arcade craze has not been that easy--- but I have managed to own the games in a number of formats over the last twenty years. I was thinking about the game just recently, and chuckled to myself at the thought of a Dragon's Lair App for the iPhone. Well lo and behold. It's obvious they've trimmed some video to keep the file from getting too big, and I even wonder if some scenes might be missing, but still, it's a marvel to be holding it in my hands again.

Titan A.E.

Bluth has done alot of stuff since his initial hot streak. He worked with Speilberg on An American Tail and The Land Before Time, both of which met with commercial success, neither of which I've seen in a very long time. His most recent work was the 2000 flop that closed down Fox Animation Studios, Titan A.E. (which probably isn't that bad and deserves another look from yours truly.) He has been shopping a feature length film version of Dragon's Lair around for a couple of years now, though to be honest, I'm hoping he might eventually let that idea go and think of something new. I'd rather Dirk remain as he is, a hero with no lines (who lets out a death curdling scream every time you lose concentration.)

Bananas, Rice, Apple Sauce, Toast!

Finally took a gander at Of Montreal's appearance on Yo Gabba Gabba. Fun stuff!

NSS newbie here... Do you have any advice that you would like to share? (small company, new to wholesale)

I think the biggest mistakes made by newbies at NSS is to not have enough product to look at, and to have a booth that doesn't look like much effort or creativity was put into it. It is a sad thing indeed to see someone with their 10 cards and a folding table with a computer printed banner-- nobody is going to visit that booth. You want enough stuff that will keep an interested customer in there for more than five minutes.

Here are a couple of other things I've learned myself:

1) Have several sample decks on hand so that more than one person can look through your stuff at a time (we have 3 decks plus wall samples)

2) Ask for a business card from anyone who shows interest, write on the back of the card any extra details you want to remember and follow up with them at a show.

3) have a give-away of some kind so that they will remember you better. having your booth number with your information may mean a return visit.

4) Do not get disheartened if you don't break even your first time at a show, it will be a bit depressing, but you should take into account that this is a long term investment, it is about maintaining visibility and eventually the money will be there. Some things to take into account:

a) Some people wait to order after the show, sometimes waiting as long as 6 months to a year.

b) if you pick up sales reps, if you are interviewed by the media, then that means dollars down the road.

c) orders you fill are just first time orders and are likely to repeat from the same customers several times a year.

If you have the opportunity to go to these shows as a visitor first I highly recommend it, it is a huge investment and researching your gameplan as much as possible beforehand is going to help make your first show run smoothly.

Ask me anything about letterpress, wholesale manufacturing, trade shows, Blue Barnhouse, and/or our fucked-up greetings.

OK! Wholesale manufacturing - when did you start doing it, what sort of scale are you cranking out these days, and do you only handle your own work, or others', too? And, yes, sorry...I know that was 3 questions and not one!

1) We started wholesale manufacturing in the summer of 2005, we needed products to sell for a street fair -- they did so well we decided to send samples to stores all over the U.S. and immediately picked up a rep group in Southern California, which created a snowball effect. The rest is history.

2)Most styles start out with a run between 300-800 on its first try-- 300 is a safe number for designs that we're not 100% sure will sell well (i.e. we find them amusing but we're not sure if they'd sell as a greeting card.) It allows us enough for samples for our reps and show plus at least a few months supply for orders if the card should do well. If I am certain a card will sell well we go ahead and bump that number between the 500-800 range. If the card is a 2 or 3 color card I try and keep the runs in the higher range as well- they require more intensive setup and I want to make sure that my labor costs are well spent.

As for reprints, we do much larger runs. If a card sells out within a few months we'll bump the reprints up between 800-1200 cards. If it doesn't sell out within a year then we usually discontinue it. We're trying a new formula for reprint runs for our older cards-- I look at Quickbooks to see how many cards were sold in the last 2 years, and then bump up that number by about 25%-- two years worth of stock is right where I like it-- we have so many styles that I'm trying to avoid getting crippled by reprints when a big show goes down- after our first gift show we were in reprint mode for nearly 3 months as style after style ran out--you'd think we'd be excited about that but it got old and expensive rather quickly.

Our largest client, Paper Source, skews the numbers quite a bit-- stuff we do for them we reprint between 2000 and 3000 per style.

3. We haven't printed other people's cards lines but that's only because we haven't been asked to.

Ask me anything about letterpress, wholesale manufacturing, trade shows, Blue Barnhouse, and/or our fucked-up greetings.

March 20, 2010

Get smart-ass answers for your dumb-ass questions.

Recently I've learned about a fairly new question and answer media called formspring, media which Delphine and Boxcar Press have started using to answer all sorts of queries regarding the business of design, wholesale, and letterpress. I'm always looking for new ways to interact with people who are interested in the work we do, and nothing makes experience richer than clearing up the fog for somebody else, but I'm also open to using formspring as a springboard for complete nonsense. And so I introduce to you: BBH on Formspring. Have at it.

March 9, 2010

So good you'll shoot the cook.

I've been wanting to make Puerco Pibil for a few months now. It was the mexican dish that Johnny Depp obsessed over in the film Once Upon a Time in Mexico-- at one point in the film, the Puerco Pibil is so perfect that after Depp finishes his plate he walks into the restaurant's kitchen and executes the chef. The recipe is made available on the DVD in Robert Rodriguez's Ten Minute Cooking School, I bought ingredients from 5 different markets: asian, organic, mexican, a specialty spice store, and the liquor store.

I purchased this banana leaf at the Asian Market. When I unrolled the leaves they were more than seven feet long!

Last night I made the Achiote Paste and used it to marinate 5lbs of organic Boston Butt overnight but ended up eating 1lb of it fried straight in the pan pretty much immediately. I'm currently slow roasting the rest of the Puerco Pibil in the oven and the whole house reeks of Yucatan goodness.

I was gonna write about how to make the Puerco Pibil, but found that Robert Rodriguez's Ten-Minute Cooking School is on YouTube and you can just get the whole story and cooking instructions yourself.

I've transcribed the recipe though, so you don't have to try and keep up with the guy.

Grind these ingredients to a fine powder:
5 Tbl Whole Annato Seeds
2 tsp Cumin Seeds
1 Tbl Peppercorns
8 allspice balls
1/2 tsp cloves

Put ground up spices in blender with:
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
8 cloves garlic (chopped)
2 Habanero Peppers (chopped and deveined/deseeded)
2 tbl salt
5 squeezed lemons
splash of nice tequila

Liquify, pour in ziploc bag with 5 lbs pork butt (chopped into 2" squares.) Marinate overnight.

Oven at 325 degrees, cook pork wrapped in banana leaves and covered in foil for 4 hours. (It actually was ready in 3 hrs so I pulled it early. Pork will be ready when the meat is roughly 180 degrees.)

Serve over rice, etc (I sauteed pineapples and served with avacados as well.) Use left over Tequila for Margaritas!

March 4, 2010

We're so sorry, Uncle Albrecht

This one didn't take much thought but we'll have some way more intelligent and disrespectful shit we did with Albrecht Dürer etchings momentarily.

Usually we wait until a month before a show before we start gearing up with new products, but its pouring out right now and we've got spare time to attack. NSS is not until mid May, and we're freshly recovered from the winter NYIGF. I think probably what set this off was a really inspiring talk with Delphine about how to make more money. We're about to be making a whole array of new products that we haven't offered before, but I won't reveal what kind of products those are just yet.

The irony of my mad-two-week-long-brainstorm-session-for-new-products-besides-greeting-cards-to-make-more-money-binge is that the 20 some cards we're about to print for the next 2 or 3 weeks are just our regular fare of greeting cards, though I have been focusing a bit more on Birthdays, Love, and Special Occasions.

Lots of 3 color cards coming up, which is something we've steered away since we started, but personally I'm getting bored with being locked into 1 and the occassional 2 color work. Maybe its because we got the V50, whose restoration has been put on hold since before winter NYIGF. When she's operational we can probably suffer a large 3 color reprint run, though some of these cards I'm only doing for fun and probably won't see reprint status.

My friend Erik said this to me at a party. He was pretty lit up.

I posted almost all of the designs here, though several of those images are early drafts. Dropping a load on paper, we have alot of work ahead of us. And then yesterday the complete etchings and engravings of Albrecht Dürer arrived, I got it off Amazon for $5. Also a book of engravings by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, which feature gorgeous depictions of every significant event in the Old and New Testament, $3. Both of which I will send directly to Tyler Dockery for captioning. We're about to unload some unholy shit.

I've been wanting to do this card for years, but this image is perfect, and I'm glad I waited. I love the Jesus's scowling face. Lots of gems like this from von Carolsfeld.

March 2, 2010

General Announcement regarding the book Adventures in Letterpress

Inquiries from participants regarding the status of my forthcoming book Adventures in Letterpress are starting to trickle in, so here's the skinny on something I don't really know that much about.

It's been 4 months since I've turned in or even looked at material for the book, original publish date was slated for March, but since I've signed on, Mark Batty Publisher has taken on Random House as its distributor, which has drastically changed their workload (and significally upped their press runs.) This is great news for the book as it will have much more exposure than was previously possible, but this change has pushed the book's release to late spring/early summer.

No firm dates have been divulged-- they haven't worked with any of the material I've turned in yet but as I understand it they will begin working on the book by mid-March. Farrell, who moonlights at Barnes & Nobles, saw the title listed for release in June, which is the most concrete piece of info I have so far, but is not to be relied on.

I'll post more news as things develop.