Your mouth is the top end of the food tube.

I continue to labor at the Legs of Izolda Morgan cover, kicking around various ideas. I think it’s safe to say that my wife is tired of being beckoned over to look at new directional sketches. Meanwhile, I’m not sure I’ve ever accumulated so much research for a project that will eventually result in just one single image (well, two, if you count back cover). I’ve certainly done much more extensive digging for larger projects… but this is like reading the amount of material associated with writing a dissertation, only to produce a haiku in the end.

Anyway, since I have book covers and related imagery falling out of my ears, here are a few more recently discovered (or, in some cases, rediscovered) images:

The bottom image here is a photograph by Dallas Sean Hyatt, a San Francisco-based photographer who happened to be having a show at Brainwash cafe that I walked into when I was there in April. I exchanged a few emails with him, told him that I like his work a lot. The above image strikes me as being in the same spirit as the second image on the Right Reasons web site (although his is considerably better for being a raw photograph rather than a jived-up collage).

Humans and chimps: bad bedfellows

Thanks to a recent link from I Blame The Patriarchy, there has been a steady stream of incoming hits to something I wrote about Bubbles the Monkey last summer shortly after Michael Jackson passed away. Revisiting this post has refreshed my sense of what a disappointment the relations between man and his close neighbor have been over the years. Somehow, despite being immediate neighbors in the DNA chain, we remain odd bedfellows at best in the social sense. A Malcolm Gladwell article I recently read about dog trainers explained that, although dogs are much further removed from us on a genetic level, they have an unaccountable curiosity about our behavior and therefore are able to take subtle cues from us in terms of the body language we demonstrate. Chimpanzees, meanwhile, despite all the apparent commonality, really have little more sensitivity to us than seagulls or mollusks do. Unlike dogs, they can’t really be trained to exempt us from their inborn aggressive impulses. And so things tend to add badly, both for the apes that are conscripted to live among us, and for the ill-advised human dummies who acquire them.

Consider the poignant case of Travis the Chimp, whose story was included in the annual New York Times Magazine obituary issue and passed along to me by my father. A retired TV chimp, Travis could apparently do just about everything a human could do. He could drive a car, draw pictures, and surf the web. But then one day – as is rivetingly recounted in the Times story – he freaked out when a house guest arrived, attacked, and tore her face off. When the police arrived, he loped over to one squad car, knocked the side view mirror off and then managed to tear the door open. The officer, pinioned between the wheel and monitor, barely had time to draw his weapon and shoot the monkey to death.

One of the more practical and sobering revelations that Michael Jackson’s last days could have provided us with as a society is a deeper reckoning with the sad orphaned state of Bubbles and the terrible demise of Travis. Perhaps at some point in the future, opulent loons and wingnuts might learn from Jackson’s story and stick to sleeping in crytogenic anti-aging chambers and advancing up the ranks of Scientologists, rather than adopting apes in a misguided attempting to bridge the apparently insurmountable distance between man and chimp.

Second Banana All Stars

We interrupt this blog for a bilious, snarky rant…

I see Ray Manzarek, the former Doors’ keyboardist, is back at it again. Yesterday, as I walked through the metro, I was confronted with this:

OK, first: can we please all agree to let 30s socialist propaganda poster style die a richly-deserved death and rest in peace? Shepherd Fairey had a nice run with the Obama Hope poster (so potent was it, in fact, that the incresingly right-tilting AP threatened to sue him for copyright infringement in the most ridiculous lawsuit ever, apparently fearing a spate of galvanized left wing politicians), but that poster was about five times better than anything else he’s ever done, and the whole style was already tired out when he did it. It’s a great aesthetic to start from so as long as you add something new to the mix, but in and of itself, the life has simply been beaten out of it in recent years. Another recent culprit– this Bernal Heights poster that JohnnyO posted:

It’s not cool anymore, people. We killed it. Let’s just let it go…

Second: why must God take from us Joe Strummer and Joey Ramone, but leave Ray Manzarek to wander the earth and haunt us with his self-aggrandizing nostalgia? I notice that in recent interview clips with the guy, he’s managed to tone down his act and come across as a benevolent elder statesman of counterculture… but he doesn’t fool me. Back when the Oliver Stone movie was coming out, he was constantly giving interviews that fulfilled every possible stereotype of self-congratulatory Baby Boomer exceptionalism. (Even in his more toned-down current incarnation, note how he still slathers all this over-the-top religious hyperbole on his description of meeting Jim Morrison for first time).

The only time I’ve ever liked Manzarek was in the Doors movie, when he wasn’t really Ray Manzarek but rather Kyle Maclachlan (aka Agent Cooper, aka most un-rock-n-roll male lead of our generation) playing Ray Manzarek in one of the strangest and most compelling casting decisions in recent memory:

I once had the idea of assembling a supergroup of all the annoying self-promoting second-and-third bananas in rock music culture who were riding on the coattails of someone more talented at the time but now take an inordinate amount of credit for things and basically try to pass themselves off as self-appointed spokesmen for their generation. The lineup could include:

Keyboards- Ray Manzarek

Drums- Dennis Love, Beach Boys (widely reviled, was conniving and underhanded in his dealings with Brian Wilson… plus made a pass at my friend’s sister once and then said, ‘You know who I am, don’t you?’ when rebuffed).

Vocals: Grace Slick? I don’t know enough about all the sordid intricacies of Jefferson Airplane to say for sure, but she seems like a good candidate.

Bass and guitar I’m still working on. Bass is a tough one, because bass players tend to be unassuming types. Noel Redding would have been absolutely perfect, but he’s by all accounts a super nice, humble guy, so that doesn’t work. Sting is a rare example of the outspoken jackass bass player, but he’s too much of the primary banana in his projects. Somewhere in between those two…

Brno Bienale and Polish film posters revisited

Yesterday, I went to Brno to take part in the opening of the Brno Bienale, a design exhibition in which the CTP book I spent all last summer and fall working on is being displayed. (Note: there are literally hundreds of works being displayed there, so it’s not like this is any great distinction.)

Here’s my trip in handy ascii map format:

|||||||| >>>>>>>>>>(me on train)>>>>>>>>>>>||||||

Assorted highlights along the way:

1. Prague main train station, 10:05am. You gotta love the cafés associated with train stations in Central Europe. It’s just past 10am and I’m drinking a small beer, yet I’m allowed to feel that this is a somewhat upright behavior given that the two guys next to me are pounding shots and smell like they’ve been cleaning out that barn that Hercules had to irrigate for one of his 12 tasks.

2. Brno main train station, 1:15am. Pleasant surprise of the day: getting to Brno and kinda remembering my way around from two previous brief day trips here.

This is a memorable contrast to my first ever trip to Czech Republic, back in 2001 when I was just blowing through on the way to Vienna and had no notion that I’d ever be living here. After staying up most of the night running around Prague, I got on the train to Vienna and instantly fell into a deep, catatonic sleep. After two and a half hours, I suddenly lurched awake when the train stopped, blearily peered out the window into the darkness and was met only with a large, inscrutable sign reading ‘BRNO’. Having never heard of Brno before at that point, I momentarily panicked, imagining perhaps that I had been asleep for twelve hours and had now been carried into some regional outpost on the edge of Siberia. “Oh no! Brrr!” I cried out involuntarily, and then saw the reality mirrored back at me again by the horrifying sign: BRRRR-NO.

3. An exhibit called ‘Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design’, 6:45pm. After the opening ceremony, speeches and awards, and after looking at the main exhibits (all of which turned out to be pretty un-fun for various reasons which I won’t bother getting into… but suffice to say that the part I’m about to describe was the only fun part of the Bienale for me:) I wound up looking through a great exhibit curated by Rick Polynor about the tradition of surrealism in graphic design. Remember those Polish movie posters I blogged about? Czech movie posters from this era were done pretty much in the same style, and this exhibit had fascinating ones from both countries. Check out these various interpretations of Hitchcock’s The Birds:

As my Czech student put it while we looking at these, “See… there were some good things about Communism.”

(Note: the top one borrows directly from Max Ernst’s The Robing of The Bride, which I blogged about in the Quiet Visualizations of Evil post.)

Continuing on the weirdo bird theme, here’s a bird in high heels executed by a 60s Croatian artist that I know nothing about:

For our last bird-related item, check out this incredible 1972 kraut rock cover for Amon Dull’s Carnival In Babylon:

Have you ever seen anything that straddles the line between so-bad-it’s-good versus SO-bad-that-it-swings-all-the-way-back-around-into-bad like this?

The Miley Cyrus Online Dance Battle Meme

A year or so ago, I was having dinner with a few friends, and one of them brought his new girlfriend, a 22-year old professional surfer. This gave me the opportunity to learn about “what’s new with the kids these days.” Being a semi-semi celebrity, this surfer seemed to hang out with other C-listers, and she told us a story about some guy named Adam, a dancer who appeared in “Step Up II: The Streets,” and who then “got in Miley Cyrus’ pants” by making a “dance crew video.”

I was completely bufuddled by this story, so I asked for more details, and the surfer pulled out her iPhone and called up a youtube video that blew my mind (see below). So far as I could tell, the story began with Miley and some friend of hers making a “webcast” that involved the two of them having sleepovers and, in at least one episode, dancing around. Then (and I probably have this completely wrong), Miley saw this Adam kid (who looks sort of like a young Joey Ramone) in “Step Up II” and got his number from somebody and left a mysterious message for him. He responded by getting together with some of his professional dancer pals and challenging Miley and her pal to an “online dance battle.” This challenge escalated into a war of youtube videos, with each side getting the aid of various celebrities (dancer and otherwise) to show up the other (and it may have culminated with a huge Beat It-style dance-off on the Teen Choice Awards). And, according to this surfer, the whole gambit helped young Adam “score” with Miley.

I have nothing insightful to say about any of this except that, more than anything else I’ve seen since I left the MTV “demo,” this both made me feel very old, and also sort of impressed with the lengths the kids go to these days. Here’s Adam and his crew’s “Round Two” challenge, featuring various Hollywood b-listers (including The Lohan) and some incredible dance moves:


Columbian Magic and other secrets of the stone house

This weekend, the wife and I drove to a village in the the north of Czech for a confab of friends with small children. Here are some of the highlights from Saturday:

Approx. 1:00pm: Wife driving, me sitting in passenger seat. Wife mentions that our hosts for the weekend (whom we’ve never met before) are a family named Vitek, Lubmila and baby Josefina. Sometimes Czechs have weird names.

Approx 1:15pm: Wife and I discuss a friend of hers who apparently cannot wrap her head around the fact that I do not know how to drive stick and never owned a car prior to 2009. Friend has repeatedly asked if I have some sort of condition or chemical balance that prevents me from getting behind the wheel. We resolve that I will act in a highly erratic manner next time we spend time with her.

Approx 1:30pm: Start to drift off to sleep in passenger seat and enter that phase between sleep and wakefulness where you start to have strange, disconnected thoughts. In this state, I realize that as you pass through the membrane into sleep, your thoughts suddenly extrude into three dimensional shapes, like soap bubbles being blown. The shapes are filled with ideas that look like sparkly glitter, which were actually shapes back in the awake world. So: when you fall asleep, ideas become shapes and shapes become ideas. Got that? Good.

Approx. 2:15: We arrive at our destination, which is an awesomely dilapidated stone house owned by the family with the weird names. The outside looks like this…

The inside, meanwhile, is full of the kind of grandeur-fading-and-crumbing-into-ruin that never fails to excite visiting rootless American bloggers. Check out the photo at the top of the post, for example: that was the ceiling of a room where I helped Vitek set up an ornate Romanian bed that lacked any matching parts and apparently turned out to be murderously uncomfortable for the people who slept in it.

Also included on this floor were Mamby-pamby Baroque Piano, No Face Jesus and Mary, and Giant Picture Frame With Nothing In It:

Right after arriving, we get the grand tour of the place, which took a solid half hour and also included…

Approx: 2:50pm: … on the third floor, a working toilet, finally! Except its not really a toilet, it’s more like an outhouse that’s indoors. And painted an inviting shade of pink:

If you open the hatch and look down, there’s what appears to be a bottomless pit. Sort of like an oubliette. Let’s move on…

Approx 2:52pm: our tour takes us to a quasi-secret room, which contains a super ornante wood burning stove. Inscribed in curiously Haight-Ashbury-type lettering (and in English, no less) is ‘Columbian Magic’:

If I had to guess at gun point what ‘Columbian Magic’ is and had a hundred guesses, I would still never guess ‘wood burning stove’.

In conclusion: when you factor in the crazy surroundings and the fact that our hosts were more than a little Ren Fair-ish, the weekend probably more closely resembled a Scooby Doo episode than anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Image dump: In search of Izolda Morgan's legs

Some memorable images I’ve run across mostly while researching 1930s Futurist and Constructivist book covers for the Bruno Jasienski project I blogged about last week. Some randoms, too.

(Incidentally, the publisher and I met up earlier this week and we agreed to nix the direction I showed in last week’s post. This decision left me with divided feelings– on on the one hand, I liked that direction aesthetically; on the other hand, it really did feel out-of-step with 1930s Futurism, and the incongruity was really bugging me. Anyway: back to the drawing board).

Open pouch, receive duck

Looking over the search engine terms that people have used to find this blog, it’s come to my attention that there’s something called Mock Duck Hot Springs. Before you get too excited, I should clarify this exotic refuge exists only within the virtual reality of something called Rohan: Blood Feud, one of these massively popular, unfathomable multiplayer online role-playing games. Huge in the Philippines, it seems.

The premise behind Rohan: Blood Feud sounds like something straight out of the back pages of Scientology:

The Lesser Gods, in a desperate move decided to sacrifice the other races since killing the dragons didn’t bring back Ohn. The Lesser Gods create monsters to eliminate the races but their plan backfires. The advent of monsters bring the races closer together. It brings the Elves and Humans especially close, so close that the two start producing offspring, the world’s first Half Elves. Rejected by both Humans and Elves, the Half Elves created their own settlement in the middle of the forest of Morrisen.

All that’s missing is third-level Thetans being transformed into intergalactic walruses after falling out of spaceships.

Anyway, it’s confusing what the mythical Mock Duck Hot Springs have to do with all this (especially as half the info posted about the game on message boards is written in some Filipino language). Luckily, I found this handy FAQ:

Q: Where is the Mock Duck Hot Springs?

A: The Hot Springs are located geographically north of Varvylon

Q: How do you enter the Hot Springs?

A: You can enter by presenting a Hot Springs Ticket to Mr. Duck at the entrance of the Hot Springs. Tickets are available at the Rohan Item Mall (

Q: What can I do inside?

A: Monster galore plus a chain of quest to get a mock duck bag with random treasure inside.

Q: What are the new quests that you speak of?

A: There are 4 quests inside the Hot Springs.
Duck Feathers (lvl 30)
Duck Eggs (lvl 50)
Empty Bottles (lvl 70)
Mock Duck Pouch (lvl ?)

Once you finish the final quest, you are awarded with a special Mock Duck Pouch which gives you unique items when you open it including a chance to get an exclusive mock duck pet.

As someone concisely explains on another forum message board, “open pouch, receive duck.”

Here are screenshots someone posted of ‘Mr. Duck’ and the Mock Duck Hot Springs experience (click for larger, nerdier views):

A semi-fictional story about why I haven't blogged much lately

I apologize for the freaking paucity of posts lately. The truth is that everything was humming along smoothly until last Saturday morning, when I took my kid to the park and read a magazine article while he was sleeping about all the problems with drug cartels in Mexico. There was one part where the journalist interviewed townspeople in the city of Zitacuaro, a place that has become entirely captive to drug lords. Kidnapping has become so prevalent there as a routine source of revenue for organized crime that “everyone I talked to in Zitacuaro seemed to know someone who had been kidnapped,” the journalist explained. This statement was followed by an unbelievable interview with a school teacher who explained the precautions one takes against being kidnapped: “Everybody has to vary their routines, all the time.” When the journalist expressed astonishment that a school teacher could vary his routine all the time, the teacher replied, “You just have to. They’re watching.”

After reading this, it occurred to me that I should try to continually vary my schedule as though would-be kidnappers were targeting me for a nabbing. Partly, this is about expressing solidarity with the people of Zitacuaro, but it also seemed like a good skill set to develop if and when the political situation deteriorates here in Czech, once the Russians eventually cut off our supply of drinking water. For me, this continual varying-of-routine has mostly been a matter of wearing disguises and eating at a variety of outlandishly bad restaurants, although I’ve definitely cultivated a full quiver of lesser tricks as well.

So it was that I found myself in my druid outfit, sitting in a Czech Mex place and eating a burrito that tasted like an oversized sleeping pill filled with yarn. It was in these dismal circumstances that I decided to risk phoning my wife. Calling home is definitely a gamble, but I had been hiding out in a silent Quaker prayer session the last two days at this time, so I imagined that my antagonists couldn’t possibly anticipate this sudden burst of communicativeness on my part. With eager hands, I brushed the wizardy beard wisps away from my face and dialed.

Where are you?” she immediately wanted to know, forgetting that this type of location-revealing question is completely against protocol when one is trying not to be kidnapped.

“In a fist fight,” I immediately answered, hoping this would throw them off. The truth is that that there had been some serious tension at the last Quaker meeting, so I hadn’t entirely fabricated this response out of thin air. I was getting sloppy. I’d have to be careful to avoid an actual fist fight at the next meeting, lest I inadvertently establish a pattern of behavior.

“What?” she said. While one could forgive her for being confused, the truth is just that she hadn’t heard me clearly, given that I was mumbling through my Gandalf beard in a sotto voice in the darkness of the unpopular restaurant. Meanwhile, I was having trouble concentrating– my mind was wandering from the tiredness accumulated from continually waking up at odd hours to stage the diversionary errand of  going to the bank in the middle of the night. In this bleary state, I started thinking about the way that married couples are portrayed in most movies, as these sorts of bland paragons of maturity. In my experience, this couldn’t be further (thankfully) from the reality of spousal interactions, which better resemble the long rides you had in the back seat with your best friend when you were 8 or 9 years old, where you enjoyably resort to the most slapstick of humor in order to pass the time together. Moreover, people never mishear each other in movies, unless it serves some kind of comic purpose. In order for Hollywood depictions of marriage to resemble what I know to be real, the two people would have to get over themselves somewhat, amuse each other with a lot more dumb jokes, and mishear each other almost constantly during certain intervals.