Box Brown is a cartoonist that I really admire for being able to take a subject he’s passionate about and distill it to its essentials into a comics format. His previous graphic novel was on the all-time great pro wrestler, Andre the Giant. You can read my review here. Brown’s latest book is all about the all-time classic video game, Tetris. Published by First Second Books, “Tetris: The Games People Play,” is a testimony to Brown’s determination to collect all the pieces to a story and create a greater whole.
Page excerpt from TETRIS: THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
You most likely know the game even if you don’t normally keep up with games. It’s right up there with such legends as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. It’s a game with a simple charm and an uncanny allure with origins dating back to antiquity. You can learn more about it and play it for free at the official Tetris site right here. Essentially, the goal of the game is to arrange little blocks as they fall down your screen in the most efficient way possible. There’s a Zen vibe there in its relative simplicity. Ironically, the innocent little game of Tetris became entangled in a complex legal fight that found the game industry giants, Atari and Nintendo, locking horns.
Tetris was originally created in 1984 by Alexey Pajitnov. Brown faithfully follows the creator’s journey and all related Tetris canon. Now, what you probably do not know is that there is a lot of intrigue behind what happened to this game on its way to becoming a classic. When Pajitnov created the game, it was the result of his passion for games without any other plans beyond that. As a citizen of the Soviet Union, his only plan was simply to be a good computer programmer for the government. Brown runs with the story once a profit motive is triggered.
Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov
And so our story gains numerous twists and turns as a cat and mouse game is played out. It is at this point that all the machinations can get a bit overwhelming. Brown handles all these moving parts well. He keeps to a basically lean and clean grid of panels that helps to steady the eye. And, at various intervals, he will devote a page to a portrait of the next key player in the drama. It is a modest little portrait set off by a black background. It amounts to a perfect pause, a great way to catch one’s breath.
Brown seems to hold back a bit more with his artwork than he did in his last book. He has a rather pared-down style to begin with. For this book, I think he opted to simplify as much as possible for the sake of clarity given all the details involved. Some work in comics is mostly to digest information. Other work is mostly to admire the artwork. And so on. Brown strikes a nice balance of conveying information with a certain zeal and style all his own. Once you start this book, you’ll want to keep with it and get the whole Tetris story.
“Tetris: The Games People Play” is a 256-page duo-tone paperback, published by First Second Books. For more information and how to purchase, go right here.
Virtual reality and augmented reality are fast becoming part of our new reality, it’s as simple as that. There will be plenty of skeptics, naysayers, and the like, but we’ve always had that when new technology comes along. I say this after not having held any prior opinion on VR and AR before my visit to this year’s Seattle Interactive Conference. But I feel that I’ve really come around to this new tech. It began to intrigue me after listening to the session put together by POP VP Dave Curry and HTC Vive Creative Director Jonathan Faunce.
The Gear is Here: It’s a Virtual World We Live In!
Faunce and Curry provided a lively look at how new tech is already becoming the new normal in the way companies present their products. A great example is the old store catalog model. Forget print catalogs. Forget even PDF catalogs. The new trend is to provide an immersive experience. Consider Lowe’s Virtual Room Designer. Or IKEA’s Virtual Reality Kitchen Experience. Just type in “virtual” or “VR” and you will soon find that virtually everything will have its own virtual reality experience.
The signs of change are coming. Take 3D GIFs. They’ve been making the rounds these last couple of years and you’ll be seeing more and more of them. As the landscape shifts, big traditional companies will seek help. They needed it with the advent of the internet, and then with the emergence of social media. Faunce at HTC Vive and Curry at POP invite them all to give them a call.
One point that Curry and Faunce made really stuck with me: no matter how much they described VR and AR, you really have to try it to see for yourself. So, I did just that. SIC has a couple of stations, one by 8ninths and one by Samsung, and I dived in. The tech, at this point, is pretty remarkable. At 8ninths, I was completely blown away by my tour of a virtual car. I even got to look into the interior as well as check under the hood.
Samsung Gear VR
At the Samsung booth, I can tell, because I was looking for it, there is no motion sickness that’s going to grab you. If you get a chance, try the rollercoaster demo. In fact, stick around and try as many demos as you want. The more I did, the more I came away with a confidence in the tech. Who knew, but you can go inside a volcano and feel all giddy and get educated all in one.
Resolution will keep getting sharper and the immersive experience will continue to improve but we’ve clearly reached a tipping point. Imagine it this way: we’re already a couple of years in; we’re at the third generation level right now; and it’s just a matter of a few more production cycles. You can choose to join in or miss the boat and let your friend clue you in on how cool her goggles are. Nah, you’ll want to have a pair of your own too.
Seattle Interactive Conference is an annual event celebrating the convergence of online technology, creativity, and emerging trends in one of the world’s most innovative cities. I will provide you with a look at this year’s conference, October 18–19, made up of my notes and illustrations. Let’s begin with this comics observation. All you really need to know is that this is a tech conference with lots of folks geeking out over various discussions of future trends in the market.
So our consultant ended up feeling a bit frustrated just tapping away on his laptop and not really tuning into the beauty of his own mind and heart. Well, maybe he’ll figure it out in due time. I’ll have more to say on some of the actual sessions taking place during this unique two-day event!
Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe
A Kickstarter campaign has been launched (ends 8/28) for the illustrated novel, “Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe,” a dark satire set in Seattle. This isn’t your “Sleepless in Seattle” or “Singles.” Join the campaign right here.
Steve Jobs, we feel we know him and yet he is something of a mystery and there is an enormous amount to cover. Jessie Hartland has created an illustrated work, a “graphic biography,” that brings the public figure down to a human scale: “Steve Jobs: Insanely Great,” published by Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Read my review here.
Jessie Hartland is the author of the highly acclaimed graphic biography, “Bon Appetit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child,” described by the New York Times as “bursting with exuberant urban-naif gouache paintings and a hand-lettered text that somehow manages to recount every second of Child’s life.”
For her book on Steve Jobs, Ms. Hartland provides us with an engaging and comprehensive look at one of the great technology trailblazers of our time. “Steve Jobs: Insanely Great” is another wonderful example of an all-ages book providing a significant amount of information in a concise and entertaining way. While Jobs is a problematic role model at best, he remains a most intriguing individual.
The full interview with Jessie Hartland follows and includes the podcast at the end.
Henry Chamberlain: Do you believe that your book has brought Steve Jobs down to a human scale and made him accessible to readers? What would you say is your purpose in bringing this book out?
Jessie Hartland: I think more people are reading my book than would normally sit down with a 600-page biography. So, more people are learning about him. He’s such a fascinating guy. I had just turned in the book on Julia Child, which was also a graphic biography, this one was in color. And I was searching for who to write about next. I was considering a scientist or an artist. And then Steve Jobs dies. He seemed like just the right person to write about. It had begun as a picture book, more like the Julia Child book I’d done, for younger kids. The more I read about him, the more I wanted to write about his whole life. My editors had originally envisioned the book ending with the Apple I computer. Only 200 of those computers were sold and that’s not what he’s known for. So, I went back to my editors and said I really wanted to cover his whole life, I want to do it in black and white, and just run with it. I didn’t want to limit the page count and I wanted it to be more for middle grade or teenagers.
HC: What was your thinking with going with black and white? Was that to instantly signal the reader that this is more serious content?
JH: I think a lot of the graphic novels out there are black and white. I like the stark quality of black and white. I like Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis.” I could have used color. It wasn’t really discussed. I think I wanted it to be more about the drawings, the lines, and the words rather than these gauche paintings. If I had done gauche paintings for this one, I probably would still be working on it.
HC: This must be quite pleasing to have these two major films coming out coinciding with your book. That didn’t turn out that way with your book on Julia Child.
JH: Yes, that’s a funny story. I came up with the idea for the Julia Child book years ago, probably two or three years before the film, “Julie and Julia.” I had different editors then and they were saying that no one cared about Julia Child anymore. And so the book ended up without a home. Only later, with my editors at Random House, did the book find a home. The 100th anniversary of Julia Child birth was coming up and there would be press for that. But, had we moved forward earlier, my book would have coincided with the film.
HC: But now you’ve got two major films. The new Alex Gibney documentary, “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” comes out this week, September 4th.
JH: Oh, really?
HC: And then you have what I can only imagine will be a very important film, with an Aaron Sorkin screenplay, simply entitled, “Steve Jobs,” coming out next month, October 9th. There have been all the books, these two major films. I can’t think, in recent memory, of so much notable work springing forth from one public figure.
JH: He’s such an interesting character. Here’s this guy, this rebel, this iconoclast. He dropped out of college after only one semester. And then he takes a calligraphy class. He starts a little company in his parent’s garage with Woz and it grew to become the world’s most powerful company. It’s just amazing. Who wouldn’t want to know more about him?
HC: We’re at a very interesting turning point with graphic novels. More and more people are understanding that they aren’t just for kids, if they ever were, really.
JH: Yes, that’s right.
HC: You create a perfect all-ages book with issues that can be discussed between a parent and child. You bring in the issue of his experimenting with drugs. You bring in the issue of his not ready to be a dad the first time around. These are big issues but kids can appreciate the realities of life and these are things that are fair game to include.
JH: I didn’t want to leave out the low points in his life. His denying the paternity to his first child with his high school girlfriend. And, of course, the drug use. He said so much about how important that was. He really liked these psychedelic drugs and they gave him a different viewpoint of the world. For him, it was like looking down from another planet and seeing the big picture. It helped him with his intuition and imagining what kind of products people would want in the future before they knew what they wanted. He didn’t like to do market research. He liked to quote Henry Ford, another great businessman. Ford would say that, if he left it up to the public to decide what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.
HC: I wanted to ask you about your process. You do a variation on storyboarding. I imagine that you work larger than print size and then reduce your pages to fit inside your binder where you can then shuffle them around as you need.
JH: Yeah, I work a little bit bigger than print but not by too much. Those binders are really important. This book took up two of them since it was so long. The pages let me shift things around. It’s really important to organizing the material. It took two years to siphon through that quantity of material, to winnow it down, and get everything in order. It took a while to wrap my mind around the fact that iTunes came around before the iPod. And then the events involved with Pixar were complicated to sort out.
HC: Where did his catch phrase, “Insanely Great,” originate from?
JH: Oh, I think that goes way back to when he was a teenager. Yes, I love using that in the book. Woz had the idea for a home computer and his employer, Hewlett Packard, wasn’t interested in developing it at that point. And then Woz showed the circuit board to Steve and Steve says, “Insanely great! Let’s start a company!” Jobs was the great salesman with the big picture. Woz was this engineering genius.
HC: Steve Jobs was at the right place and at the right time in so many ways.
JH: Yes, he grew up in and spent his whole life in Silicon Valley. It used to be known simply as Santa Clara Valley. His father was a machinist. He was adopted. His biological parents were graduate students at the time. One of the parents objected to the marriage on religious grounds. Steve was adopted, grew up in the suburbs of Santa Clara. His father worked in the tech industry. He didn’t go to college but he was a tinkerer and he and Steve would go to the local junkyard, fill up the truck with things, and do projects together. They’d put things together. There were tools all around. And the neighborhood was just swarming with engineers. Steve got to know a lot of the neighbors and how things work and what was going on. It was a very exciting time in what was to be known as Silicon Valley.
HC: Steve could just pick up the phone and start talking to the founder of Hewlett Packard.
JH: Yes! That’s right. He needed some parts for his frequency counter, a device that measure the pulses per second in an electronic signal. He had some of the pieces he needed but he was missing some. He knew that the head of Hewlett Packard lived nearby. So, he looked up Bill Hewlett in the phone book and called him up. Bill was so impressed with the young Steve Jobs that he offered him a summer job.
HC: I am looking at a page from your binders. And I was thinking last night, what if Steve Jobs was standing beside you and looking at your process. He might say to you that he had an “insanely great” way to speed up your work flow. However, I am not sure that I would classify your system so much as “low tech” as “hands on.” I don’t believe that there would be a satisfactory alternative for how you work.
JH: I like having little bits of paper around. I like sketching in a cafe and then slip that work into a binder. It is so hands on. And I love painting, working in gouache. This whole book was done in pen and ink. I went through six bottle of India ink and 24 Prismacolor pencils. It’s all hand-drawn. And people will snicker that I didn’t use a computer. But I did. With the gray tones, I had an assistant help me prepare all those files.
HC: Thanks so much for this chat. I know you want to pursue more graphic biographies. You have the one about pioneering computer programmer Ada Lovelace.
JH: That one, the Ada Lovelace book, is written by someone else and will be a picture book for younger readers. Currently, I am working on some art for a local show here on Long Island. The art will resemble totem poles. These will be called, “floatem poles.” They’re made from the flotsam and jetsam that washes up on the beach. And I’m working on some other books. I’m working with an entomologist on a book about insects. And I’m working on a book that features Tartufo, a truffle hound and that will be set in either Italy or France. I am going to Europe in a week to research that.
HC: I wish you a great trip. And thank you for your time.
JH: Thank you.
The podcast is below:
You can find “Steve Jobs: Insanely Great” at Amazon right here. You can visit Jessie Hartland right here.
Steve Jobs is a person who had a lot of great days, so many of which directly impacted the great days of countless others. By that measure alone, Jobs led a remarkable life, a life quite worthy of remarking upon at length. To do this through the comics medium is a worthy endeavor. To do it right, the way Jessie Hartland did, is an inspiration. Her graphic novel, or “graphic biography,” tells the story of a man who, by luck and pluck, ends up going down in history as one of the great technological trailblazers. He was a really nice guy and a bit of a stink but, all told, a person to look up to and to learn from. “Steve Jobs: Insanely Great,” give us an accessible, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining biography.
Jessie Hartland’s style is quite light and breezy, disarmingly so. She packs quite a lot of information in this book, all neatly assembled in a seemingly effortless way. The life of Steve Jobs seems like that of a never-ending race. Just before the starting gun, Jobs is all flexed and ready and then he’s off and never ever really stops until the very, very end. What a life!
There’s all these things he’s supposed to have said like, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” It sends a chill down my spine. I need to get up for a moment and pace around. This day. This time. This life. Study this above page for a moment. It would make a great poster, wouldn’t it? Very simple yet powerful. That is what Hartland has tapped into, Job’s pursuit of something powerful through simplicity. It wouldn’t be the money that would make him happy, although he was happy to use the money to pursue his dreams. Throughout the book, you can’t help but get swept up by the sense of urgency as one bright kid becomes one even brighter man.
Who is this book meant for? Everyone, quite literally. You could say grades 8 and up. It’s definitely something younger readers will appreciate and it seems that Hartland has an ideal reader of say, thirteen, in mind as she is careful to include various details that older readers might take for granted. I especially like her two-page spreads explaining such things as “What’s New! Late 1990s.” Along with a rapidly growing internet and digital cameras, Hartland depicts a rogue’s gallery of portable music players. This, of course, is a sly reference to what lies ahead. Much in the same spirit as her biography of Julia Child, Hartland does her best to balance a myriad of facts. She does a great job, for instance, in lightly touching on the drug use of a young Steve Jobs. It is filed away with an assortment of other exploration and soul-searching, like traveling to India. Idle time is balanced with driven work. Ultimately, this book depicts a life well lived, conscious of the moment.
“Steve Jobs: Insanely Great,” by Jessie Hartland is published by Schwartz Wade Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Visit our friends at Penguin Random House right here.
Historian James Carrott poses with Cherie Priest. Photo by Ben Z. Mund
“Vintage Tomorrows” has got to be the best title you could give a documentary on the steampunk movement and it lives up to it. This is a much-needed comprehensive look, both informative and quite a lot of fun. The documentary made its world premiere at the Comic-Con Int’l Independent Film Festival this last weekend.
Produced and directed by Byrd McDonald, this documentary is based on the book, “Vintage Tomorrows,” by James Carrott and Brian David Johnson. They’re in the doc and so are many other notable figures. Interviews and appearances include authors William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (The Difference Engine), Cherie Priest (Boneshaker), China Miéville (Perdido Street Station), Cory Doctorow (Makers), Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate series), Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett (Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel), Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Steampunk, The Steampunk Bible), Nisi Shawl (Everfair) and Phil and Kaja Foglio (Girl Genius), and founder of Steampunk Magazine Margaret ‘Magpie’ Killjoy.
What’s all the fuss about, you ask? The story of steampunk, followers will tell you, is for everyone. To give a sense of the many voices and answers to the question, “What is steampunk?” we begin with a whirlwind of responses from many of the participants. Initial segments are sliced together with one person seeming to complete another’s sentence. “Steampunk is…” leads to answers such as “based upon science fiction of the 19th century” and on down to line to rallying cries such as, “you show up in a top hat and spats and you’re there to cause a riot!”
For an ostensibly literary movement, you would expect a rather low-key and subtle vibe running throughout. And, darn it, that is basically what you have and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, what people who are involved with steampunk would have you know is that there’s a strong sense of wonder, adventure, and excitement attached as well. And things are evolving. What may have begun as a quirky meeting of minds, circa 2005, has found formidable and creative leaders in the last ten years.
Steampunk today takes itself more seriously. The irreverence has been tempered a bit with a higher level of self-scrutiny. For instance, as the documentary explains, in order to be more inclusive, steampunk needed to confront the Victorian era’s colonialism and elitism. While history is what it is, attempts are made to address the past. For instance, you hear one participant say she no longer wears a pith helmet, an obvious symbol to her of colonialism.
Attempts to bring the Victorian era into the 21st century are likely to always be weird but that is part of steampunk. Enthusiasts will tell you that a big method to the madness is an attempt to get back to something tactile and real. While a steampunk follower may own an iPhone or iPad, that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t do it grudgingly. A recurring battle cry is that we’ve lost something vital with today’s technology. There is no steampunk smart phone or laptop. However, we have each other. We have community. Steampunk encourages you to not be afraid to look backward as you find your way forward.
Be sure to visit the official Vintage Tomorrows website right here.
Zeusvision levels the outdoor advertising playing field in an exciting and innovative way and makes it affordable for anyone to get their message out. You’ll be hearing a lot more about Zeusvision in the days and months to come. Let’s start with a closer look now.
“Outdoor advertising is an elitist business. I want to bring the power of large-scale outdoor media within reach of the average person.” –Giovanni Wolfgang, CEO, Zeusvision
Here’s a great way to look at it in a nutshell: Think of Zeusvision as a huge iPhone™ on wheels that can position itself wherever the client desires, delivering customized multimedia messages and experiences for as little as $99.
Today’s tech makes it possible to do things unheard of, or just beyond reach, a generation ago. So, it makes perfect sense, and it’s perfect timing, for Zeusvision, digital double decker buses that can get your message out into hot spots, with lots of people traffic, at a price anyone can afford.
More details follow from our friends at Zeusvision:
“Pike Up!” That’s the call to action to help secure a once-in-a-lifetime improvement to one of Seattle’s beloved landmarks, Pike Place Market. At this year’s Seattle Interactive Conference, an audience was treated to a presentation by two of Seattle’s leading agencies, Wexley School for Girls and Slalom Consulting, to discuss the campaign to complete the 40-year vision to connect the Market to Seattle’s waterfront. It’s quite a job ahead and Pike Up! is a campaign that taps into the excitement and significance of this project.
The Girl in the Cafe and an Ionized Environment
Art and fiction by Henry Chamberlain
She sat at her regular table on the second floor of her favorite cafe. It was the same old crowd. It was a steamy summer day. She had the whole world before her. There was the Space Needle right out the window to keep her company. She made herself comfortable. She wiggled her toes. Someone was overheard saying, “An ionized environment really helps.”