Grafik Takeover: Take 5

After completing our manifestos, we were to prepare for our ‘takeover’ of the design website Grafik. Angharad Lewis, one of the core staff in our studio who also, conveniently enough, works on the website, had intended the students to create two end goals: an editorial ‘zine’ using existing articles on the website and also pitch ideas and then create our own articles for the website.

Since I stalled with the first project while I did the second, let’s talk about that one first. We were asked to pitch three ideas for articles to Angharad based on the pre-existing article categories on the website. We could try to commission a designer to write a short piece on a letterform, logo, cover-shot or something along those lines that interested them, or personally write an article about an up and coming talent .

My three suggestions went in order of safety, safest first. I started with the obvious, suggesting contacting any of the professional designers assisting our studio to write a letterform, logo or whatever, article. Then I suggested writing an article on an up-and-coming illustrator who goes by the name of Certain Streeks. (Who lives here)

A screen-grab of Certain Streek's website.
A screen-grab of Certain Streek’s website.

I was aware that his style might be an odd fit for Grafik but looked at it as an opportunity for them to diversify. Thirdly, I suggested some sort of list of ‘graphic novels everyone must read’. As I explained this idea , Angharad suggested using the ‘Take 5’  format already on the site, where writers, you guessed it, talk about five things with a common theme, however specific or vague that may be. I thought this idea to be the least likely to gain traction, since comic books are rarely talked about as actual graphic design, you know, in the same sentence as the Bauhaus, or even in the same book.

Angharad decided to go with the ‘five graphic novels for everyone’ suggestion. I think I had already made a presentation on Maus and possibly Persepolis at that point, so it might have been obvious I wasn’t just going to list a bunch of Batman comics (and don’t get me wrong, from Arkham Asylum to Year One, there’s plenty of Batman that I recommend, just not to everyone). I wrote some rough copy using a phrase somewhere along the lines of ‘ for those who don’t want to get bogged down in capes and spandex’ which I think helped my case immeasurably.

The entire point of the article was to bring attention to the medium and its potential for involving narratives (which there is clearly no shortage of a market for, looking at how TV series are doing right now). The combination of image and text is simple to understand, can be visually striking, but you can also have subject matter as complex as you like. Just because there’s that dude with the pointy ears and that other one who can fly, doesn’t mean that they are the be-all and end-all of the medium. The fact that most of the books I put on the list were actually available to borrow from the design library of the university shows that at least someone else out there shares my belief that these comics have worth as a reference point to professional designers, or designers in training, at least.

After the words came the pictures, so I contacted Gosh Comics in Soho to see if they would be amenable to me photographing their versions of the graphic novels in question. They were, so I did. Unfortunately, the lighting in the store and the stiffness of some of the book’s spines made high quality photography a little too difficult for someone who photographs as intermittently as me. I bought all the graphic novels that I didn’t already own and finally picked up the full set of Transmetropolitan, my favourite comic book series ever, and went on my way.

Persepolis's spine was too robust to allow me to photograph the pages without having my hands in-shot.
Persepolis’s spine was too robust to allow me to photograph the pages without having my hands in-shot.

The gloss paper of the Sandman comics plus the nature of the in-store lighting combined to screw up my pictures.
The gloss paper of the Sandman comics plus the nature of the in-store lighting combined to screw up my pictures.

It was at this time where my attendance was, let’s just say, a little choppy, so I emailed what I had to Angharad, she agreed with my concerns that the photography needed to be redone, so I redid it at home, with natural lighting (and a little less concern about getting in the way of paying customers), sent the new photos and resent the copy for the article, which apparently didn’t get there the first time, and, er, went about fighting crime in my underwear instead of attending university for a while.

Luckily for me (and you), Angharad published what I sent her and now you can check to see if your favourite non superhero graphic novel is on the list here. Hopefully we can all agree that the images in the article are a little more polished than my first attempts.  

In a year full of missed deadlines for me, at least I managed on several occasions here to say ‘I’ll have it to you on Wednesday’ and actually get it done and delivered on Wednesday.

Despite my lacklustre attendance towards the end, this was a very enjoyable experience for me (and not just ‘cos I got to buy a S#@t-tonne of comic books). I picked the Press Pass studio to ‘unlock my inner wordsmith’, as the studio selection presentation advertised, and while you’ve no-doubt noticed from the average length of my blogposts, it could afford a little more time behind bars, writing is something I enjoy doing, probably more than art, actually. In this project I got to write about something I have a genuine interest and passion for, hopefully share that interest and passion with others, fight for a cause and buy a S#@t-tonne of comic books. And also dubiously claim to be a published writer.

The opportunity to do some photography is always welcome. It helps me appreciate the length professionals go to, to ensure they get the best lighting, composition, subject material and clarity in their work. You know, I can’t help but think that, one day, someone might run an educational course on that. Wouldn’t that be something?  On top of all that, this might have been the first time in my life I actually imported photographs into photoshop to like, y’know, edit them? To use them later as photographs?. I’ve had photoshop for years. It’s my core illustration tool and here I am, messing around with colour saturation and contrast and whatnot. I know, right? Madness.

Also, go check out Gosh Comics. They sell comics. And, oh boy, will you go ‘Gosh!’ when you see how many. Once you’ve read my list, you’ll have at least five books to pick up, so on your bike, I say! And yes, sigh, they do sell Batman…

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New Brief: Manifesto

Following on from our visit from designer Anthony Burrill, our studio was given a new major brief to tackle. The idea was to look at artist manifestos and to effectively create our own, with a minimum of 16 pages to be ultimately bound to the work of all the other students. The work was to end up A4 in size, with the duplicate versions being in black and white to save on printing costs.

The funny thing is: I’d meant to create a manifesto of sorts last year after looking at Lawrence Weiner’s Declaration of Intent. I think I have a clear understanding of the kind of work I what my name associated with. At the very least, I have clear preferences.

My desire for the manifesto was to devote one page to one ideal to strive for. Two major influences were the Make Good Art book of a speech Neil Gaiman gave and a book of posters by one Anthony Burrill. 

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One spread from Neil Gaiman’s book of his speech ‘Make Good Art’

Angharad Lewis, one of the studio leaders, brought this book in from her own collection to show the class. Whilst I’m sure Gaiman made all the words with his mouth, I remain unsure if he is responsible for the design and layout of the book. 

What I tell you next will give you a very large insight into how I perceive graphic design and it’s use. After Angharad showed everyone the book and left it in the studio, I immediately went and read it. I know Neil Gaiman from having read The Sandman, a comic book series he wrote in the eighties or nineties, which is still, to this day, of of the finest examples of comics to show some of the inherent potential of comic books as a medium, which are mostly being squandered in the endless repetition of superhero stories (and don’t get me wrong, I love Batman, the Hulk and all that madness, but they keep rebooting the franchises because they’re diametrically opposed to progress, growth and consequence in all their storytelling). I read Gaiman’s words, I absorbed their meaning, took his points to heart, and then observed they way they had been visualised on the page. This is the way I look at graphic design. To me the accurate dissemination of pertinent information is the core function of ‘graphic design’ in the traditional sense. Aesthetics are secondary.

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Another spread from Gaiman’s book. At least I know if design doesn’t work out for me, I’ll always have my prowess as a hand model to fall back on.

Consider the following works of Burrill below and how they get their point across.

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Anthony Burrill poster 1
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Burrill poster 2. Best. Caption. Ever.

To say there are no design elements in these examples of Burrill’s work would be incorrect, even comparatively speaking, in reference to the book above. However, there is clearly a much stronger focus on the message and it’s beauty. If the layouts in Make Good Art artfully speak, then Burrill’s work boldly shouts from atop a mountain. I lack the experience or, right now, the patience, to design in such a way as the above book, so I decided that my starting point for my manifesto would focus on a more Burrill-istic approach. In a rare situation for me, I actually remembered to show my process as I was doing it. It will become apparent that my skill with text is, shall we say, in it’s infancy, but so what? If Pianists were afraid of playing badly there would be no pianists at all!

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‘Do it now.’ The most direct way to push myself away from my habitual procrastination.
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I think this works, however I do find it much harder to have the confidence in layouts than I would have with illustration proper
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The behind message says ‘do it again’ and I’ve crassly superimposed ‘but better’ over it. The message is strong, the delivery, however…
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The amount of negative space you leave in an image is proportionate to your confidence in the design. So am I at mostly 50/50? Hmm…
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Because no trip to photoshop is complete without the obligatory Gradient effect and/or drop-shadow text. Don’t all groan at once or you’ll push the planet off it’s orbit
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Did you see what I did there?
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I find it very difficult to feel that any kind of layout work like this adds much value…

They say good design is about using the least amount of tools to get your point across unhindered, so putting ‘again’ there three times seems somewhat superfluous to me, but all art is subjective, so the law of averages dictates that all of those versions will find approval from someone.

The most important thing, though, is to have versions. Even if it merely proves you had your best idea first. Having such ground work gives you more confidence going forward and alternatives to consider later. While it’s still fresh in your mind, now’s a good time for you to google Gaiman’s Sandman and then read it. I read mine from my local library, but if you like your ‘free’ with more immediacy and the vague aftertaste of flouting piracy law, you will no doubt have no trouble finding the seminal work online. You’re welcome.