Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

06 OCTOBER, 2011

Hark! A Vagrant: Witty Comics about Historical & Literary Figures

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Training for presidents, Victorian dude-spotting, and what the Brontë Sisters have to do with Jules Verne.

From New Yorker cartoonist Kate Beaton comes Hark! A Vagrant — a witty and wonderful collection of comics about historical and literary figures and events, based on her popular web comic of the same name. Scientists and artists, revolutionaries and superheroes, suffragists and presidents — they’re all there, as antique hipsters, and they’re all skewered with equal parts comedic and cerebral prod.

Beaton, whose background is in history and anthropology, has a remarkable penchant for conveying the momentous through the inane, aided by a truly special gift for simple, subtle, incredibly expressive caricature. From dude spotting with the Brontë Sisters to Nikola Tesla and Jane Austen dodging groupies, the six-panel vignettes will make you laugh out loud and slip you a dose of education while you aren’t paying attention.

I think comics about topics like history or literature can be amazing educational tools, even at their silliest. So if you learn or look up a thing or two after reading these comics, and you’ve enjoyed them, then I will be more than pleased! If you’re just in it for the silly stuff, then there is plenty of that to go around, too.” ~ Kate Beaton

Beaton is also a masterful writer, her dialogue and captions adding depth to what’s already an absolute delight.

Handsome and hilarious, the six-panel stories in Hark! A Vagrant will undo all the uptightness about history instilled in you by academia, leaving you instead with a hearty laugh and some great lines for dinner party conversation.

Images courtesy of Kate Beaton / Drawn and Quarterly

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06 OCTOBER, 2011

Bob Dylan & Other Icons Resurrect the Unfinished Lost Songs of Hank Williams

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What Jack White has to do with dumpster-diving for music history.

Legendary singer-songwriter Hank Williams was only 29 when he died in the back of a car in 1953, yet in his short life he shaped the course of American music for decades to come. Some of the most celebrated rock’n’roll pioneers — including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins — got their start recording Williams songs. He has a posthumous special citation from the Pulitzer Prize, he’s been inducted into just about every American music hall of fame, and earlier this year he entered the loftiest of them all, the Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame.

In 2006, while handling a company dumpster, a janitor of Sony/ATV Music Publishing made a serendipitous discovery: In the dumpster were the unfinished lyrics found in Williams’s car the night he died. The lyrics eventually made their way to Bob Dylan in 2008, who set out to complete the songs for an affectionate album release celebrating Williams’s legacy. Three years in the making, the remarkable The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams is out this week and features a formidable roster of musicians performing Williams’s unfinished songs, including Jack White, Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Alan Jackson, Sheryl Crow, and of course Dylan himself.

You can sample the goodness below and hear the entire Jack White track on Rolling Stone’s exclusive stream.

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30 SEPTEMBER, 2011

A Map of Woman’s Heart: Appalling Victorian Gender Stereotypes, in Illustrated Cartography

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From coquetry to selfishness, or what the Sea of Wealth has to do with the City and District of Love.

Nineteenth-century ideals of womanhood and beauty expressed as much about women as they did about the society in which they were germinated. At a time of radical sociocultural and economic shifts — rapid urbanization, new modes of transportation and communication, increasing mechanization of industry — the expectations for women’s role in society shifted as well, with an idealized version of what was known as “True Womanhood” underpinning pop culture representations of women in everything from newspaper advice columns to art.

A Map of the Open Country of a Woman’s Heart was a map created by D. W. Kellogg circa 1833–1842, in the tradition of these maps of the human condition you might recall, subtitled “Exhibiting its internal communications, and the facilities and dangers to Travellers therein.” Though it mostly depicts Woman as a sentimental, selfish, and superficial being driven by vanity, it places Love at the center of her heart, with Good Sense, Patience, and Prudence at its tip — or bottom, depending on the interpretation.

For a fascinating look at the expectations of True Womanhood, marvel at Bernard O’Reilly’s 1883 classic The Mirror Of True Womanhood: A Book Of Instruction For Women In The World.

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29 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Hall of Femmes: The Female Icons of Graphic Design

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Four self-made women who shaped the course and voice of modern graphic design.

After spending some time in the creative industry, Swedish design duo Hjärta Smärta (“Heart Pain”) observed that there weren’t nearly enough female design role models at the forefront of our cultural awareness. So they started Hall of Femmes, an online project (alas, in Swedish) highlighting female designers and art directors who have significantly influenced creative culture. In 2009, the pair traveled to New York to interview some of these design icons as the basis for a series of books and soon thereafter they published four of these volumes honoring female creative legends.

A few years ago, we traveled to New York to meet up with a few iconic female graphic designers. We wanted to connect with women whose successes we could aspire to. With the book series HoF, we direct attention to these unsung heroines.” ~ Angela and Samira, Hjärta Smärta

Hall of Femmes: Lillian Bassman tells the story of one of the first art directors, who got her start as an assistant to Alexey Brodovitch at Harper’s Bazaar during the golden age of the American magazines in the late 1940s. In 1945, Bassman became art director for the newly launched Junior Bazaar, a fashion magazine focused on teenagers that functioned as a creative lab for up-and-coming creatives. The magazine folded just three years later, but the creatively agile Bassman taught herself photography and became one of Harper’s Bazaars’ most sought-after photographers. At 94 today, she still works every day.

Hall of Femmes: Carin Goldberg highlights the legacy of postmodernist book designer who earned the prestigious AIGA Gold Medal for lifetime achievement in 2009. Her career began in the 1970s as a designer at CBS Television and CBS Records, an era that expected you to be, as Goldberg puts it, “a cool, irreverent, experimental, hungry, talented smart-ass”. In the 1980s, she founded her own firm, Carin Goldberg Design, where she heads to this day. Over the past three decades, Goldberg has designed more than 1000 books for every iconic publishing house and has worked with legends like Madonna and Steve Reich, as well as Brain Pickings favorites Kurt Vonnegut and Susan Sontag.

Hall of Femmes: Ruth Ansel highlights one of the greatest magazine designers of all time, who over the past half-century has been shaping the visual aesthetic of some of the most influential magazines of our time as a visionary art director — Harper’s Bazaar in the 1960s, The New York Times Magazine in the 1970s, Vanity Fair in the 1980s, and running her own design studio since the 1990s. She has collaborated with nearly every icon of magazine publishing — Diana Vreeland, Richard Avedon, Annie Leibowitz, Bruce Weber, Tina Brown, and many more.In her 70s, answer remains active and creatively restless as ever.

The most recent in the series, Hall of Femmes: Paula Scher, covers one of my personal heroes, whose views on combinatorial creativity capture the founding ethos of Brain Pickings with remarkable eloquence. Scher began her graphic design career as a rebellious record cover art director at both Atlantic and CBS Records in the 1970s, where her hate for the then-ubiquitous Helvetica led her to create some of the most innovative and memorable typography of all time, which helped define the visual voice of New York City. In 1991, she joined iconic design firm Pentagram as a partner. Her stunning typographic maps have become one of the most celebrated feats of creative cartography. Her identity and branding systems have helped shape iconic cultural institutions and brands like Bloomberg, Coca-Cola, the Metropolitan Opera, the MoMA, and Citi. In 2001, Scher earned the coveted AIGA Medal for her contributions to graphic design. In 2006, she was awarded the Type Directors Club Medal. At 63, Scher remains a principal at Pentagram and teaches at New York’s School of Visual Arts.

Hat tip Fab

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