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Twenty years ago or so, we came across a neat little book that told the story of a graphic icon: the funny little man, as the author (Virginia Smith) called him. On the cover was a truly dapper Parisian gent created by AA Cassandre for Dubonnet, the aperitif made with fortified wine, herbs, and quinine.
As we recall it, the book (check it out here) tells the tale of how companies, mainly companies selling alcoholic beverages, mainly in Europe, mainly in the 1920’s and ’30’s, often gave the job of promoting their product to a little guy.
You can find some lovely drawings by AAC here presenting the little guy doing all kinds of stuff.
It seems that Chaplin’s Little Tramp had pretty much started the whole thing rolling.
The book has disappeared from our local bibliotheque (though still available, it seems, from the warrior woman), so we went looking on our own to find some colourful little guys hard at work
The artist is Leonetto Cappiello, nice site in French here.
Cointreau has favoured Pierrot as their pint-sized sales guy graphically
For now, we’ll say goodbye to the funny little guy by way of a little portrait of Mr Chaplin himself, apparently by himself, sketched on a cocktail napkin. Salute. Santé
If you write, you know him and you owe him something. If you don’t, you surely know his face. Above photo by Dmitri Kasterine
Beckett reduced language to its bones while charging those bones with an intensity that carves deep lines in the head and heart. Silence. Waiting. This is how we spend most of our lives, but no one had the audacity and wisdom to try an make literature from them. Until Beckett.
His plays are what brought his name to the world.
Two photos above by John Haynes
They gave him the Nobel Prize. He did not refuse the honour, but declined to make a speech and did not attend the medal ceremony. Photographed by Richard Avedon.
Samuel Beckett, born in Dublin, lived and died in Paris. Photo found here.
Along with the gift of his genius for understanding us and putting it into words, there is that unforgettable face–and head. Photo found here
His only rival, we think, as a writer of influence and a face of riveting attraction was this other famous resident of Paris:
Simone de Beauvoir, philosopher, writer, provocateur,and arguably, one of the primary creators of what we call feminism.
Her most influential book, the Second Sex, caused a sensation. The Vatican disapproved harshly, all the more since Mlle De Beauvoir was born into a Catholic family in the French countryside.
Her series of memoirs, especially the first (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter) are as full of humanity as they are philosophy.
Like Beckett, her life and her writing changed things for us and the influence continues.
When we see these photographs now, we can’t help but recognize the unique, intense intelligence in these faces. It’s there around the eyes and the mouth. How could these heads not produce world-changing thoughts?
Sometimes you spend time looking at children’s books because there is a child in your life that you want to please, and sometimes you just want to please yourself. Above is from an edition of the Wizard of Oz illustrated by Lizbeth Zwerther seen here.
Happily, books are alive and well in stores for kids, and if you go looking, you will find in these little books the work of some of the most gifted and imaginative artists/illustrators/cartoonists from around the world. Above is from a recent book called ICE written and illustrated by Arthur Geisert who is very fond of little pigs, as are we. Read more here.
Above three books are just a sliver of Mr Geisert’s shelf of wonderful work, which has plenty of pig tales, but plenty of pigless wonders too. See more here.
Once you start down this path you will find yourself with a lot more than you bargained for. If you could only have one, how would you choose between a pig tale by Arthur G or a rabbit tale by Komako Sakai?
Ms Sakai is certainly something special. Her simple stories and beautiful way with line and colour will fill your eyes and pinch your heart. She has worked in the textile industry in Japan, they say. More about her books here.
Bears of course have a solid place in children’s stories too. Thanks to Jon Klassen, there’s a new bear on the block and he wants something.
Nice review of Mr Klassen’s book in the NYT here
Along with creatures of the farm and the woods, book artists have found plenty of inspiration among the critters that become part of the household.
Like the wonderful Max brought to life by the wonderful Maira Kalman. Go here
People who love picture books love them as much as other people love chocolate or ABBA–i.e. totally. There are many wonderful websites with tons of these books to show you, including Children’s Illustration, which you’ll find and feast on here.
To send you off, we selected Paul Thurlby an artist from England who, among lots of other things, has made an amazing alphabet, which you’ll find on his site here. Books and pictures, sentences and pictures, letters and pictures, they all go together like summer and running through the sprinkler.
Libraries have been around a long time and are quite simple in concept: books are stored there, people can come and look at them, and some books may be borrowed, for a while.
Biblioteca di Belle Art Milano.
Bliblioteca do Palacio Nacional da ajuda Lisboa
Peabody Library Baltimore
The simple idea resulted in some grand buildings, palaces to books and mansions for reading. That’s when books were as precious as jewels. That’s no longer the case, but we still build grand buildings for books.
Above is the new library in Alexandria Egypt by Norwegian Architects Snohetta. But if a city today, even a large one, wants a library, it generally ends up being a kind of community centre that happens to have books, rather than a haven for readers.
If you want a quiet, beautiful reading experience, and you don’t live near one of the grand libraries above, maybe you have a nice spot at home with a good chair and books nearby.
Here is a great reading place with just a good chair and a small pile of books and some natural light. From here. This space is in a small apartment complex in Tokyo by designer Hiroshi Nakamura.
Does it matter where you read? I think it does. But it doesn’t have to be a grand place, just the right place. This from Andre Kertesz, his series On Reading. See more here.
For my money, book covers are the site of some of the best graphic design and illustration that you can find today. Here is a shelfful of nifty ones. Go ahead, judge the book.
Speak Memory, designer Michael Bierut
Loneliness, designer Peter Mendelsund
The Periodic Table, designer Jim Friedman
Columbine, design by Henry Sene Yee
Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime illustration by Jaya Miceli
The General Theory of Love, designer John Gall
The Music of Chance, designer Yorgos Marinoglou
Then there are the books that seem so complete that nothing else is needed on the cover but the title and the name of the writer. Cited here.
And if you don’t like the cover of a book you have, you can make a simple paper “jacket” of your own from plain paper.
And maybe add the title and author. Hey it’s your book.