Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

The Zen of “The Zen of Steve Jobs”

The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha—which is to demean oneself (26).

—Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

I read Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs with one end in mind, really. I wanted to see how the influence of Zen on Jobs’ thinking was portrayed in the book. And the main reason I wanted to do that is because I wanted to write about the graphic narrative, The Zen of Steve Jobs, sponsored by Forbes and produced by the creative agency Jess3. But I felt that I needed a bit more background in order to do so.

The Zen of Steve Jobs is a “reimagining” of the friendship between Jobs and Kobun Chino Otogawa, a Zen priest and close friend and teacher to Jobs for many years. Our story begins with Jobs seeking out Otogawa after his departure from Apple in 1985, and after a ten-year absence from the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. He arrives at Tassajara with the intent of learning about ma, one of the underlying principles informing Zen aesthetics. He explains to Otogawa that the computers he’ll be creating at his new company, NeXT, will be superior products not just because of their technological features, but also because of their perfected design—and asks Otogawa to help him understand in greater depth the relationship between objects and the complementary space they inhabit. Otogawa responds, “I cannot. You must experience ma.” He then proceeds to teach Jobs kinhin, or walking meditation. Continue reading ‘The Zen of “The Zen of Steve Jobs”’

Hignite strikes again: The Art of Jaime Hernandez

The intimacy of Todd Hignite’s In the Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists (Yale University Press, 2006) blew my mind when I first read it. Profiled within its pages are commentary by Hignite and accompanying passages from interviews with Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, Jaime Hernandez, Gary Panter, Seth, Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware.

To “hear” all of these artists’ voices between two covers was a revelation in comics form and function, with generous and glorious full colour reproduction of many samples of the artists’ work, as well as work that influenced them.

Hignite has more recently built upon his initial treatment of Jaime Hernandez in In the Studio, and has developed a full volume consecrated to Hernandez’ art. The Art of Jaime Hernandez: the Secrets of Life and Death (Abrams, 2011) is not only exquisite because of Hernandez’ contributions, but also because it is infused with Hignite’s poetic prose. Listen to this: can you hear the music?

Hernandez’s titles are always both iconic and insinuatingly evocative. “Wigwam Bam” is taken from a 1970s pop hit by the Sweet and provides a pop culture springboard that magically evokes a deeply personal flashback. The centrepiece is an entry in Maggie’s diary that Izzy reads while searching for her—to the young Maggie and her friend Letty, the song was a metaphor regarding cultural difference and identity, and in particular the mythic proportions that such childhood experiences take on later in life, themes that Maggie will continue to question throughout her stories. While abundantly engaging, as only the most complex art can be, Hernandez’s comics are also great entertainment. His formal virtuosity is in the service of characterization, altering one’s perception of the world while the full range of humanity dances on and below the surface of the page. Continue reading ‘Hignite strikes again: The Art of Jaime Hernandez’

Paintings by Johanne Hemond @ CACGV Gallery, Feb. 19-28

What are these works? First and foremost, they are “scapes.” Not only landscapes, but also configurations of Johanne Hémond’s interior world. To enter into her paintings is to explore a realm inspired by equal parts emotional resonance and site-specific geographies and geometries.

Nearly the entirety of two walls of Hémond’s most recent exhibit at the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria (CACGV) gallery are consecrated to scenes inspired the natural world. The third wall extends beyond the physical to an environment inhabited uniquely by mood. In total, a remarkable 27 paintings are displayed.

Hémond’s paintings are a logical extension of her earlier photographic work. Just around the corner from the gallery space featuring her paintings, one wall of a long corridor with a ramp descending to tennis and squash courts is adorned with highly fluid and dynamic photographs of tennis, squash and badminton players from various tournaments at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre. Continue reading ‘Paintings by Johanne Hemond @ CACGV Gallery, Feb. 19-28’

Redefining Doodling? Really?

Sunni Brown is young, she’s smart, she’s charming—and she’s being featured on TED talks (Technology, Entertainment, Design). TED speakers are notorious for the contributions that they bring to creative problem-solving and technological innovation.

Brown’s presentation, “Doodlers Unite!” begins with some historical context, which points to the negative connotations associated with the word “doodle” in the past. She then highlights how doodling at the workplace has been viewed as an entirely inappropriate activity up to this day. Brown states,

“I think that our culture is so intensely focused on verbal information that we’re almost blinded to the value of doodling.”

To subvert traditional notions of doodling, Brown proposes a new definition: “To make spontaneous marks to help yourself think.” But are the marks that one makes when doodling really spontaneous, when an end goal for the doodle has been predetermined? Continue reading ‘Redefining Doodling? Really?’

Daydreams and Nightmares with Winsor McCay

Winsor McCay (1869?-1934) is best known for Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905-1914, 1924-1927), a magnum opus by virtually any cartooning standard, and Gertie the Dinosaur (1909), acknowledged as one of the first great animated cartoons of his and any era.

Daydreams and Nightmares: The Fantastic Visions of Winsor McCay, 1898-1934 edited by Richard Marschall (Fantagraphics, 2005) features McCay’s additional contributions, with chapters on:

Ticket to “Palomar” by Gilbert Hernandez

Palomar (Fantagraphics Books, 2003) collects the stories found in the original Heartbreak Soup comics. They have been identified as the comics equivalent to the magical realism genre initially spearheaded by Gabriel Marquez in literature, eventually also finding its way into film. Palomar’s strengths lie especially in the strong women and three-dimensional characterization present in the stories overall. A complex narrative web ties characters together from one comic to the next. The town lives and breathes history. We see time unfold before our eyes as we watch the characters mature. Continue reading ‘Ticket to “Palomar” by Gilbert Hernandez’

Buddy Was There: “Buddy Does Seattle” by Peter Bagge

Buddy sure is coming into his own in these comics, compared with the earlier Bradley family strips. As I’m sure is the case with so many readers of their antics, it’s easy to identify the early twenties slacker lifestyle typified by Buddy, Stinky, Lisa, George and Val. The raging hormones of early adulthood, the low-paying jobs with promise of a nowhere future, and a revolving series of roommates are all part of what makes Buddy’s existence so lovable—from a distance.

The seething arguments and erratic behaviour displayed in these stories are powerful because of the transparency and access that we are granted into the emotional landscape of each character. The loose and expressive style in Buddy Does Seattle (Fantagraphics Books, 2005) is quintessentially Peter Bagge. It brings home the drama with a uniqueness that cannot be imitated. Continue reading ‘Buddy Was There: “Buddy Does Seattle” by Peter Bagge’

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