July 13, 2010

Art Attack!: Acclaimed artist/writer, genius... Graham Rawle

Graham Rawle is such a neat guy... I know, because I've met him! And right before I got to meet him and request to have a quick snapshot taken (about which he was very gracious, btw), I attended a presentation Graham gave discussing his latest work, 'The Wizard of Oz'. The text of the book is actually L. Frank Baum's original story, but all of the imagery is 100% classic Rawle.

Here, take a gander...

This beautiful book cover only hints at
the visual delights that await you, inside!

It looks like Toto is about to be a bite-sized
snack for the Cowardly Lion, here. But we
all know that's not the case, not with his
BFF, Dorothy, around. Besides, even if
Dorothy wasn't nearby, that little dog could
"Toto"-lly kick Lion's ass all by himself!

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily...
Oz is but a dream.

(Or, IS it?)

Here, we see a scene with a completely
different take, Rawle's take, on the
Wicked Witch o' the West's flying monkeys.

(I really dig Graham's sense of humor!)

And speak of the devil, here's
the WWoW, now! Weird as
she looks (and despite how we
expect her to appear because of
the MGM classic movie), my
understanding is that this is
actually much truer to how
she's described in Baum's
original book.

That was but a Whitman's Sampler, if you will. The rest of it is just as yummy for your eyes! So if I've piqued your interest, go ahead and pick up a copy of 'The Wizard of Oz', illustrated by Graham Rawle. You won't be disappointed.

Another creation of his, that I absolutely dig with a passion, is his book, 'Woman's World'. He both wrote and illustrated it, however, most of the "illustration" inside of the book is actually all cut 'n' pasted text and embellishments from old women's magazines of the 1940s. If you can believe it, Graham spent 5 years working on this book, and most of that time was spent cutting, collecting, organizing, pasting and basically assembling every word of the story... one by one. Hearing Graham talk about the process in his presentation was absolutely fascinating. I mean, the organizational system, alone, which he devised for the project was so impressive (if not a bit confusing) you could tell that this guy isn't just arty; he's also a smarty. I guess one could say he's an "arty-smarty"! Well, I will anyway...

Check out some of the stuff I'm talking about, below...

This is the cover for the
hardback edition.

(The one that I have.)

And this, here, is the wonderful
paperback/graphic novel edition.

(I want it, too! That cover appeals
to all of my kitsch-y sensibilities!)

This is just a glimpse into the madness...
Graham spent an average of 17 hours a
day, 7 days a week for 5 years sitting here
clipping 'n' pasting. Altogether, a total
of 40,000 fragments of text from vintage
women's magazines was assembled to
tell this unique and strangely charming

And, here, you can see the fruits of
his obsessive, slave-type labor.
You might suspect that it would be
hard to read, but it isn't! In fact,
Graham worked at figuring out just
the right formula, or words-to-page
ratio, that would be easiest for a
reader to tolerate. And it works!

As for the story to this intricately composed novel, let me share with you what the dust jacket says. It gives away just enough to set the scene and pull you in...

"Norma Fontaine lives in a world of handy tips and sensible advice. Whether it's choosing the right girdle or honing her feminine allure, she measures life by the standards set in women's magazines. But Norma discovers that the real world is less delightful-and more sinister-than the one portrayed in the glossies. When dark secrets threaten her brother's blossoming romance, Norma must decide whether to sacrifice life in a woman's world for the sake of her brother's happiness. As her decision is slowly revealed, readers realize that, like life in the magazines, Norma isn't quite what she seems."

Intrigued? Good.
Now, go find a copy and read it!
I think you'll be glad you did.

Look! It's Graham with
little ol' me! Like we're
"buds", or something.

(Yeah, right... I was lucky
he agreed to stand next
to me for the photo.)

I don't want to go on FOREVER (and believe me, I could), so I'll cut this one kinda short. I didn't even get to talk about Rawle's 'Diary of an Amateur Photographer' (one of my top faves), or his long-running 'Lost Consonants' series. Oh, well. I guess I'll cover those in a follow-up edition... Really, this man's work is quite prolific, plus everything he does is smart, clever, and funny! I just can't seem to say enough good things about the guy.

I know, how's this sound?
Graham Rawle... ARTISTIC GENIUS!

Yep, that about covers it.

~All pics via Google Images, except last personal photo of Anthony w/Graham, courtesy of Tommy Kovac.~

July 6, 2010

Board Games That Don't Bore Me: Scrabble

SCRABBLE is a fun, thinking person's word game. You either like the challenge, or you don't. To me, it's that plain and simple. Of course, having a "thing" for letters, words, and wordplay doesn't hurt, either! Another factor that appeals to me about this game (and this shouldn't come as any surprise to my regular readers), is the sense of order which is created as each player places their letter tiles on the big board's symmetrical grid. And, yes... I do prefer the raised-grid version of the playing board. Otherwise, your letter tiles go all wonky, and where's the order in that??! I'll tell you. Nowhere.

Even though I've played it for many years, I've never managed to score a Bingo. You know, that's when you play a word that uses all seven letters on the rack, and it earns you a bonus 50 points. I have witnessed my mother-in-law do this, however. Aaand more than once! Seriously, she kicks major SCRABBLE-butt!

Speaking of butts... Did you know that SCRABBLE was invented by an out-of-work architect named Alfred Mosher Butts? Funny last name, but obviously a pretty smart guy. Attempting to create a game that would use both chance and skill, Butts combined features of anagrams and the crossword puzzle. He first called it LEXIKO, but then changed it to CRISS CROSS WORDS. To decide on letter distribution, Butts studied the front page of The New York Times and did painstaking calculations of letter frequency. His basic cryptographic analysis of our language and his original tile distribution have remained valid for more than 50 years and billions of games played! (Now, if that alone doesn't make him a smarty-pants...)

Alfred M. Butts, sittin' pretty
atop Alphabet City.

(Is that a leisure suit?!)

CRISS CROSS WORDS, an early version
of SCRABBLE, featured a game board
made of architectural blueprint paper
glued over an old chess board.

(THAT'S ingenuity for you!)

At first, all established game manufacturers rejected Butts' invention for commercial development. Then, Butts met game-loving entrepreneur, James Brunot, who completely loved the concept. Together, they made some refinements to the rules and design, and most significantly, changed the name to SCRABBLE, a real word which means "to grope frantically." The game was finally trademarked as SCRABBLE Brand Crossword Game in 1948, but the first four years were pretty hard. The Brunots rented an abandoned schoolhouse in Dodgington, Connecticut, where with friends they turned out 12 games an hour, stamping letters on wooden tiles one at a time. After a bit, boards, boxes, and tiles were made elsewhere and sent to the factory for assembly and shipping. By 1949, the Brunots had made 2,400 sets on their own and lost $450. As is typical of the game business, the SCRABBLE game gained slow but steady popularity among a comparative handful of consumers. Then in the early 1950s, legend has it that the president of Macy's discovered the game on vacation and ordered some for his store. Within a year, everyone "had to have one" to the point that SCRABBLE games were being rationed to stores around the country.

In 1952, the Brunots realized they could no longer make the games fast enough to meet the growing demand. So they licensed the well-known game manufacturer, Long Island-based Selchow & Righter Company, to market and distribute the games in the U.S. and Canada.

Is all of this just totally boring to y'all? I like nitty-gritty details, so I tend to get carried away... Seriously, let me know in a comment whether you enjoy detailed posts like this occasionally, or if you'd rather I just "SHUT UP, already!"

Well, long story a bit shorter... In 1986, Hasbro purchased SCRABBLE and has owned it ever since. The End. No, not really. It wasn't "The End" for Alfred M. Butts until he passed away in April of 1993 at the age of 93! Of course, he did enjoy spending the later half of his long life playing SCRABBLE with family and friends. I wonder if during his very last game he was able to go out with a Bingo on his rack like:

I1 A1 M3 D2 E1 A1 D2

Super-Duper-Pricey-Fun-Time SCRABBLE!

For only $600 you can have this deluxe version that
includes a wood-framed board w/raised grid and
turn-table base, 100 letter tiles individually minted
and encrusted with 24k gold, and, of course, spacious
drawers to store them in.

(I want! I want!)

Tiles with style!

Here are the 24k gold encrusted letter tiles. A bit
garish, yes, but also very shiny and quite golden.

I'd better go now. It's my turn to make a word, and I see the perfect opportunity to use a Triple Word Score space...

~All photos via Google Images. History and information via the National Scrabble Association.~
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