Category Archives: media

Temple Grandin Goes to Hollywood

Claire DanesAsperger’s Syndrome, a disorder in the autism spectrum first identified in 1944 by an Austrian pediatrician, Hans Asperger, has become a popular dramatic plot device in television shows such as House, Bones, Law & Order and Degrassi: The Next Generation. It defined the fascinating profile of the literary protagonists in Mark Haddon’s 2003 award-winning novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and in Stieg Larsson’s 2008 posthumous work, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Now Claire Danes is pegged to play the role of Temple Grandin, in an HBO movie to be released in 2010.

Some people might think if I could snap my fingers I’d choose to be ‘normal. But, I wouldn’t want to give up my ability to see in beautiful, precise pictures.
~~ Temple Grandin

Grandin overcame the limitations imposed by the disorder to become a top scientist in the field of humane livestock handling.

High school was especially harsh for Grandin, who was called “tape recorder” by other kids because she repeated things over and over, and she was hypersensitive to many forms of sensory stimulation. She eventually graduated with degrees from several universities, going on to write influential essays on animal welfare and designing humane slaughterhouses. She appears regularly on the news talk show circuit and was the subject of a BBC documentary, The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow, and Errol Morris’ First Person: Stairway to Heaven.

In part, the fascination with Asperger’s is due to the growing social acceptance of neuro-diversity – a buzzword that aims to promote an awareness that not all brains are similarly wired. Many of the books about the disorder have been written since the 1990s, and along with that interest has come a revisionist diagnosis of many creative and scientific geniuses.

The ascendancy of Asperger’s as a popular fictional device or “It Disability,” as some have called it, is partly due to the fact that patients often present as “normal,” except for their social awkwardness and obsessive interests.

Hollywood likes to portray them as tragically misunderstood and endearingly eccentric.

“Any kind of awareness in the mainstream culture is good, I suppose. But it’s a double-edged sword. You have to ensure that it doesn’t negate the severity of the problem,” says Margot Nelles, founder of the Aspergers Society of Ontario.

Aspergers: Separating Reality from Hollywood.

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101 Dalmatians or Faux Fur?

101 Dalmatians First EditionPongo and Missis Pongo are a pair of Dalmatians. They live with the newly married Mr and Mrs Dearly (their “pets”).

Missis gives birth to a litter of 15 puppies. The Dearlys are concerned that Missis will not be able to feed them all and Mrs Dearly looks for another dog to act as a wet nurse. By chance, she finds an abandoned Dalmatian mother in the middle of the road in the pouring rain. She has the dog treated by a vet and gives her the name Perdita, from the Latin for “lost”. Later Perdita tells Pongo about her own lost Dalmatian love and the circumstances that led to her being abandoned in the middle of the road.

Mr and Mrs Dearly are invited to a dinner party hosted by Cruella de Vil, an intimidating and very wealthy woman with one side of her hair coloured white and the other side coloured black. They meet her furrier husband and her abused cat, and discover her fixation with furs.

101 Dalmatians Storyboard

Shortly after the dinner party the puppies disappear. The humans fail to trace them but through the Twilight Barking, a form of communication by which dogs can relay messages to each other across the country, the dogs manage to track them down to Hell Hall, in Suffolk.

We keep 7.5 million cats and 6.1 million dogs as pets but do we know where that fake-looking fur trim comes from? Today in China over two million cats and dogs are killed each year for their fur and for their skins. Among other things, these furs are used as linings in boots and gloves, jackets and coats, blankets and rugs.

Pongo and Missis try to explain to the Dearlys where the puppies are but fail. The dogs decide to run away and find them.

After a journey cross country, they are met by Lieutenant Pussy Willow, a tabby cat and the Colonel, an Old English Sheepdog who shows them Hell Hall, the ancestral home of the de Vil family. He tells them to rest overnight and that they will see their puppies the next day. They then discover there are 97 puppies including their own 15 and many others who later turn out to have been legally bought. They also discover that the puppies are being kept in Hell Hall by Saul and Jasper Baddun, two crooks who work for Cruella de Vil as caretakers of Hell Hall.

According to government estimates, 500,000 garments sold in the United States every year are trimmed with bobcat, fox, rabbit, or other animal fur, potentially with nothing on the label to indicate there is any fur on the garment. With the labeling loophole in place, consumers are left in the dark; they have no idea that their new clothes may contain fur from animals—even dogs and cats—whose treatment can include being skinned alive, anally electrocuted, or held struggling underwater to drown.

Cruella DeVilCruella de Vil appears in the middle of the night and tells the Baddun Brothers that the dogs must be slaughtered and skinned as soon as possible because of the publicity surrounding the theft of the Dearlys’ pups. Pongo and Missis devise an escape plan and agree that they must take all the puppies with them, not just their own 15. They escape on that same night, the day before Christmas Eve.

Pongo says that they need a miracle and find one when they are offered a lift in a removal van. The Dalmatians have rolled in soot to disguise their white hair, and they are able to hide in the darkness of the removal van with the help of a Staffordshire terrier whose pets are the movers.

The fur trade does not deny that it deals in dog and cat skins and it is quite legal for products made from this fur to be sold in Britain and Europe. Fur products do not have to be labeled by species. One cat fur coat alone requires the killing of up to 24 cats. 12 to 15 adult dogs are killed to manufacture each coat made from dog fur – and a horrific 40 or more if puppies or kittens are used.

Arriving back in London, they go to Cruella’s empty house. Her cat is still there and invites them in to destroy Cruella’s collection of animal skins, fur coats and mink bedsheets.

When the Dalmatians return to the Dearlys’ house where they are not recognized because of the soot. Once they are cleaned up, Mr Dearly sends out for steaks to feed them.

Presently, China is the second biggest commercial partner of Canada. According to Industry Canada, the Canadian fur and retail industry imported $5 million in animal pelts and $28 million in fur trimmed apparel from China in 2004. Despite the distinct possibility that many of these imported furs are from dogs and cats, the government has indicated that it has no intention of prohibiting these imports. By the year 2010, the Canadian government hopes to double commercial trade with China.

Later, the cat drops by to tell them Cruella has fled. The shock of discovering her furs have been destroyed has turned the black side of her hair white and the white side green. The Baddun Brothers have also been arrested. Hell Hall has been put up for sale and Mr Dearly buys it with a sum of money he has been given by the government for sorting out a tax problem. He renames it to Hill Hall and intends to use it to start a “dynasty of Dalmatians” (and a “dynasty of Dearlys” to take care of them). They adopt the cat, and promise her a white persian husband.

Finally, Perdita’s lost love, Prince (the one hundred and first Dalmatian) shows up. His “pets” can clearly see that the two wish to be together and allow him to stay with the Dearlys.

101 Dalmations was originally written in 1956 by Dodie Smith, and illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone.

Bill Peet and 101 Dalmatians

Bill Peet storyboards for 101 Dalmatians.

Ecological Fur

Faux fur or not?

Helvetica

HelveticaHelvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type. The film had its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2007.

Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day.

HelveticaHelvetica was developed by Max Miedinger with Edüard Hoffmann in 1957 for the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland. In the late 1950s, the European design world saw a revival of older sans-serif typefaces such as the German face Akzidenz Grotesk. Haas’ director Hoffmann commissioned Miedinger, a former employee and freelance designer, to draw an updated sans-serif typeface to add to their line. The result was called Neue Haas Grotesk, but its name was later changed to Helvetica, derived from Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland, when Haas’ German parent companies Stempel and Linotype began marketing the font internationally in 1961.

Introduced amidst a wave of popularity of Swiss design, and fueled by advertising agencies selling this new design style to their clients, Helvetica quickly appeared in corporate logos, signage for transportation systems, fine art prints, and myriad other uses worldwide. Inclusion of the font in home computer systems such as the Apple Macintosh in 1984 only further cemented its ubiquity.

More about the film.

What font are you? Take the quiz!

This blogger is Times New Roman.

Mirvish Books Leaves the Village

Mirvish Books

David Mirvish Books is closing its doors after more than three decades as one of Toronto’s premier spots for art, design and photography books.

The bookstore has been stitched into the fabric of the Bloor and Markham Sts. area since 1974. David Mirvish opened the store as a part of the Mirvish Gallery, which showcased the work of colour field sculptors, painters and abstract artists.  In the heart of one of Toronto’s Victorian-style neighbourhoods, the establishment became a landmark in the Mirvish Village.

Store manager Eleanor Johnston said the doors will close Feb. 28.

“We are moving all of the inventory online. We’re not going to be like Amazon, that just lists everything. We will only list things that we have. It’s just another part of the world of selling retail. This is the transition that we’re taking. We’re not doing it with an aim of saying this is a better business concept.”

Frances Wood, the co-owner of Southern Accent, a restaurant across from the bookstore, said losing the 34-year-old establishment will change the face of the Village forever.

Mirvish Books is not the first independent bookstore to close in the area recently. Ballenford Books, specializing in books on architecture, on Markham St. just two doors away from Mirvish, closed last year after 29 years.

Mirvish’s closing has left some customers asking what will happen to the 50-foot-long painting by Frank Stella that dominates the store’s interior. “We don’t have any plans to do anything with it,” said Johnston.

For customers like Tracy Dalglish, who has been coming to the store since it opened, losing the building will end the romantic experience of visiting the store.  Dalglish remembers visiting with her father as a 13-year-old in the late ’70s.

“I would come down with my dad for the Boxing Day sales,” she said about her trips from Rosedale to the store. “I found my love of books in this store with my dad. It’s sad when you see places you love disappear.”

Susan Warner Keene was a curious student in her mid 20s at the Ontario College of Art when she discovered the store in 1974. She has been coming ever since. She said it was the most beautiful physical space any bookstore in Toronto had to offer back then. She finds inspiration for her work with hand papermaking from reading a variety of books the store offers.

“I’ve found books here that have been tremendously helpful in my own work,” she said at the store yesterday. 

“It’s probably my favourite bookstore, so it will be very sad to lose it.”

The Secret of the Nutcracker

Visions of sugar plum fairies will dance in your head as The Secret of the Nutcracker, a new spin on the classic tale, comes to life.

The film is loosely base on E.T.A. Hoffman’s Nussknacker und Mausekönig which inspired Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker.

It features the talented Brian Cox as Drosselmeyer, and introduces Janelle Jorde as Clara. This delightful Christmas tale tells the story of 12 year-old Clara’s mystical journey on Christmas Eve to find her father in a World War II German Prisoner of War camp. She receives unexpected help from the mysterious Drosselmeyer who befriends Clara and encourages her to believe that she can create magic.

The Secret of The Nutcracker is directed by Eric Till and features the music of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and John Estacio, performed by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Four exquisite dance spectacles by the renowned Alberta Ballet are woven throughout to create Clara’s fantasy dream world.

There is a spectacular ballroom sequence with dancers in Venetian bird masks and costumes in all colours of the rainbow. Drosselmeyer doubles as a wise owl with glowing golden eyes, and he travels with an amusing flock of Swiss Guard crows.

Clara lives with her mother and two younger brothers in rural Alberta in 1943 while her father is a POW in Germany. This classic tale is seamlessly interwoven throughout with references to the Second World War and the Nazi internment camps.

The Secret of the Nutcracker begins a scene of the boys in the wood, sent to bring home a tree on Christmas Eve. They are startled by strange rustling noises, and they run home as quickly as they can.

The woods and the deserted road are ominous, and the shadowy figures that flash through the trees are reminiscent of the Nazi threat. We see Clara reflected in the golden eye of an owl, and there is a pervasive sense of being watched. In one of Clara’s frightening dreams, the Nazi menace appears as large black rat/bear creatures that imprison her mother and brothers in the trees.

In another, brighter dream, Clara visits her father with the help of Drosselmeyer, and gives him the gift of hope.

And yes, here’s the spoiler: Clara’s dad comes home at the end of the war, and there’s a quintessential Canadian scene of him running up the road through the snow to Clara, her brothers and their mother.

Video excerpts at Joe Media

You can get your very own copy of this award-winning film at CBC Shop

Graphic Novels: Comix or Lit?

Its fans number in the millions, and both the publishing industry and Hollywood have fallen in love with it. Despite seeming to be on the forefront of popular culture, however, there are grounds to dispute its very existence–or, if it does exist, exactly when it was born. This omnipresent but elusive creature is the graphic novel, and some people think it is 30 years old this month.

The puzzle ostensibly began in October, 1978, when Baronet, a small publishing house in New York, brought out a book entitled A Contract with God. Although the volume had the general feel of a comic book, it featured no superheroes or monsters. Instead, there were four fictional accounts of ordinary people coping with the burdens of life. More interesting yet was the cover of the book, which proclaimed it to be “a graphic novel by Will Eisner.”

Although Eisner had been more or less out of the comics business for years as of 1978, he still would have been revered had he never returned. His finest achievement had been the 1940-52 run of The Spirit. That series, depicting the adventures of a non-super-powered crimefighter, was famous for its superb composition. Bizarre angles, heavy use of shadows and a playful way with the opening titles were its hallmarks.

Despite the great success of The Spirit, Eisner drifted into other areas of commercial art during the 1950s and 1960s. When he returned to comics in the 1970s, he was no longer interested in straightforward tales of heroes and villains — he wasn’t even comfortable with the term “comic book.”

While searching for a publisher willing to accept A Contract With God, he portrayed the project as a “graphic novel.” (He later joked, “It didn’t work. I sent it to them, and they said, ‘It’s a comic book.'”) Eventually, he found Baronet, and history was made.

Or not.

Today, the concept that Eisner reputedly invented back in 1978 seems to be a resounding success. Often packaged as trade paperbacks featuring contents that integrate words and pictures for an audience not necessarily interested in Batman or Superman, graphic novels have won considerable recognition. Art Spiegelman, the elder statesman of the field since Eisner’s death in 2005, won a Pulitzer prize in 1992 for his Maus books, which dealt with the Holocaust. Serialized during the first half of the 1980s, and printed as an initial volume in 1986, the various editions of Maus had sold 1.8 million copies by mid-2004. Movie studios have been receptive to the graphic-novel phenomenon, and recent acclaimed films based on graphic novels include Road to Perdition, American Splendor, Ghost World and Sin City.

Yet there is a worm in this apple — if there is even any apple at all. Marjane Satrapi, the Iranian-born, French-based creator of the widely praised Persepolis books, snootily (and inaccurately) told The Wall Street Journal last year, “I don’t like ‘graphic novel.’ It’s a word that publishers created for the bourgeois to read comics.”

More surprising, Art Spiegelman has discounted Eisner’s impact on his own books. In a Nov. 14, 2003, column, Andrew D. Arnold of Time.com quoted Spiegelman saying the following about A Contract With God: “I liked one of the stories very much, but it didn’t register with me as having anything to do with what I had climbed on my isolated tower to try to make, which was a long comic book that would need a bookmark.” Eisner himself had doubts about terminology in his last years and was advocating several alternatives to “graphic novel,” including “graphic literature,” “graphic narrative” and the clunky “sequential art.” The British comics writer Alan Moore has offered a scornful suggestion: “big, expensive comic books.”

Even if one discounts all of the above and insists that the graphic novel emerged immaculately in the 1970s, alternate versions of its birth still abound. In 1971,Gil Kane brought out Blackmark, a 130-page fantasy tale in pocketbook form that billed itself as “the next step forward in pictorial fiction.” In 1975, a group of French writers and artists founded Metal Hurlant, which soon spawned a U. S. version, Heavy Metal. These two magazines highlighted numerous creators, including Guido Crepax.

In 1976, Jim Steranko and Byron Preiss collaborated on Chandler, a private-eye story printed as a trade paperback and touted as a “visual novel.” In the same year, writer Harvey Pekar started his autobiographical American Splendor series. In 1977, Canada’s Dave Sim started what would turn out to be an eccentric, 300-issue epic about a talking aardvark named Cerebus. In October, 1978 — the same month as A Contract with God was released — Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy brought out the adventure book Sabre, which the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide has called “the first direct-sale graphic novel.”

According to comics historian Denis Gifford, the San Francisco comix scene of the 1960s and ’70s was heavily indebted — through inspiration or outright mentorship — to none other than Harvey Kurtzman, who founded Mad magazine in 1952. Spiegelman has confirmed that he was one of the many kids avidly devouring pocketbook reprints of Mad in the 1950s. In addition to the curious involvement of Mad, there is an argument that graphic novels already existed in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1941, U. S. publisher Albert L. Kanter defied the trend of superhero comics and created a line of graphic adaptations of famous novels aimed at young readers. This line soon became known as “Classics Illustrated,” and it ran new material right up to 1969, just nine years before the release of A Contract With God. European contributions to the children’s market are just as extensive. Belgium’s Georges Remi (alias “Herge”) brought out the first of his celebrated Tintin books in 1930, and these visual escapades — about 60 pages each, some of the narratives continued from volume to volume — appeared until 1976.

Let’s get over it, and just accept that there are a multitude of genres and approaches within the comic literary form.

Full story at National Post

A 21st Century Gutenberg

When photography dealer Howard Greenberg celebrated his 25th anniversary in the business last year, he mounted an exhibition at his midtown Manhattan gallery. Amid 25 seductive highlights from his collection – including an abstract pear by Steichen, a pointillist streetscape by Karl Struss, two pieces of Americana by Walker Evans, and a print of Ruth Orkin’s An American Girl in Italy – he’d constructed a shrine to a book.

American Gallery

The installation made a strong case for the book’s place of honour among the dealer’s rare and expensive artifacts, with a video showing its creation, from typesetting to printing to binding, in an old-fashioned process that even Gutenberg might recognize.

The star of the 10-minute video was Michael Torosian, a Canadian little-known outside the small world of rare-book collectors. Since founding Lumiere Press in a garage at the foot of his yard in the west end of Toronto in 1986, Torosian has published 18 handmade books on photography. Printed on his vintage letter press, they are themselves works of art, limited editions in which the editorial content, design and printing is executed with an aesthete’s eye, an artisan’s hand and a perfectionist’s oversight.

Michael TorosianTorosian’s 19th book, An American Gallery, was produced by special order for the Greenberg anniversary and includes stunning high-tech reproductions of the 25 photographs from the exhibit accompanied by the dealer’s commentaries. The book took almost 12 months to produce, slowed down only slightly by the fact that the photos had to be printed separately and then placed by hand into each copy.

Lumiere editions include three volumes on Dave Heath and one each on Lewis Hine, Edward Burtynsky, Paul Strand, Gordon Parks and others. Torosian also has published three books of his own photography work.

The title page of An American Gallery went through 53 different designs before Torosian was satisfied. The typesetting ate up half a year. He took months to figure out how to insert the photographs, which are a different thickness than a normal paper page, to ensure they didn’t cause the book to spring open awkwardly.

“You have to be focused: every day, every week, every month. You can’t just sort of go through the motions, because it’s very unforgiving,” he explains. “I guess it’s like someone who makes violins or something: There might be monetary incentive to turn out 100 violins a year, but if you can only really do 18 credibly, then you’d better stick to the 18.”

“No matter how well a conventional mass-market trade book is produced, in their nature as a physical object, they all look the same: this sort of blockish object. They’re interchangeable. But when someone picks up one of my books, it has the same pedigree as other books, and yet it’s a different species. And that’s what they’re responding to. It’s familiar but it’s outside the ordinary.” A number of Lumiere Press books are in the collections of rare-book libraries.

The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at the State University of New York currently has a remount of the Greenberg anniversary exhibition, including the Lumiere video installation, which will stay up until June 22.

Excerpted from Simon Houpt, Globe and Mail, May 17, 2008

Lumiere Press