Media Design: Counterpoint, Mariano Pascual, Punk, The New Yorker
Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct)’s weekly analysis of media design — both past and present, print and online — from South Africa and around the world:
- Independent print: Counterpoint has a quasi-kitsch, cult visual appeal, thanks to its risograph printing and bespoke production that’s eccentric, independent, and idiosyncratic
- Online: Mariano Pascual riffs off of the classical postmodern style of the Memphis group, piecing together an engaging online creative portfolio
- Iconic: Punk moulded punk music culture in America during the late ’70s, using a blend of pop-journalism and Mad-Magazine-style illustration
- Commercial print: The New Yorker celebrates the life and time of legendary soul singer/songwriter, Aretha Franklin
The New Yorker (US), 27 August 2018
Inspired by Charles White’s ink drawing, “Folksinger” (1957), American artist Kadir Nelson pays homage to Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul, who died at the age of 76 last Thursday. White is famous for his realist dignified portrayals of African-American people, which are always imbued with respect and integrity. Nelson has illustrated about a dozen New Yorker covers, and one would be forgiven for mistaking this portrayal of Franklin as an artwork by another artist as it doesn’t fit with his usual style.
Nelson’s appropriation of White’s work for this cover, coupled with his momentarily breaking away from the work that he’s known for, makes this image evermore poetic. Franklin is illustrated in profile, dressed in choir attire; she was the daughter of a preacher, and her concept of soul stemmed from the church. A pioneer of post-war music in America, her expression is aimed towards heaven, singing with all that she can humanly muster. According to The New York Times, “Franklin will be mourned in a way usually reserved for heads of state. Her body will lie in state on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and on Thursday at New Bethel Baptist Church. A private funeral is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 31 at Greater Grace Temple.”
Counterpoint (Scotland), Issue 16, 2018
Shortlisted for Stack’s Best Use of Illustration award in 2016, Counterpoint is an independent quarterly that has been in print since 2015. It showcases prolific illustrators paired with contemporary writers, not dissimilar to the South African cult zine, Jungle Jim (featured in this column in October last year). Edited by Edinburgh-based illustrator, Bethany Thompson, and writer, Sam Bradley, the theme for #16 is “flight”, interpreted in various ways by the contributors, including bees, balloons, fireworks, airports, turbulence, and trapeze. Interestingly, all profits are shared equally between contributors. The cover features an intentionally crude illustration of an archetypal female flight attendant gesturing towards a passenger airplane, created by Cumbria-based illustrator, Rachel Tunstall. The image is so bad it’s good, reminiscent of art brut or fauvist artistic traditions.
When it comes to embracing crude artistry (the ‘craptastic’), the craft and production quality of Couterpoint can’t go unmentioned, especially in relation to the hand-binding and Risograph printing that the zine uses. Jungle Jim experimented with a folded format, with no binding, but it was also printed using Risograph digital duplicators, which are designed for high-volume printing and are considerably cheaper than conventional photocopier, laser, or inkjet printers. Risographic printing has a distinct ‘cheap’, quasi-kitsch, visual appeal that is conducive for the distribution of bespoke, cult-inspired, independent zines such as Counterpoint. Printed in Edinburgh with soy-based inks and recycled paper, the eccentric nature of the zine’s printing and production guarantees that every copy has an idiosyncratic quality.
Mariano Pascual (Spain), personal portfolio site
Barcelona-based, Argentinian illustrator and designer, Mariano Pascual, is known for his distinct treatment of the classic Memphis style. His online portfolio emulates Mac’s original desktop and the equally classic OS interface introduced in 1983, made iconic by the famous “1984” television advert directed by Hollywood director, Ridley Scott. This interface redefined our understanding of the personal computer (PC) with its nostalgia-inducing, retro desktop, where digital files where housed in virtual folders for the first time, and the mouse had to be invented so that the user could interact with it all — inventions that we take completely for granted today.
Memphis was an early postmodern art and design movement that existed at the same time as Mac’s historic experiments with GUI. Designer Ettore Sottsass was arguably Memphis’ most-popular exponent, who questioned the meta-narrative of modernism, and contributed to the evolution of postmodernism. Readymag Stories has an excellent feature on his life and work here.
The Memphis style is arguably one of the most heavily used today, with many young creatives not realising that they are appropriating, blindly, from an important historic style. However, Pascual’s conceptual acumen and media-bending crafting ability is a definite exception, taking his baton from Sottsass, and others such as Michele de Lucchi, working with less-rigid lines, softer geometric forms, and lighter colours and crafting his own brand of abstract Memphis compositions.
The site works just like an operating system, where one can click on folders and icons and interact with them. The quirky, illustrated graphic user interface is accompanied by neat sounds and effects that make the overall experience more engaging — the way that ‘fresh’ should be delivered.
Punk (US) 1976–1979
Zines and handouts have a key role to play in the history and culture of punk music. During the late ’70s, an American fanzine called Punk was the publication that introduced punk music to America. The publication was edited by illustrator John Holmstrom, and journalist Roderick Edward McNeil (then known as “Legs”, the ‘resident punk’), and founded with the help of publisher Ged Dunn. Starting in January 1976, Punk popularised punk rock, a term that was arguably first used in the US by Creem magazine to describe certain harder elements of rock music. Holmstrom studied under Harvey Kurtzman, the founder of Mad Magazine, and legendary cartoonist, Will Eisner, and their mentorship undoubtedly influenced the visual direction of Punk magazine. Most illustrations for Punk were done by Holmstrom himself, alongside cartooning greats Bobby London and Peter Bagge, who all went with a style for the zine similar to Mad.
Referred to as “the print version of The Ramones”, Punk took inspiration from comic books and music by porto-punk bands such as The Stooges and The Dictators, and the pop-journalism of Creem. Punk focused primarily on the underground scene in New York, creating meaning for the scene as a modern narrative by plastering posters across the city declaring that the punk invasion was coming. The zine was often a channel for female writers and artists who were mostly ignored by the male-dominated underground punk scene, specifically in publishing.
Much like the original punk movement, Punk’s success was sudden but equally short-lived. From 1976 to 1979, 15 issues of the magazine were printed. It created a platform for interviews, essays, and cartoons that featured prolific bands such as the Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Patti Smith, to name a few, distributing more than 20 000 copies per issue. As the ’80s arrived, and the Sex Pistols disbanded (marking the end of the original punk movement), accompanied by increased political pressure, Punk folded in 1979 after moulding punk culture in America. There was a brief revival in 1981 with the publication of a special issue, “The D.O.A. Filmbook”. Another brief revival was attempted decades later in 2007.
Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct) is a designer, writer, and educator currently based in Cape Town, South Africa, working in the fields of communication design and digital media. He works from Gilgamesh, a small design studio, and is a senior lecturer in graphic design at Vega School in Cape Town. Connect on Pinterest and Instagram.
Media Design, formerly Cover Stories and MagLove, is a regular slot deconstructing media cover design, both past and present.
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