Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The British High Street. As 2008 draws its last few breaths I'm probably not the only one to reflect on how the recession has hit us so quickly and so hard. Small shops are disappearing and of the big chain stores its not only Woolies which has kicked the bucket. The outlook is so gloomy that soon we may only have out of town supermarkets in which to spend our credit-crunch pennies.

Above street scene is an unpublished drawing from a couple of years ago.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

His Glory will appear in your midst.

Happy Christmas to all my friends. Regular posting will return in the new year when things shouldn't be so hectic!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Treasure Chest Comic 1946-1972. This educational comic book was published in the USA by George A Pflaum and provided (free?) to Catholic parochial school students during the above years.Treasure Chest's solid pre-Vatican II dogma expressed in strip form must have been intended as a moral antidote to the horror and superhero comics which were exerting an unholy grip on America's youth.
Despite these clear digital archive scans you can't help but smell the musty whiff of cheap newsprint, eye the glow of a yellowed patina and somehow hear the echo of classes of schoolchildren collectively chanting the answers to the Baltimore Catholic Catechism.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Vegetable box art. In the quest for the unsophisticated and the unintentionally odd in graphic design I offer these examples of fruit shop cardboard boxes. I had to snap these screenprinted goodies with my roving camera. First is a broccoli box from Channel Farm, Kinross. As this produce is from Scotland I was happy to read the slogan "Builds Braw Bodies". But can anyone tell me why has the boxes designer included an illustration of a braw female body who looks like Marsha Hunt circa 1969, complete with frizzy afro hairstyle and psychedelic bell-bottoms? And how about the cauliflower box also above? No self-respecting Mac carrying designer would dare go for the anthropomorphic angle these days but here we have a cauli with not only a hideous grin but also disturbingly long eyelashes. I hope this vegetable countenance never visits me in a future nightmare...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dudley D Watkin's Young Warrior Comic Strips. Easily my favourite British cartoonist and revered illustrator of Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty, The Broons and Oor Wullie, Dudley D Watkins also had a lesser known artistic sideline producing Christian tract strips for the Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade during the 1950s and 1960s. Watkins was a highly religious man and always kept a huge Bible near his drawing board. His Bible had wide margins in which he would scribble copious notes when inspiration took hold. Watkin's place of worship was the Dundee Church of Christ, a Free Protestant community where he met his wife.

From 1956 he drew and wrote William the Warrior, a schoolboy character much given to scripture quotations and musing on moral dilemmas. Later he created Tony & Tina, the Warrior Twins (see above) for the Young Warrior Christian Children's Paper. These strips were collected and published in booklets during 1966 and 1969.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Czech Signwriting. I've just returned from my second visit to the city of 1000 spires and cabbage soup, Prague. I don't think I will ever tire of Prague's endlessly fascinating streets, fine gloomy Baroque churches and dusty antique shops, this September in unseasonably nippy temperatures.

These elegant examples of signwriting painted directly onto the building's stonework caught my eye. Somehow the letter style couldn't be from anywhere else but the Czech Republic.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Traditional Catholic Visualism. I've been spending far too much precious time lately lapping up the resplendent photographs on the excellent Hallowed Ground picture blog. Here is an inspired and carefully chosen celebration of the liturgical grandeur that was the Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. It has taken many a year to recover from that cultural rupture which (indirectly) brought us a neo-Protestant mistrust of the visual in church worship. Other woeful Vatican II by-products in Catholic liturgy have been banal, folksy hymns and a mood of jamboree rather than awe at the sacred mysteries being represented.
For myself, hopes for the future and continuity with the past include going to Thursday evening Mass last week at Sacred Heart & English Martyrs Church, Co. Durham and witnessing Fr. Dickson process to the sanctuary wearing a black biretta on his head exactly like the above unknown circa World War I cleric.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beano Summer Special Comics. I'm almost certain my Dad bought me copies of these Summer Specials (dated 1972, 1973 and 1975) during holidays in Wales, Yorkshire and the Lakes. In my early teens I remember reading mainly American Marvel and DC comics. But I also recall with a good deal of affection these DC Thomson goodies, printed in semi-gloss paper in tabloid size. There are many references here to venerable British Butlins style holidays in these jolly old pages. Steam Trains, Striped Blazers, Straw Boaters and School Teacher's Mortar Boards also crop up. Did we ever come across such delightful anachronisms in Captain America or The Avengers?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

More signs from Lourdes. I wouldn't normally upload any pictures of vinyl (spit) signs but these examples from the grotto domain of Lourdes are certainly untypical. The above request for respectful silence is pleasingly naive and the schematic representation of a humble act of contrition between priest and penitent quite heartwarming. By the way, the confession hall at Lourdes was a little confusing - make one wrong turn and you could be faced with a confessor who could only speak Dutch or Spanish or Italian or German. O Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Ghost Signs of Lourdes. Not long back from my (early) summer hols in Lourdes and Walsingham - a sort of two-centre pilgrimage jaunt which I enjoyed very much and will be reporting on in future posts. For now, and because its a disgracefully long time since I posted anything, here are 3 rather nice faded wall signs from the back streets of Lourdes. People complain about Lourdes being an over-commercialised Catholic shrine, but an alert eye can detect evidence of an earlier, more quiet era. I particularly like the middle auto sign, this long closed garage once must've been the place to take your Peugeot or Renault for a quick buff and polish.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Vintage Warm Weather Refreshment. Temperatures are suddenly on the rise and we're having a mini May heatwave. After a hard day on the lathe or coalface I'm sure we could all do with some refrigerated treats like those pictured above.

Monday, May 05, 2008

No Modernist Houses here. After morning Mass I spent my Bank Holiday Monday tootling around the local vicinity in search of sights which might run counter to our near total national submission to consumer lusts.
Near a Morrison's Supermarket which was full to the gunnels with sallow and obese drone youths taking advantage of the weekend's special offer on cases of Stella was this cluster of empty flat-roofed houses obviously ready for demolition. Walking around these silent reminders of faith in the square and the functional at Doxford Park near Sunderland I wondered what such nostalgically appealing International Style boxes might soon be replaced with. Nearby was a slick sign announcing "another exciting new development from (forgotten corporate name)". I should have known, more expensive and cramped houses to enslave mortgaged couples in atomised isolation, their only consolation being they are at last on the "property ladder"!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rural hand-painted sign. I've driven past this very nice amateur sign nearly every day in the past few months and have grown to love its untutored gloss-paint brushiness. Pointers to its unprofessional charms are (a) closeness of lettering to border (b) confusion between upper and lower case letters, note the dotted 'i' and (c) random application of a serif on the letter U.

This formica beauty is located between Leamside and Great Lumley, Co. Durham.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Still Open For Business. These photos of severely decaying retail premises come from a visit I made yesterday to Stanley, Co. Durham. I was there for Saturday morning Confession at St. Joseph's, a magnificent 19th Century church with a beautifully decorated and dark Lady Chapel which is lit only by the small number of votive candles the elderly faithful choose to pay their 20p for. Parish Priest Father Joe Park is a kindly old priest with not many teeth and whose long winter clerical cloak shows under the velvet confessional curtain hem.
Despite these shops crumbling state they somehow remain open and stand for me as hopeful counter-cultural beacons amid the chain-store strangulation of our land. First pictured is an independent Estate Agent with nailed on plastic letters on its flaking fascia which must have come from a DIY store circa 1976. Please note the hand-written "Can't Get A Mortgage?" notice which you'd never see in a high-street Halifax branch. Next shop is Sandra's Ladies Hairdressers, a shop so unkempt I was certain it must be closed until I watched a head-scarved old lady walk inside and then saw a flourescent light flicker on through its exceedingly grubby net curtains. Last photo is of Beamish Street's garage with a unique weed-filled bathtub as it's welcoming feature.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Modernist Sunday School Art. Found these lovely vintage images on a Norwegian children's book illustration site. This style of popular religious artwork seems to have first appeared in the 60s and is "modernist" only in that it borrows the flat picture-plane, unmodulated bright colours and schematic black-outline representation from mid-20th Century painting. There are also echoes here of Hanna Barbera style cartoons. Being roughly 60 years old this generically modern graphic mode is now quite dated but has also acquired a luscious retro patina. Many parish churches still employ the style in their bulletins and decorations in a bid to communicate in a direct graphic manner. Even my own RC church uses liturgical wall-hangings in exactly the same simplified Matisse meets Derain manner.
New Testament subjects depicted above are the Annunciation, the Last Supper and the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. I love the way the Angel Gabriel is represented as a strictly linear outline rather than the traditional flowing and feather-winged messenger of the Immaculate Conception.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ladybird Book Art. One recent hardback volume which has been fascinating my reading specs since the beginning of this year has been Boys and Girls, A Ladybird Book of Childhood. This hefty collection of stunning images from the 60s and 70s heyday of Ladybird publishing rises high above the recent glut of UK nostalgia titles like the (admittedly likeable) Jackie, Eagle Comic and Look-In collections which were on every gift-title bookshop stack before the Nativity of Our Lord 2007.
Into late 40s Austerity Britain first appeared Ladybird Children's books, a series of inexpensive hardback volumes. Their small size was dictated by the paper shortage of post-wartime and the modestly sized printing presses of publishers Wills & Hepworth, Loughborough. Their format (virtually unchanged to this day) was a huge success and became most familiar and best-selling in every Woolworths and WH Smith during the 1960s and 1970s.
I've been a collector of classic Ladybirds from this period for about 5 years and willingly admit to pinching some of their iconic imagery for use in my comic and illustration work. Thanks to ebay all but the rarest titles are usually easy and cheap to locate (but I still can't find a decent copy of The Customs Officer!) Their beautiful and painstaking illustrations by artists like John Berry and Harry Wingfield provide an indispensable snapshot of an entirely lost British era and only now are these artists receiving belated recognition. Of course, predictable criticisms have been levelled against Ladybird books: they presented too cosy and middle-class a picture of Britain from that time and one recent Sunday Supplement reviewer of Boys & Girls said Ladybird books failed to illustrate the possible underlying tensions between parents in the happy family unit which is uniformly presented. But I ask you, what child would ever want to happily read about an impending divorce from their self-absorbed and irresponsible Mothers and Fathers?
Top photo shows a few choice Ladybird titles from my collection and the remainder are from the highly recommended Boys & Girls book.