• Posted on February 25, 2013

Abe Lincoln’s Dream

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m in the tank for Abraham Lincoln. I love the guy. I really do. I’ve read stacks of books and visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC twice. I’ve made a pilgrimage to Gettysburg (where I stole a rock), and watched Ken Burns’ The Civil War more times than I care to admit. I’ve not yet seen Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, or Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, but when I do, I’m sure they’ll be welcome additions to my reference library of Lincolnalia.

I am also in the tank for Lane Smith, the brilliant illustrator of The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, The Stinky Cheese Man, Spooky ABC, It’s a Book, and Grandpa Green, among many other contemporary classics of children’s literature.

Abe Lincoln's Dream coverIt goes without saying, that a book about Abraham Lincoln by Lane Smith is a slam-dunk, and yet Abe Lincoln’s Dream is not really about Lincoln the man, but the fruits he laid seed to more than 100 years ago in the United States. My sister picked up this book for me on a recent trip to Arizona. She was peripherally aware of my fondness for Lincoln, and not at all familiar with my illustrative infatuation with Smith. Hats off to her. Stove-pipe hat off to her, I mean. It’s not easy to please my persnickety tastes, but Abe Lincoln’s Dream satiates in every way, from the inventive layouts and old-timey typefaces (thanks to Molly Leach, Smith’s long-time collaborator and partner), to the conception of Lincoln himself, a worry of a man built of vertical lines and furrowed brow. Smith’s books are increasingly atypical, at least in the illustrative sense, but the virtuosity and visual playfulness abide. His illustrations¬†always amuse, always elevate, and Abe Lincoln’s Dream is nothing less than a book about elevation; of a people, there is no doubt, but also of the reader, and a couple of characters who travel the winding paths of history all the way to the moon and back.

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  • Posted on January 06, 2013

Extinct Boids

“Spring is sprung, the grass is riz. I wonder where the boidies is…”

It started out simply. Ceri Levy, a film-maker, inspired by the subjects of his most recent documentary, The Bird Effect, embarked on an exhibition of extinct and endangered birds, soliciting work from a number of artists, writers and musicians, including one Ralph Steadman. Asked to produce a single extinct bird illustration of his choosing, Steadman, a life-long balker of rules, created more than 100 avian masterpieces; birds of every species, including the newly ‘discovered’ Lousy Grudgian, the Humpbacked Blue Mult, and the Gob Swallow. A special room was dedicated to his illustrations for the duration of the Ghosts of Gone Birds exhibit in 2011, and in 2012, in collaboration with Ceri Levy, Extinct Boids was hatched.

There are many great things about Ralph Steadman, not least of which is the fruitfulness of his imagination. No sooner had I ordered Ralph Steadman’s Cats (to be reviewed), Extinct Boids showed up on his website, and shortly thereafter, under my Christmas tree. It’s a hefty book. The long, rectangular shape is perhaps a nod to the over-sized John James Audubon Birds of America portfolio produced in the late 1800’s, minus the field guide accuracy (and ornithological death count.) Most of the birds in this tome are extinct or endangered birds, like the Great Auk, whose last surviving member supposedly caused a great storm off the coast of Scotland and was therefore killed as a witch, but not all. Attention is also paid to the long suffering residents of Toadstool Island, accessible only by the HMS Steadmanitania, where a ‘confusion of boids’ have lived relatively unobserved, until now…

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