Category Archives: books

What I’m Reading Now, If Now Were About Two Years Ago

Paul Madonna’s fabulous book © 2007

I picked up Paul Madonna’s All Over Coffee a couple years back during a visit to San Francisco. Bought it at the fabled City Lights Bookstore in fact, right there on Columbus Avenue in North Beach. Historic store, historic neighborhood.

Madonna’s brush and pen and ink work is revelatory. I’ve never seen anyone capture both the subtleties and the power of light so well USING ONLY BLACK AND WHITE FOR PETE’S SAKE. How does he do it? Practice. And a great eye. And practice. He describes his learning process (and much more) in the book. I appreciate an artist who shares his process. It’s both encouraging (because since he wasn’t always that great, there may be hope for us mortals) and enlightening (ahh… so THAT’S how he did it!).

Paul Madonna © 2007

This book is a collection of work Paul did for the San Francisco Chronicle. Ostensibly, it’s a comic strip in which disembodied voices provide text to go with gorgeously rendered scenes of San Francisco, arguably the most scenic city in the U.S.

Madonna nails the feeling of San Fran, sometimes with just a clipped view between buildings, or the very top gables of an unmistakeably San Franciscan Edwardian mansion. It’s absolutely uncanny how good he is. All Over Coffee. Check it out.

My favorite one: a house on Ashbury and Page in the Haight (Paul Madonna ©2007)

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Three Great Novels With Zero Words

I’m a slow reader (about as many words a minute as I type, it seems), but hey, I have a dynamite rate of retention. Still, I once absorbed an entire novel, a great one, in one sitting. This was Gods’ Man by Lynd Ward.

"Gods' Man"

"Gods' Man"

Ward didn’t need no stinkin words to tell the myth of an artist who sold out, got run out of town, and found himself again, just in time to…. I won’t spoil it for you. The ending is a doozy.

Ward was part of a movement of wordless novelists in the early 20th century. It’s art at its most powerful, if you ask me. Stories, morals and archetypal characters that strike the brain while completely bypassing the left-brain neuro-pathways and such drudgery as words and language. Isn’t this why we liked “Spy vs. Spy”? And, for you old-timer’s, “Henry”? Words, at some level, blow. At least compared to pictures.

These weren’t really cartoons as we know them, either. They were woodcuts. Ward was influenced by a Belgian master named Frans Masereel who drew (or cut, actually) a 165-picture gem called Passionate Journey, the story of a man who… goes through life. He experiences just about every social, mental, and physical experience there is, culminating in a point of spiritual transformation.

"Passionate Journey"

"Passionate Journey"

Another one I like, which is timely right now, is one Ward did in the 1930s, Vertigo, a tale of tough times in the Great Depression. It’s slick and raw at the same time, and it’s Ward at his best (though he did go on to win a Caldecott Medal for illustrating a children’s book in the 1950s).

"Vertigo"

"Vertigo"

Three novels, zero words. If you get a chance, check them out. Your inner eight-year-old will thank you.

Henry. Why was he so bald? And mute?

Henry. Why was he so bald? And mute?

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