12/04/2008

Archer Prewitt > Chris Ware

Archer Prewitt's Sof Boy comic is a 90s indie classic--and woefully OOP!--about a cute, marshmallow-y guy getting kicked and tortured in a bunch of ways and always sort of still keeping his spirits up. It's really hilarious and oddly affecting. Prewitt's also in the band The Sea & Cake who released Car Alarm a couple of months ago, and it's easily one of the best albums of the year that isn't an hour of shredding.


This month also marks the release of an action figure of Raymond Scott, which Prewitt did the design work for; for those not aware, Raymond Scott was the guy who composed a lot of the music that ended up in Looney Tunes cartoons and was also this totally crazy electronics music inventor and pioneer. Here's more information about him that I wrote, for those who care.

One of the more interesting aspects of Prewitt's design is how it has the same feeling as his work on Sofboy and other stuff, this kind of determined line that's still scratchy and a little ugly, but is smooth and clean like conventional advertising. He still finds places to make it interesting and so, it isn't cold or harsh. He's one of the few graphic designers around that isn't sort of making advertising art that's about advertising.

There's a lot of time spent on making it aesthetically pleasing but as much time's spent on making it sort of making it look uneven or a little drunk or something: Scott's angular proportions, puffy lettering of varying size, etc. Also, so much "cool" design work falls back on the obviously incredible work of the 50s and early 60s but here it makes total sense as it's Raymond Scott's era. It's when he was making most of his music and it's the only era that was crazily open-minded and corporate-minded enough to see Scott's electronic compositions as making sense of commercial background music. This odd mix of the avant-garde and bottom-line economics.

Prewitt's design work comes especially illuminating when compared to another Chicago-based comics dude/graphic designer, Chris Ware. Ware's work is formally obsessive and yeah, that's the point and all, but it's something that both makes his work immediately identifiable and frankly, not that interesting over time.

Other than the sheer craft, there's not a lot of joy or exuberance in Ware's work and worse, even when he's aping ragtime-era record sleeves, there's this odd level of irony or way of putting it all in quotes. Prewitt's work's steeped in the past too, but he seems less interested in up-ending America's ugly past--the kind of dumb Zinn-thought most of us get over by college--through design and irony, than infecting some joy and a touch of chaos into our lives.

The Scott design also reminds me of The Sea and Cake's video of their cover of David Bowie's "Sound & Vision":


Prewitt's done some action figure design work before as seen below. There's the toy of another electronics innovator Robert Moog (inventor of the moog synthesizer, obviously), a particularly hilarious one of the Kauffman brothers from Adaptation, and some dolls of Prewitt's early band, The Coctails:







2 comments:

Dan said...

I don't think there is any irony in Ware's "aping" of Ragtime sleeves. From interviews I read with him, it's clear he legitimately appreciates their design and aesthetic. And where do you get that Ware is making some kind of Zinn-like criticism?

It would seem to me, at least in the case of Daniel Clowes and Ware, that the depiction and use of older, potentially racist images (and the style of art associated with them) is treated both as "no duh, this is offensive" and as really cool and interesting art that shouldn't be immediately shunned because of its associations.

brandon said...

I can see how I didn't Ware enough credit, but certainly there's irony when he does these old timey ads that instead say horribly depressing things.

I think there's a sense of "saving" the ads from be tossed to the side because of the racism, but there's certainly a visceral disgust with America and its past that's pretty Zinn like.