pjhstudios blog

Review: Looking for Calvin and Hobbes – Nevin Martell


Nevin Martell writes reverently of Bill Watterson in

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes. The far reaches that Martell goes to find out who Bill Watterson really was, took him into the world of cartooning and going into the depths of Bill Watterson’s past. Numerous cartoonists were interviewed: Jim Davis, Bill Amend, Lynn Johnston, Stephen Pastis and many others. Martell even tracks down childhood friends, teachers, professors and business associates.

He tells of Watterson’s growth as an illustrator doing political cartoons to transitioning full time to a start up strip to Calvin and Hobbes becoming the social behemoth it was on the comic pages. Over the course of this history, Watterson was serious about his craft, cartooning and his characters. So serious that he disputed with his syndicated, threatening to walk about when his contract was renewed. Watterson despised the commercialism and licensing that pervaded comics, and how syndicates controlled the market, with papers keeping old, stale comics alive with artists filling in after a creator had passed on.

But there’s a richness to this story, seeing where characters originated, whether from family or friends to ideals Watterson held dear, which came out in his comics. Martell traces Calvin and Hobbes’ influence to later artists, and while near universal praise is given to Watterson, many still don’t get why he walked away.

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes is an in depth portrait of a man many grew up with, that shunned the spotlight. Well sourced, nuanced and detailed it reads easily, and sometimes it comes across too attached.

While reading, Martell captured what I missed about the strip and what made it unique, and what Watterson brought to the funny pages.

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What I learned from 46 days of no Facebook


In keeping with the Catholic tradition of sacrificing something for Lent, I chose to give up Facebook. In the past, I’ve given up chocolate, sweets, dessert, beer, alcohol, caffeine, soda, (listening to) music. Forsaking a technological medium that seeks to connect people, and purposefully disconnecting from it, goes against the instant gratification of modern life. I still had email, cell phone, Twitter, a mail box people could send mail to (I received a postcard during that time). At one point, I consulted with a Lentor, to determine if I could view Facebook at all or just my own account. Consensus deemed that viewing Facebook through others to be OK.

As an aside, the term Lentor was coined at a birthday dinner when a friend had a question about not swearing. A different friend quickly intervened, heading off any moral quandary and designating himself as a Lentor, one who can determine the applicable boundaries of a Lenten sacrifice. I’m sure a priest could have served the role, but what lay person wouldn’t want to help set some tangible, real world spiritual chalk lines?

Facebook is pervasive

If Lenten sacrifices have blurry lines, then Facebook obliterates whatever constraints social communication had. For so long, communication remained tethered to the real world. Written letters, phone communication, voice mails, face to face, text messaging seems fairly grounded in comparison. In casual conversation, referencing Facebook is such a common occurrence that Facebook itself is the communication medium. Yes, its content resides on a digital cloud somewhere in California, but consider:

“… posted pictures on Facebook…”

“… on Facebook, [so-and-so] said [funny/stupid/innocuous/inane/sad/maddening comment] on my wall…”

“… received a Facebook invite for…”

“… just send me a message on Facebook…”

“… are you on Facebook?”

“… you can get our hours of operation on Facebook…”

“… did you see [so-and-so’s] status on Facebook?”

[Insert entire recounting of Facebook realm drama here that ultimately makes its way in to every day life.]

While waiting for someone at Blue Mesa, I overheard two different conversations related to things occurring or having occurred on Facebook. It wasn’t the internet, a blog but a website that, as we all learned from watching the Social Network, put the social experience online. A website that stands to make money off electronic social interactions better than any blog ever did.

At a birthday party, I joked with an acquaintance that we weren’t officially friends since we weren’t Facebook friends. Since this occurred during Lent, I told her I couldn’t friend her right away.

“Can it wait until Easter Morning?” I said.

“Sure, I’ll be expecting a friend request at 12:01, Easter Morning.”

“What about after sunrise service?”

The Fear Of Missing Out

Facebook makes us more connected in a passive way, making it easy to see photos, updates and changes in people’s lives. It also accentuates something that’s always existed–the fear of missing out. That sense of anxiety when there’s something out there that we’d like to experience but are not able to for some reason or another, often due to simply not being informed.

In grade school, you’d figure out which birthday party you missed by hearing about it on Monday while hanging out by the monkey bars. Now, someone you don’t even know will upload a photo from a bar while hanging out at a bar with a stuffed monkey in the back room and tag a friend you know, alerting you of fun you never knew existed. Or were invited to.

The fear of missing out applies to keeping up with status updates and the miscellany of conversation commenting on photos, videos or links. We want to be part of those conversations, even if we’re lurking, passively consuming the updates. What if we miss out on something funny, or engaging or interesting? We want to know. This has been true for any media or form of communication. We’re social creatures, despite however much someone claims to be an introvert. We want to be connected to others and validated by others. I’m guessing there’s some evolutionary biology behind connection and validation. Survival of the species, perhaps?

Biologically, within your brain, you’re wired to become engaged with novelty, things that interest you. When something interests you (intellectually, emotionally or physically) your body will crank out various hormones to further engage you. Dopamine, adrenaline, oxycontin are a few, and to enjoy those activities more, we need a more novel or bigger hit of those activities. This is why relationships are hard work–the novelty of the initial attraction wears off, and then you have to work at maintaining that attraction.

And Facebook is an amusement park of attractions, the equivalent of a 100 different roller coasters of digital crack. It’s novel, interesting, engaging, relatively easy to consume and there’s always a reason to come back for more. A good drug dealer gets you hooked with free. All Facebook costs you is time. So a free means to engage passively with social connections leads to all sorts of things, one being the need to keep up with others so you don’t miss out.

Curated lives

In keeping up with others, there’s the opposite, informing others. Anyone who posts things to Facebook is a publisher, a modern day William Randolph Hearst, albeit at a much smaller scale, for a much more individual purpose.

Hearst is credited with saying to a photographer, “You provide the pictures, I’ll provide the war.” Regardless, if he ever said it, the point is that what ever means is used, we can justify the ends to say something. We might not be selectively curating lolcat pictures or YouTube videos for war, but we selectively signal our interests and intentions by what we share or say.

Travels, growing families, melancholy thoughts, persistent witticisms, innocuous oversharing, politics, sports, gossip, social causes, personal happenings… Imagine whatever you publish to Facebook as a room in your own personal gallery. What’s that gallery going to look like? Curators discern what hangs on the wall at a museum with subject matter smarts and an intent to editorialize to show or say something.

Wouldn’t your Facebook postings do the same?

You know yourself (you should), and you want to tell people something, and you choose what you want to say.

You’re curating your own life. And we each have our own reasons for doing that.


But what about those that don’t reside on Facebook, or never post anything beyond setting up their page with a picture and basic information? I don’t think they’re missing out, despite the pervasiveness and growing necessity to communicate via Facebook. They have their ways of keeping in touch, getting whatever social interaction floats their boat and living life how they want to. Meaningful lives can still be lived without Liking or Statusing or Poking or Inviting or Messaging. Meaningful lives can still be lived with conversations, however infrequent they may occur. Meaningful lives are not defined by the content or quantity of Facebook updates.

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Merlin Mann tells a moving and personal story about creativity, priorities and life.

Sometimes the cranking made something special that will be really useful to people who badly need the comfort and help. But, a staggering amount of the time, my cranking has produced joyless and unemotional bullshit that couldn’t comfort, help, or please anyone. Especially my editor. Who is awesome. There’s no point in doing anything if it doesn’t eventually please my editor. Who is awesome.

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Review: R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now


R.E.M.’s latest, 51Y0uJfq8LL._SL160_.jpg
Collapse Into Now, seems to span soundscapes, melodies and riffs from their 30+ years. The lead song, Discoverer, the lead riff sounds similar to Finest Worksong. Oh My Heart‘s deep guitar strum is reminiscent of Drive. Every Day Is Yours To Win could fit into New Adventures in Hi-Fi, while That Someone Is You bounces around like Radio Free Europe from 1983.

The songs are solid with Michael Stipe’s cryptic lyrics and steadfast delivery. Fast or slow, they remain true to their pop chorus verse chorus structure. Every Day Is Yours To Win feels shimmery with its simple melody and guitar. Closer, Blue, is the most unconventional with no real chorus and feedback laden outro.

Standouts: Uberlin, It Happened Today, Every Day Is Yours To Win

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This post is full of awesome


The word awesome seems to have become the go to word to describe anything as remotely delightfully cool. In fact, there’s even an Awesome Foundation.

In naming the Awesome Foundation, Hwang said the word captured the organization’s aims perfectly. “Awesome conveys surprise and delight, and that’s at the core of what we’re trying to do. Awesome isn’t necessarily frivolous, but it does convey a sense of fun.” Awesome also co-opts all dissenters. “The good thing is that you can’t really be against the Awesome Foundation, because then you’d be not awesome, and no one wants that,” said Hwang. The foundation’s Toronto chapter had 250 applications for grants in its first month. And two new Awesome Foundation chapters have just started in Beirut and Sri Lanka.

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The story of Z. Vex effects pedals


Z. Vex creates handmade and painted guitar effects pedals, a business that started as a hobby.

Vex: “My first Z.Vex pedal was an improvement on an Apollo Fuzz-Wah fuzz, which was the Octane. I showed it to Nate at Willie’s American Guitars in St. Paul and he immediately ordered three. I hadn’t planned on going into business, it just happened by accident. I started making a living within about two months after the pedal company started. A meager living, but a living. I believe my apartment was about $300 a month.”

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To cull or to surrender


In an insightful piece of enjoying and consuming art (of all kinds), Linda Holmes discusses the sad, beautiful fact that we’re all going to miss almost everything.

Culling is easy; it implies a huge amount of control and mastery. Surrender, on the other hand, is a little sad. That’s the moment you realize you’re separated from so much. That’s your moment of understanding that you’ll miss most of the music and the dancing and the art and the books and the films that there have ever been and ever will be, and right now, there’s something being performed somewhere in the world that you’re not seeing that you would love.

I’ve learned to stop reading books that I don’t like, skip songs on cds that aren’t interesting me, to stop watching tv shows that aren’t engaging. I’ve also learned to take risks with movies and music and books in order to discover something wonderful.

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Fuel/Friends Springtime 2011 mix



Heather at Fuel/Friends has posted a mix of spring songs, Used Hearts/Fresh Starts. Most of the songs are on the alternative, indie, folk, pop side of the music spectrum, with the occasional deviation, and she has them ready for you to load up into your portable music device.

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Arcade Fire close out Coachella set with bouncing balls of light


Arcade Fire closed their Coachella set with the anthemic “Wake Up,” adding some crowd interaction with a couple hundred glow in the dark, multi-colored beach balls.

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Designing a challenge coin


Sea cobra challenge coin front

Belly up to the bar with a number of active service members, you could easily issue a challenge, and most should be able to place a brass, bronze or silver-like coin on the table. The person who can’t show their coin buys the round of drinks. Wikipedia tells a storied origin of a downed WWI pilot, whose sole identification was his coin, which prevented him from being executed by the French. These coins carry a special source of pride among those who carry them and are collectibles, especially if you know what one is. Bud, a friend of my father’s, who served with him in Vietnam, had his Green Beret challenge coin stolen from him by a small town cop after a night in jail. My father, many years later, found someone to make a replica and gave it to Bud as a birthday present.

Later this summer, my father is going to Portland for a reunion for his unit, the Sea Cobras, an inshore undersea warfare group, stationed in Qui Nhon. He commissioned me to do the design.

Since most coins use the unit’s insignia, I started with the patch. (Of note, original, military issue patches are worth money.)

original sea cobra patch

I wanted to keep the simplicity of the sea cobra, so in Illustrator, I cleaned up the lines and evened out the color. Since the coin maker was going to do the embossing, I chose a serif font and the general placement of the text, and my original design instructions were to make the entire coin red.

mock up of front side of the sea cobra challenge coin

Working with the coin maker, my father made the final decisions, and the final coin shown below. He chose to have the embossed text stand out more, removing the outer red ring. There’s a slight raise to the outline of the cobra to give it depth, and the yellow is muted as compared to the mock up, above. The coin measures 1.5 inches in diameter and weighs a solid 4 ounces. All in all, he made a print run of 100, and I get one.

Sea cobra challenge coin side view

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