Archive for Design

Bow-Wow!

Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow Bugs a BugA dog.  A bug.  A walk around the block.  From this simple premise comes one of the great picture contemporary picture books — and, while we’re on the subject, great picture books, period.  With a spare, clean design and plenty of humor, Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash’s Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug (2007) is a pleasure to read and to re-read.

Working in a cartoon minimalism reminiscent of Ernie Bushmiller, Crockett Johnson, and Otto Soglow, Newgarden and Cash provide only the details required to tell the story, and omit all else.  The bug is a black dot, the fence a series of long-stemmed “Y”s, and Bow-Wow himself an economy of lines and curves.

Newgarden and Cash, from Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug

Since both foreground and background are iconic, Newgarden and Cash cannot guide readers by (for instance) relying on the difference between an iconic dog and a more detailed rendering of a fence: instead, they direct our attention through movement.  Just after leaving the house, the bug rounds the corner, with Bow-Wow in pursuit.  If you were to draw a line mapping the movement of Bow-Wow’s head across three panels, you’d see that it moves in a shape that resembles a flattened “v.” In the first panel, as the bug moves to the right, Bow-Wow’s head emerges from behind the fence’s edge, at left; this is its highest in the sequence.  In the next panel, Bow-Wow’s head dips to its lowest place in this trio of panels, as his gait traverses the fence’s vertical lines.  In the third and final panel, the head rises up to sniff the other dog’s tail.

Newgarden and Cash, from Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug: with added line of sight

Mapping the movement of Bow-Wow’s head, you’ll see a line that falls, and then rises up to roughly the same height at which it began.  (I’ve drawn in the line to suggest what the eye does when reading these three panels.)

Turn the page, and the book’s delightful sense of the absurd emerges.

Newgarden and Cash, from Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug

Irritated that the bug is hiding among the Dalmation’s spots, Bow-Wow just barks those spots right off.  Later, when Newgarden and Cash’s protagonist meets another terrier who is also following a bug, the dogs sniff each other… and so do the bugs.

Newgarden and Cash, from Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug

Over the next three pages, the dogs undertake an increasingly elaborate ritual of greeting… and the bugs do the same.  Hilarious.

Also wordless.  In its absence of words and iconic style, the book recalls those (mostly) word-free minimalist gems The Little Man with the Eyes (Crockett Johnson) and The Little King (Otto Soglow), the latter of which Newgarden paid tribute to in his The Little Nun strip (1988-1993).

Its debt to comics raises the question of genre.  I’ve been calling it a picture book, but a more accurate claim would be to say that, using the production values of the picture book, Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug uses narrative techniques from comic strips, silent film, and flip books.  I could just sidestep the genre question by calling it a graphic narrative, but Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug is closer to the picture book genre than the six Bow-Wow board books: Bow-Wow Naps by Number (2007), Bow-Wow Orders Lunch (2007), Bow-Wow Attracts Opposites (2008), Bow-Wow Hears Things (2008), Bow-Wow’s Colorful Life (2009), and Bow-Wow Twelve Months Running (2009).

Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow Orders Lunch Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow Naps by Number Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow Hears Things Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow Attracts Opposites Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow 12 Months Running Newgarden and Cash, Bow-Wow's Colorful Life

With one panel per page, they lack the frequency of juxtapositions common to a comic or to Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug.  Their narratives rely more upon the graphic strategies of picture books.

Less surreal than Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug but just as delightful, the board books are concept books that also have a narrative.  Bow-Wow Attracts Opposites, my favorite of the group, explores the concept of opposites, while our canine protagonist chases a cat.

Newgarden and Cash, "Up. Down." from Bow-Wow Attracts Opposites

Newgarden and Cash, "In. Out." from Bow-Wow Attracts Opposites

As you can see, Bow-Wow is a dog of few words.  Though the board books all have text, it is kept to a minimum.  But that economy of both language and image is precisely why these books work so well.

Small-scale narrative gems, the Bow-Wow stories are masterpieces of economy.  They keep it simple, but are not simplistic.  Indeed, students of graphic narrative should study these  — and Johnson, Soglow, Bushmiller — to learn how to pace and structure an illustrated story.  In restricting themselves to few words (in the board books) or none (in the picture book) and succinct iconic artwork (in both), Newgarden and Cash make their limited palette feel limitless.

Some good news for Bow-Wow fans.  Two new picture books are in the works: Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors and Bow-Wow’s Curious Comics.

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What time is it?

Biegert & Funk’s QlockTwo is a beautifully designed clock.  I’ve an image below, but before reading further you might experience it for yourself (on B&F’s webpage).

QlockTwoThe clock contains the right number of letters to announce the time in a complete sentence.  Its sans serif typeface is easily legible, telling us that “IT IS TWENTY TO TWO,” and then “IT IS A QUARTER TO TWO” in crisp, white letters (it measures in five-minute increments). But what I especially like is the way it slows down the experience of time, converting something precise into something precise enough.  I also enjoy the gentle irony of having an iPhone app that translates the digital precision of 2:16 p.m. into the comfortable analog, “IT IS A QUARTER PAST TWO.”

As the iTunes reviews indicate, it would be great if one could make this app the phone’s background.  As reviewer JLSchend notes, “I see the time on the wallpaper long before I open the app.”  However, the point of the QlockTwo app is not instant access to the time.  The point is to provide an aesthetically and emotionally different experience of time.

Digitally rendered time, with numbers and colons, is exact, keeping track of each second as it slips away.  The second hand on a clock face also tracks time’s relentless dissipation, but, without numbers marking each second’s passing, clock time seems to move with less insistence than digital time.  The Qlock’s rendering of time as text, however, abstracts the temporal from both the spatial (clock face) and digital (numbers and colons).  Time’s past and future are not mapped as they are on a clock face.  And the absence of a digital timepiece’s swiftly accruing seconds gives a feeling of slowness, of being in the present.

Unlike other timepieces, the Qlock does not emphasize time passing.  Instead, it narrates the gradually changing present.

» Continue reading “What time is it?”

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