Oprah time: Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand

Paul Rand’s slim book Thoughts on Design was originally written after World War 2 when he was in his 30s. He hadn’t yet done some of his most iconic work such as the IBM or TV network ABC.


Straight out of the gate it focuses on design and its applicability to the job in hand. My friend Stephen used to talk about designers falling into two categories:

  • Idea led designers that focus on the communications problem
  • Style-led designers. Their work has a particular look and feel, that might be fashionable (for a while). The Designers Republic as falling into this category

Rand is blunter in his assessment under a section called The Beautiful and The Useful. His point isn’t that they are mutually exclusive. Obeying classical art rules creates useless design unless it addresses the communications. The sad thing is that 70 years later it still needs to be said with the same urgency.

Rand describes the designers challenge as an overlap with strategy and planning functions in agencies. Rand started in agencies a generation before planning emerged as a discipline. Planning started in London advertising agencies. The idea of leaving pre-conceptions out of the process is a keystone of planning and strategy.

Finally, Rand focuses less on typography than one would expect. Instead he focuses on the creative use of space and direction. He viewed debates around the use of typography as an unnecessary distraction. Typography decisions would be resolved by wider thinking on space and direction. Thoughts on Design is surprisingly accessible.

Oprah time: Death Notice by Zhou Haohui

China has had a run in English literature at the moment. Cixin Liu has overturned the world of science fiction with his Three Body Problem trilogy of books. Zhou Haohui’s Death Notice promises a similar shake up in crime fiction.

Death Notice

Death Notice takes place in 2002, the internet was changing Chinese society and the government hadn’t yet rolled out The Great Firewall of online control in-depth. Forums were transformative, attracting participants who shared a passion to connect in ways previously impossible within China.

It was also a more open time in terms of the government’s attitude to public freedom and discourse. Which is why it is the ideal time to set a complex serial killer that relies on the internet.

The death notice of the title refers to a crowdsourced list of wrongdoers who escaped justice and are dispatched in creative ways. I don’t want to say any more that would give away more of the plot.

Death Notice leads you on a twisted exploration of who the killer could be, dragging in to suspicion members of the investigative team. And this is apparently the first in a series of books.

Oprah time: The Sacco Gang by Andrea Camilleri

The Sacco Gang is an easy to read dramatisation of a true story about a family in Sicily during the rise of fascism. Andrea Camilleri is better known as the author of the Montalbano series of crime novels. With The Sacco Gang Camilleri takes the original source material about the Sacco family and then filled in the spaces to provide clarity to the narrative.

The Sacco’s were a family on the rise in Sicily through hard work and good luck  managed to move above the hand-to-mouth existence of indentured farm labourers.  The family’s sense of natural justice meant that they were not going to give into the mafia’s attempt to ‘tax’ the family back into poverty. Their socialist leanings meant that the family also became targets for the fascist government, even as they crushed the Sicilian mafia.

Camilleri wraps this all up in a small very easy-to-read novelette.

Oprah time: Realm of the Damned by Alec Worley

I was given a copy of Realm of the Damned – Tenebris Deos by one of the staff at Forbidden Planet. Werewolf Press did a really nice job of printing up Alec Worley’s graphic novel. The subtitle is a nice touch as Worley must have been thinking that he had a franchise on his hands.

Realm of the Damned

The next installment is out later this year.

So whats Realm of the Damned like? It reminded me a lot of Blade 2. You have the titular character who is a natural enemy of vampires brought in by them to kill a super vampire that would kill all of them.

The closeness of a vampire slayer to the Catholic church is very reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Vampires series of films. The main protagonist Alberic Van Helsing is already tired and worn out, rather like Wolverine in Old man Logan; but with severe addiction issues.

Where Realm of the Damned differs from these films is in aesthetic. It’s like something out of a black metal album lyrics. Darkness, killing, death, decay, hopelessness, savagery, dark magic, endless supplies of blood.

A badass character like Kate Beckensdale’s Selene from the Underworld series would only work if she was emerging from a sea of blood. Think Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in Doctor No, but everything’s red.

And there in lies the weakness of Realm of the Damned. It’s something that the writers of Arachnophobia knew very well. If you want something to shock and horrify, use it sparingly. Unlike horrific spider films of the 1950s and 60s Arachnophobia had one spider who popped up at any time rather than a legion of spiders.

Even Garth Ennis’ The Punisher punctuates violence with detail and plot movements. Realm of the Damned splashes the claret too much and loses much of its effect.

Of course, I am probably not the main target audience for this book.

Oprah time: Über by Kieron Gillen

Back in the day reading graphic novels like the Über series would have been a niche interest at best.  Now with the rise of Marvel and DC universe films they are part of mainstream culture.

Über invasion

But not all comics are about accessible hero stories with easy cinematic adaption. My preferred writers like Gillen use the superheroes to ground the stories more in a gritty reality.

Garth Ennis from Preacher to The Boys has looked to subvert and examine comic franchise conventions. Gillen tried to get us to examine our own conventions and pre-conceptions about war.

I see clear parallels between their work and the ‘political’ spaghetti westerns of Franco Solinas in particular.

Gillen’s Über uses superheroes to explain the kind of damage cased by massed Russian artillery in the march to Berlin and atom bomb blasts a la Hiroshima.  Superheroes make the horrors of war more relatable.

It is also interesting how what would seem to be a ‘diesel punk’ series hinges on transformations that are outside the the power of medicine even now. Finally, there is a clear parallel and differentiation between Captain America and Über.

In summary, if you want a good thoughtful read and aren’t squeamish; start reading Über.