Thursday, September 27, 2012

Worst logo ever, sports division

It looks like a rough draft. Will the typographer return shortly
to turn these shapes into letters? Hello? Anyone there?
What is it?

For 42 years I've been asking.

It's an M, I'm told. It's an M?

For Montréal, home of the erstwhile Expos.

What is it? Only the worst sports logo ever.

Good logos excite me. Clever logos jolt the pleasure center of my pea brain. How I love to find layers of meaning in an elegant economy of shapes!

How I wish this had those.

(I'm told it does, but I'm not impressed.)

At first sight, I saw what most do, a lowercase e, l (some see j) and b.  I shrugged and went on with my eight-year-old life of counting repeatedly to eight and never ever stepping on a sidewalk crack, thereby saving my life and that of my family.

Much later, someone showed me the M, and told me the colors represented French Canada and the province of Quebec.

It's an M?

The unsatisfying swirls and uneven lumps look like a cake decorator's warmup. Their lack of clarity have begotten little myths about their creation, none of them verifiable as far as I can tell. 

Baseball claims:
Soon, they (Expos owners) would unveil an innovative logo, combining a capital "M" (for Montreal), a lower-case cursive "e" (for Expos) and a lower-case "b" (for baseball), in the team's three colors, red, white and blue. The team's cap was also ground-breaking, with a crown divided in the three team colors and the logo on a white field in front. Enthusiasm for the new franchise would build very quickly.
The logo in later years. Witness how every effort was
made to draw attention away from the original
"Innovative" is in the eye of the beholder, as is enthusiasm for the rodeo clown (baby blue for the road!) uniforms or for the team. The team had a good run, including a playoff-bound 1994 season cut down by a players' strike. But you need only to know this about the Expos: When the San Francisco Giants sponsored Little League Day and offered discount tickets, it was always for a matchup with the Expos, when seats were plentiful. 

Someone in the blogosphere says "elb" stands for "Expos les Baseball." Is that even proper French?

A designer who worked for the Expos' advertising agency in Montréal claims this on Bleacher
The genesis of the Expos' logo design is that the initial owner, Charles Bronfman,
of Seagram's fame, scribbled an idea down on a cocktail napkin in a pinch, when the
team was due to show MLB what they had in mind for an team identity in late 1968.
After many Seagram's products, perhaps …

Another bloggy type says the "elb" are Mr. Bronfman's daughter's initials. OK.

I think the trouble started with the name, inspired by the Expo 67 World's Fair that took place two years before the team first took the field. Yet another blogger said it appealed because Expos is the same and French and English. Is that really justification? Name the baseball team not for something hearkening to the city's nearly 200 years of history, but for a one-shot world fair?

"Suppositories? Aisle 17 …"
Hey, I loved the 1974 World's Fair in Spokane, but can't see naming something meaningful after it.

Would the Expos' logo die a quiet death, return to the malformed depths from which it came? Of course not. It arose, only slight better formed, when the Expos became the Washington Nationals, and the transformed team adopted what more than one astute critic says resembles the Walgreens' "W."

And of course, the old Expos' mess of a logo is now a fashion statement for kids either too young to know better, or who revel in something so bad, it's good.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Card hearted

Perfectly imperfect, or, Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time!
The ideal symbol of childhood — captivating frustration.

I give you: The Major League Baseball Card Locker from Lakeside Toys of Minneapolis, Minn., copyright 1968 (teeny tiny embossed print at the bottom). I must have received it a year or so later, when baseball first arose on my horizon and it was right and just to covet a piece of cardboard with Brooks Robinson's photograph on it, with his oddly shortened batting helmet visor (by his own hand, with a hacksaw, because the bill obscured his view of the pitcher!).

Where did I get the locker? I'm not sure. Faulty memory tells me mom bought it for me at the BX (Air Force base exchange, the military predecessor to a Target store), but I can't picture the base having carried these. Santa, maybe.

It's a tiny plastic two-door gym locker. For baseball cards! National League cards went into the left compartment, organized by team, American League on the right. Mine is green with bas-relief images painted yellow on the front. Each door has little fake handles and fake locker vents. Little knobs at the top of each door let little fingers open the doors.

The green plastic shelves that slid into slots and tabs like an IKEA bookcase are gone, an early casualty of childhood frustration. I'm sure they got mixed in with all my other childhood junk, became unrecognizable out of context, and got thrown away. I remember cutting my own dividers out of cereal boxes; those are long gone too.

Three thoughts remain with me from the day I received it:

(1) Pretty dang cool! I mean, shoebox be damned! (which isn't really how I spoke or talked at eight or nine, but you get the idea.)

The Puritan hunter of American lore, conquering
the elusive pentagon …
(2) How could this thing possibly hold a kid's card collection? It's a damn sight less practical than a shoebox. Even the casual Little League collector with a dollar weekly allowance could exceed this plastic coffin's capacity within one three-month season (the ballpark snack bar was my main supplier). Clones of Cookie Rojas, Jerry Grote and Manny Sanguillen alone were more than enough to bust this box at the seams. (By the way, need cards to fill the gaps in your 1969-70 Topps collections? My son, the heir, may have something.)

What happened when you collected too many Cardinals cards to fit the designated three-quarter-inch-thick shelf space? Was it right for some of them to room with the Padres? And just try pulling out your passel of Twins for a reunion: the box was soon so packed that two other teams came tumbling after, along with the dividers. So ensued a half hour of putting everything back in order.

See? Frustration.

(3) What's with the graphics? Even as a new kid on the baseball block, I knew something was wrong with the batter pictured on the American League locker door. He's wearing some kind of quilted hunter's cap, and his shoes came off a pilgrim I saw in my first-grade social studies book. He's got his weight over his bent front foot. No way he's going to get a good swing from that stance. At least home plate is pointing in the right direction; that's a common error in baseball illustrations.

Back then the National League included the Montreal Expos, a brand-new team with one of the worst logos ever (a future post, perhaps?). The Expos became the Washington Nationals four years ago to assuage the capitol's loss of the Washington Senators (which became the Texas Rangers in 1972).

You can't tell the names without a scorecard.
In addition to the morphed Senators, the American League included the California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, or Angels Angels of Anaheim!! How is that an improvement?) and the Seattle Pilots, which lasted one year before becoming the Milwaukee Brewers to make up for that city's loss of the Braves, which went to Atlanta. Seattle got a new team, the Mariners, eight years later, not that the city is all that happy about it.

Are you following all of this?

The left locker door has an embossed rectangle of plastic with space to write your name and address. I wrote my name and then must have petered out after writing the number of our house.

A quick check of the Internet shows this toy is a subminor darling of the eBay/junk collector circuit. One picture showed the locker in red and white. Another had the doors on different sides, which is not surprising; they're interchangeable, and I'm sure I moved the doors back and forth a few times. A little plastic post on the National League door sheared off long ago, and the door is tricky to open. Something like fingernail polish remover has melted some of the paint on the baseball graphic, and the plastic base is chipped and broken in two places.

It's useless and worthless. And priceless. Back it goes on my shelf, reminding me to marvel at imperfection.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Twin sons of different mothers

These two muck about in my head lately, knocking over the furniture.

Maybe it's their Irish natures, though sewn through with Irish myself I'd hate to cast aspersions.

Maybe it's because they crave attention or like to get their way.

If it wasn't for all the commotion up there, I'd swear they're the same person.

Actually, I think they are.

Spooky resemblance, don't you think? In look and deed.

The guy on the left is Sam Brannan, hero and villain of my tour of Sacramento's Underground.

On the right is his sesquicentennially separated twin, San Francisco Giants "closer" Brian Wilson. He's the pitcher who's supposed to preserve a win for the Giants in the final innings of each game — except he's been out all season having his pitching arm rebuilt. Every day, fans feel his absence, as the Giants make do with an array of relief pitchers known as closer by committee. His absence is less of a nuisance as the Giants near clinching the National League West title, so Wilson has taken to inhabiting the dugout, leading the cheers for his team, his billowing black beard filling empty space.

Each has been the toast of San Francisco in his day.

Sam Brannan is a wonder to me, mostly because few people on tour have ever heard of him. The exceptions are fourth graders who have been paying attention to their California history lessons; alumni of Sam Brannan Middle School in Sacramento; and occasional visitors to Calistoga, the resort town Brannan created in the Napa Valley. That's OK, because I get to tell people his strange story.

Yet almost everyone on tour — even a family from rural Illinois last week — will have heard of John Sutter, who built a fort near what became Sacramento, and dreamed of empire.

Sutter built his life by charming creditors and running away from debt he inevitably amassed. Fleeing debt and family in Switzerland, he lit out for the western United States, living on credit and learning about forts and frontier hospitality as he went.

In 1839, Sutter essentially bamboozled the Mexican governor of the California territory into believing he was a great Swiss military hero, and was granted 68 square miles of land at the Sacramento and American and Feather (Plumas) rivers to watch out for Mexican interests in these far northern reaches. From his fort he rescued weary travelers from the Sierra, including survivors of the Donner Party, and carved out an agricultural base, and did his part to decimate the Indian population.

His plan to create a vast Swiss colony, though, literally fell apart at the discovery of gold. Onrushing gold seekers destroyed his fort and consumed his crops, and Sutter fled again, seeking but not getting redress from Congress.

While Sutter had no idea what to do with the news, Sam Brannan seized on it, exhorting the world to come looking for gold and then selling the onrushing hordes the equipment they'd need.

Brannan had come to the West Coast with his own dream of empire — for the Mormon church. An elder in the church, Brannan had sailed from New York with more than 200 Mormons at the same time Brigham Young was leading most of the Mormons out of Illinois to what became Salt Lake City, Utah. When Brannan failed to convince Young to keep moving west, it was the last straw in Brannan's fitful relationship with the church. They agreed to a mutual divorce, and Brannan returned to California still dreaming of empire — a land bonanza.

Gold gave Brannan the means to lure people west, and he became California's first millionaire on their lust. He continued to gather fabulous wealth by finagling land, selling at high prices, lathering, rinsing and repeating. He owned a fourth of the new city of Sacramento, a fifth of San Francisco, and at one point had invested more in the Central Pacific Railroad than any of the Big Four (Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford). He subdivided a vast ranch he bought in Los Angeles, effectively beginning the urbanization of Southern California.

With a small armed force, Brannan even tried to take Hawaii from King Kamehameha III in exchange for a pension for the floundering monarch, but the king's police chief sent the raiders packing.

A brawler, Brannan is said to have presided over the first marriage in the state of California — and organized the first hanging in San Francisco. He gave generously to San Francisco schools, but tore down squatters' homes in Sacramento, and ordered enemies shot. Let's say he was flawed.

Brannan's speculative empire fell apart in an expensive divorce and a massive grant of Mexican land he had neither the means nor the wits (he was a drunk) to maneuver. Brannan is forgotten, save for a Yuba City park, a state park in the delta, a San Francisco Street and the aforementioned middle school. Yet Sutter's name tattoos so much of northern California, a puzzling imprimatur of grace and stature — Sutter Home Winery, Sutter Neuroscience Center, for example.

Two colossal figures who fell apart suddenly and ignobly. Two alcoholic philanderers. Yet one lives on in sanitized, romanticized memory and the other recedes. I wonder why.

Bearded Brian Wilson builds his legacy as I write. He's more of a persona, and the real person is probably hidden deep. As his beard grew and became unnaturally black during the Giants' 2010 home stretch to the World Series, Wilson rose in off-kilter flamboyance, and he reveled in it, becoming one of the most popular players on the team, a roaring lion of eccentricity.

The beard and close-set eyes, like Brannan's, make him intimidating. Giants fans and ordinary citizens know to "Fear the Beard."

Wilson's beard grows larger, and tattoos have crept the length of his left arm during his free time.

The Giants should clinch the Western division this weekend, and will have done so without Wilson on the mound. He will have to reassert his presence on the team next season.

So I have to wonder: Is Wilson Brannan's karmic cousin, or does he just bear a strange resemblance?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Useless against almost all the world's problems, I can at least solve one problem right away, and save my betters from its needless distraction.

The solution is elegant in its simplicity: Turn the British royal family into the second coming of the Kardashians.

Everyone wins!

You probably know the royal family's recent foibles. Even those who involuntarily avoid paying any attention (me! me!) can't escape them.

But just in case you've better resolve than I, old chap: Prince Harry, son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, was caught in photographs last month cavorting in the nude, with friends in similar dishabille. Then last week Kate Middleton (Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wife of Prince William, the other son) was photographed topless from inside a French villa as she and Prince William vacationed.

While photos of Harry blazed the Internet, Kate Middleton's pics made a relatively slow parade from one European publication to another, each announcing in turn it would publish the pictures, each lavishing its day's worth of media hyperventilation.

Buckingham Palace was upset with Harry, the über bad boy of entitlement, engaging in just the latest of his embarrassing run for the royals. But the family was outraged — outraged, I tell you! — at the Kate Middleton pics, and this week won an injunction from a French publication to keep the photos from spreading.

As if that could really happen.

The monarchy is looking at this all wrong, and missing a monumental opportunity. It should be monetizing this folderol, guided by one unassailable business principle: What would the Kardashians do?

The Kardashians would get its own television show and multimedia production company, licensing its every image and utterance, is what!

The parallels are plenty and uncanny: Two families of no particular value, born of money and variations of power, thriving on faded glory (some talent among the two, but not as much as you'd think, given the opportunities each enjoys). Two families who master the ineffable, ephemeral, damnably puzzling quality of getting other people to give a damn about them.

Other than allowing cameras in every corner of every castle and carriage, and pricking centuries of pretense and puffery, the monarchy need not do anything different.

Indeed, the royals would be free to be themselves. Harry could cavort unbridled and unclothed like the frat boy god he'd like to be. William and Kate could frolic. Prince Charles could continue to plot murder most foul, Prince Philip could insult anew some former far reach of the British Empire. Publicists would market each and every step and misstep. And the Queen could address hate mail to Helen Mirren on camera, and continue to not be amused by it all, using the royal we.

The beauty of it: Whether in triumph or tragedy or comedy, the lords and ladies of the realm would make money. Consumers would declare their disgust and ask for more, in high definition. Products would spin off the shelves. Royal offspring and connected relatives would spin off their own shows. The royals would earn their own keep and get off the public dole. They could live in their many and varied hovels debt- and guilt-free!

Best yet, I would know what channel, day and time their fab show will be on — and avoid it once and for all.

We are amused.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday trifle

Something light and fun for a heavy day. Permit me an ego stroke — I like this for many reasons:

1. The client had a tight deadline, and meant it.

2. The client liked the terms and I surpassed them.

3. Ideas poured through my pencil.

4. The client responded immediately to the sketches and bid me get going already!

5. I powered through, feeling good about working fast, and congratulating myself for being able to create a juicy ink line righthanded with a mouse (my left hand free to pat my back) without too much trouble. I'm just that way, generous with compliments.

6. Haste harnessed happy accidents, and I found a way to retain liveliness in the finished product. (How often I'd rather submit sketches in place of finished art; I sometimes choke out the spontaneity as I wrestle the sketch into finished form).

7. The client had but tiny changes before going to final art.

8. The dude's purpose is to promote a wine appreciation class in a whimsical, unpretentious way, which I would endorse. I'll assume the client was unaware of my theory on wine. Otherwise, who knows whether this dude would have abided.

9. I draw to see what happens next, and to entertain myself. Payment is bonus; even now I'm staring at it on the computer screen, chin in my hand. Is that so wrong?!
Regrets, I've had a few …

I would like to have explored other ideas more pertinent to the venue. The client already had the idea of a Roman emperor figure hoisting the glass, and wanted to carry it through. It's a visual cliche´, not quite Nero, borderline Bacchus, a bit Animal House. I wonder how this became the go-to image of wine enjoyment.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Amaze imagination of your girlfriend!

Morning coffee comes with a middling ritual — ridding my email of bilge.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who finds email yields more weeds than fruit.

The important stuff chokes amid the solicitations to purchase discount drugs from Canada, various sex enhancements, and mail-in college degrees.

Russian women tell me I, and I alone, am man enough to marry them.

Almost every morning urgent messages warn that the package I didn't ship requires additional payment to reach its destination, that the job I didn't apply for puts me at considerable risk from cyber terrorists if I don't click here, that the flight I didn't book will be canceled unless I act immediately.

These phishing expeditions change over time. Nigerian princes have long since stopped asking me to help them dislodge their offshore assets for a cut of the booty. Fake facebook notices don't pop up as much either; they stopped shortly after I joined facebook and might have been fooled by the notices; almost was, too, except that the logo bore something almost imperceptibly inauthentic, a tiny truncation of letterform, a slight fuzziness. The facebook phishers had only a brief window before I figured out how facebook really notifies me, and they phailed to get me to click where they wanted.

Of the junk email that still bombards my inbox, I've noticed a decline in their vigor. They appear to be copies of copies of copies, and something additional falls apart with each iteration that loops through.

"Pharmacy" becomes "pharamcy" and "Canada" turns into "Canadiana." "Viagra™©®" is almost always "Vigara®©™" now. The Russian women, struggling heroically with a second language to begin with, are having more trouble than usual with English. The more urgent the warning, the more likely and frequent the misspelling, right at the start, with the most common words ("teh") tripping the phishers' phiendish desires.

Now the degradation is nearly complete, the recombinant DNA shredded to unlinked electronic proteins, made senseless.

For wonderful example, I received these two messages this week. My best guess is that I could purchase products that would render me anatomically irresistible and unwavering, if only I would click the link provided.

In the message line of the first was this:  "I have tasted, at me it has turned out. And you?"

The message? "Men have bought 150 000 packings, and you where were?"'

I am missing a huge opportunity (pun probably intended), but I don't know exactly what.

The message line for the second: "The small... It is a shame.? Look and operate"

The message: Amaze imagination of your girlfriend.

It's licentious and prurient and inviting. And funny, unfortunately for whoever sent it (or whatever web bot kicked it to me). This makes sense in some language, and I'd love to know what.

My only recourse is to wait out the waves of wanton email until the source materials degrade completely into random syllables — and never ever use the Internets again.

Look and operate.

(Ignoring the 9/11 show, by the way. I have said all I can say about it … and nothing has changed, inside or out.)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dianne and Pete, sittin' in a tree …

Another ode to Oliphant:

Though not alone, Pat Oliphant is one of the best editorial cartoonists at capturing the essence of the public figures he pillories. He whittles down each victim in short time to visceral visual shorthand. Each becomes a vessel into which Oliphant pours in his idea of who the person is, not just what s/he looks like.

President Reagan began, under Oliphant's pen, a collection of sharp lines that lampoon his lionization as a silver screen idol. (Of course, Oliphant's caricature of Reagan began when Reagan was California's governor with eyes on the White House). In the end, Reagan became a juicy squidge signifying an oily pompadour, and two dots for eyes atop a crooked squiggle for a nose and a long chin.

The gubernatorial candidates show off their new personae.
Spartan, but devastating. President Clinton received the same two dots for eyes, a bulbous nose and a big chin, which sometimes morphed into W. C. Fields. President George H. W. Bush got a pinched face and often carried a purse; his son mostly showed up as a little boy in big boots and cowboy hat, asking Vice President Dick Cheney what to do.

Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury and presumably unable to draw caricatures, instead depicted Bush No. 1 as empty air, and George No. 2 as empty air or a floating asterisk under a cowboy hat or Mars' battered helmet.

I was trying to be like the big boys here, establishing a relationship with my characters and turning them into symbols that would amplify my point. The cartoon atop literally shows how I went about that transformation with Pete Wilson and Dianne Feinstein, then vying for governor.

Outta my head, Oliphant! You can see Patrick Oliphant's influence in caricature, angle and
general bugaboo portrayal.
Of course, it implied I'd be drawing these two many times and would need this shorthand. This marked early days in my efforts to become an editorial cartoonist, and I expected to learn how to convey more nuanced opinion. It's a difficult trick, especially with state politics, to lampoon people and issues when readers might not even be aware of either.

These offer rather generic viewpoints: politicians are buffoons who defer to lobbyists and blame each other rather than solving problems. Nothing to see here, folks. But I like to think I was getting better.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Re(Pete)ing rifle

It's probably not smart to make fun of a Marine …
Oh, the many gifts last week's Republican National Convention gave us! We got to see Clint Eastwood overplay his persona in one inglorious, ignominious moment. We oohed and ahhed to vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's ghost stories around the Big Tent campfire.

And, per the Republican convention's convention, I got to dust off Pete Wilson.

California's multi-term governor and U.S. Senator re-emerged in Tampa as a senior statesman. Given what followed Wilson's time in office, in the state and nation, his anti-immigrant, tough-on-crime stance looks moderate now. And sane. Discourse and compromise across party lines; what a bygone concept.

After awhile I began drawing Pete Wilson's featureless face with Orphan Annie eyes, and
Dianne Feinstein more like Betty Boop.
The convention also blew dust off the term "happy warrior," applied this time to Ryan. I'm not sure how this term bubbled into politics, or whether it comes from William Wordsworth's poem. Both parties have used it — lavished alike on Hubert Humphrey, Ronald Reagan and assorted congress folk and state legislators. Wilson used it for himself running for governor against Dianne Feinstein.

To me it means an errand runner, giddily pushing party over policy. Maybe that's what it means to each party, too.

• Why exactly is John Burton, California's Democratic Party chairman, apologizing this week for likening Ryan's convention speech and some key Republican campaign statements to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels' so-called "big lie" tactics ("tell a lie often enough and it becomes fact …")?

For one thing, bombast is Burton's bailiwick. For another, it was one of those insincere, "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" apologies. For yet another, he's not the only one making this association.

For still another, isn't it true? Republicans aren't alone in this, just the latest with the mostest (though the Democrats are convening now, so stay tuned). Ryan's intentional deceit during his floor speech is breathtaking in its bald-faced boldness, right there for fact checkers to vet. My best guess is that he preached to the crowd, which didn't care if he was lying or bending truth to breaking.

Maybe the most egregious lie Republicans repeat on the campaign is that President Obama has weakened the work requirements for people receiving public assistance under the Welfare Reform Act. The statement lives like a zombie, blundering past repeated attempts to show it's plainly false.

Maybe it's the Nazi connection that offends, or triggers foes to pretend offense; though I agree that pundits and celebrities and political propagandists play the Nazi card too often and inappropriately, here it connects, however unfortunately.

Incomparable, of course, to the unthinkable barbarity on Goebbels' agenda, but the process is the same, isn't it? Say a lie, say it again, say it again, let people talk themselves into thinking they heard what you said from somewhere else, layering it with legitimacy until it becomes the thing people believe. People act on their belief, which is to vote for the liars, and maybe take lengths to keep others from voting for the other candidate. Bonus!

Pot, kettle; kettle, pot. Fight on, happy warriors.