Look, I’m no designer. I will never ever be one. I don’t have even the slightest bit of inclination to drop what I am doing (which is little, by the way) and take up the art of web development and design and pursue a career in selling my work to others in the form of websites and other such things. It’s just not what I am built for nor is it something I will ever be built for.
That being said, I went head-first into this book because Mike Monteiro, psychopath that he is, has worked his way up over decades to be what he is now – that being a lunatic that people on the internet respect and for damn good reasons. If he did not do good work, I would have no clue who he was or why he mattered. I doubt that I have ever visited a site, besides the one of his own company, that was created by him (or his company), but as one learns early on in the book – word of mouth is one of the best things you can have as someone who is trying to get your name out there (good word of mouth, anyway).
The other thing you learn quickly is that while, yes, the book is very much about how to be a good designer from the perspective of selling yourself and your work and dealing with the various pitfalls that lie on that path to success, the book could have been about almost anything else and still made sense in a Mad Lib-ian style way. He may hate it, but anyone who is a creative soul or an artistic soul that wants to share what they love with the rest of the world for a price should find this book and plow through it full speed ahead, maybe even more than once. It works not only as a great front-to-back read but also as a handy reference guide for “okay, so now my emotions could cause huge problems, what do I do?!” Featuring sections on dealing with hostile clients, hostile coworkers, and even hostile peers (which can be quite different from coworkers especially in the design business), this is a great foot in the door into all the things Mike had wished he had known when he first came out of art school rather than fumbling his way through for two decades trying to figure it all out, however had he known them all back then I would not have had this amazing book to read and tell you about now.
Like I said at the beginning – I’m never going to be a web designer nor do I ever want to be, but seeing not just the possibilities of success but also the very common obstacles and how to prepare for them makes wanting to push myself in whatever creative direction I feel today just a little bit easier. I might never deal with a “client” or find myself in a conference room defending some kind of action that seemed like a good idea at the time and may or may not have actually been one given the circumstances, but at least I will know that I am not the only one who is going through this and can be a little less scared that my entire world is going to implode. It’s survivable. It’s just a job, after all.
“Design Is A Job” is 135 pages of a designer’s career (swearing included for free!) that would be exactly what you would pull from twenty years of any career and then write down for future generations. Not to say that Mike Monteiro penned some kind of cookie cutter manifesto of “work sucks, life sucks, get used to it”, but as I said before I can see a lot of his rules for being a designer have crossover appeal for anyone trying to do things with their mind and their hands that other people want and are willing to shell out money for.
Maybe I’m not making this sound as great as it is, but trust me, even if you care ZILCH about web design, give this a once over for your own good – especially if you don’t mind swearing and want to get off your butt and “go do the thing”, whatever that thing happens to be. You will thank him for it, just maybe stay away from his twitter. That’s a warning.
It’s hard for me to figure out a nice starting point for this review. SuperGods is part history of the comic industry, history of Grant Morrison himself, and a history of how both of those things were both affected by popular culture and how they affected popular culture. I am not much of a comic book fan, but I am enough of one to see this book on the shelf and be pulled to it and want to see what it is all about. Being a (somewhat) writer, I also am drawn to the characters and their stories as how they are being told. I adore character depth in a way that is probably not healthy, and so when I read about or hear about characters that are years and years old or have been part of dozens of amazing storylines I want to understand them better, so wikipedia and TV Tropes are necessities to my understanding of the comic book universe. Even after all of that, a lot of what Morrison has written about was completely over my head.
The book covers, obviously, from the creation of Superman and the first Human Torch all the way through late 2010, and in places got into things that just – honestly – bored me. It probably has a good bit to do with the fact that I wasn’t consciously aware of the Cold War until well after it was over. I was born in the early 80s, so hearing about how the wars affected society and how society affected him as a person was only interesting in passing. I bought the book because it’s f’n Grant Morrison (and, being Morrison, he curses quite a lot in 400 plus pages) and he knows his comics (and it shows). I wanted to read about the comics. My fascination was there and there alone, though in later chapters I did find myself compelled at his drug stories and coming of age as an adult comic writer more than his youth of being some punk pacifist kid and how much the world was garbage. Forgive me if I get any of that wrong, but like I said, it did bore me.
Also, I am not much of a Marvel fan, even if I did come to respect the interwoven continuity of the brand opposite DC’s haphazard quilt of insanity that led to way too many reboots, retcons, and hapless mish-mashing of characters to try and replicate the style of their opposition. Yes, I want Batman and Superman to be in the same world, I love the Justice League (even the sillier variations), and am not as much an X-Men or FF fan because even though those characters somehow feel closer to reality (experiencing 9/11, for starters, which takes up a part of the book) I just got into a mood years ago that as much as the two companies can be analogous of each other (especially when you realize just how many artists and writers have moved between them) I felt the need to pick one as my favorite and well, Batman as a character is probably my favorite as far as character depth and use of storyline ever, so they win. I don’t even care about the movies so much, because I grew up engrossed in the cartoon universe and the growth of the modern DCAU, and even if Christian Bale is the best live-action Bruce Wayne ever, Batman is still a cartoon whether on the page or the small screen and I am much more receptive to that as a medium with which to live out the fantasies of facing the Joker for the zillionth time, running from Killer Croc with a big rock, or saving the day by using his brain rather than just throwing demi-god muscles at it and hoping it breaks before it destroys something of worth to the universe.
So yeah, I’m a fan, and outside of probably less than twenty pages of exposition that I found ‘boring’, I loved reading this book, getting through it mostly in my spare time of trying to be productive in other facets of my life (and failing, of course), but in those pages I found some bit of muse that could help me in the future. It might not have been exactly what Morrison intended, but showing the wonders of the comic book world through the eyes of one of its most decorated creators made me look at the comic page differently. It made me look at society differently. I looked at myself as more of a SuperGod than I care to admit, because if one truly wants to be a writer, especially in fiction, they have to be able to create on a level that rivals a God. Whether or not he was aiming for that, I don’t know, but as the book comes to the end speaking of superpowered humans in our world, I saw that as something as a call to arms. I might never be able to leap a building, stop a bullet, or travel through time, but I can still create a universe as deep as I so desire – just as Morrison and all the rest have done the last 70 years. That was enough of an inspiration for me. Give it a read, I am sure you will feel the same way at the end, even if you have no knowledge of comics. It is that good. I super-promise.
So I’m running on a tangent today, partly because of a slight bit of fatigue and partly because I wanted to talk about the first book I read in my pile of thirty I am trying to get through. I recently finished Bill Bryson’s “At Home: A Short History Of Private Life” and, most of all, it made me thankful to live in the age that I live. I hate to say that I have a pessimistic view of society and my own existence (this blog in and of itself might be seen as enough proof of that concept), but this book showed that I was way off the mark of what could be considered awful living conditions or an awful existence in general.
The book takes you on a tour through Bryson’s countryside home, a former Church of England rectory, and as you pass from room to room with him he runs off on various asides on all sorts of topics about, as simply as I can explain it, how people lived throughout history. Like his other Short History book (Nearly Everything), he does jump from topic to topic with a bit of organized randomness that can be somewhat off-putting when he lands on a topic that you find interest in. The title says it all, it really is a short history, and it gives you just enough information that can make you want to find out more about things you had no clue even existed before you hit a certain paragraph or a certain page. I mentioned a few days ago about knowing the inventor of the lawnmower, and I got that from this book. It made me want to learn more about the lawnmower and about lawn care machinery and its evolution. About fifteen minutes on wikipedia and I had enough for a lifetime, but I didn’t feel let down by anything. Everything hit me with just enough of a punch to make me want to keep reading without burning me out on a topic. It was as though it had a deep understanding of what I wanted to know, how much I wanted to know, and when to stop. If I wanted more, like in the case of the lawnmower, I can use every other research vessel available to me to get that information without being upset that he didn’t spend ten more pages on something that is only important to me in a book that isn’t meant to be important solely to me.
A good bit of the book follows English history, but he does cross the pond when it matters, especially in showing how the Americas and Europe interacted in the years when America was coming out as a potential international industrial superpower. Just imagine being beaten up by your only child, and that is a decent enough comparison for the end of the 19th century going into the 20th as far as just everyday living went. I also want to take the time to tie this in to yesterday’s post, as there are many points in the book where a lack of change is shown as an inherently bad move and change can be incredibly positive. Of course, this isn’t always true, as only the major successes and spectacular failures garner press. Still, it shows that people tried, probably tried even more than we can every realize. I’m sure out there right now people are trying things that might never see the light of day. The private life of the inventor or the designer or the engineer can feature unbelievable attempts at drastic and unthinkable change. Some may work, some may fail, but I like to know that it is being attempted. So why in the public life, the majority at least, is there such a hatred for change?
If you want to see how change affected the world for good and a desire for rigidity, conformity, uniformity, and stasis has caused quite a bit of suffering. The chapter on sexually transmitted diseases (The Bedroom chapter, actually) is enough to show just how awful the mostly male medical field had almost no knowledge of the female body and caused plenty of problems (and potentially unnecessary death and disfigurement) occurred because no one was willing to try new things. That may be an extreme case, I admit, but it is still something that happened and yes, eventually, it did lead to changes and a more advanced medical knowledge, but even when doctors started breaking through the wall and looking deep into the female body (as well as bodies in general) there were still people, even their own peers, who looked at them like they were crazy and disregarded their writings and findings as complete hogwash.
This happens still to this day, in all sorts of fields and with all kinds of people. Again, if you are in this position and you feel as though people aren’t taking you seriously, you could end up being wrong, but you have just as much a chance of being absolutely correct. If one takes anything away from this book, it should be that. From the first page to the last, it is simply a tour of an English house, but there is so much change to be digested that even in a writer’s tour of private life you find yourself wandering through social history from the Romans to the present day. If you have read Bryson’s Nearly Everything and enjoyed it I think you will find this just as enjoyable. If you haven’t read any of his material or possibly only know him through his travelogue series of non-fiction then this will be seen as quite a departure but still in a style that is his own. Over the few weeks it took me to read through it I feel as though I learned about civilization itself, and no, that is not a hyperbole. It changed something in me, how I view the past, present, and future, and I think it will do the same for anyone else who takes the time to read it, at 422 pages (Kindle version, at least) it is hefty, and the hardcover version could probably be used as a burglar suppressant, but if you have any interest at all in history you will find it a very compelling read.
Regular class is back tomorrow.