Scrubbles.net Is Fifteen Years Old

Scrubbles.net screen shot, March 2001 (Via The Wayback Machine).

Scrubbles.net screen shot, March 2001 (Via The Wayback Machine).

In the midst of filing Blu Ray reviews and preparing Christopher‘s next novel for publication, it crept up on me that the Scrubbles.net weblog has been in existence for fifteen years. Can you believe it? I can’t.

Back in July 2000, I was an itchy music reviewer and wannabe cultural critic with a limited web presence (basically a portfolio, a rudimentary “about me” page with a few links, and a monthly roundup of albums I was enjoying at the time). Weblogs were just getting started – Blogger had been in place for just a year at that point – and most of the existing blogs were tech-oriented or online diaries. Inspired by sites like Boing Boing, Pop Culture Junk Mail and Robot Wisdom, I signed up with Blogger and used it to set up a daily log of links, observations and ephemera to be housed at an address on my local ISP’s server (I think it was blue.psn.com). Using a rudimentary knowledge of HTML and CSS and the Blogger engine, the simple, Twitter-esque blog shown in the above screen shot came about. In those days, I remember hand-coding each month’s entries and manually including the archived pages on the blog’s sidebar. Blogger also lacked a commenting system (!), so I used a script authored by the fabulous Kris Howard at Web-Goddess.org. Blogging was that much of an isolated, fringy interest – but not for long.

The earliest topics at Scrubbles included things like obviously doctored publicity photos, the singing career of actress Tuesday Weld, and a strange hand-painted folk art sign hanging in my neighborhood. To my gobsmacked surprise, these ruminations started attracting an audience. Just a few months after Scrubbles launched, Matt Kingston of Hit Or Miss added Scrubbles to a directory of gay male bloggers. This introduced me to a whole bunch of great guys, many of whom I still consider friends. After the Scrubbles.net domain was secured that autumn, it started a flurry of posts, links, reading and reacting – I totally threw myself into this blogging thing and loved it.

As improbable as it seemed that the early Scrubbles.net actually had a readership, things really took off in 2001-03. In September 2001, my idols at Boing Boing added Scrubbles.net to their “Best Blogs” sidebar, an honor shared by just a dozen-odd others. The band Weezer added a link to Scrubbles on their official website. People started visiting daily by the hundreds, drawn in by links from other weblogs. I kept things fun, kitschy, thought-provoking, concise, interesting. Snarky, pop culture-oriented blogs were becoming more common at this point, yet Scrubbles.net stood out enough to even appear on several year-end Best-Of lists (yeah, that shocks me, too).

Scrubbles.net screen shot, June 2004 (via The Wayback Machine).

Scrubbles.net screen shot, June 2004 (via The Wayback Machine).

As fantastic as the heyday of Scrubbles.net was, I could already feel the buzz waning as soon as Spring 2004, when some of my entries were published in a book on blogs. Ironically, this came as I quit my job in late 2003 and was able to devote time to longer, more thoughtfully written pieces. It wasn’t from a lack of trying on my part. People were moving on to the next thing, however – post 9/11, the so-called “War Bloggers” had crashed the scene like a bunch of frat boys at a nerd party. Weblogs were no longer idiosyncratic musings on random ancient-history crap like mine – they had to be about something, dammit! Hey, the nice thing about blogging was that there was room for everyone. In short time, the new blogging paradigm was set – hyper-specific on topics, smoothed-out, preferably endorsed by a mainstream news outlet and maintained by a group of office drones. I did my best to adjust, but ultimately these changes left me out in the cold.

Although readership dwindled in the mid-2000s, I went out of my way to make Scrubbles.net my own quirky corner of the net. An update on the blogging service Movable Type completely hosed the archives up through mid-2005. The ensuing migration to WordPress served as an excuse for a slight reinvention. It ultimately didn’t amount to much in terms of resonating with an audience, yet this space was finally solidifying into what I originally envisioned it to be. Posts were devoted to vintage magazines and illustration, scans of printed ephemera, sharing goofy songs from the past, communicating joy at coming across something cool on YouTube.

Scrubbles.net screen shot, February 2010 (via The Wayback Machine).

Scrubbles.net screen shot, February 2010 (via The Wayback Machine).

Blogging still serves a fantastic opportunity for individuals to have a voice on the internet. Scrubbles.net flailed a bit during 2008-12, a time when most bloggers were abandoning the format in favor of quick, easy social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. I kept soldiering on, posting weekly Scrubbles.net updates on movies, television, music and books that captured by fancy. Nobody cared, which only made me frustrated and depressed. I took to Twitter and Facebook, shocked and surprised that some of the people with whom I was friendly with during Scrubbles’ heyday wouldn’t give me a second look. Many others were accepting, however, and for that I’m grateful – plus, I’ve made several new friends on each new platform. Because I have many thoughts that don’t fit elegantly in a status update or tweet, Scrubbles.net is still here. Perhaps it’s not updated as frequently as I’d like to (once a month, basically), but I’m happy with the obscure-book-sharing mojo it has now.

As for the blogging world in general, it’s less visible yet active as ever – industrious, clique-y, yet not too engaging (my opinion, of course). Occasionally I’ll come across an utterly fantastic, awe-inspiring weblog like Codex 99, but those are few and far between. For the most part, the scene has become something of a pissing contest to see who could out-geek each other the most. There’s enough goodness in the chaff to keep me going, however. See you for the next anniversary.

Look What I Found: 2015 Catch-Up

Spread from Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man showing his 1940s bullfighting art.

Spread from Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man showing his 1940s bullfighting art.

The theme of this post is “More,” as in – More books! More visual inspiration! More occupied shelf space! In my last post from a month ago, I wrote about my plans to spend each month of 2015 buying a different beautiful, visually-oriented book at a budget price. With a couple of exceptions, I’ve kept true to the plan. I’ve already shared the May book – Sing for America, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. The June book has also been enjoyed, and will become the subject of its own post later on. In the meantime, I’m taking this space to write a few bits about the books from January through April. Let’s begin!

In January, something that had been on my want-list for some time. Published in 1959,The Golden Book of Myths and Legends was illustrated in striking primitive-modern style by Alice and Martin Provensen. The Provensens lent their talents to many different projects over a long, long period of time. Myths and Legends comes from a particularly excellent, creative time when they applied vibrant textures and stylization to traditional subjects like The First Noel (1959) and The Iliad and the Odyssey (1956). More recently, I picked up the Provensens’ 1978 children’s book A Year at Maple Farm at a thrift store, a sweet look at the seasons changing at their farm.

The Golden Book of Myths and Legends (1959).

The Golden Book of Myths and Legends (1959).

Echo and Narcissus, from The Golden Book of Myths and Legends.

Echo and Narcissus, from The Golden Book of Myths and Legends.

Heracles: The Twelve Labors, from The Golden Book of Myths and Legends.

Heracles: The Twelve Labors, from The Golden Book of Myths and Legends.

February signaled the annual arrival of the huge VSNA Used Book Sale, held mere steps from our house. This year, I splurged a bit on a beaten-up yet nice ’50s-era copy of The Passport, an illustrated volume of doodles, cartoons and observations from the famous New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg. One of my fondest childhood memories was checking out a reprint of this book from the local library – it was literally one of the main things that influenced me in becoming an artist. Steinberg’s images of exotic locales, skyscrapers, mismatched couples and exaggerated Americana remain as delightful as ever. What a treasure!

Saul Steinberg - The Passport (1954).

Saul Steinberg – The Passport (1954).

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In March, I caught wind of this stupendous auction at Van Eaton Galleries of vintage Disneyland stuff – posters, props, costumes, souvenirs. Although the items were listed at well above my price range, I ended up blind-buying the auction catalog in luxurious hardback. It turned out to be well worth the money, since the book’s colorful photography and detailed descriptions serve as a wonderful general-purpose guide to vintage Disney theme park items. Organized by land, the book is full of fantastic stuff that even my Disneyland-saturated eyes had never seen before. The top sale from this two-day auction was lot #357, a green animatronic bird from The Enchanted Tiki Room, which fetched $153,400.

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Van Eaton spread of Main Street, USA items.

Van Eaton spread of Main Street, USA items.

Chapter headers with map diagram and vintage snapshots - nifty!

Chapter headers with map diagram and vintage snapshots – nifty!

Van Eaton catalog spread of Matterhorn/Fantasyland items.

Van Eaton catalog spread of Matterhorn/Fantasyland items.

Continuing along the same lines, April‘s selection came from our long-awaited tour of the Disney Studios in Burbank, California. At the studio’s Disney Store (yeah, they have a complete Disney Store location right there on the backlot!), I picked up a lovely tribute to one of the studio’s icons – animator and imagineer Marc Davis. This gorgeous looking large-format volume is divided into ten chapters, each headed by a sincere testimony from a Davis friend or admirer on a specific aspect of his life. The topics include not only the expected animation and theme park attractions, but non-Disney things like Davis’ illustrated trips to Papua New Guinea, personal art, and instruction. Although the book omits a few projects (there’s nothing at all on the Country Bear Jamboree attraction, for instance), I appreciated the space given important areas like the never-produced 1960 film Chanticleer and Davis’ biggest supporter – his widow, Alice (a talented artist in her own right).

Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man was published by Disney Editions in 2014. Buy at Amazon.com here.

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Marc Davis concept art from Chanticleer.

Marc Davis concept art from Chanticleer.

Marc Davis concept art for America Sings Disneyland attraction, 1970s.

Marc Davis concept art for America Sings Disneyland attraction, 1970s.

Look What I Found: Sing for America (1944)

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Early this year, I resolved to buy myself a fascinating older book full of nice illustrations, a la James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book or The Fireside Book of Children’s Songs, in an effort to expand my library within an affordable price range. Five months in, I’ve broken the $15-a-pop ceiling a few times and even bought some newer (yet beautifully illustrated) books. I thought vaguely of combining every monthly book into one long, huge post at the end of the year, but my sensible spouse encouraged me to write about them one at a time. Good thinking. So, I’m now presenting the acquisition for May — Sing for America, a patriotic 1944 songs-and-history volume with artwork by the great Swedish artist Gustaf Tenggren.

Sing for America came out during a transitional period for Tenggren, when he was moving from traditional, fairy tale-inspired styles to a modern, color-saturated sensibility. This was a book meant for young people to appreciate America’s developing musical heritage, with Wheeler’s silly, fictionalized text alongside sheet music for songs like “My Old Kentucky Home.” A few of the illustrations delve into Politically Incorrect territory, but being Tenggren they are all fantastically done – with a stylized zest that conveys this Swedish immigrant’s fascination with Americana (the artist lived in the U.S. for twenty-plus years at this point, and would remain here until his death in 1970). Coming immediately after his stint as a concept artist for the Disney studios, one can see the Disney influence rubbing off on these pieces (along with the vintage Little Golden Books feel used on projects like Tenggren’s The Poky Little Puppy). In 127 pages, Tenggren contributes everything from lavish, beautifully composed full-pages in living color, to stylish, Deco-ish spot illustrations, to the whimsical endpapers with American children of various races and historical periods.

Sing for America was published by E. P. Dutton & Co. in 1944, apparently in a single edition. It’s out of print, but copies can be obtained pretty affordably at sites like AbeBooks.com.

"The Old Oaken Bucket"

“The Old Oaken Bucket”


"America the Beautiful"

“America the Beautiful”


"Jingle Bells"

“Jingle Bells”


"Sing for America" title page spread.

“Sing for America” title page spread.


"Home on the Range"

“Home on the Range”


"Sing for America" endpaper detail.

“Sing for America” endpaper detail.

Introducing Whimsy, Inc.

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Last Christmas, my spouse gave me a nice new Wacom drawing tablet. Regrettably, I hadn’t been using it very much. Just like physical exercise, however, artists need to draw and create on a regular basis to keep their skills strong. Besides, here I was hitting my late ’40s with not much to show for my decade-plus efforts at becoming a bona fide illustrator. In order to do that, I need to illustrate – even if it’s solely for my own enjoyment. With all that in mind, I started a Tumblr blog called Whimsy, Inc.. The premise is simple: setting aside an hour or so each week, I draw something – an animal, a cartoon, or perhaps a portrait of an actor I saw in a movie.

It’s funny – I’m getting to the point where I routinely become very jealous and bitter every time I see or hear about a successful illustrator. Wallowing in regret does more harm than good, however. There’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of failed experiments, a lot of promotion, and a lot of dedication behind every individual who manages to carve out a name for themselves in this highly competitive field. Anyone who can actually make a living off that earns my highest admiration. Real illustrators don’t sit around and whine… real illustrators do stuff.

Eight weeks into Whimsy, Inc., I find that I’m using a variety of materials but generally I’m sticking with improving my digital drawing skills, composition and color. In addition to the Wacom tablet (which I still haven’t gotten the hang of), I downloaded a set of Photoshop gouache brushes which have been a lot of fun to use.

"Wiggle" digital drawing for Illustration Friday.

“Wiggle” digital drawing for Illustration Friday.


Portrait of Merle Oberon in Lydia (1941).

Portrait of Merle Oberon in Lydia (1941).


Backyard scene of our dog, using colors from an Eyvind Earle study.

Backyard scene of our dog, using colors from an Eyvind Earle study.


Portrait of Klaus Kinski in Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972).

Portrait of Klaus Kinski in Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972).

Scrap Happy PAP-py

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Consider this post a shout-out to publishers who still make gorgeous, paper-bound books to hold in your hands and cherish. With that in mind, let’s salute the folks at Princeton Architectural Press, who have passed along a few of their products that bear mentioning here. PAP is primarily known for its architecture-oriented titles, of course, but in recent years they’ve branched out into a dizzying array of other subjects (The Ghost Army of World War II, coming out later this month, is one such intriguing project). In the interest of full disclosure, all of these items were sent to Scrubbles.net headquarters through PAP’s generosity – I’m happy to cover them here, however, since they fit my particular tastes so well.

With the imposing, primary-colored Inside the Rainbow, editors Julian Rothenstein and Olga Budashevskaya have done a comprehensive, fun survey on an overlooked side of Russia’s history – its kiddie books. In focusing on the visually dazzling work put out in turbulent post-Communist Revolution years of 1920-35, the volume earns its subtitle Beautiful Books, Terrible Times. Divided into thematic chapters such as “How the World Works” and “Let’s Study, Study and Study,” insightful essays and page spreads from dozens of different books demonstrate how the Communist message was distilled for its youngest members. Obviously, you get a lot of striking, modern Russian Constructivist design from El Lizzitsky and the like here, but what struck me was the variety of illustration styles throughout these pages. Lots of images have a uniquely Russian folklorist feel, yet they could also fit in the pages of American kids’ books of the era (my favorite section, in terms of purely gorgeous imagery, is the chapter on animals). Accented with poetry and text excerpts, this book accurately reflects the “cheery-on-the-outside, oppressed-on-the-inside” outlook of the time.

Inside the Rainbow (Redstone Press, 2013) front cover.

Inside the Rainbow (Redstone Press, 2013) front cover.

Spread of illustrations by Yevgeny Charushin for the book Babies of the Zoo, c. 1935.

Spread of illustrations by Yevgeny Charushin for the book Babies of the Zoo, c. 1935.

Spread from Where Does Crockery Come From? by Nikolai Smirnov, 1924.

Spread from Where Does Crockery Come From? by Nikolai Smirnov, 1924.

Vladimir Gryuntal and G. Yablonksy designs and photographs from What Is This? by Mikhail Gershenzon, 1932.

Vladimir Gryuntal and G. Yablonksy designs and photographs from What Is This? by Mikhail Gershenzon, 1932.

Another arrival from PAP was Myopia, the career-spanning retrospective for DEVO co-founder and all-around Renaissance Man Mark Mothersbaugh. For those who only know Mothersbaugh from DEVO and his scores for video games and films like The Lego Movie, the sheer amount of info in this 256-page survey will come as an eye-opener. Like fellow intellectual rocker David Byrne, Mothersbaugh is a talented visual artist in his own right, and it’s proven in this book with colorful, absurdist imagery from a period of more than 40 years. I always found it amazing that something as subversive and weird as DEVO emerged from mid-’70s Ohio – this book helps put that into context and shows Mothersbaugh’s (considerable) role in the emergence of punk and alt-culture. Roughly the first third is long-form essays and an interview, well-illustrated with photos, collages, sketches and other mementos. The rest showcases Mothersbaugh’s art projects such as Beautiful Mutants (mirror-image transmogrifications of stagy old photos of children) and Rugs (creepy-crawly pen and ink drawings rendered in latch-hook rugs). A final section displays (along with an appreciative write-up) a bewildering array of hand-drawn postcards – hundreds of illustrated missives from one twisted mind.

Mark Mothersbaugh Myopia (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014).

Mark Mothersbaugh Myopia (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014).

Selections from Mothersbaugh's "Beautiful Mutants" series in Myopia.

Selections from Mothersbaugh’s “Beautiful Mutants” series in Myopia.

Mark Mothersbaugh - La Psiocologia del Dessio, 2003 poster.

Mark Mothersbaugh – La Psiocologia del Dessio, 2003 poster.

Selections from Mothersbaugh's "Rugs" series, 2004.

Selections from Mothersbaugh’s “Rugs” series, 2004.

Our last item is just for fun – a deck of colorful playing cards from Fredericks & Mae. I’ve never heard of the Brooklyn-based designing duo before, but prior to this card deck Fredericks & Mae were renowned for whimsically designed darts, bocce balls, arrows and exquisitely decorated kites. Knowing my attraction for ephemeral items in all the colors of the rainbow, this hit the spot. The cards come arranged in suit/number order, each one a different solid hue. While the numbered cards were done with a variant on the standard design we all know well, the face cards forgo images of kings, queens and jacks in favor of abstract designs involving stars, laurel wreaths and targets (a recurring motif in their work, apparently). A small booklet included with the cards contains instructions for other, less traditional games.

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Inspiration: Atari Game Packaging, 1977-1982

Atari advertisement, Games magazine, 1982.

Atari advertisement, Games magazine, 1982.

Atari_SpaceInvadersWhen I was a kid, the Atari 2600 home video game ruled our household. Back then, we just called it “Atari” and all our peers knew what it meant. The primitive graphics may look laughable now, but the very concept of playing video games on your television set kept us enthralled for hours on end. While games like Adventure and Pitfall made excellent use of the small-sized memory and rudimentary 8-bit graphics the unit offered, for me Atari’s attraction went beyond the games and into the cartridge packaging. Yes, I’m talking about those rainbow-colored boxes that got tossed soon after the games were purchased. Unexpectedly, these candy-hued pieces of folded paperboard had a profound influence on me wanting to become a designer. Only recently, I’ve found out that I wasn’t alone!

The marketing folks at Atari were canny. Knowing that they couldn’t rely solely on boxy pixels to sell these games, they decided to entice buyers with boxes sporting a consistent framework design that showcased some of the most evocative illustration of that period. I loved the colors, the funky, curvy font, the tantalizing number that indicated how many games were on the cartridge (112 Space Invaders games – drool!). Mostly what captured my imagination was that artwork, done in styles ranging from cartoony to impressionist. Even when looking at those über-’70s illustrations from today’s perspective, one can tell it was a rare marriage of an open-minded company seeking wild, beautiful images and artists rising to the challenge to meet it. In pieces like Steve Hendricks’ rendering of the game “Defender” from the p.o.v. of people fleeing a city under attack by alien aircraft, you can see they went with an “out of the box” approach and ran with it. The format made even the dullest of games (Pac Man, anyone?) look alluring.

When the home video gaming boom went bust in 1982-83, the golden age of Atari’s box designs followed the same route. The need to compete for home gamers’ ever-dwindling dollars prompted Atari to change its packaging to an impersonal red-and-silver motif which made the games look like bland “home office” software. A bad move, although the writing was on the wall at that point. From then on, old-style Atari became the stuff of geek-nostalgia and in-jokes like the Venture Bros. DVD package shown below.

In researching this post, I’ve actually found out that a coffee table book of this imagery is currently in the works. While The Art of Atari: From Pixels to Paintbrush was slated for publication in 2014, hopefully its delay is due to creator Tim Lapetino ensuring that the final volume is as perfect as the subject demands.

Adventure cartridge box, illustration by Susan Jaekel, 1979.

Adventure cartridge box, illustration by Susan Jaekel, 1979.

The nine games initially offered at the Atari 2600 launch, 1977.

The nine games initially offered at the Atari 2600 launch, 1977.

Atari Defender package artwork by Steve Hendricks, c. 1981.

Atari Defender package artwork by Steve Hendricks, c. 1981.

Dodge 'Em box detail, 1980.

Dodge ‘Em box detail, 1980.

Atari Video Computer System catalog, 1981.

Atari Video Computer System catalog, 1981.

Swordquest: Fireworld Atari box with redesigned format, 1982.

Swordquest: FireWorld Atari box with redesigned format, 1983.

The Venture Bros. 3rd season DVD package, 2010.

The Venture Bros. 3rd season DVD package, 2010.