Category Archives: Rubylith

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.

Windup, Pitch and Go

4cc_bookproposal_sm
One of my favorite publishers, Chronicle, is looking for creative Tumblr users to supply book ideas for them. I decided to use The Great Tumblr Book Search to pitch an proposal for them to publish a book version of my daily weblog of Western-kitsch found imagery, 4 Color Cowboy. The full text of the pitch can be seen here. Wish me several horseshoe’s worth of luck.

Although many of the posts at 4 Color Cowboy rely on copyrighted imagery, I think a project like this could be pulled off pretty easily. My pitch envisions it as a small-format book with a simple design that incorporates one image to a page. One of the inspirations behind the pitch is a book coincidentally published by Chronicle back in 2002 – Black & White by Stephen Guarnaccia and Susan Hochbaum. This out-of-print gem compared and contrasted monochromatic images of skeletons, dice, penguins, nuns and other typically black and white subjects in surprising, fascinating ways. Used copies are well worth seeking out.

Fantasy Project: Disney on Criterion, 1937-1950

DC_00_montage
Every now and then I like to indulge in “What if?” scenarios, as in “What if the folks at Criterion approached me to design the covers for a series exploring the Disney studio’s earliest feature films?” Hey, it might happen.

What I’d do are the ten hypothetical “Disney on Criterion” releases seen here. The 1937-50 period was a crucial time for the Disney studios. Despite the arrival of World War II and a turbulent studio employees’ strike, Disney produced lots of stuff during that time – some classics, others not no much, all of it risky in some way (try saying that about today’s Disney). The idea of this era done in expertly annotated, lavish Criterion Collection sets makes the animation geek in me drool. Although Walt Disney and the other participants in these films are long gone, there’s enough archival material around to provide for added commentaries, supplementary shorts and interviews. Of course, minor films like The Reluctant Dragon and Victory through Air Power would be included as extras, as well.

This project came about while I was attempting to watch these films, in chronological order. When it came to 1946’s Song of the South, however, I hit a roadblock – Disney hasn’t reissued that one in the U.S. for nearly 30 years (and counting). The attempt to get a decent copy through illegal means proved fruitless, as well. Obviously, a lovingly crafted Criterion disc putting this controversial film in its proper context would be ideal – and I’m sure millions of Disney fans would eagerly snatch it up – but Disney would prefer to keep it locked in the vaults indefinitely.

I just want kids to appreciate these movies as culturally important, as opposed to tinsel-dusted product to be trotted out every seven years.

DC_01_SnowWhite
DC_02_Pinocchio
DC_03_Fantasia
DC_04_Dumbo
DC_05_Bambi
DC_06_Saludos
DC_07_MakeMineMusic
DC_08_SongOfTheSouth
DC_09_SDTMH_Ichabod
DC_10_Cinderella

C30, C60, C90, Go!

mix_sm_erasure

Here’s a fun find. While doing another attempt at de-cluttering, I came across these neat handmade mini-collage mix tape covers – done back when people did mix tape covers. I believe these date from 1989-90, when I was doing a lot of mixed media/collage work for college art classes. Of course, I was big on the ’50s magazine imagery (speaking as perhaps the only person on Earth to have had a picture of Reddy Kilowatt hanging inside his high school locker), so it made sense at the time to use my mad scissors skillz on these tapes. The TDKs included albums by Erasure, Blancmange, The Cure and Depeche Mode, along with the results of an ambitious plan to do 90-minute mix tapes containing favorite tunes from each year of the ’80s. With the latter, I used the more pricey Denon brand tapes. I only got up to 1982, however – this was back when you had to go to a record store and buy an album in order to listen to your favorite song, kiddoes.

These mix covers go well with Dancing In My Room, a 22-track Spotify playlist of 1984-86 British Pop that I remember enjoying back then (Blancmange is, unfortunately, not on Spotify).

mix_sm_depechecure

mix_sm_blancmange

mix_sm_1980

mix_sm_1981

mix_sm_1982

Inspiration: CTI Records, 1967-69

CTI_WesMontgomery

The realization that I’ve been designing professionally for more than twenty years now has sunk in. Twenty years! That’s a nice, lengthy run, but in a lot of ways I’ve been a “designer” for twice that long. Children tend to gravitate toward visually appealing things, and I was no different. While many of us lose that awareness as we age, the ones that don’t take up drawing or music or dance – or graphic design. I think part of being an artist means always being receptive to new things. With that in mind, I thought I’d use this space to explore specific design-y objects that have captured my imagination, from childhood to today.

Our first Design Inspiration is something I’ve just recently taken a shine to: the early album covers of the Jazz label CTI. Jazz music has long served as a catalyst for innovative design, most spectacularly with the classic Blue Note LPs from the late ’50 and early ’60s. Unlike the freewheeling Blue Note covers, CTI’s look followed a rigid, Swiss-inspired format which nevertheless allowed for lots of variety. It was all part of the plan of visionary producer and label head Creed Taylor, according to Doug Payne’s CTI discography:

Creed Taylor left Verve Records in 1967 to accept a lucrative offer producing records for a new jazz division of Herb Alpert’s highly successful independent pop label, A&M Records. Taylor was guaranteed $1,000,000 over a five-year period by Alpert’s organization. 

From the very beginning, CTI had a highly distinctive character. Sam Antupit’s much copied design was the height of elegant simplicity. Each cover named the artist and the album title on two lines in clean Helvetica typeface while Pete Turner’s evocative photography was framed by swaths of white (for jazz oriented releases), gray (for pop-oriented releases) or, in two cases (SP-3017 and SP-3018), silver. Taylor also scored hits right from the start, too, with significant commercial and artistic success for Wes Montgomery’s A Day In The Life and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Wave.

While the vibrant, cool, colorful designs of CTI worked great for the gatefold LP format, they also highlighted the individual styles of each musician while proving their durability when the albums eventually got reissued in compact disc and digital formats. CTI’s visual elegance also fit in well with the sophisticated feel of its parent label, A&M, although their ’60s-era “kitschy Mexican restaurant” aesthetic was a lot more playful (and perhaps worthy of another Scrubbles.net post, as well). The fact that the initial 1967-68 CTI releases matched so neatly must have been a fun thing for adventurous listeners of the day, although such a rigidly formatted design was bound to flame out pretty early. In 1969, CTI’s covers for Walter Wanderley, J & K, and Milton Nascimento tweaked the format to allow vertically oriented photos. Other variations would follow, although it wouldn’t be too long before Taylor broke free of A&M and relaunched CTI as an independent label. CTI’s indie LP cover designs continued throughout the ’70s in a funky, Playboy-esque vein, often using Pete Turner’s eye-popping photography.

From the gallery below, hopefully you can see what I dig about these designs – they manage to be evocative of the ’60 and, at the same time, timeless. I definitely see a CTI influence in Cafe Apres Midi, a Japanese series of Bossa Nova/Lounge CDs compiled by Toru Hashimoto in 2000-03.

CTI_acjwr
CTI_hmgol
CTI_t4wats
CTI_nayb
CTI_wmdhotg
CTI_abhymmj
CTI_kjji
CTI_sftimCTI_wmrd
CTI_t4samba
CTI_gbsottc

CTI gatefold covers, 1967-69 (via DougPayne.com)

CTI gatefold covers, 1967-69 (via DougPayne.com)


CTI/A&M Records advertisement from Billboard magazine, October 1968 issue (via stereocandies.blogspot.com)

CTI/A&M Records advertisement from Billboard magazine, October 1968 issue (via stereocandies.blogspot.com)


A&M Records inner sleeve, 1968 (via stereocandies.blogspot.com)

A&M Records inner sleeve, 1968 (via stereocandies.blogspot.com)


Cafe Apres-midi: Olive Japanese compilation CD cover, 2000.

Cafe Apres-midi: Olive Japanese compilation CD cover, 2000.


Cafe Apres-midi Japanese CD compilation covers, 2000-03.

Cafe Apres-midi Japanese CD compilation covers, 2000-03.

These 20 Awesome T-Shirts Changed My Life!

Watership Down, design by Melanie Amaral (OutOfPrintClothing.com)

Watership Down, design by Melanie Amaral (OutOfPrintClothing.com)

I’ve become quite the t-shirt connoisseur lately. Since I lack a real job, the humble tee has become my uniform. And why not? They’re cool (especially the lightweight ones), cheap, comfortable, and freely available in an unlimited number of styles and designs. I tend to wear them until they’re nearly falling apart, ready for conversion into dust rags. These days, my t-shirt dresser drawer bulges with several shirts of varying levels of niceness, from shirts gotten for a buck at a thrift store to limited-edition designs.

My newest additions are a couple of offerings from Out Of Print Clothing, a company that offers apparel and gifts which lovingly pay tribute to classic books. They do both original designs (like the Watership Down one pictured above) and tees which take elements from the original books (like the Treasure Island, below). For each tee they sell, they also donate a book for children in Africa to read – what’s not to love about that?

This photo gallery includes most of my t-shirts. Who knows where the next one will come from?

Terrytoons vintage Mighty Mouse (Ross)

Terrytoons vintage Mighty Mouse (Ross)


Fanta Grape (Target)

Fanta Grape (Target)


Catalina Island Marine Institute (Christian thrift store)

Catalina Island Marine Institute (Christian thrift store)


Vintage Treasure Island (OutOfPrintClothing.com)

Vintage Treasure Island (OutOfPrintClothing.com)


Conch Republic Seafood Co. (Key West, FL restaurant)

Conch Republic Seafood Co. (Key West, FL restaurant)


Anaheim, design by Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily

Anaheim, design by Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily


Quiksilver "Born from the Sea" (Hermosa Beach, CA surf shop)

Quiksilver “Born from the Sea” (Hermosa Beach, CA surf shop)


EPCOT World Showcase 30th Anniversary, design by Richard Terpstra (DisneyStore.com)

EPCOT World Showcase 30th Anniversary, design by Richard Terpstra (DisneyStore.com)


Vintage Pepsi-Cola (Amazon.com)

Vintage Pepsi-Cola (Amazon.com)


Vintage Stax logo (Fantasy Records catalog)

Vintage Stax logo (Fantasy Records catalog)


Play It Again Band 2011, design by Matt Hinrichs

Play It Again Band 2011, design by Matt Hinrichs


Mr. Pibb logo (Target)

Mr. Pibb logo (Target)


PAC 12 2011 Championship (Dr. Pepper)

PAC 12 2011 Championship (Dr. Pepper)


Mello Yello logo (MyCokeRewards.com)

Mello Yello logo (MyCokeRewards.com)


Columbia Sportswear (Cabela's)

Columbia Sportswear (Cabela’s)


Banana Republic "Deco" design (Banana Republic)

Banana Republic “Deco” design (Banana Republic)


Disney Store "Goofy" (Goodwill)

Disney Store “Goofy” (Goodwill)


Quiksilver "The Ranch" (Flo's On 7th resale store)

Quiksilver “The Ranch” (Flo’s On 7th resale store)