Fall 2012 Reviews

Chip Kidd, Graphic Historian
By: Dave Wielgosz

Chip Kidd himself is a product of his own brilliant sense of design.  He walked up the steps at the WAMFEST event on Tuesday, October 23rd wearing an intricately composed outfit made up of a brown canvas jacket, a cap out of the 1940s, and khaki pants that looked average at first glance but were actually littered with tiny, black, jolly rogers.  The whole outfit was accentuated by wire-framed, coke-bottle glasses that immediately made clear this was a man of character.  I, as usual, was wearing my black t-shirt and blue jeans outfit that only Louis C.K. would appreciate, and had to stand in front of the crowd and introduce this man.  Other than helping put together a function that was befitting of Kidd’s body of work, my goal was to come off as a fan with a certain amount of intelligence and class that he could respect.

Chip Kidd’s work has meant a great deal to me.  I’ve been captivated by his book designs and by his sense of getting to the heart of whatever it is he’s designing.  However, I’d be lying if I told you this is the part of his career I appreciate the most.  As an avid comic book reader, I think of Chip Kidd first and foremost as the man who packaged graphic novels in a way that allowed them to stand out and pop as the beautiful works they are.  After collaborating with luminaries of the medium like Frank Miller, David Mazzuchelli, Dave Gibbons, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and plenty more, Kidd has now joined their ranks after the premiere of his first graphic novel, Batman: Death by Design (beautifully illustrated by British artist Dave Taylor). Furthermore, Kidd’s work as a historian of the medium, focusing on the creation of exceptional coffee table books that reflect the rich history of the medium’s global impact, has meant the world to me and many of his fans.

When David Daniel, the godfather of WAMFEST, asked me if I would participate in putting together this event, I jumped at the opportunity.  I tried to perfectly encapsulate Kidd’s life in the biography I wrote of him, but more importantly, I was given the very significant task of setting up a display of his work.  I spent two days selecting the perfect books, arranging them in the right order, talking it all over Denise the librarian, and generally stressing out a great deal about it.

“I think the display looks great,” Kidd said to me before the event.

My favorite designer thought my display looked good?  I was over the moon.  And, more than that, my favorite designer was incredible in every way.  Accompanied by a beautiful PowerPoint presentation, Kidd spoke eloquently about his body of work, ebbing and flowing with the requests of clients and the criticism of others, being an author, being a comic writer, and generally being a creative person.  Even when he told stories about how his designs didn’t get off the ground for certain projects, he expressed no anger or sorrow.  He just let it roll off his back and kept working.  The passion and humor he exuded as he talked was inspiring.  When I walked around the room after the event, everyone, even people I had begged to come, were really happy they made it out.  Chip Kidd is a good man but more importantly, he’s an incredible role model for creative people everywhere, someone whose work ethic and ability to roll with the punches is admirable, and impeccable.

Dude also has pants with jolly rogers on them.

POEMJAZZ feat. Robert Pinsky, Ben Allison, Dave Stryker and Steve Slagle
By: Becky Fine-Firesheets

Robert Pinsky’s poetry, especially when delivered in his baritone voice, is like silk.  But Pinsky (pictured left) didn’t just weave tapestries with his words at POEMJAZZ, the final WAMFEST event held on Thursday, October 25th.  Once he had lulled his audience to that sweet, silky spot, he would shout a graphic, realistic line into the microphone and everyone would jerk up on edge.  Then he’d easily bring them back down, only to jab them again, this time with a philosophical statement that hit just below the belly, a phrase that most likely churned there for days until its meaning finally clicked, a meaning completely unique to the listener, perhaps even opposite of what Pinsky intended.  But more than having his intentions completely understood, Pinsky seemed to want to be felt.

His delivery, phrasing, foot-tapping and hip-swaying all combined flawlessly with the impressive band backing him up, featuring jazz greats Ben AllisonSteve Slagle and Dave Stryker (pictured below).  Slagle’s saxophone squeals, winding solos and punctuated flute lines enhanced Pinsky’s sentiments, offering a new take or a different direction on the words without losing track of their original feel.  While Slagle often batted themes back and forth with Pinsky, Allison tended to actively play his upright bass throughout each piece, rooting the band in syncopated lines that mimicked Pinsky’s lilt.  Guitarist Stryker bounced back and forth between these two roles, sometimes offering strange yet beautiful solos, other times strumming chords that made the piece feel like a complete, composed song rather than a poem set to improvised music.

After an engaging hour of performance, Artist in Residence Wesley Stace joined the men onstage for a Q&A.  An interesting and thought-provoking conversation ensued.

“We’ve never played together before,” Allison explained.  “We, as musicians, share a common knowledge that we build from.”  He went on to discuss the experience of improvising and how listening closely to one another plays a major role.  Pinsky added that, to him, phrasing is the most important element of jazz.  Through paying attention to his poetic phrases, he can easily hear the music behind it all.

The attentive audience filled up Lenfell Hall with students even sitting on the floor.  While some people viewed the performance with a bit of skepticism, seemingly everyone took something valuable away from it; the chatter floating around afterwards was not just praise but also thoughtful extensions of the themes, ideas and emotions Pinsky so expertly planted inside of them.

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