Advent Calendars

From last December, a batch of seven online Advent Calendars of varying quality, but all quite different from each other. Here they all are. Something for everyone who still enjoys the day-to-day door-opening treat that these things bring.

First, and probably most fun, here's something quite different from the rest. This is the story of JT Agapanthus & the Black Cat Blues, a whimsical tale told with illustration and a little bit of Flash animation, by Penelope Schenk. It's the latest in a series that she started back in 1995, about the adventures of Tate the cat. You cannot peek ahead, so there's a genuine anticipation to see just how the story will evolve. Very charming - I highly recommend it.

Next, here's a wonderful jamming session of illustrating talent, put together by PenelopeIllustration, who runs the weekly participation Illustration Friday. This is a project from 2004, with each day's bauble leading to a different illustrator's contribution. A great idea, and great fun. Well recommended.

This Medieval Advent Calendar is much more interesting. Each day you get a detail from a painting, and medieval Christmas stories, legends and images from the Middle Ages. A fascinating feast of art and information, you never know quite what to expect from day to day, but essentially you get to visit a diverse array of websites on Nativity and folklore themes. Recommended. Located at New York Carver.

Instead, how about this delightful wealth-of-information from the Woodlands Junior School in Kent. Each day, discover some fascinating facts about how Christmas is celebrated in countries around the World. The red flowers on the right are from a Pohutokawa, the New Zealand Christmas tree. This calendar looks quite unassuming at first, but it's another recommended.

Then there's this Finnish gnome calendar, cute and folksy with charming pictures in the style you can see on the left. The doors only become available as the days go by, which prevents any temptation to peek early. It's from Virtual Finland.

A couple of others, maybe also-rans compared to the five above, but horses for courses.

There's a simple tree shaped calendar at apmethodist.org with photos of traditional German Christmas tree ornaments. A bit unexciting, and the pictures are too small. But there's a bit here to read about the history of advent calendars.

This old-fashioned looking item is a bit more sedate and predictable. Jigsaw puzzles, jokes, Christmas carols and Christmas facts. Find it at North-pole.co.uk, where you can email a letter to Santa too. Too mainstream and tacky looking for me.

If you have discovered any other noteworthy Advent eCalendars, then drop a comment, I'd love to know about it.


Whimsical Tour of the Web #2

No. 2:

You can certainly get very pleasantly lost in Coconino World. There’s lots of it, and the page design is reason alone to spend a little time here wandering to and fro. The name ‘Coconino’ refers to the Coconino country of George Herriman’s ‘Krazy Kat’ strips from the first half of the 20th C. He is represented in the Classics section, but it is his whimsical style that pervades the look of the website’s pages.

Essentially what you will find here is a showcase for a number of comic artists and illustrators, with plentiful offerings of strips, drawings, sketches and some flash animations. You will make the most of this treasure trove with a good broadband connection and a little French reading ability, but don’t let the lack of either of these put you off a pleasurable flit around the pages. You will mainly be asking yourself “Where do I start?”

So maybe try a few highlights:

African Flower, by José Muñoz and Carlos Sampayo, tells of the creation of a piece of beautiful jazz in moody black and white drawings and a soundtrack that begins with Charlie Mingus regarding himself in the mirror while his double bass figure sounds in a loop. If you know this lovely Duke Ellington track, there’s a nice anticipation as you hear elements of the music coming together against a NY City background. (Start here, and then choose Muñoz from the list on the left-hand side)

Or follow the Coconino World dirigible on its voyages through space and time, as depicted in a sequence of endlessly inventive drawings by Josépé and Pat Cab. The wordless fantasy travelogue traces a journey that is far-reaching and seemingly eternal, documenting denizens, travellers and strange creatures, who often seem profoundly touched by the passing of the airship. The mood of the vistas are gloriously portrayed, some very memorably with a Wild West, wide-open-space look, enhanced by muted palettes of colour. Some of these prairie panoramas are again reminiscent of the quirky background scenery in Herriman’s Krazy Kat. I think that, like me, you may well be mesmerized by this series of images.
(Find it at the Village, choose Josépé, then choose Le Dirigeabe)

Or you could enjoy the delightful cartooning style of Alexandre Clérisse, in a full length story called Jazz Club, which follows the hapless experiences of clarinettist Norman. Drawn in a 50s retro style of colourful shapes, the tale kicks off in dusty Arizona, contrasted later on with lush French woodland. The drawing is inventive, quirky and very appealing to the eye, everything lovingly detailed, including places, people and musical instruments. If you can read French you will follow the story better, but it’s pretty easy to follow most of the time, and often textless anyway. It’s a visual feast, and a well-kept-secret masterpiece. (Same route – go to this page, then select Clérisse)

Then there’s Peggy Adam’s beautiful observations and reflections of people and places – Tibet, Cambodia, Gaudeloupe included. Her visions are sensuous and dreamlike. And also: comically sketched characters in Herody’s Reunions; expressive black & white wine guzzling cartoon by Prudhomme; and Anne Simon’s bizarre illustrative flights of fancy.

#2b Coconino Classics
And that’s just a few of the contemporary artists represented on Coconino World. There’s still the Coconino Classics, a rollcall of almost 50 vintage artists spanning from the 18th to 20th centuries. The best known names include Herriman (Krazy Kat), McCay (Little Nemo), Hokusaï, Feininger, Gustav Doré, Rowlandson and Cruikshank. Some of these are more interesting as history of cartoons and comics, but there’s an immense variety of styles all collected and presented with evident devotion.

Again some of my highlights you might like to home in on:
There are the very splendid set-piece single panels of W.G.Baxter’s ribald world of Ally Sloper. Starting with a tour of the famous British seaside resorts, wend your way through 50 or so of these admirably detailed vignettes. So the actual jokes are often laid on with a late-Victorian trowel, but the drawings have a wonderful energy to them. From the Classics index page, choose Baxter.

Or enjoy the inimitable style of Cliff Sterrett in a series of Polly and her Pals from the '30s. These comic strips are good to look at, with a joyful experimental play of primary colours in a feast of shapes, patterns and near abstractions.

Expect the unexpected in Heinrich Kley’s portfolios of surreal black and white sketches. There are moments of eroticism mixed with disturbing gothic surreality – lizards taking tea, a demon makes his train set writhe like snakes, three nymphs forcefeed champagne to a prone gentleman, skiiers launch from a woman-turned-landscape, and a muse opens an artist’s pate for his inspiration to pour forth a host of people.

In contrast to Kley’s unsettling darkness, there are the innocent, pastoral colour paintings of Carl Larsson – placid houses and gardens, quiet and nostalgic but not overly loaded with sentiment. Finally, the most recent addition to the Classics is a 1935 series of charming humorous strips by Otto Soglow, about The Little King, in a bold, colourful world where all the court officials have huge puffed out chests, and the regal hero of the piece sometimes gets overlooked.

Other Websites in the Whimsical Tour
#1 The Captain Beefheart Radar Station - all about the words, music, paintings & life of Don Van Vliet.

Johnnynorms Whimsical Tour of the Web #1

This series is basically my roll call of interesting websites, things that I find curious, beautiful, enlightening, engrossing or otherwise engaging – and I dearly wish to share my knowledge of their existence and whereabouts.

So if you’ve got a few minutes, come and step aboard the cyber-trolley and see the sights with your unpredictable but well-meaning guide JohnnyNorms.

#1 The Captain Beefheart Radar Station

A good place to start: a nice big website about one of my favourite creatives, Don Van Vliet, better known in the music world as Captain Beefheart. Here at the Radar Station you can find song lyrics, poetry, paintings, discography, biography, photographs, interviews, tributes. If you like his music and haven’t encountered this place, a feast awaits you.

What I really like is the chance to explore his paintings – and there’s a lot of artwork here. There’s an imaginative frenzy at work in these paintings, a self-taught genius with a warm heart, admitting no limits to the expressive possibilities. The titles are intriguing and humourous, often referring to his own song lyrics and poems.
This one is "Beezoo, beezoo" 1985.

For newcomers of a musical persuasion, I wholeheartedly recommend investigating the phenomenon of Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band. There are more accessible ways in, but to get the full blast of the uniqueness of Captain Beefheart, jump in the deep-end and listen to “Trout Mask Replica”. It sounds like nothing else, and is so full of inspired, playful music and words, that leave a deep impression. My first time, it sounded pretty chaotic, but it lingered in my mind; eventually I was returned to it, and the order of the wild syncopation became more apparent, the strangeness and abrasiveness stopped getting in the way, and I found it beautiful and exhilirating.

There is much more eloquent writing than mine on the Radar Station about the appeal of the music, and Don Van Vliet's artistry in general. Interviews, articles and tributes abound and will fire your enthusiasm, or deepen your appreciation. The url in full is: http://www.beefheart.com/

Stained Glass by Carter Shapland

Came across this marvellous stained glass in Dulwich Christ Chapel, during a walkabout of artists' Open Houses for West Dulwich Festival. The artist is Carter Shapland, and it was made in 1969. Fairly Leger influenced I reckon. Most of the elements of the Crucifixion seem to be there (apart from the actual people obviously) - the thrice-crowing cockerel, the vinegary sponge on a stick, crown of thorns, roman soldier's dice, etc. Nice little chapel, consecrated in 1619 - part of the Foundation of the Shakespearean actor/manager Edward Alleyn.


Shiver and Shake

A cover of Shiver & Shake comic from 1974. Shiver was a ghost, Shake was an elephant. Some more below..

The Shiver part of the Shiver & Shake comic was full of strips revolving around ghosts, ghoulies, etc. The poster on Scream Inn reads "Ye Scream Inn - One Million Pounds to anyone who can stay all ye night in ye Haunted Bedroom". A different character was suggested each week by a reader to see if they could meet the challenge - I think you can guess the inevitable regular outcome...

Britains Models

Some downright nostalgia here - Britains catalogues from the late 60s, or in other words my childhood. Britains made model soldiers from about 1893, and diversified later on, especially into farm animals & machinery, and zoo animals. If interested, a bit more detail on James Opie. I think they were recently taken over by another company, but I can't find the info on the Web. Britains as we knew them no longer appears to exist.

Britains models - farm range from 1968.

Britains zoo models 1968. The chimps tea party was particularly fun!


Autumn Kebab

Autumn Kebab No.2
More Autumn photographs and scanner scans over at Flickr/Johnnynorms.
The colour ones are digital photos, and all the black and whites are done with a scanner (essentially it's still photography).
Autumn Bowl No.1 Leaf Strip No.2
Chestnut 1 Conker Pile No.2 Pawnbroker plant

Puffin Post from the Puffin Club

This should take a few people back - Vol 1, no 1 of the Puffin Post from 1967. If you joined the Puffin Club you would get a Puffin Post once a quarter - something very special to receive through the letter box. On the back cover - some of the latest puffin books published, inside - articles, stories, reviews, competitions, cartoons and illustrations, & general food for the imagination.

The Puffin Club was founded by the late Kaye Webb, editor of Puffin Books from 1961 to 1979, who did a wonderful job of making good quality, affordable childrens books accessible to the post-war generations. (Info found on SevenStories - the centre for children's books, now a missing link! The official Puffin site is about the only source of info I can find)

Here are the next three from 1967. All the drawings are by Jill McDonald, who drew many of the covers.

Different (Different) Kettle of Fish

(Different) Kettle of Fish is dead.
Long live (Different) Kettle of Fish!

"Why the upheaval then, Johnnynorms?"
I hear a voice in my head in asking myself.

Because...I am curious about this BetaBlogger beast, which includes the ability to sort by tags, and Kettle seemed the ideal blog to try it out with. And because I want to give Kettle of Fish a fresh start and try to make it more of a mix and less of just a dumpground for the paintings I like.

Whatever trail it follows, my intention is to have Kettle of Fish part-scrapbook, part-journal, part-reviews. As before, SERENDIPITY is a key approach, but this time the tagging can give ORDER to the randomness!

I have some jampacked files of cuttings, and a large artbook to paste it all in to, and these are the various topics that I have collected stuff about, and pictures of:

EPoets and poetry/All about books and reading/Childrens books/Puffin Club/Literature/Sherlock Holmes/Classic & adult illustration/Picture books & childrens book illustration/Alice

ETV – general/TV comedy/Dad’s Army/TV – scifi/Dr Who/Animation/Cartoons/Childrens TV/Wombles/Thunderbirds/Magic Roundabout/Radio/The Goons

EClassical Music/Musical instruments/Rock/pop/jazz/blues/folk/world

EBygones/nostalgia/eccentric/whimsical/Gardens & gardening/Nature/rural/seasons/weather/Christmas/Easter/Birthday cards, etc/Miscellaneous pictures

EDesign – posters/adverts/packaging/Design – general/Design – magazines, record sleeves, book covers/Cookery/food – inc ads and packaging

EArt – painting,sculpture,etc/Art – crafts/Art – art gets around – art in popular culture, cartoons about, doing art, etc/Art – articles inc. art & commerce, state of modern art

EComics, cartoons, graphic novels/Tintin/Asterix

EToys & kids pastimes/Kinder egg/Games & puzzles (esp chess, monopoly)/Sport & pentaque/Computer games

EMe/nostalgia/Many Few/doodles – my creative gubbins/Family/Friends

EPlaces I’ve been to/Brighton & East Sussex/Britain/Other countries

EArchitecture & architects/Events (eg festivals)/Museums & artefacts

EAnimals - general/Fish – mainly surreal/Badgers/Surreal giraffes

EPhotography & photographers/Miscellaneous photos


EHistory & archaeology/Modern history/Now and future/Politics, satire & cynicism/Miscellaneous people/Science/Astronomy/Sociology/Myths, legends, magic

Hmmm - have I missed anything out?! Whether any of this will make it to the blog, who knows.