Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Before it moved to The New Yorker:
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Best of Emdashes: Hit Parade
A Web Comic: The Wavy Rule


That’s how many years ago—come December 31—I founded Emdashes. (Here’s that story.) As Clickhole would say, Wow! Meanwhile, you may be here seeking my sentences, and I’ll happily provide some. Incidentally, my LinkedIn profile is here, should you want to add me to your professional network. I tweet at @emdashes and have a passel of Tumblrs, including The Beautiful Sentence and Obscure Controversies.

I’m a journalist, critic, copywriter, poet, and editor. My most frequent subjects have been design and technology, books and writers, theater and movies. Many of those stories are now in the Lexis-Nexis Federal Penitentiary. But some of my journalism and feature-writing clips are in the green footer below and in the posts tagged “Clips.” I’ve interviewed Edward Gorey, Nick Hornby, J. K. Rowling, François Mouly, and great designers under 30, among many others.

Here’s my theater criticism for Time Out Chicago; liveblogging for a hyperlocal-business conference; features and interviews about graphic design for Print magazine; and vintage but sweet-smelling book reviews for Salon. For NYCgo.com, I did this slideshow on the Mermaid Parade and celebrated the lindy-hop legend Frankie Manning.

On the advertising and digital marketing side, as managing editor of Ogilvy & Mather’s brand newsroom, I edited, art-directed, and co-written hundreds of pieces of content—blog posts, landing-page copy, infographics, social assets, etc. You can get a taste of the work I’ve overseen from this SlideShare recap of our live conference coverage, and these parallax infographics for IBM Cloud.

I’ve ghostwritten blog posts for large B2B companies and reported features for business magazines. While helping the Rockefeller Foundation launch its 100 Resilient Cities ​initiative, I interviewed architecture critics about resilient buildings. I’ve also written a lot of copy for e-commerce and email marketing. As a Groupon staff writer in the site’s salad days, I wrote droll profiles in its giddy house style. I also created many editorial and marketing e-blasts for the art site 20×200. I write song parodies that, to date, no one has paid for, and am an occasional occasional poet.


For SXSW World, I wrote a profile of Valerie Casey, founder of The Designers Accord and keynote speaker at SXSW Interactive. The Designers Accord brings design thinking to sustainability with stunnning results.


Profiles from Print magazine’s annual New Visual Artists issue (“20 Under 30”), 2007, 2008, and 2009:

Christian Cervantes:

It’s not every 29-year-old who inspires this kind of naked emotion in his boss: “I’m deeply, and unforgivably, envious.” That’s the chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather’s Brand Innovation Group, Brian Collins, talking about new kid Christian Cervantes. As his dramatic name suggests, the designer has an impossible dream: to reawaken brands as familiar to us as our own faces.

Take, for instance, Coke. Cervantes forged a radical new campaign for Coke Zero, which is marketed to young men. “The word ‘masculine’ brought up images of dudes bro-ing out over ‘chicks’ and football,” he groans. “I wanted to do something a lot more subtle but still powerful.” He commissioned the British studio iLovedust to help create an iconography of playfully masculine illustrations (“exploding fire hydrants, sensual lips, predatory animals and their prey …”), adding silhouettes of snowcaps and ice fishermen to provide the necessary chill. “I had so much fun creating these little worlds within worlds,” he says, and notes that the freedom the creative directors afforded him made all the difference. Continued.

Kate & Camilla:

Groucho Marx sang the praises of famous pairs: “Boy meets girl. Romeo and Juliet. Minneapolis and St. Paul.” Add to the list Kate and Camilla, a team of photographers who shared a camera one semester at Smith College and never put it (or each other) down. They do fashion shoots, but sometimes there are no people in them—just empty pants and boots, lounging in a field. They do portraits—of the manicurist Joe Shepard, forexample—but where his head should be, there’s the grave, iridescent-scaled face of a red snapper, held up like a commedia dell’arte mask. The people in Kate and Camilla’s work have texture, combination skin, complex lives, sweat, and occasional drips of fish blood.

Perhaps because of the photographers’ oft-stated willingness to photograph “anything” (which has come in handy for their Nerve.com blog), remarkable people tend to seek them out. One such figure is the singer Chan Marshall, known as Cat Power, whom they shot provocatively sporting a plastic tiger mask for Venus magazine. Kate says that part of what made the shoot so fun was that “the three of us—myself, Camilla, and Chan—were given free rein.” Matador spokesman Nils Bernstein knew they’d ace it: “I’ve seen them compared to Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, which I can see, but Kate and Camilla’s work doesn’t always have that icy perfection. They seem to love the tiny flaws and behavioral quirks that make people beautiful.” Along the same lines, Caroline Priebe, founder and designer of Uluru (a clothing line they’ve also shot for), calls their photos “striking, shiny, crisp, intimate, sexy, and almost edible.” Continued.

Eleanor Grosch:

So many animals end up in the Eleanor Grosch universe—on the pillows, rock posters, and Keds where her designs appear, for instance—that a Dr. Dolittle comparison wouldn’t be off base. In fact, she named her Philadelphia studio, Pushmepullyou, after the creature with a head at each end from the classic children’s book.

Such an animal also suggests Grosch’s harmonious opposites: commercial design with a strong commitment to the environment; freelance freedom and fiscal sense; pop culture and classical influences. Grosch walks a cheerfully nonchalant line between cute and cool, using a relatively limited palette and a menagerie of whimsical imagery. Creatures have always been an integral part of her life, beginning with her earliest memories of the Lowry Park Zoo in her hometown of Tampa. “I was absolutely in love with birds when I was small. Going to the aviary was like heaven for me!” she exclaims. “The roseate spoonbill, snowy egret, and grey heron were all pretty common sights.” Continued.

Zigmunds Lapsa:

Zigmunds Lapsa isn’t easily fazed. He grew up in Riga, the capital of Latvia, which he describes as a “country with 2.3 million people and 5.4 graphic designers at that time.” After two years in an unstimulating local design program, he decided that what he needed was more hands-on experience, a bit of which he’d gained through working for ad agencies to pay his expenses.

Hence, a leap: to London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, where Lapsa studied design and typography and found himself. He threw himself into real-world work with the British designer Bobby Gunthorpe, who praises Lapsa’s originality and says, “He would be embarrassed for me to say it, but he truly was an inspiration to his classmates.” Humble, hardworking, and handsome, too? “The fact he looks like a young Harrison Ford can’t hurt,” Gunthorpe says. Next, Lapsa returned to Riga to work for an interactive studio called Hungry Lab. The multiple logos and layered patterns he created for its identity mirror the studio’s penchant for surprise and experimentation. Continued.


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Lorrie Moore unlocks ‘A Gate at the Stairs’


A GATE AT THE STAIRS, by Lorrie Moore. Alfred A. Knopf, 322 pp., $25.

Lorrie Moore inspires fierce loyalty, for good reason: She’s the sheriff of a wild and lonely territory, in which empathetic people fight despair with charming words. Her language — its puns, musical refrains and catchphrases — only partly hides the sadness behind it. The result is that kind of silliness that peaks just seconds before bursting into tears.

The crises Moore addresses with high-spirited clowning have included romantic confusion, isolation, illness, death and even loss on a mass scale. Moore’s new novel, “A Gate at the Stairs,” artfully blends all these themes into a tale that’s as much a shifting of emotional seasons as it is a narrative.


That’s the headline for a story by me in the hot-off-the-presses Print magazine, in a special issue on type. Ever wonder who was behind Eustace Tilley—and hundreds more iconic images and visual features (including the famed “Irvin type”)—in the first decades of The New Yorker? There’s so much more to say about this spectacular moment in graphic history, and particularly about what came before it, but this is a start. And it was incredibly fun to write. Since I had limited space to acknowledge the many people who provided documents and contacts for the story, I’ll give three grateful cheers here to cartoonist Liza Donnelly and to Dorothy Parker Society sagamore Kevin Fitzpatrick. They have both been incredibly generous with their resources and thoughts.


2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree