On the whole, I thought childhood was overrated, but I did have the compensation of my very own comic strip (or so I believed): Nancy, drawn by Ernie Bushmiller. Of course, I wished Nancy were a glamorous redhead like Brenda Starr instead of a short, squat, frizzy-haired kid. Then I grew up and discovered the art of a seriously troubled genius named Joe Brainard (1942-1994), who created some glorious riffs on the Nancy theme (I especially love "If Nancy Was a Boy," but please don't read anything into that). Now, thanks to BoingBoing, I've found out about "How to Read Nancy," the definitive critique of the Nancy oeuvre. "Ernie Bushmiller had the hand of an architect, the mind of a silent film comedian, and the soul of an accountant," write cartoonists Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik. (Newgarden is the co-creator of the Garbage Pail Kids.) "His formulaic approach to humor beautifully revealed the essence of what a gag is all about--balance, symmetry, economy." Don't miss the frame-by-frame analysis of a panel whose only dialog is the line "Draw, you varmint." (A good gag line for a cartoonist, come to think.) That's Brainard's "Nancy Diptych" (1974) up in the left-hand corner here.
Next up: PR maven Matthew Stibbe of Bad Language has a very good article at Visual Thesaurus about "My Writing Rules of Thumb." Among those golden rules: For every writing assignment, count on spending half your time researching and interviewing, one-third proofreading and editing, and just one-sixth doing the actual writing. (I'm going to remember this the next time a client tells me "It'll take you only an hour." Ha!) As for that proofreading, Matthew recommends doing it at least three times: "First from start to finish for sense. Then from back to front for typos, grammar and passive-elimination. Then word by word, very slowly and read aloud, to tidy up." However, he adds, "Do not expect the same standard on my blog -- I write posts before breakfast and I don't get paid for them." Ditto for me. By the way, Matthew, who is British, uses a marvelous term the rest of us should adopt, "faffing around," which describes the frittering that's an essential prelude to writing.
A few words about Visual Thesaurus: I'm a regular (unpaid) contributor there, too; my next article will appear sometime next week. The whole site is a terrific read--filled with interviews with writers, tips for writing teachers, and word lore--but some of the content is restricted to subscribers. If you're serious about writing, or serious about having fun with writing, I recommend you subscribe ($19.95 a year) or order the CD-ROM ($39.95). You'll get access to the amazing Visual Thesaurus tool, which displays synonyms in a dynamic constellation that's truly dazzling. Test it out for free when you visit.
A couple of quickies: Dove continues to tweak the nose of the beauty establishment in playful, positive ways. Check out this video for the Dove Self-Esteem Fund (terrible name, interesting concept), which reveals the ugly truth behind those beauty shots. (Thanks to Wes Phillips for pointing me there.)
I've worked on naming projects with the brilliant Mark Gunnion for years, but just learned about Junglebook, the omnium-gatherum site he and his wife, CB Brown, have been cultivating. For faffing around, nothing beats the Amazing Link-O-Matic; for naming/branding nuttiness, see the page titled Gift Basket from Hell, which features a list of commercial scent and flavor names like "Baking with Grandma" and "Donkeyberry Punch."
And finally, my good friend Sile (pronounced "Sheila") Convery is making one of those amazing midlife career changes you hear about: from the sheltering arms of academe to the risks and rewards of self-employment. Her new enterprise, Knit-One-One, brings together Sile's love of teaching, her incredible connector skills, and her enthusiasm for yarn and knitting. I helped her with naming and branding, and am thrilled to see the result: a beautiful web site that expresses Sile's warmth, intelligence, love of color, and Irish wit. If you're in the Bay Area and curious about knitting, sign up for one of her classes or excursions. I think she's got a winner here.