Imagined Medieval Comics Illuminate the Absurdities of Modern Life

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its famous food pyramid, jettisoning the familiar hierarchical graphic in favor of vertical rainbow stripes representing the various nutritional groups. A stick figure bounded up a staircase built into one side, to reinforce the idea of adding regular physical activity to all those whole grains and veggies.

The dietary information it promoted was an improvement on the original, but nutritional scientists were skeptical that the public would be able to parse the confusing graphic, and by and large this proved to be the case.

Artist Tyler Gunther, however, was inspired:

I started thinking about the messaging school children in 1308 were force fed to believe was part of a heart healthy diet, only to have the rug pulled out from under them 15 years later when some monk rearranged the whole thing.

In other words, you’d better dig into that annual goose pie, kids, while you’ve still got 6 glasses of ale to wash it down.

The imagined overlap between the modern and the medieval is a fertile vein for Gunter, whose MFA in Costume Design is often put to good use in his hilarious historical comics:

Modern men’s fashion is so incredibly boring. A guy wears a pattered shirt with a suit and he gets lauded as though he won the super bowl of fashion. But back in the Middle Ages men made bold, brave fashion choices and I admire them greatly for this. It’s so exciting to me to think of these inventive, strange, fantastic creations being a part of the everyday masculine aesthetic.

The shapes and structures of women’s headwear in the dark ages are truly inspiring. Where were these milliners drawing inspiration from? How were they engineered? How comfortable were they to wear? How did they fit through the majority of doorways? What was it like to sit behind a particularly large one in church? I’m still scrolling through many an internet history blog to find the answers. 

Kathryn Warner’s Edward II blog has proved a helpful resource, as has Anne H. van Buren’s book Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands.

The Brooklyn-based, Arkansas-born artist also makes periodic pilgrimages to the Cloisters, where the Metropolitan Museum houses a vast number illuminated manuscripts, panel paintings, altar pieces, and the famed Unicorn Tapestries:

On my first trip to The Cloisters I saw a painting of St. Michael and the devil almost immediately. I don’t think my life or art has been the same since. None of us know what the devil looks like. But you wouldn’t know that based on how confidently this artist portrays his likeness. After gazing at this painting for an extended period of time I wanted so badly to understand the imagination of whoever could imagine an alligator arms/face crotch/dragon ponytail combo. I don’t think I’ve come close to scratching the surface.

Every time I go to that museum I think, “Wow it’s like I’m on Game of Thrones” and then I have to remind myself kindly that this was real life. Almost everything there was an object that people interacted with as part of their average daily life and that fascinates me as someone who lives in a world filled with mass produced, plastic objects. 

Gunther’s drawings and comics are created (and aged) on that most modern of conveniences—the iPad.

The British monarchy and the First Ladies are also sources of fascination, but the middle ages are his primary passion, to the point where he recently costumed himself as a page to tell the story of Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall and Edward II’s darling, aided by a garment rack he’d retooled as a medieval pageant cart-cum-puppet theater.

See the rest of Tyler Gunther’s Medieval Comics on his website and don’t forget to surprise your favorite hygienist or oral surgeon with his Medieval Dentist print this holiday season.

All images used with permission of artist Tyler Gunther

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 7 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates the art of Aubrey Beardsley, with a special appearance by Tyler Gunther. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How Ladies & Gentlemen Got Dressed in the 18th Century: It Was a Pretty Involved Process

We can identify most of the last few centuries by their styles of clothes. But it's one thing to know what people wore in history and quite another to know how, exactly, they wore it. We've previously featured videos that accurately re-enact the whole process of of how soldiers and nurses dressed in World War I, and how women got dressed in the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Today we go back again to the eighteenth century with two videos from National Museums Liverpool, one that shows us how European gentlemen got dressed in those days, and another that shows us how ladies did.

One obvious way in which dressing points to changes over the past few hundred years: both the gentleman and the lady require the assistance of a servant. The gentleman begins his day wearing his long linen nightshirt and a wrapper over it, Japan- and India-inspired garments, the narrator tells us, that "reflect British interests abroad."

To replace them comes first a voluminous, usually ruffled shirt; over-the-knee stockings held in place with breech kneebands; occasion-appropriate shoe buckles and cufflinks; optional linen underdrawers; many-buttoned and buckled knee breeches; a waistcoat (whose top few buttons remain open to reveal the shirt's ruffles); a linen cravat; a buckled stock; a coat on top of the waistcoat; and of course, a freshly-dusted wig.

Getting clothes on for a day in the eighteenth century was even more complicated for ladies than for gentlemen, as evidenced by the fact that its video requires two additional minutes to show every step involved. We begin with the shift, an undergarment worn without knickers. Like the gentleman, the lady wears over-the-knee stockings, but she ties them with ribbon garters (at least for days not involving much dancing). Over that, "a knee-length white linen petticoat worn for warmth and modesty," and over that, a stay made using whale baleen. Pockets were added in the form of bags worn at the hips, but bags known to get lost if their ties came undone — hence the nursery rhyme "Lucy Locket lost her pocket."

Proper eighteenth-century female dress also required petticoats of various kinds, a kerchief, a stomacher (often highly decorated), more petticoats, a gown, a linen apron (with a bib pinned into position, hence "pinafore"), a day cap, and then another apron that "serves no purpose other than to indicate the fine status of the individual wearing it." Conspicuous consumption mattered even back then, but so did the painstaking creation of the ideal female figure, or at least the impression thereof. Not only do these videos show us just the kind of clothing that would have been worn for that purpose and how it would have been put on, they also show us highly plausible attitudes projected by dressed and dresser alike: the former one of faintly bored expectation, and the latter one of resigned industriousness tinged with the suspicion that all this can't last forever.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

3 Iconic Paintings by Frida Kahlo Get Reborn as Vans Skate Shoes

Attention Frida Kahlo tchotchke hounds.

You can scratch that itch, even if your summer itinerary doesn’t include Mexico City (or Nashville, Tennessee, where the Frist Museum is hosting Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection through September 2).

Taking its cue from Doc Marten’s Museum Collection, Vans is releasing three shoes inspired by some of the painter’s most iconic works, 1939’s The Two Fridas, 1940’s Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, and—for those who prefer a more subtly Frida-inspired shoe, 1954’s refreshingly fruity Viva la Vida.

Vans’ limited edition Frida Kahlo collection hits the shelves June 29. Expect it to be snapped up quickly by the Waffleheads, Vans’ dedicated group of collectors and customizers, so don’t delay.

If this line doesn’t tickle your fancy, there is of course an abundance of Frida Kahlo tribute footwear on Etsy, everything from huaraches and Converse All-Stars to socks and baby booties.

via Juxtapoz/MyModernMet

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

What is Camp? When the “Good Taste of Bad Taste” Becomes an Aesthetic

Even if you don't care about high fashion or high society — to the extent that those two things have a place in the current culture — you probably glimpsed some of the coverage of what attendees wore to the Met Gala earlier this month. Or perhaps coverage isn't strong enough a word: what most of the many observers of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute annual fundraising gala did certainly qualified as analysis, and in not a few cases tipped over into exegesis. That enthusiasm was matched by the flamboyance of the clothing worn to the event — an event whose co-chairs included Lady Gaga, a suitable figurehead indeed for a party that this year took on the theme of camp.

But what exactly is camp? You can get an in-depth look at how the world of fashion has interpreted that elaborate and entertaining but nevertheless elusive cultural concept in the Met's show Camp: Notes on Fashion, which runs at the Met Fifth Avenue until early September.

"Susan Sontag's 1964 essay Notes on 'Camp' provides the framework for the exhibition," says the Met's web site, "which examines how the elements of irony, humor, parody, pastiche, artifice, theatricality, and exaggeration are expressed in fashion." But for a broader understanding of camp, you'll want to go back to Sontag's and read all of the 58 theses it nailed to the door of the mid-1960s zeitgeist.

According to Sontag, camp is "not a natural mode of sensibility" but a "love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration." It offers a "way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon." Most anything manmade can be camp, and Sontag's list of examples include Tiffany lamps, "the Brown Derby restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in L.A.," Aubrey Beardsley drawings, and old Flash Gordon comics. Elevating style "at the expense of content," camp is suffused with "the love of the exaggerated, the 'off,' of things-being-what-they-are-not." Camp is not irony, but it "sees everything in quotation marks." The essential element of camp is "seriousness, a seriousness that fails." Camp "asserts that good taste is not simply good taste; that there exists, indeed, a good taste of bad taste."

"When Sontag published ‘Notes on Camp,’ she was fascinated by people who could look at cultural products as fun and ironic," says Sontag biographer Benjamin Moser in a recent Interview magazine survey of the subject. And though Sontag's essay remains the definitive statement on camp, not everyone has agreed on exactly what counts and does not count as camp in the 55 years since its publication in the Partisan Review"Camp to me means over-the-top humor, usually coupled with big doses of glamour," says fashion designer Jeremy Scott in the same Interview article. "To be interesting, camp has to have some kind of political consciousness and self-awareness about what it’s doing," says filmmaker Bruce Labruce, challenging Sontag's description of camp as apolitical.

And what will become of camp in the all-digitizing 21st century, when many eras increasingly coexist on the same culture plane? Our time “has cannibalized camp," says cultural history professor Fabio Cleto, "but to say that it’s no longer camp because its aesthetics have gone mainstream is an overly simplistic reading. Camp has always been mourning its own death.” Even so, some of camp's most high-profile champions have cast doubt on its viability. The phrase "good taste of bad taste" brings no figure to mind more quickly than Pink Flamingos and Hairspray director John Waters (who speaks on the origin of his good taste in bad taste in the Big Think video above). But even he speaks pessimistically to Interview about camp's future: "Camp? Nothing is so bad it’s good now that we have Trump as president. He even ruined that."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Fashion Designers in 1939 Predict How People Would Dress in the Year 2000

Some two decades before The Jetsons brought their animated vision of the future to the small screen, the cinemagazine Pathetone Weekly ran a featurette in which the “most famous" fashion designers in the U.S. predicted what the well-dressed woman would find herself wearing in the year 2000.

Cantilevered heels, multifunctional garments to go from office to evening wear in mere seconds, tech integrations, dresses made of aluminum and transparent net…

As one commenter on YouTube astutely observed, “Madonna wore most of these before we even reached 2000.”

As is to be expected, these futuristic fashions exhibited the flattering bias cut that we in 2019 associate with the period in which they were envisioned.

Gisele Bündchen, the top supermodel of 2000, could certainly hold her own against her glamorous 1939 counterparts, but the same cannot be said of the trucker hats, low slung jeans, velour track suits and denim everything that truly defined the look of the millennium.

The biggest loser of the year AD 2000, as envisioned by those famous designers of 1939, is the American male, whose drapey harem pants, Prince Valiant ‘do, and ill advised facial hair make George Jetson look like like Clark Gable.

The poor guy does deserve some cool points for wearing a phone, though. (It’s like they had a crystal ball!)

And his radio may well prefigure the iPod, which made its debut in 2001.

Because pockets were presumed to be going the way of the dodo (and skirts for women), a utility belt holds his keys, change, and “candy for cuties.”

This last item is surely an unnecessary burden, given the narrative emphasis on the female clothing designs' man-catching prowess.

(Imagine the 21st-century feminine disappointment when their electric headlights revealed what they’d reeled in.)

Perhaps the most useful innovation to come from this exercise is the “electric belt to adapt the body to climactic changes.”

Don’t tell 1939, but I think we’re gonna need a bigger belt.

As to the identities of the famous designers and the delightfully chatty (“Ooh, swish!”narrator), they seem to have been lost to the ages. Readers, if you have any intel, please advise.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City on April 15 for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The East German Secret Police’s Illustrated Guide for Identifying Youth Subcultures: Punks, Goths, Teds & More (1985)

Ask Germans who lived under the German Democratic Republic what they feared most in those days, and they'll likely say the agents of the Ministry for State Security, best known as the Stasi. Ask those same Germans what they laughed at most in those days, and they may well give the same answer. As one of the most thoroughly repressive secret police forces in human history, the Stasi kept a close eye and a tight grip on East German society: as one oft-told joke goes, "Why do Stasi officers make such good taxi drivers? You get in the car and they already know your name and where you live." But this fearsome vigilance went hand-in-hand with technological limitation as well as plain ineptitude:  "How can you tell that the Stasi has bugged your apartment?" another joke asks. "There's a new cabinet in it and a trailer with a generator in the street."

When the Stasi turned this kind of crude but intense scrutiny to certain aspects of life, the results almost satirized themselves. Take, for instance, this circa-1985 internal guide used to identify the "types of negative decadent youth cultures in the German Democratic Republic," posted on Twitter by musician and writer S. Alexander Reed and later translated into English by a few of his followers.

The chart breaks down the supposedly decadent youth cultures of mid-1980s East Germany into eight groups, describing their interests, appearance, political inclinations, and activities in the columns below. The rock-and-roll-oriented "Teds," dressed in a "50s style," don't seem to rouse themselves for anything besides "birth and death days of idolized rock stars." The "Tramps," a "classic manifestation of the negative-decadent youth in the 70s," adhere to the trends of a somewhat more recent era.

The fans of "extremely hard rock" known as "Heavies" once held a "deprecative attitude towards state and society," but seemed at the time to become "increasingly society-conforming." Other youth cultures considered decadent by the Stasi bore labels that might still sound familiar across the world. The "Goths," a "satanic and death cult," are noted for their "glorification of creepy effects" and for being "fans of the group The Cure." Though they may have been "hardly noticed operationally," the "punks" presented a more clear and present threat, what with their "deprecative to hostile political attitude, rejection of all state forms and societal norms," "anarchist thoughts," and belief in "total freedom."

You can see the chart in a larger size here, and if you'd like to examine the real thing, you have only to visit Leipzig's Museum in der Runden Ecke (or view it online here). The document resides in its collection of the tools of the Stasi trade, including, in the words of Atlas Obscura, "old surveillance cameras, collections of confiscated personal letters, and crisp uniforms letting visitors get a glimpse into the world of brutal state espionage." Germans who remember all the power the Stasi could potentially wield over their lives — a power, for all they knew, about to descend on them any moment — must still feel a chill upon seeing one of those crisp uniforms. Now we know that their wearers might, upon laying eyes on Birkenstocks ("literally: 'Jesus slippers'"), red and black worn together ("contrasts as a symbol of anarchy"), or a mohawk (or "Iriquois") haircut, have felt apprehensive themselves.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Ancient Romans First Committed the Sartorial Crime of Wearing Socks with Sandals, Archaeological Evidence Suggests

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Of all sartorial crimes, none require quite so much brazenness — or simple obliviousness — as the wearing of socks with sandals. But unlike most widely disdained fashions, which usually tend to have enjoyed their heyday two or three decades ago, the socks-and-sandals combination has deep historical roots. And those roots, so 21st-century researchers have found out, go much deeper than most of us may have expected. "Evidence from an archaeological dig has found," wrote Telegraph science correspondent Richard Alleyne in 2012, "that legionnaires wore socks with sandals" — ancient Roman legionnaires, that is. "Rust on a nail from a Roman sandal found in newly discovered ruins in North Yorkshire appears to contain fibres which could suggest that a sock-type garment was being worn."

"You don't imagine Romans in socks," Alleyne quoted the archaeologist heading the cultural heritage team on site as saying," but I am sure they would have been pretty keen to get hold of some as soon as autumn came along."

As with any new discovery about life in the past, this changes the way enthusiasts of the period have gone about re-creating their favorite elements of it: take, for instance, heritage educator and crafter Sally Pointer. "Pointer has been enamored with the ancient world since she was a kid," writes Atlas Obscura's Jessica Leigh Hester, "when she cooked up plans for potions, devices, and craft projects — all with the goal of understanding how things came to be."

Image by David Jackson via Wikimedia Commons

Looking to socks worn in ancient Egypt (see above), Pointer makes her own versions of these "cheerfully striped" socks using a technique called naalbinding, "which is sometimes considered a precursor to two-needle knitting and involves looping yarn on a single needle," and in this case making each sock's two toes separately and then joining them together. Should more evidence emerge about the techniques and styles of the socks Romans seem to have worn under their sandals, Pointer and makers like her will no doubt be the first to make use of them. But for now, we need only make one important revision to the historical record: "Britons may be famous for their lack of fashion sense and Italians for their style," as the sub-headline of Alleyne's piece puts it, "but it appears we may have inherited one of our biggest sartorial crimes from the Romans."

via Telegraph/Atlas Obscura

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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