As adduced, I kept getting these testy little reminders from Die Gestalten Verlag in (where else?) Germany that, in essence, they’d spent all that money shipping me a copy of House by House Industries that I’d better get down to reviewing it. Now, now, now. Nobody likes a nag, particularly a nag with a German accent. (It gets better, actually: An editor there is pretending I don’t have a book proposal that’s right up their alley.)

To do the job properly, I studiously re-read the book, an activity notably bereft of the thrill I felt in reading it the first time. (Well, during most of my reading. At a scant 224 unenumerated pages, it feels long.) While procrastinating the review that you are, at this very second, enjoying, I engaged a Perry-style stopgap activity of listing every silver overlay in the book.

I am now in a position to impart the following themes gleaned from House.

How to be true to your sources

Be true to your sources by being true to your sources. For the love of God I am so tired of phonies who try to dress up their personal histories. I’m a poor boy from PEI and New Brunswick and, while I’m different now, and improved, that prehistory never disappeared. Don’t act like you didn’t come from dirt. Don’t be some querulous girl reporter asking Scott Thompson if his drag act was inspired by Milton fucking Berle.

And if you’re a designer, for heaven’s sake stop pretending that entire design movements never existed – or, worse, that they were not important. (Jeffery Keedy, this means you.) House, “Ye Olde House Æsthetic”:

As we became more formally educated about graphic design, our heroes appeared to be conspicuously absent from the history books. Where [were] Al Jaffee and Don Martin, who illustrated serials for Mad or Norm Saunders, who painstakingly painted many of the Wacky Packages stickers? Their work was not irrelevant or disposable; as far as we were concerned it represented real design… it was honest commercial art accessible to everyday people, like us.

And apparently anathema to jumped-up graphic designers who want no attention cast at all on anything that reminds them – or their new, important friends, all keeping the same kind of secret – of the dirt they came from. John Lydon, The Filth and the Fury (10:04): “It was also an escapism that I resented. There was also a garbage strike going on for years and years and years and there was trash piled ten foot high. They seem to have missed that. Wear the garbage bag, for God’s sake. Then you’re dealing with it. And that’s what I would be doing: I would wrap myself basically in trash.”

But do it realistically (that, is accurately), also sincerely, with love. You may approach it parodically; House Industries does not, but parody can spring from a sincere realistic love. (You can sub in contempt instead, but you’ll run out of gas faster.)

Viewed another way, House Industries’ references are ethnic, while everybody else strains to pass as white. (Well, I mean, half the House boys and girls are ethnic.) House did the same kind of passing later, with its ranges of “mature” sansserif faces. Next they’re gonna pull a Licko on us and do a Baskerville revival. I’d suggest leaving that one mouldering in a grave somewhere. (“And yes, that is a Souvenir Bold headline on the inside front cover.”)

Ruth Waytz, Coop’s voluptuous wife, who doubled as a model for his famous posters, was wearing stiletto heels that left deep dents in our pristine blond-wood planking…. Something strange happened once we moved into the newly-renovated studio: We all seemed to grow up a little bit…. [E]veryone had to be in the studio by 9:30 and would slave away until somewhere around 5:00 or 5:30. All of a sudden we were “clocking in,” and, in retrospect, it made a lot of sense beause we were essentially a blue-collar operation…. How do they think we get this shit done?

The lads would also later play actual rock & roll at an AIGA conference, pissing off the prissy organizers (“Shut up, you silly bitch, it’s only a bit of fun” – Brian Lequator) and drowning out poor Peter Saville in the next room.

Craft (also kraft)

Like Saville, House couldn’t get the right yellow: “[A]ll the box suppliers wanted to reverse the top board to get the kraft bottom, but that just wasn’t right. We had to go to a separate supplier to get the exact board that we needed to create the authentic bottoms. […] The ‘T-shirt in a can’ product seemed simple enough, but… [t]he cans marked up the white T-shirts, so we found cans with a primed interior. […] Andy never liked how clean the digital Futura Bold looked, so we printed all body text at 200%, shrunk it down on the copier and scanned it as art. Copy changes were a bitch.”

I don’t like doing a shit job with anything. This of course is my foible – perfectionism, which is procrastination as seen by the ego. I still end up doing a shit job here and there, though I only occasionally let those products out of the house. Any general unproductivity can be traced to excessive standards.

However, real artists ship, and House shows how perfectionism should be done. The very first of their many exegeses of impracticable overcommitment to pluperfection runs as follows: “[We] immediately blew our earnings on an elaborate kraft package…. [I]t was worth every penny, though, as the new belt-closure box initiated what would become a reputation for overpackaging that continues to drain the House Industries coffers with every new product release.” You’ll find more such confessions throughout the book; the feeling I have upon reading them must be the same feeling experienced by born-again Christians when they come out to each other on first meeting.

I just don’t want things done badly. If they only way to do it it well is to overdo it, do it.

Do not trust distros

Before we discovered how much of a scam some of the larger font distributors were running, we pitched the original fonts to them and were rejected out of hand without even a call back. Two years and several catalogues later, the same outfits couldn’t wait to send us contracts that would allow them to sell our fonts for some bullshit percentage that they may or may not pay on time. We had already established a decent customer base, so we had the pleasure of not returning their phone calls.

I have my own scars in this regard, and all will be told.

Give it up

What House and House do wrong:

  1. Some finer points of copy-editing (“Ngyuen,” “Kraft”)
  2. Handwriting fonts: Scrawl is an order of magnitude worse than their custom font Starck, and barely in the same solar system as LettError’s
  3. The Hardcore font set is an amalgam of straight-up ripoffs, many of them so poorly executed they look like they originated on Windows (Free Show, Distortion, Venice, White House, All Ages)
  4. Pretend that their shit isn’t gay. Listen, the Typography of Coop cigar box, with its gigantic spade-tailed red-devil naked lady with unfeasibly long boobs, is the sort of thing recherché porn-apologist fags just love. (Why hasn’t it been linked by Fleshbot?) Yet here is the actual elucidation: “[O]ur one-track-type minds looked straight past the big red boobies and locked onto his beautifully-rendered letterforms. (No, we’re not gay.)” The myriad visual panegyrics to the House Industries guys (curiously, the few women on staff are never included) are meant to be all laddish and shit but are easily read homoerotically. I refer especially to the loving illustration of the staff as Roman statuary (Rome having evidently annexed at least 1/8 of Vietnam) that’s unironically cutlined “A fairly accurate narcissistic depiction of the staff, except Rich doesn’t really have a six-pack and Adam usually doesn’t walk around bare-hooved”
  5. The Datsun on the second issue of House magazine’s cover is a 510, not a B210

But just one question

I know these lads and occasional lasses have put out a shitload of work, but aren’t we risking a Neville Brody–style jinx by having them publish a book so early in their careers – and lifespans?

On the plus side, House Industries has managed to remain unevaluated by Jon Wozencroft.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2004.11.05 15:00. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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