Writer in Residence

A Few of Brian Morgan's Favourite Things

By Teva Harrison

When I first showed up at The Walrus with my fussy little comics, drawn with my fidgety little markers, all Brian Morgan, art director extraordinaire, did was smile kindly.

The next time I saw him, though, I was going to get an education. He pulled together the tools and information I desperately needed to start learning about in order to improve my work. Nearly every tool I now use to produce comics came from that lesson, or a subsequent one.

This is the magic of Brian Morgan. From the deep fount of his knowledge, the man can somehow pull exactly the most needed or fascinating bit of arcane information. It can send me down the rabbit hole of learning for days, weeks. 

And Brian has a uniquely honed personal aesthetic. I clearly admire the man. I’m thrilled that he agreed to share with me (and you) some of his favourite things. 

I promise, whether you’re a writer, a designer, an illustrator, or merely curious about magic and history and the delight of knowledge, you’ll enjoy reading about a few of Brian Morgan’s favourite things, as prompted by me. As always, I asked a few questions and discovered how very much I have yet to learn.

A Few of Brian Morgan's Favourite Things

Fonts

This is like picking between one's children, but Peter Mohr's Fayon (PDF here) stands out for me. It's not even a font I use much, but like other fonts I deeply love — Bram de Does' Lexicon, Paul Barnes's Marian, or Maurice Göldner's Meran, Christian Schwartz's Neue Haas Grotesk — it asks a question. In this case, what would then look like now

The "then" is the moment when the dominant drift of European typography switched from Renaissance and Baroque letterforms, where the stresses on the letters were at an angle (as if you were writing them naturally) to one where the stresses were upright, which is how letterforms might be drawn, but not really written.

The idea of upright stress had been burning underground like a root fire since Louis XIV commissioned the Romain du Roi in 1692. The project, which took an absurd ten years to complete, was to develop the most perfect font, which only the King could use. Of course, what the King had everyone had to have too, and the idea spread throughout Europe, with each punch cutter (we would now call them font designers) taking the stress idea just a little further — Fournier, Fleischmann, Baskerville, la famille Didot, Bodoni, Bell, Miller. 

Fayon is a reinterpretation of the neglected moment when the geometries are just about to get extreme: the font has one foot in each camp — the 'Humanist' old school, and the new strict one. Before this moment will be fonts we call "old" and which we frequently meet in paperbacks. After this moment will be fonts that seem different, and which we mainly see in fashion magazines — Bodonis, Didots (think Vanity Fair or Vogue) — and newspapers that crave the feeling of grey flannel — Moderns and Millers (think the Wall Street Journal or the National Post). 

Although it's an examination of a historical object, when you look at Fayon it's drawn in such a way that it has to be a product of the present moment — each curve is precise, but not in a stiff way, but as if Norman Foster had the font milled by a computer. It's like Deluze looking at Leibnitz: a thinking about the past that could only have happened when it did.

Artists and/or Illustrators

O my goodness, this is hard! I agonized about this question a lot! The problem is that a quarter of all art I see, I like. And then there's so much art out there that it generates sub-problems, such as the representative sample problem. I love Jeff Koon's Bunny, but I can do without pretty much everything else; or I love painting dearly, but there are so many ways to cut that particular apple: thin like the scrolls of Xu Wei or David Milne, or thick like Paul-Émile Borduas. Or like ice like Wanda Koop? And then there's the question of representation: Velázquez's Las Meninas, the sharp wit of Ken Monkman, the weird broken virtuosity of Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne, the wild fantasies of Shary Boyle's paintings, or the deep coolness of Agnes Martin? And sculpture: Meret Oppenheim? Bruno Gironcoli? Brian Jungen? Valérie Blass? Robert Smithson? Michelangelo's late Pietà (the struggle to get to the surface), or Wim Delvoye's Cloaca (the rigor of Classical Greek sculpture brought to the interior of the human torus)?

But if I was going to pick one person whose work I'd have to look at exclusively it would be Stan Douglas. I like Rodney Graham very much (his Throwing Potatoes at a Gong, or his getting high in the Tiergarten in Phonokinetoscope are such lovely straight-man critiques) but Douglas' Der Sandman is one of the most beautiful pieces of art ever, and I love his Midcentury Studio series. Win Place or Show sums up so much about Vancouver in a brilliant, absurd loop. Vancouver is a city where the powers that be are never "getting it," where everything is cool as long as we can kayak, do yoga, and drink juice. Problems like low wages or unaffordable, ugly, mouldy housing just fade away when you look at those mountains, right? So it's so great to see someone cut through all of that crap in a completely serious yet beautiful manner, in for example his Riot series. 

And maybe one more: at RISD they had this lunch video club in the museum where they'd show things like Vito Acconci crawling through glass in that Super Bowl ad, but they also showed Der Lauf der Dinge by Peter Fischli & David Weiss which I loved (and love) beyond belief. Who knew that tyres and foam could be so wonderful?

Photographers: Wolfgang Tillmans, Jessica Eaton, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Lee Friedlander, Don McCullin, Thomas Demand, Thomas Struth, Luc Delahaye, Cindy Sherman, Martin Parr, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Nan Goldin, Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari, Richard Mosse, James Nizam, Moises Saman, Irving Penn, Bernice Abbott.

Illustrators (& comic artists): Genevieve Simms, Maurice Sendak, Moebius, Jillian Tamaki, Taro Gomi, Christoph Niemann, Quentin Blake, Claude Ponti, Kim Deitch, Seth, Chris Ware, Ben Katchor, Tamara Shopsin, David Shrigley, Seymour Chwast, Olympia Zagnoli. 

Food

Oysters, blue cheeses, lemon meringue pie, mimosa salad

Beer

St Bernardus Abt 12, Gose (Döllnitzer Ritterguts is tasty), Guinness 

Colours

Michael Harding Rose Madder, Lead white, Prussian blue, and Cobalt blue; W&N Paynes grey, Naples yellow deep. Farrow & Ball Borrowed Light. PMS 1787.

Tools

0.7 mm mechanical pencils, Pelikan 805 fountain pen, jewellers' screwdrivers (for repairing toys), Vise-Grips, Henckels seven-inch Santoku knife, detachable kitchen scissors (for pizza especially), Simplex stovetop kettle (this gets used a dozen times a day in our house) Xacto Gripster No.11 knife and a small steel ruler, 1/2" flat wood chisel.

Words

Catholic, used in a non-religious sense. Obfuscate, combinatorics, Gamboge, moot. Foulard, Longueuil (the sound, not because I like the place).

Moment in history

Like art, there are so many to choose from! Someone tosses a tuber on a fire, starting our march to our particular human sociability (and the shortening of our guts); someone pinches a set of tokens onto a clay pouch in Mesopotamia, thus setting off the writing revolution there and in the Nile and Indus valleys; the Sangjeong Gogeum Yemun is printed on steel type in Korea, starting the diffusion of the idea of using metal types to print (Gutenberg was not first, and possibly not original); Poggio Bracciolini rediscovers De rerum natura in a library at Fulda, and modern scepticism (and atomism) begins; or John Snow takes the handle off the Broad Street pump, and we have modern epidemiology and evidence-based medicine. But maybe the best is Eadweard Muybridge shooting the horse Sallie Gardner in Palo Alto, CA in June, 1878: from here time looks different. There's a great book about this (and the role of California in creating the modern world) by Rebecca Solnit called River of Shadows

Place to think

It's hard for me to do this anymore but I love to walk and think. Maybe even read a book and walk and think — or even better have a conversation on foot. Next best would be in the shower or bathtub, or while listening to wordless music with a fairly vigorous tempo (for example: Donnacha Dennehy's Stainless Staining, György Ligetti's Desordre from his Études no.1, Michael Torke's July, The Battles The Yabba from La Di Da Di, Michael Nyman's An Eye for Optical Theory).

Garment

An Issey Miyake A-poc sportscoat I bought in Tokyo. I don't wear it much, but I love it dearly.


Teva Harrison is a writer and graphic artist. She is the author of the critically acclaimed graphic memoir, In-Between Days, which is based on her graphic series about living with cancer published in The Walrus. It was named one of the most anticipated books of 2016 by the Globe and Mail, which also named the author one of 16 Torontonians to Watch. She has commented on CBC Radio and in the Globe and Mail about her experience. Numerous health organizations have invited her to speak publicly on behalf of the metastatic cancer community. She lives in Toronto.