Google+ we need to talk…

Google+, I think we need to talk about us.

I like you. I like you a lot. In a lot of ways,  I feel more comfortable with you than almost any other social network I’ve been with.

MySpace was so immature and always overcompensating with her ridiculously over the top profile designs, and her that trawling for picture comments was pretty desperate.

Facebook gets on really well with all my friends but she’s too controlling and too possessive – she keeps changing the terms and conditions of our relationship without telling me and I think by now she holds copyright on my face.

Twitter’s really fun, and she’s always got her finger on the pulse but she’s too extreme – everything’s either the best thing ever, or worse than genocide. Plus, I get the feeling she’s a pathological liar, and kind of a racist.

LinkedIn made a pass at me a couple of times, but friends of mine have told me she’s nothing but trouble.

Google+, I feel safe saying whatever I want to you, and that’s not something I’ve really felt with a social network before. If I want, I can swear loads and my girlfriend’s mum won’t see it. I can complain about co-workers and they’ll never know. If I really have to “friend” people I went to school with, I can ignore them so much harder than I ignore them on Facebook.

But this has to be a two way street, and I’m getting nothing from you.

Every so often, you’ll let me know that another of my friends has joined, and sometimes someone will actually say something, but it’s usually about how no-one ever says anything on Google+.

I feel like we’re drifting apart, but I honestly  think we can make it work, Google+.
I’m really glad you dropped that invite-only policy – that was anti-social, and it was definitely holding you back, so this is a really great step forward for you. Maybe now you can loosen up and be yourself.

Hopefully now more of my friends will be able to engage with you properly, but part of me worries it’s too little too late.
Google+, we’re drifting apart but I think we can make this work. You try and make more of an effort with my friends and I’ll try and spend more time with you, and hopefully we’ll get through this.

But this really is your last chance.

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Market Sins

Having worked numerous jobs involving heavy interaction with the public, I feel experienced enough to say confidently that we’re dickheads. I’m not saying we’re bad people and for the most part we don’t mean to be dickheads, but somehow we manage it. The variety of dickheadery is dependent on the circumstance – a restaurant-goer treating you more like a servant than waiting staff, for example. What follows is a list of market-specific dickheadery which I mention not because I want to make people feel guilty about it but merely because it’s amusing.

Ignorance is Bliss

It’s not an unreasonable action on my part to greet someone perusing my wares with a cheery “Hello!” or, if I’m feeling saucy, a pleasant-yet-businesslike “Hi, can I help?” Some people, however, are not at home to such over-bearing shenanigans and flat out stonewall you like you’re on the other side of sound-proof one-way glass.

Such a denial of mere acknowledgement from a stranger is more demeaning than you might expect. It’s possible they’re actually deaf and didn’t hear my salutations but the regularity of this response is higher than the statistical likelihood of them genuinely being deaf. It’s tempting to call them twats to see whether that cures their hearing impairment.

Splash Zone

For some, there’s an invisible barrier (or at least I can never see it) approximately 1.5 metres away from a market stall. They will go right up to the barrier and browse your stock from afar in the manner of someone standing on the White Cliffs and trying to sight-see in Calais.

I like to think of it like Sea World’s splash zone – the first three rows of seats next to the pool of orca whales and marine-biologist-cum-aquatic-acrobats – except instead of getting soaked in brine every two minutes, you spend all your money without meaning to.

This diagram of a Camden market stall shows the 1.5m boundary of a market trader's sphere of psychic influence; any close and they can hypnotise you into doing whatever they want.

Screw Face

If you’ve never been to a market before, you’ll know that we traders all stand around next to barrows bellowing “FOURFER UH PAHND,” regardless of what we’re selling, in thick Cockney accents at a volume louder than a howler monkey’s mating call.

You will then no doubt be surprised if anyone is trying to sell anything for a higher price and will be perfectly within your rights to respond to this disparity between your expectations and the cold, cruel light of reality by screwing your face up in a look of shock and indignation like I just got my cock out and tried to piss in your pocket. If you’re feeling ambitious you could also follow this with a sharp intake of breath through clenched teeth and a disparaging “Oooh, that’s a bit expensive” and in so doing, simultaneously undermine the product which I’ve made with my own two hands and infer that I’m trying to con you.

Thanks for that.

This guy taught me everything I know about retail...

No Good Advice

Many’s the time some selfless, generous character has approached my stall to impart unto me their idea for a T-shirt slogan. These ideas tend to range from mind-bendingly obscure to clichéd and/or vulgar, and finally the blatantly stolen. There’s the occasional diamond in the dog turd but I tend to shy away from using these because:
a) SCD is mainly a product of a supermassive ego, rather than the reasoned temper of a man open to suggestion
and b) using a stranger’s idea for my own gain would genuinely feel a bit dishonest; don’t ask me why.
After explaining the design which will be my key to stratospheric wealth, they invariably say “I’d buy it,” so straight off the bat I’ve got a consumer base of one. Awesome.
I know it’s meant well and I don’t begrudge them for it, I just hate trying to find a polite reason why I don’t want to print a T-shirt advocating sex with livestock (a distressingly common suggestion).
On the other hand, the people who tell me how I should alter an existing design so I might gain their approval, possibly even their patronage, can fuck off. I’m not going to rework an existing, successful design just because you like broccoli but hate aubergines.

Whatever slogan you suggest, you will NEVER surpass this.

Dear Davery

There’s an hilarious T-shirt slogan I’ve seen umpteen times which reads “Everyone knows a Dave!”
No, I don’t get it either.
Occasionally, a gaggle of friends will walk past a stall, spot an item and will remark to their friends about how a mutual, sadly-absent friend of theirs (whom we shall call Dave, because apparently everyone knows one) would go ape shit over it. It’s often accompanied with an excitable “Oh my God, Dave would love that! We should SO get that for Dave!” They then don’t buy it, go home and say to Dave: “Dave, we saw this amazing [insert item here] you would’ve loved. We thought about getting it for you but then we didn’t. Anyway, happy birthday; I got you a Snickers and a box of condoms, but I ate the Snickers and used the condoms to have sex with your sister in your own bed, so I guess I got you nothing.”

Recipe for Disaster

Broccoli’s horrible. Apparently it’s a “superfood” but it doesn’t give you X-Ray vision or the ability to fly so I’m dubious. In spite of my feelings about broccoli being neatly summed up in seven works, people still insist on giving me recipes for the stuff so that I might see it in a whole new light. 90% of these recipes involve masking (rather than enhancing) its taste, which isn’t exactly encouraging. It might be really good for you but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Under Stalin’s rule, the USSR went from a backwards, primarily agrarian economy to a heavily industrialised nuclear superpower on the cusp of the space age; it doesn’t mean he was a nice guy.
And yes, I did just liken broccoli to Stalin; what of it?

Translation reads: "Comrade Stalin, please take this disgusting vegetable and force feed it to the traitors in the gulags; it is more than they deserve for betraying the communist motherland. They will soon regret their treachery!"

I’m not saying any of this to insult you or make you feel uncomfortable when you visit markets; the last time I went shopping in a market I noticed myself doing a lot of these things and I became so self-conscious I had to leave. Seriously.
The market is there for your enjoyment, as well as for your financial transactions, so never lose that; just spare a thought and a bit of consideration for us foolish tossers on the other side of the table. Cheers.

When Politics and Fashion Collide: a pictorial essay in five panels

panel 1

panel 2

panel 3

At least American Apparel are ambiguous about the KIND of immigration reform. That's up to your own interpretation I guess.

What with his likeness being thrown around onto any marketable product imaginable, his corpse muyst be spinning so fast we could attach it to a generator and solve the world energy crisis.

Rip legs and boot-offs

Bill Watterson, creator of the utterly wonderful Calvin & Hobbes, refused to license his characters for merchandise or tie-ins as he felt it’d cheapen them. Predictably, a rash of bootlegs appeared, of which he said: “Only thieves and vandals have made money on Calvin & Hobbes merchandise.” It’s a pretty apt description.

You see, the people who steal other people’s intellectual property (and intellectual property theft is stealing) either to pass off as their own or to make a quick buck tend to be fairly uncreative people with very little imagination; if they were creative, imaginative sorts then they wouldn’t half-inch others’ work in the first place. As they tend not to have a particularly sound grasp on good design process, the likelihood is that they’ll fuck it up.

I mention this because recently a fellow T-shirt-designing-Camdenite by the brand-name of Young, Gifted and Slack stumbled across a rip-off of his truly excellent WWF design. It was, apparently, a pretty poor imitation.

Sometimes I see designs on T-shirts and wish Id thought of it first. This is one such design.

Sometimes I see designs on T-shirts and wish I'd thought of it first. This is one such design.

Two other Camdenite T-shirt-peddling friends of mine have had their wares copied before.

One was KillerStrawberry. An extremely fat man with a large camera asked a lot of questions about KS’s designs. Later, KS was alerted to the presence of a KillerStrawberry on a T-shirt website: it was a strawberry with fangs photoshopped on. The blurb under the design reads “And you thought tomatoes were bad? Forget tomatoes — it’s the attack of the killer strawberries!” As a coincidence it seems highly improbable; as a joke, it’s pretty poor: one of the most basic rules of comedy is that if you have to explain it, it’s not funny. But then of course we’re not exactly dealing with a creative genius here.

jitcrunch.aspx

The other Camdenite was Public Grief Junkie (now departed for greener pastures), whose “Dolphins are gay sharks” T-shirt has been ripped-off more times than you can shake a mackerel at. Once again however, people fuck it up. In this case, not by having to explain it but by being too wordy: “Dolphins are just gay sharks,” “It’s true: dolphins are just gay sharks” and so on. They’re changing it so that they can try and side-step being accused of intellectual property theft, but the whole point of a slogan, especially on a T-shirt, is to get your point across in as few syllables as possible, so their versions fall short. As Shakespeare wrote: “brevity is the soul of wit…” He was right 406 years ago and he’s still right today.

Here’s another, more recent victim of the verbose rip-off merchants who’ve added a caption which is completely surplus to requirements.

Another design which I wish I'd thought of.

Another design which I wish I'd thought of.

The rip-off that’s doing the rounds of this terrific image is accompanied by the caption “Elliott’s new friend.” This is like telling a good joke and then saying “Geddit?! Heh heh! Geddit?!” Again, so long as you’re aware of two iconic films, it’s pretty self-explanatory and darkly funny within itself; it needs no clarification. It might seem like a subtle difference but the caption lightens the tone somewhat: it establishes that Elliott and H.R. Geiger’s alien, one of the most terrifying (read: fucking awesome) movie monsters of all time, are actually the best of friends. Without the caption, it’s possible that they’re friends but it’s more likely the alien is about to violate Elliott’s skull with its phallic vagina-dentata-extendo-mouth.

Opposite my stall in UpMarket, there are two T-shirt stalls: one sells rip-offs of designs from Threadless (for better or worse, they’ve not changed a single thing) and the other uses other people’s photos of pop culture icons – Kate Moss, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Vivienne Westwood, more Kate Moss and so on. I never quite got the appeal of wearing photos of cool people. Maybe they make the wearer cool via osmosis, in the same way that wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt makes the wearer a political activist. Both of these – as well as the umpteen previous examples – piss me off no end because they’re capitalising off the talents and hard work of others and giving nothing back.

My point behind all this verbose high-horsery is how frustrating it is to see other people make easy money by shamelessly ripping off the hard work of other designers and creative folks. Nevertheless, in spite of such traps, pitfalls and nefarious persons, they soldier on, occasionally staying fresh and imaginative and for this they should be applauded, whilst the thieves and vandals get dragged naked through cobbled streets and put in the stocks.

Bring on the Brick Lane Backlash: Redux

I was having a gander at blogs from days gone by and remembered the bemusingly vicious consternation caused by my time spent in Brick Lane at the Old Truman Brewery and I felt like giving it another glimpse of the light of day. And not just to pad out this blog, honest. So without further ado, it’s time for a trip down Memory Lane (perpendicular to Kingsland High Street, near the Rio cinema) and revisit the Brick Lane Backlash of September 2008…

Last week I mentioned that I’d be taking a break from Camden Lock Market for a month in favour of doing the full weekend at the Old Truman Brewery markets on Brick Lane. I gave an explanation why: it’s an experiment to see whether it’d be better for Sally Can’t Dance’s finances and, in the long run, better for Sally as a whole.

Quite a few people took exception to this; both the Facebook group and MySpace profile shed a couple of comrades and I received some bewilderingly angry messages. Apparently it’s like when Dylan went electric.

Rather than ignore these protests and let my correspondents think that I don’t care about their opinions, I thought I’d take some time to address their concerns and to tell them outright that I don’t care about their opinions.

The occasionally eye-bleedingly bad grammar has been left intact but I promise not to rag on it; that’d be too easy. To avoid embarrassment, all names have been altered.

So without further ado, let’s rock this joint:

“nice going looser your such a sellout. i use to think yuo had sum integrety but now i see your only worryd about money. if you realy cared about camden lyk you say youd stay thru thick nd tin”

-Samuel O’Gonad

Thanks for writing Samuel. Here’s the thing: if I really only cared about money then I’d do what any sensible person would do by throwing in the Sally Can’t Dance towel altogether and capitulate by getting a Real Job with an Actual Wage. Instead however I soldier on in the face of logic because I’m too stubborn to give up on the dream and too misty-eyed to see sense.

I don’t think I’ve betrayed any fundamentals of Sally Can’t Dance. It’s all still designed and hand-made by me. I haven’t “sold out” in terms of designs:  it’s still following the same design aesthetic and sense of humour. I’m still using extremely high-quality, certified ethical cotton garments. The only difference is a temporary shift in location.

“Yeah I’m sure you’re going to brick fucking lane cos it’ll be better for your business. It’s blatantly cos you want to be around all those other too cool for school fuckers with stupid skin tight I can see your tiny cock skinny jeans like every other cunt down there. Well fuck you you Shoreditch twat Camden’s better off without you.”

-Alexander McCrabscratch

This guy, he's my kind of people.

This guy here; he's my kind of people.

Someone once said that profanity was the crutch of the inarticulate and, considering that your diatribe could make sailors swoon, your argument’s on dodgy ground from the outset. But let’s skirt over that and focus on the meat of your message.

When I first went to trade in Brick Lane, a couple of people made light-hearted jibes about my motives, essentially saying my sole reason for going there was a cynical attempt to pull everyone in sight – lies and slander, I swear it.

When you’re creating your own stock and trying to make a living out of it, experimentation is going to be a key part of it. As such, I chose to trade at the UpMarket and Backyard because they’ve got a reputation for being full of interesting, original products sold by the people who design and/or make them. So a bit like Sally Can’t Dance then…

Your enthusiasm for Camden is to be applauded; your angry, angry demeanour is not. The fury of your response confuses me: I’m taking a month-long break from a market to briefly work on another one; I haven’t bludgeoned your dad to death and fucked your mum across his corpse. Not yet at least.

“i don’t want to seem like i’m harassing you [Wait for it…] but [Ah, there we are] surely you realise that the overall cheapening of camden is only exacerbated by original indepent traders like you leaving? in some ways i can’t help feeling like you’ve given up too easily. commitment is an important quality. camden’s where you started after all and it seems like you should show it a bit more loyalty”

-Henrietta Groinsweat

Firstly I’d like to thank Henrietta for the most cogent piece of hate mail I received. Ok, so that’s a bit like thanking someone for setting your dog on fire because they also handed you a fire extinguisher and a recommendation for a lovely pet cemetery, but even so.

I’d advise you not to accuse a market trader of being disloyal or uncommitted until you’ve stood around for ten interminable hours in the freezing December cold for the princely sum of £15, day after day in the disappointingly less-than-lucrative run-up to Christmas. I’ve only done it once but I’ve got friends who’ve done that particular merry dance year upon year, which is around the point where we cross the border of Commitmentsville and hike on into Masochism County.

However cold I may look, I assure you I'm colder.

However cold I may look, I assure you I'm colder.

As for the “cheapening” of Camden: whilst it’s true that traders with original stock leaving opens the gates a bit more for people selling mass-produced, imported tat, it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. Does the tat encourage original traders to leave or does the original traders leaving encourage the tat? Actually it’s both, but this has no bearing on why I’m leaving Camden.

I’ve said why I’m taking a break from Camden and refuse to repeat myself. Read the blog entry. It explains not only my reasons but the fact (which seems to have been overlooked by the above correspondents) that I haven’t turned my back on Camden for good.

Besides, what’s wrong with Brick Lane? I don’t quite understand this bad feeling towards the East End. Did Brick Lane touch you in the shower when you were a child or something?

I’ll simply close by saying that verbal abuse doesn’t tend to influence people’s decisions and that next time you fancy telling me how to do my job, I suggest you save your energy and fuck yourself with a toasting fork.

SCD FM: Simon Mayo

At Print Club, where the Sally Can’t Dance magic happens, there is a radio which people occasionally listen to. Usually it’s on BBC Radio 1 or Xfm but over the past few days, it’s been tuned in to BBC Radio 2. This in itself is no bad thing, except that I’ve been privy to BBC veteran Simon Mayo standing in for Chris Evans, which is a bit like soothing your herpes only to find out you’ve got thrush too. Except the thrush is really boring and talks nonsense in a dull, characterless voice.

This is Simon Mayos excited face

This is Simon Mayo's "heroic" face

Topics of alarmingly extensive discussion have included whistling (Can Simon Mayo whistle? Can other people in the studio with Simon Mayo whistle? Which kind of whistling is the best kind of whistling?) and boules. Both discussions involved surprisingly in-depth and completely unironic interviews with Britain’s only professional whislter (he’s recorded proper albums which you can buy with actual money if you like that kind of thing and he tours throughout the U.S.) and a semi-professional boules player, who was even more boring than Simon Mayo.

I took my headphones and thrust them so far down my ear canals that they had to be surgically removed and turned the volume of  Jay-Z’s  “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” up so loud I forgot my sister’s name.

But even then, I still caught snippets of conversation  in between songs, like the boules player being asked (again, completely without irony) whether he thought boules had gotten a more exciting, “sexier”  image over the last few years. He responded with an unequivocally tentative “perhaps.” Boules players are serious, decisive people.

From Scribbles to Screen Prints: a Labour of Love

People often ask me: “Christopher, you milky white Adonis, how in the name of Kriss Akabusi do you come up with such super designs?” Usually I laugh my seductive, baritone laugh and make some pithy remark about magicians never revealing their secrets but today I thought I’d drop down the drawbridge of secrecy and open the French windows of enlightenment to show you how our skeletal lovers came to be.

less than three mini

One of the reasons I started making T-shirts seven hundred years ago is because I was bored of seeing the same old designs adorning every torso from here to Narnia and one of the main offenders was “I Heart NY”. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against “I Heart NY” T-shirts; some of my best friends wear “I Heart NY” T-shirts, it’s just not for me. It’s been ripped off and bastardised so many times it’s become, at least in my eyes, a cliché. There, I said it.

Surprisingly, the "I Heart Berlin" one is a sticker, not a condom.

Surprisingly, the "I Heart Berlin" one is a sticker, not a condom.

So I thought about doing a different take on it and happened upon the notion of replacing the love heart with an actual heart. Sometimes I’m so clever I think it’s a pity I’m not working for CERN or something.

As well as illustrating my point, this image serves as poor man's copyright to prove that I thought of it first.

As well as illustrating my point, this image serves as poor man's copyright to prove that I thought of it first.

Picoseconds later it occurred to me that this wouldn’t really be a pastiche or satire but just another trite “spin” on the old girl, i.e.: exactly the kind of thing I was trying to get away from. So, in as soppy a moment as my withered, coal black heart allows, I decided to change “NY” to “you.” I’m so clever that MENSA rejected me on the grounds of being too clever.

Having this as a simple slogan would have been tremendously dull. It needed to be part of an exchange, but the couple couldn’t be people because a) it wouldn’t fit properly with the slightly gruesome nature of the design and b) I’m no good at drawing people.

If you can’t be bothered to endure me getting a bit artsy then stop reading now.

I’ve always been a massive fan of Mesoamerican art (Aztec and Incan, for example), as well as the intrinsically-linked style of the (primarily) Mexican Day of the Dead. Skeletons feature prominently in both and are heavily anthropomorphised in the latter. This love of mine was stoked (although not sparked) by the 1998 video game “Grim Fandango.” Set in the Land of the Dead, the truly spectacular artistic direction combines the art of Mesoamerica and the Day of the Dead seamlessly with art deco and film noir mise-en-scène.

The Day of the Dead’s anthropomorphosis led to my skeleton guitarist, Celso (pronounced “Sell-so”). I really loved the idea of a skeleton longing for the good old days when he wasn’t dead (perhaps just a touch of Schadenfreude there) and I thought that “I Heart You” could be something of an antidote to that: two skeletons long dead but (seemingly at least) not unhappy because they’re in love. This would have been unbearably mushy if the two were alive, but they’re dead and beyond decay, which serves as an effective counterbalance. “Grim Fandango’s” more stylised take on the Day of the Dead suited this design, both to set it apart more obviously from Celso but also to help lighten the tone: I wanted the image to be macabre yet adorable and having the couple as actual skeletons (rather than stylised/cartoonish ones) would have missed that mark entirely. I’ll save that for when I’m doing artwork for some goth band.

The original sketches.

The original sketches.

So they were born but unnamed. A friend suggested Manny and Meche, after “Grim Fandango’s” protagonist and his love interest; someone who saw it on the stall drew parallels with Frida Kahlo’s work which I found sort of flattering, although bemusingly over-the-top. She suggested I call them Frida and Diego, after Ms. Kahlo and her husband, the artist Diego Riviera (or Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, to give him his preposterously long full-name). Usually suggestions from people at the stall are ridiculous, irritating or ridiculously irritating but this was sufficiently ridiculous to massage my ego. I’m so clever the intelligentsia whither in my presence, the filthy serfs.

I’ll leave it to you to decide which you prefer: Manny and Meche or Frida and Diego; obscure and geeky or tenuous and pretentious.