Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Requiem Vampire Knight volume 1: collected gothic perversity from Pat Mills and Olivier Ledroit

Requiem, the most luridly over-the-top, utterly deranged comic book ever published, has finally been collected into a graphic novel for the UK market, having been published in the Francophone world for years.

I’ve written about my love of Requiem before and spent years seeking out old copies of Heavy Metal magazine, the only place you could find the translated version (they always run a new instalment annually around May).

The lack of UK edition until now is shameful, considering Requiem is written by English comics godfather Pat Mills. Mills was the creator of 2000AD and wrote bizarre, visionary and violent comic strips that warped my childhood, like ABC Warriors, Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine and Ro-Busters.

It’s obvious that Requiem allows Mills to explore his rabid obsessions for an adult audience, so all the familiar tropes he explores in 2000AD – magick, reincarnation, religious fanaticism, hypocrisy, imperialism – are turned up to 11 and served with lashings of sex, sado-masochism, ultra-violence and gore.

So what is Requiem about? Put simply, Hell. The primary character is the eponymous Requiem, the reincarnation of Heinrich Augsburg, a Nazi soldier shot on the Eastern Front. Upon his death, he finds himself reborn as a vampire in the infernal world Resurrection.

Everything in Resurrection is perversely reversed, so evil is virtuous and characters grow younger as they age, eventually dwindling to foetuses. The vampires are the elite of the Resurrection social order, reincarnated from particularly monstrous humans. The Emperor Nero, Aleister Crowley, Atilla the Hun and Count Dracula himself are at the pinnacle of society. Their realm is surrounded on all sides by other fiendish nations, so war is never-ending. Which is exactly how the vampires like it, of course.

Tomas de Torquemada is a werewolf; rapists come back as centaurs; weapons scientists are high priests dedicated to burying knowledge; genocidal feminists from the future return as ghoul pirates. In the midst of it all, Requiem grapples with his nature as he attempts to save Rebecca, his Jewish lover who died in the death camps.

Yes, the good return to Resurrection too, born into the bottom end of society as lamiae. Death – as well as life – just isn’t fair.

This premise gives Mills all sorts of ways to amuse himself, as well as giving Ledroit opportunities to create astonishing gothic landscapes and epic battle scenes.

Ultra-dense Mills dialogue, ridiculously delirious art, convoluted plotting and the sheer insanity of the story make Requiem hard to follow at times. I thought I’d understand what the hell was going on better once I found that long-sought-after first episode in Heavy Metal. I was wrong. It was still gloriously bewildering.

Requiem is the ultimate bad trip, the grandest of Grand Guignol. Seek it out and read it, give yourself some gorgeous nightmares.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mad Men, Ambiguity and Transgression

The happy couple

I’ve been thinking a lot about a scene from the second season of Mad Men. It’s not a particularly dramatic, disturbing or funny scene; it doesn’t move the plot forward; yet it is unsettling in its own way. And it demonstrates why Mad Men is such thought provoking television.

It happens in episode 7 of the series. Don and Betty Draper are having a picnic, talking as the kids play. It’s an idyllic scene. Sunshine, pristine countryside and they’ve obviously enjoyed a good spread food-wise. Then, when it’s time to leave, they call the kids, simply shake all their rubbish from the picnic blanket onto the verdant grass and drive off in Don’s shiny new car.

The reason it sticks in the mind is primarily, I think, because there’s something massively transgressive about the Drapers’ wanton littering. It’s shocking to see someone on television doing this, more so than a brutal murder or infidelity.

That’s interesting in itself.

You’re also left pondering whether this is another wry observation on 60s mores (maybe people did give less of a shit about their environment then), whether there’s an ecological subtext (the first disposable nappies are introduced in this episode, as is Don’s new gas-guzzler) or whether it’s meant to make you feel that the Drapers are shits. Perhaps all three.

So, ultimately, it’s the ambiguity of this (literally) throwaway scene that makes you think.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Crowdsourcing the Detectives, Don't Get Cute...

Vic Mackey's guide to sensitive policing

Crowdsourcing (My jaded adman definition: getting gullible people to gather together and do shit for you unpaid) is very popular these days. If you go to Mashable and other social media news sites, you’ll see dozens of examples of how brands have used the concept, turning their punters into productivity/promotional drones.

Now my recent viewing of three Shield boxed sets has given me a great idea. You can have it for free…

A cop in the Shield tells a victim that any crime can be solved, it’s just question of what resources you can afford to throw at it. This gave me the idea of crowdsourcing detective work.

Let’s call it ‘copsourcing’.

Basically you create a site that oursources the mundane aspects of an investigation to eager ghoulish punters, portioning out fragments of evidence via an online hub. This might consist of reviewing a portion of CCTV footage, reviewing phone records or looking over financial statements. You’d get the server to break up the evidence so that the amateur detective wouldn’t be able to identify the case or the name of the suspect.

This started off as a joke during a meeting, but the more I think about it, the more of a good idea it seems. I expect a fat consultant’s fee from the Met very soon…

Friday, September 04, 2009

Would We Fight World War Two Now?

If only I hadn't been papped after that 13th brandy...

There’s a big hoo-ha in historian circles about whether Britain should have fought the Second World War or come to an accommodation with Hitler. Several revisionist historians are arguing that Churchill was, basically, a bit of a twat for keeping us in the conflict, including evangelical Republican Pat Buchanan. The contention is that we would have kept the Empire and Germany and the Soviet Union would have fought themselves to a standstill anyway.

I tend to think that these people are talking bollocks. WW2 was actually the last war where we could genuinely say we were facing an evil that threatened our civilization. But the debate also got me thinking about the social differences between then and now. My question is this: Would the British people now sign up to such a devastating and costly war? Would people now put up with the sacrifices involved?

I would say ‘no’. There are three main reasons.

Firstly, look at the shitstorm in the media kicked up by the death of servicemen in Afghanistan. Can you imagine the outcry the government would face over the death toll of 326,000 servicemen in WW2 (let alone the 62,000 civilian deaths)? We’ve pretty much got used to the idea that war is about us kicking third world arse in a high technology way without expecting casualties on our side. We were rather scared of a few jihadis with homemade bombs. If we faced an enemy with comparable weaponry to out own I think we would shit our collective national pants.

The second reason is that I don’t think our society is capable of unity any more. Everyone’s agenda is fragmented and I don’t think that people swallow the government line as unquestioningly any more. In order to fight a world war you need to mobilize a nation in a very regimented way. To do so you need a centralised media to tell your story consistently. With our multiple media channels, you might be able to sustain that in an initial wave of outrage (The War on Terror anyone?) momentarily, but I guarantee it would dissolve quickly.

My third and final argument is that most people don’t buy the idea of the enemy as an evil abstract collective block any more. I get the impression that the British people saw all Germans as Nazi bastards who deserved what they got for following Hitler. I can’t imagine that we’d wear the carpet-bombing of civilians on a Bomber Harris scale nowadays. We’d see German civilians as innocent individuals and deplore their deaths. During the invasion of Iraq, I guess there are many idiots who saw all Iraqis as worthy of bombing, but the furor over the deaths of civilians in American raids demonstrates that we won’t tolerate civilian deaths in the same way. Hence all the nonsense about ‘precision’ bombing and ‘surgical strikes’ in the discourse of modern military PR. We like the illusion that we only kill combatants. Be hard to maintain that illusion after Dresden, one would imagine.

Of course, all this is pointless conjecture because Churchill’s drinking habits would have been exposed in the News of the World and he’d have had to resign anyway.

In short, if we faced Hitler now, we’d be fucked.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Tourist Guide to London Underground - 5 Essential Tube Rules

Tourists visiting London, first of all, let me just say – it’s not you, it’s us.

We sigh as you cluster around the entrance to a platform, perusing the tube map or just looking a bit lost.

We grumble as you block the left hand side of the escalator, denying us swift progress to wherever we’re going.

We mutter – and maybe even give you ‘a look’ – as you spend several days trying to figure out how to use the only functioning ticket machine on a morning when we just happen to be late for work.

You see, you’re not to blame, but you’re stopping us from getting to where we want to go a few minutes earlier than we otherwise would have! This is the SOLE AIM of any true Londoner – and you obstruct us at your peril!

Yes, we’re being unreasonable. We know that. But in order to foster better relations between you and us, I offer you a guide to using the London Underground network just like the natives.

RULE 1: You don’t HAVE to get on the train in the middle. You can move along and get in at either end too! Tube trains are quite long – as long as the platform, in fact. This appears to be something you’ve failed to figure out thus far. Admittedly this isn’t true of Circle Line trains – we’ve done that to catch you out just when you think you’re getting the hang of things.

RULE 2: Just to reiterate: Never, ever get in the way. Fine, so you want to stop and watch the really crap busker playing bongos he obviously rescued from a skip. Just do it against the bloody wall or something! Don’t you know we have SOMEWHERE VERY IMPORTANT TO GO and we need to be there NOW, NOW, NOW?

RULE 3: Don’t look aghast at the crumbling infrastructure and grime. It’s all stage-dressing to make the Americans feel they’re getting a proper ‘heritage’ experience and to fool Europeans into feeling superior.

RULE 4: For the love of god, don’t try to engage us in friendly conversation. We’ll just think you’re insane and recoil in fear. We British are simply too shy to make eye contact or talk to strangers. Until we go on holiday. Then we’re quite happy to dress as naughty nuns and drunkenly flash our genitals at anyone.

RULE 5: Don’t plan to go anywhere fast at weekends, as we shut down half the network to replace the Victorian steam-powered signals and Stone Age flint tracks. In fact, don’t plan to go anywhere fast during the week – our finely tuned, precision engineered trains break down more frequently than Ferraris – that’s the price you pay for such dream machines.

OK, that’s it. Before you visit, commit these simple rules to memory. After all, you wouldn’t want us to give you ‘a look’ would you?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Threadless and Luckless

My t-shirt submission to Threadless has been rejected! In their jaunty American way they tell me that "we feel your idea could use a little more work" and "we hope you take these decline reasons to heart and use them to rework your submission and resubmit" (if they were a creative director, I think they'd have said "it's shit, do it again"). Ah well, it's their loss etc...grumble...gripe...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Doktor Avalanche Threadless T-shirt Attempt

I've meant to do this for YEARS...

Threadless is a t-shirt site where budding fashion-fuhrers submit designs for generic male/female cotton under/work/youth garments and visitors to the site vote for their favourites. The design with most votes gets made into a t-shirt and sold. My effort is a bit shit, but I'm hoping that it's at least accepted to be put up for the vote. It is, of course a tribute to the pre-eminent rock drummer of the 80s - Doktor Avalanche, drum machine from the Sisters of Mercy.

Herr Doktor - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

Random Desktop

Here's where my mind took me in my lunch-hour. Analyse as you see fit and please use as a desktop (just click on the pic to see it full-size and right-click). Thank you to FFFFound and Skiffy for the original images.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What a Bastard

I’ve recently been reading a book about a ‘royal bastard’ – the illegitimate son of a Prince. He has a pretty rubbish time of it, with his origins used to abuse and shame him throughout the novel.

This seems to have awoken a certain amount of reflection on my part, as I’m a bastard myself (though lacking royal blood). Of course, I use this term provocatively. We live in an era where judgments about one’s birth are muted or, indeed, nonexistent entirely.

However, as the son of an unmarried, single mother in the 1970s, it was a source of deep shame and embarrassment to me. It’s not something I like to recall often. Not because anyone was particularly cruel, but because fear of being different drove me to tell some ridiculous lies. I’m now disappointed that I wasn’t stronger and proud of who I am.

I remember I only started to feel the need to lie when my mum and I moved to Leamington Spa from Manchester. I was seven at the time. We lived in a poor neighbourhood in Manchester, where there were several other single mothers and so it wasn’t an issue with other kids in my gang at school.

However, in Leamington Spa, it was all small-town values and nuclear families. I think, even at seven, I knew that a dead father is going to get a better response than one who’s just off the scene. So, as far as any of my new friends were concerned, my dad had died. He met his demise in various interesting ways, I seem to remember, but I think the most common version was a car crash.

The other lie was that my mum’s boyfriend at the time was my uncle. I didn’t realise at the time that this was a terrible cliché, I wish I had tired harder to be original (something like “my mum is in a bizarre tree-worshipping cult and that bearded man is her guru”).

Who knows? Perhaps I saved myself a whole heap of teasing. After all, children are vindictive little shits. One classmate, whose mum had polio, was relentlessly bullied and ridiculed. Because his mum was in a wheelchair! Jesus, the Ku Klux Klan has nothing on kids.

Ultimately, however pragmatic I was, I regret not being true to my mother and my real origins. The story of how I came into the world was never shameful and is, in many ways, more interesting than my lies. But that’s a tale for another post…

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Random thoughts: Reception

A company’s reception area offers a big clue to its character. I’m sitting in one now. Beautiful minimalist décor and elegantly designed lighting, but receptionists who have spoken to me with a mixture of suspicion and irritation. Steel, grey and white. Modernist leather chairs that feel like Mies Van Der Rohe designed them whilst in a particularly sadistic mood. Counter-intuitive doors on the toilet that open the wrong way so they feel locked until you pull them.

It’s all semiotics. The body language of an entire company.

I’m considering what all this tells me and waiting for someone to collect me. That’s always an awfully apprehensive feeling when you have an interview. The hope of someone grabbing you quickly when you see people approach, then the anticlimax when they walk past, looking at you looking at them and knowing you’re waiting for an interview. One feels exposed and a little foolish.

I’m not here for an interview, however, so at least I can relax, feel my arse go numb in this torturous piece of furniture and look high-powered and dynamic by writing this on my laptop. It seems to me that we spend a great deal of our working life trying to look high-powered and dynamic when, in fact, we’re flawed and a bit foolish.

Or am I simply driven to introspection by this stripped-down corporate purgatory?

Monday, March 16, 2009

In Praise of Ish

I was thinking about what a great thing 'ish' is. In fact, I suppose I should say it's great-ish. Just by adding 3 letters to the end of a word, that word immediately becomes ambiguous and vague. Is it cold outside? No, its cold-ish. Will we meet at six? No, let's hook up around six-ish. Hungry? Well, I am a bit peckish, not to mention puckish in my occasional mischievousness.

I wonder whether this is something that's peculiar to the English language and hence betrays a very English desire to skate over anything that sounds definite? Emily, my French-speaking wife, suggests there isn't a French equivalent.

Do other languages have 'ish'?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Might as Well Face It, I'm Addicted to GRRM: A Song of Ice and Fire

I’m a fanboy snob. I was one of the kids who had their minds blown by Star Wars in 1977. My favourite novels as a lad were Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion sagas. After such brainwashing, you’d therefore expect me to lap up any old fantasy or sci-fi crap, perhaps even getting the peroxide out and dressing up as Elric of Melniboné at fan conventions.

I am quite picky about what genre shit I consume, however. This is possibly why I managed to miss out on the gargantuan talents of George RR Martin (or GRRM as his fans call him). The name didn’t inspire confidence, I guess. Anyway, after coming across a discussion of his stuff on Amazon, I decided to buy the first of his ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series, ‘A Game of Thrones’. Now I’m completely addicted – I spent yesterday anxious awaiting the arrival of the third novel in the series like a crack whore awaiting a rock.

The book is primarily set in the fictional realm of the Seven Kingdoms. The world is at a medieval level of development, so no surprises there: you have knights, castles and all the usual feudal gubbins. The plot charts the realm’s rapid descent into a great big civil war that makes the War of the Roses look like an episode of Gladiators. On top of this strife, a decade long winter is descending and sinister forces are gathering in the north...

When I began reading it, I wasn’t very hopeful. I’m not a fan of the cod-mediaeval stuff, so the setting seemed a little tired. However, I liked the multiple viewpoint chapter structure, with the potential for irony as different characters address the same events through their own lens. And, as I read more, the writing seemed richer and standard fantasy trappings became subverted and, frankly, brutalised. It starts as Ivanhoe and ends as 120 Days of Sodom.

Primary protagonists die. Moral lines become blurred. The plot shifts in unexpected ways. The mediaeval setting becomes darker, characterised by violence against the poor by those with power (rape, pillage, massacre, torture, all perpetrated by ‘honourable’ knights). I love that stuff in novels – having my expectations messed with. Even fantasy stories become far more immersive when they reflect the random chaos of the real world.

There are also lovely touches of good descriptive writing – all rooted in earthy nature, as is right from a medieval perspective. The other thing that reflects a mediaeval context is 14-year-old girls being married off and having sex, which has caused a certain amount of censure from concerned citizens on Amazon. I strongly doubt GRRM is a paedophile, but he does seem to be obsessed with children surviving the brutality of the world and becoming adults before their time.

Anyway, I’m now a big geeky GRRM fan and it’s great that he is still alive, churning these epic books out. Long may the addiction continue…

Friday, February 27, 2009

File Under 'People Are Shit': Chat Magazine

It’s not often that queuing in Sainsbury's and hangings at Tyburn come together in my head, but that’s exactly what happened to me the other day. While waiting to pay for some banal everyday items, I stood behind a woman who had Chat magazine in her basket.

‘Chat’ sounds like a pretty harmless publication aimed at elderly ladies who also dig the People’s Friend. However, when I looked closer I saw that Chat’s strapline is ‘Life! Death! Prizes!’ (I haven’t added the exclamation marks, Chat magazine really is screaming those words at you). It’s a novel variation on the classic ‘life, death, taxes’ trope and no doubt was focus group-tested to, er, death to reflect the interests of its lovely readers. I like the order of priority too – prizes obviously comes narrowly behind death in the Chat reader’s all-time top 3 of things they want to read about.

I was really taken aback – wow, that’s a bit brazen, I thought. No beating around the bush there! Then I read the cover stories (there’s a lot of elderly people at our local supermarket – one has time to take things in). I’ll just bullet list them because they’re all so totally wrong in every possible way:
  • Why we TATTOOED our quads
  • Kicked to death…for calling this brute HONEY BUNNY
  • I had 10 PINTS of fat sucked out!!!
  • PRONGS OF DEATH! Killed with a pitchfork
  • My lovely wedding dress saved my life!
  • The steamy sex life of MURDERING MARTHA…
Is it just me, or is Chat magazine reducing personal tragedy to sick morbid entertainment for the kind of women who would have been knitting in front of the guillotine during the French revolution? Am I naive to be offended?

Which brings me to the crowds that turned up for hangings at Tyburn. When we look back at our history, we are often shocked by the cheery savagery of the populace turning someone’s death into a day out. But have we really moved on? I genuinely believe that Chat magazine readers would love a few public executions. They’d be there with their camera phones, giggling as some poor fucker kicked air.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Sony S-Series, Amazon and Apple Music Experience: It's the Software, Stupid.

I spent yesterday grappling with new things in digital music today. I bought a Sony S-Series Walkman (the memorably named NWZ-S638F) AND downloaded music from Amazon. Totally out of my iPod/iTunes comfort zone. And like anyone in new territory, I'm still navigating nervously.

I've been entirely loyal to the Apple iPod and iTunes
in all my dealings with digital music. Along with millions of others, the convenience of automatic sync and the familiarity of the interface have kept me in the Apple fold for years. However, there's one problem with the iPod.

It sounds shit.

I've tried various headphones, the different EQ settings, changing the quality of the music files and so on, but it still sounds tinny and thin. So, having read about the brilliant sound offered by Sony music players, I thought - fuck it - let's take a punt.

Does S-Series Stand For 'Software Sucks'?

First impressions weren't good. Sony supply no software for Macs, so you drag and drop the music you want from iTunes to the player on your desktop. It can't handle playlists (which is annoying, as I love my playlists) and there are naming issues with some files. Altogether pretty poor.

However, once the music is on the Walkman, the interface is simple enough and my music sounds bloody amazing. It's like going from mono to stereo. I wandered around WGC for an hour just listening and loving it. So, result for Sony there. It makes the crappy lack of sync worth putting up with - just about.

As a PS3 - and now Walkman - owner, it's clear to me why Sony are in trouble. It's software. Sony is woefully lagging in this area (hence this painfully on-target spoof by the Onion: http://bit.ly/2gQCZI).

Up the Amazon MP3 Store Without a Paddle

My other experiment was buying digital music from Amazon. This wasn't frustrating like the Sony experience, just scary. You install a little download app and pay as usual, but then nothing appears to suggest that the music download is actually happening. After a brief moment of panic, I had to find the app in Finder and open it to see that - thank fuck - the music I bought is actually downloading and going into my iTunes library. And it seems to download the same tracks twice, which is odd (maybe back-up files?). Anyway, the lovely straightforwardness of iTunes wins out again - not sure I'll buy from Amazon again, frankly, despite some music being slightly cheaper.

So, in conclusion, it's easy to see why iTunes - the simplicity and seamlessness - makes Apple market leader, despite price and even sound quality. Time companies with superior hardware, like Sony, or pricing, like Amazon, developed the user experience to match.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tweet mother of god: Celebrities on Twitter

The new source of cheap showbiz stories in the tabloid newspapers is Twitter. Why? Because celebrities – particularly Jonathan Ross (@Wossy) and Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) have decamped there (and, in Alan Carr’s case, camped it up there). All a hack has to do is follow their Tweets and they have an endless stream of title-tattle.

I only caught on a few weeks ago after using the Mr Tweet service to extend my Twitter network and it suggested I follow a Guardian technology journalist, Charles Arthur (@charlesarthur) who follows @Wossy (sorry to non-tweeters – Twitter has its own arcane argot).

I don’t know how I feel about celebrity tweeting. Not because I mind famous people doing it – Alan Carr’s tweets, for instance, are laugh-out -loud funny. No, what makes me cringe is the sheer amount of brown-nosing and ‘pay attention to me, me, me’ messaging from less exalted tweeters. There’s something a bit undignified about this. I guess it’s feeding celebrity egos, which always need a lot of sustenance, but its demeaning for the non-celebrities – like kids trying to get the attention of a distant parent who will never love them.

The biggest culprit on my follow list is one journalist (I shan’t name names) who seems to spend most of his working day trying to engage Jonathan Ross in tweet conversation. Give it up mate, he’s not going to write a column for you and 6000 other nobodies are trying to grab his attention.

One final argument against celebrities on Twitter: here’s a picture of Eddie Izzard in a fleece. It’s a bit like seeing Madonna in surgical stockings...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Don Draper’s Guide to Making It in Advertising

Having just caught up with the wonder that is Mad Men on DVD, I have a new role model: Don Draper, Creative Director at ‘60s Madison Avenue agency Sterling Cooper. Without giving away too much about this brilliant series to the uninitiated, here’s Don’s approach to a successful career in adland…
1. Get drunk. Stay drunk.
They say that a relaxed mind is a creative mind – and what better way to stay relaxed than to be pissed on whiskey from the start of the day to when you crawl into bed with your beautiful but soulless wife (or anyone else who takes your fancy(see point 2))? Keep that drinks cabinet in the office well stocked – you never know when you might need some extra ‘inspiration’!

2. Fuck around
Shagging intelligent independent women might assuage your empty marriage and banging the client may even bring in more business!

3. Smoke like a chimney
Everyone loves to smoke; it’s an essential component of the American dream. It’s an especially useful habit if your client is Lucky Strike – live the brand, then die of lung cancer.

4. Take a nap
No ideas? Lie down on that sofa in your quiet corner office and get 40 winks. Who knows what may occur to you in your reverie?

5. Find a loyal secretary
All that drinking, philandering and sleeping needs good cover. Your secretary is both gatekeeper and organiser. Loyalty will be particularly encouraged by sexist remarks and condescension.

6. Keep 10 clean shirts in a drawer in your desk
A good creative looks like Cary Grant after a 8 hours in a trouser press. So wherever you’ve been the night before (see point 2 again), keep a fresh shirt handy.

7. Keep those skeletons in the closet
Got a shady, mysterious past that you don’t want to share? Great! Not only does it add an enigmatic air, it may offer an unexpected coup de grace when agency rivals try to blackmail you.

So there you have it – Don Draper’s approach may seem a little dated, but I reckon it could work for you! Why not give it a go?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Taking a Big Bite of Apple

Sorry about the recent lack of blog, dear reader. Simon and I have started working on the Apple account and this has taken up all my brain-space. Even though we’re both consumers of the brand, it’s an interesting challenge to get under the skin of what’s right for it creatively.

Apple’s creative philosophy, as articulated all over the walls at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, is ‘simplify,, simplify, simplify’. Now this, as I’m discovering, effectively summarises the challenge of picking up this revered brand in a number of ways.

It seems that Apple advertising is easy (sexy product shot and a clever line), there’s a lot of nuance within that and it’s bloody hard to get simplicity right.

As a copywriter, you’re often asked to cover off all possible marketing messages in a line. It’s a real skill to get straight to the heart of the proposition in a minimum number of words. I remember James Hilton, a Creative director at AKQA, telling me that writing copy for Nike was a matter of starting with a statement, halving the number of words, then halving it again. It’s similar with Apple. Typically it’s boiling down what’s brilliant about a product in 4 playful words or less. And those playful words must translate into 19 languages.

It’s a tough one for an art director too. Doing something fresh within a very tight visual framework is incredibly challenging. We know that a lot of the ideas we’re coming up with are wrong, but we’re following them through to their logical conclusion to figure out why and identify the bits that are right. It’s an iterative process and I feel that I’m sharpening my creative skills as I go.

After a few weeks on the brand, we hope that we’re feeling our way towards the essence of Apple in our work. I’m beginning to think that after a few hundred concepts we’ll enter a zen state where we’re getting it right with less of a struggle. I’ll keep you posted…