Art as Inheritance, part 2: Making New Art Appear as Old Text Disappears (as if by Magic!)

A friend recently alerted me to a post at Geek System (“Found Poetry in Magic: The Gathering Cards”): a fellow named Adam Parrish made some short poems by blacking out selected text on Magic cards:

Art by Adam Parrish (2011).

You can find more of Parrish’s poems here. He says of them, “[s]ome of these turned out well, some not so well,” but he’s being overly modest: most of the pieces are pretty witty, especially given the limited amounts of text he had to work with.

But what most caught my attention was the following claim in the Geek System post:

Adam Parrish, inspired by Austin Kleon’s famous newspaper blackout poems, partially blacked out Magic: The Gathering cards to create mini-poems.

Inspired by Austin Kleon? Who’s Austin Kleon? And don’t they mean, “inspired by Tom Phillips’s A Humument“?

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“Is Your Villain Appropriate?”—Examining Character Construction in Different Media

"Phyrexian Ironfoot" (2006). Artwork by Stephan Martiniere. Copyright Wizards of the Coast.

Every Monday, I read Mark Rosewater’s weekly column “Making Magic,” partly because I have a casual interest in the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering (I once played it, and some of my friends still play it), but mainly because Rosewater routinely offers great insights into aesthetics and game design. (He’s also a strong writer who regularly experiments with his column’s form.)

In an article published a few weeks back, Rosewater outlines why he thinks one of Magic’s villains, the Phyrexians, are that game’s best. As is typical with Rosewater, it boils down to a design principle—in this case, how the game operates narratively:

As a story-telling venue, Magic is best when it is telling what I call environmental stories. That is, the best thing Magic can show off creatively is an environment. The genre of a trading card game requires that you show lots of creatures and places and objects. This does a good job of showing off a diverse environment.

The Weatherlight Saga [a series of much older sets] was an attempt for us to tell a plot driven story through card sets. What we learned from that is that it’s very hard when we can’t control the order that players see the cards to convey traditional plotting. […] What Magic is good at is telling stories about changes that happen on an environmental level. This way the changes aren’t seen on a single card but a wide swath of cards. When we tell a story in another medium, we will tell a story that plays to that medium’s strength. Card sets, though, have to tell stories that can be told through card sets.

One of the reasons that I believe the Phyrexians make a perfect villain is that they attack on an environmental level. Take Scars of Mirrodin [one of the game’s most recent sets] as an example. The attack of the Phyrexians isn’t something seen on a single card but on many, many cards […]. My contention is that Magic’s best villain is one that works in the kind of stories that Magic (the card sets) can tell.

In a basic sense, Rosewater is advocating that an author tell a story appropriate to his or her medium—age-old advice. But let’s look beyond that simple rule of thumb: What does it mean for a story to be appropriate? And what are the consequences for characters?

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My Four Favorite New Books of 2009, #1: Mercè Rodoreda’s Death in Spring

#2 | #3 | #4

The problem with the internet is that one can read an online article for only so long. After even just a few lines (in fact, right about now), you start getting restless and feel the urge to check out whether Luis Scott-Vargas has uploaded another Magic drafting video at ChannelFireball.com. …Or is that only me? It is? Please, kindly don’t mock me overmuch, as I’m sure you have your own embarrassing vices. (Feel free to post what they are in the comments!)

This post began as a list of my favorite books new books circa 2009. I wrote a list, but then I found myself wanting to say more about each book, because you probably don’t know me, and who am I, anyway? And what good would my little list do you? You rightly want words of praise, and more words—descriptive words—as well as evidence that these books really are worth your while. (And that’s assuming you’re even still reading this, and haven’t gone and checked out LSV’s latest draft—said draft is the reason why I didn’t post this last evening.)

Ah. Well, because I desire to please you, and want to convince you to actually read these books, I’m splitting what had become one very, very long post into multiple posts. This will please you, I think, and will also please John—see? I’m posting! I will never catch up with Shya, but I am posting!

So starting today, I’ll list my four favorite books of 2009, one per day. And after that, I’ll devote a post to the year’s other new books that I enjoyed. And then, starting next week, I’ll post ad nauseam about the cinema (which I think we all know is what we really want to talk about, anyway).

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