London’s burning

UK 2016 Great Fire of London stamp setHere’s a stamp issue I just have to share with you before 2016 becomes too tiny in the rear view mirror. It was undoubtedly my favourite release out of any that caught my eye last year. And you don’t have to be a stamp nerd to love it, though it’ll help if you are a history buff, comic book geek, or pyromaniac.

The UK marked the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London in September 2016. And appropriately, it was smoking. (To bring out the full vivid detail in the 6-block above, I would have killed your data. I’ve selected a few favourites below and depicted them bigly.)

1_uk_2016_1st_great_fire_of_london_2-9-66Where to even begin listing the awesomeness? Let’s start with the most obvious aspect: it’s a comic strip. Designed by British comic book artist John Higgins (brief CV: Batman: The Killing Joke, Judge Dredd, Watchmen), it brilliantly co-opts the traditions of that art form to simultaneously engage the eye (those colours! that detail!) and narrate the story.

(Comments from the designer usually accompany the PR effort for any stamp release. Normally it’s ‘what a great honour, I have always loved the spotted marmoset’ blah blah blah dreary corporate puff. Higgins said of this brief, “I was sworn to secrecy. I could only tell people once I had killed them.” A definite lifting of the bar. Designers take note.)

The tale told in the text remarkably blends the great and the personal. We are engaged with the Farriners’ escape from the first moment. I feel a palpable sense of heartbreak when the cathedral goes up and takes locals’ belongings with it. One can imagine how truly the people of the time would have placed their faith in the great cathedral as a sanctuary from the flames.

3_uk_2016_q1-05_great_fire_of_london_3-9-66_stampI adore how the streets of the London map frame the multiple panes on each stamp while locating the action to precisely where each scene took place. My favourite touch is the point-of-view depiction of the arms tugging on the ropes in the Monday stamp. It’s positively 3D! ..ish.

The issue comes with all the usual add-ons, including a Presentation Pack designed by graphic novel artist Leigh Gallagher depicting the Great Fire in more detail, and in the same comic book style.

Lately we’ve seen a plethora of comic-themed stamp issues that rarely transcend the basic concept of character portraits and action shots. (I’m looking at you, USPS.) This issue demonstrates the enormous potential in telling entire stories in comic art on stamps. It’s a match made in heaven. A few more of these and a whole new generation of collectors might be born.

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Side note – what happened to stories on stamps? I feel like there were a lot of them when I was a kiddie collector. Biographies of actual or literary characters, or verses of bush ballads. (It’s an Aussie thing.) I’m sure I don’t see many these days. Are they out of fashion thanks to some design theory with which I am unfamiliar? Bring stories back, I say. Surely if one landed in your mail, you’d want to collect the set to see how it ends?

So an absolute Respect to all involved with this release, from the Royal Mail for running with such a refreshing approach, to artists Higgins and Gallagher, to The Chase Creative Consultants, for doing whatever creative consulting is.

If this sort of thing sets you on fire, please like, link, share, and generally big me up to your friends. Let’s find each other on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! Thank you so much!
I nearly made the default social media excerpt say “Something’s burning, and for once it’s not Punk’s panties.” I’m mentioning it here to reward the people who actually read this far. That one’s for you, mum. x

Australia’s best (and worst) of 2016

Australia 2016 Jewel Beetles $1 Stigmodera gratiosa stamp

…In which I attempt to cover a year of review and bitching in one fell swoop.

Each year, Australia Post holds its annual survey in which stamp collectors can vote for their favourite – and least favourite – issue. This used to be an exercise on paper, with a few variations on a simple ‘What was your favourite?’ ‘What was your least favourite?’ type arrangement, with prize giveaways for random winners. Now it’s gone all high-tech, with a detailed SurveyMonkey page, in which all issues must be ranked in order from 1 to 32.

Australia Posts's Survey Monkey Stamp Poll 2016

On the upside, I enjoyed the OCD-triggering task of putting every single issue in its rightful place. On the downside, no prize giveaways. I guess AP has to pay for its CEO’s $4.8 million pay packet somehow.

I could swear I saw the final results somewhere, but I can’t seem to Google it anywhere, and the survey I’ve linked to above still seems to be open. Surely I’m not so lame that I dreamed it? I saw it in such detail! Maybe I was shown the running tallies when I finished the survey? Anyway, this isn’t your problem. The important thing is that I am going to tell you which were the best stamps and which were the worst, as judged by my own brain, so survey results don’t matter. Why Australia? Because I live there, silly.

In no particular order (and with each issue’s title linking to the extremely commendable Australia Post Collectables blog site for more info), Australia’s unquestionably best issues were: Continue reading

Lost in the System

Well, look who’s come crawling back to her sorry blog! Sorry, punksters, I’ve had a ridiculously busy year in both my top-secret work life and my even more mysterious private life. But it’s time to down tools and return to what I love. I’ve informed Mr Trump that the militia uniform designs would simply have to wait. He still hasn’t paid me for the preliminary design work, anyway, but he assures me the cheque is in the mail.

Given that it feels like I’ve been lost in outer space lately, it seems appropriate to return with one of the many doozies of new issues from 2016 that I missed while I was gone. Regular readers would know I’m mad for a pretty space stamp, and didn’t the USPS fire my rockets in May with its gorgeous Views of our Planets release?

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No messing about here. The USPS picked some of the sweetest full-disk images of the planets in our solar system and chucked eight of them on stamps (and a minisheet). Viewed up close, they are simply stunning. I have so much more time for Mercury now.

Pluto, of course, was demoted to the cosmic equivalent of the children’s table in 2006. But to keep the Pluto truthers happy, NASA gave Pluto a whole release all to itself on the same day, marking the 2015 flyby of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. One stamp depicts Pluto in all her glory, with her now-trademark loveheart on full display, and the other, New Horizons itself.

usa-2016-pluto-explored-minisheet

I’m generally a but meh about photographs on stamps, because I find they’re often used dully. But when those photographs are taken by multi-million-dollar spacecraft through fancy scientific lenses that make heavenly bodies look even more heavenly than they do to the naked eye, then I am all for it.

If you missed the side-story, this Pluto issue put to bed a philatelic grudge. The USPS released a planetary issue in 1991, which featured Earth’s moon and the planets, along with images of spacecraft that had been significant in exploring each celestial body. But back then, we hadn’t got to Pluto yet. Poor old Pluto got a ‘TBA.’

That ‘not yet explored’ post-it note must have stuck in someone’s craw at Space HQ. Not only is this year’s release titled “Pluto – Explored!” in a direct face-slap to the 1991 stamp, but the team behind New Horizons reportedly stuck one of the 1991 stamps on the New Horizons probe. No doubt this got as much respekt from the world as I got from my friends when I stuck a bicycle stamp on my actual bicycle.

NASA released this adorable photo of the New Horizons team using philately to make their point on the day of the New Horizons flyby. I do love it when nerds collide.

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That stamp now officially holds the Guinness World Record for the farthest distance travelled by a postage stamp. And it’s still going, heading off to investigate the Kuiper Belt. If I am to achieve my dream of beating this record, I’ve got some cycling to do.

Thanks for indulging my absence. I hope to get a few more blogs away over the next few weeks covering some of my fave issues of 2016. In the meantime, a happy festive season to you if that’s your thing right now, and hopefully we’ll see more of each other in 2017!

People bloody love space stuff on social media. You should share this post on yours, and bask in the Likes. You can follow me on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram!

Retrogasm!

Australia 2016 Nostalgic Fruit Labels stamp setHelloooo! Sorry it’s been a while since my last post. I’m going to make up for my stony silence with loads of pretty pictures, inspired by Australia’s Nostalgic Fruit Label stamps, over which I’ve been soiling myself since their release in June.

They celebrate the paper labels that used to be slapped onto the wooden fruit crates in the olden days before Styrofoam boxes.

What I love about these stamps is that they retain the microscopic details of the original labels. I wonder how many of the three people still using stamps will take a moment to appreciate the artist’s work seen, for example, on this River’s Pride label, and take in the fenceposts, the orchard and the veining on the half-peeled orange.

Australia 2016 Nostalgic Fruit Labels $1 River's Pride stamp

If you, like me, are a little fascinated by oldey-timey culture, it’s not out of the question that something would appeal to you about both these designs and also ye olde schoole world of stamp collecting. You may have been given the impression that it involves a lot of old stamps with kings and queens and presidents on them that cost a lot of money. Well, I have good news. There are no rules. We collect whatever the fuck we want. And one could do worse than start with collecting vintage graphic designs on stamps, because it’s so hot right now. Continue reading

You crazy diamonds

UK 2016 Pink Floyd album cover stampsAs the header of my site attests, I love it when music, design and philately collide. And it’s happening again, thanks to the Royal Mail. Attention cool uncles and that boring guy who used to corner me at university house parties: Pink Floyd is being immortalised!

UK 2016 1st Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon (1973) Album Cover StampLast year marked the 50th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s founding, though it feels like they’ve been around for a lot longer, since every David Gilmour guitar solo goes for 50 years in its own right. Royal Mail’s tribute issue clocks in at no less than 10 stamps, which, much like a prog rock album, is more than anyone asked for and a lot more than was probably necessary to get the job done. Continue reading