Building your own prison

Appleton Utopia promotion, AdamsMorioka, Noreen as the innocent farm girl

We make our own prisons. For years, it bothered me when someone would meet me and say, “I love your work, you guys do that funny bright stuff.” The “I love your work” part was good, but the rest felt so small. In our minds, we play with ideas of pastiche, appropriation, irony, and media manipulation. The end product may incorporate complex theory, but it often appears bright and funny. So I’ve had to accept that we built this house. It’s like Marilyn Monroe wanting to be considered a serious actress, or The Beach Boys wanting serious consideration. Marilyn might have been a serious actress, but people wanted her to be what she appeared to be. Brian Wilson is an amazing and revolutionary musician, but the Beach Boys will always be fun and bubble-gum.

Years ago, Appleton Paper asked us to design a piece for their line, Utopia. The assignment was this: ask a hairstylist what his or her idea of a perfect life is. Then design a piece that reflects this. The answer we received was fairly expected, “I’d hang out by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel and have drinks,” or something along those lines. This seemed dull and expected to us. But if you dig a little deeper, the entire Hollywood myth is buried in that statement.

The Hollywood myth that we all know is this: a young innocent leaves the farm in Kansas and heads to Hollywood to become a star. She is soon discovered at the soda fountain at Schwabs and becomes a huge star. Awards follow, and then the diva-esque behavior sets in. Of course it all ends badly with substance abuse and rehab. This is a far more fun story to tell. In fact, it is the plot of Valley of the Dolls. We decided to tell the narrative visually. Budget constraints and a nod to Cindy Sherman, not excessive ego, thrust Noreen into the starring role. Of course, in the end, it's the bright and funny stuff.

Appleton Utopia promotion, AdamsMorioka, stardom, swimming pools, and Cadillacs

Appleton Utopia promotion, AdamsMorioka, diva behavior, rehab

Patty Duke, Valley of the Dolls, 1967

Appleton Utopia promotion, AdamsMorioka, Sean Adams on the road to ruin

Appleton Utopia promotion, AdamsMorioka

The Mystery of the Clichéd Typography

The hate mail with corny typography

Getting criticism is part of the deal we made when we accepted that first speaking engagement, or magazine article. If you put yourself out there publicly, you’ll get some nice responses, and conversely, not so nice responses. The New York Times had asked Noreen to respond to a question, and obviously somebody didn’t like her answer. I’d love to say we were hurt and upset when this anonymous note showed up. Noreen was in New York, and the rest of the studio thought it was hilarious. Trying to solve the mystery of who sent the note became an ongoing project. Note the clues: the old How magazine logo, but I’m pretty sure Bryn Mooth at How didn’t send it; she’s actually one of those people who is good to the core. The consensus was that it came from a woman-owned company due to type from Cosmopolitan magazine, and the Hollywood postmark limited the attacker to Southern California, or a tourist at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Unfortunately we never solved the mystery. We hid the note in a drawer so Noreen wouldn’t see it. I wanted to wait until she was having a really bad day to show it to her. I’m that nice. The upside was that I didn’t like our website’s navigation, and now I had validation in the form of hate mail even though it used pretty expected typography.

The spineless no return address envelope for the hate mail with corny typography