Clifton Page's photos of Pittsburgh (accompanying Laura Zorch's story, “Second Opinion,” in Issue 36: Shhh of Block Club) tell a story about urban life in PGH that belies the typical kind of city shots you see in such stories. Zorch’s story explores the refusal of some in the city to adopt the “Most Livable City” banner Pittsburgh had been installed with by a Forbes.com ranking. The city is not truly “livable,” some say; what does “livable” even mean, asked others. We invited Page to photograph his city as he sees it, with a sense of both livable charm—mixed-use buildings, density, beautiful spaces and views, public access, free art—and the echoes of an empty city. Who lives here, and why? Who has access to these wonderful qualities, and how come for those who don’t? Do explore Page’s photos with this curiosity, and enjoy Zorch’s story on Pittsburgh’s divided title.

-Ben

Issue 36: Shhh kicked off with a blast Friday night. Our office was filled to the brim with neon orange magazines, limited-edition handmade black books of secrets, the Betty Crockski food truck that was overflowing with insanely good pierogi, music all night (and morning) from S(in)inters, and a themed collection of art curated by our friend Chris Fritton at the Western New York Book Arts Center. Oh, and a typewriter on which guests typed their secrets and placed in a lockbox.

Quite a night, indeed.

We’ll have more posts about the launch party and its many interactive elements, including our collaboration with Chris and WNYBAC. There are secrets all over town, lies that are begging to be truthed. It’s time to face the music. Stay tuned, and get ready to divulge.

For now, some photos of our fun. Enjoy. :-)

-Ben

Captions, clockwise from top:

"I don’t think people realize how hurtful of a word ‘still’ can be. So many times people have asked me if I’m ‘still’ chasing my dream of being on television, with a tone that implies I’ll eventually be giving up."

"Sometimes I stay up late without asking."

"I’m an architect, and I’ve designed buildings all over the world. Every time I get a commission in an emerging market, I get excited about the opportunity to draw from the country’s heritage, culture, and art. But the client never wantsit. They all want the same thing: ‘modern style, modern style, modern style.’ Everything has to be high and glassy. It’s almost as if everyone wants to hide their differences. It’s boring.”

"I was hoping I’d be somebody by now."

Have you seen Humans of New York, the inquisitive photo blog (and book, and Facebook feed) that pairs candid portraits of New Yorkers with simple questions about everyday life. Subjects flock to curator Brandon’s lens, offering glimpses into their world that is at times vague and abstract, and sometimes specific and startling. I see it as a testament to the power of confession, that once it’s out there, captured for (digital) eternity, it’s no longer yours; the things we hole up inside of our quiet souls become the property and benefit of everyone else. That’s pretty damn awesome if you ask me. That’s sharing. That’s truth.

Take one look through Brandon’s impressive collection and consider what you’d say if you were asked, “Tell me about yourself…”

-Ben

I am often asked by readers and friends, How do you come up with your themes? and What do they mean?
It is with great pride that I smile, thank them for their question, and dive in. The answer often takes them by surprise, where they discover a layer of insight or thought that they had not considered. I’ve often seen people’s eyes widen with clarity. I mention this not to toot our horn; this is an editorial concept that’s perhaps atypical for your average locally minded free magazine, however it is rooted in a much more basic storytelling arch. Perhaps they’re recognizing not just our spin on the format but their own desire to dive in, re-read a past issue, or approach the next one with new eyes; this is my favorite kind of interaction as an editor, as you could well understand. Our work is about our readers’ interaction with our publication and brand, but on a much bigger, much more important level, with their own lives as citizens here in Buffalo and the Rust Belt.
The answer to their fair question, however, is simple.
We choose four themes at a time, covering a year’s worth of issues, and aim for topics that convey emotional or attitudinal perspective on our human condition. Things like creation (BCM34: Boom), transition (BCM33: Gray), defensiveness (BCM29: The Fight) and secrets and lies (BCM37: Shhh). These are all states of being and thinking that we interact with on a regular basis, that are part of our natural state.
Our angle, as has always been our company’s angle, no matter the format, design or style of the magazine, is to tell a story about our role as citizens here in Buffalo. So how do stories of transition relate to Buffalo at the turn of the 21st century, where an undefined future and a regrettable/rocky past pits us between two distinct poles? How do stories about secrets and lies, the things that hold us back from acknowledging our true purpose and potential, connect us to our tendency to hold shame for our city’s underdog trappings? What is the value in fighting with each other, standing up for ourselves, defending our right to the things we hold near and close?
These are just a few of the questions that come up when we choose topics. We want themes that can be explored abstractly and literally, with room for personal narratives and civic storytelling. Not every story is about life in a post-industrial, Great Lake city, and that’s okay. We trust that you can connect our dots and understand the range of perspective we’re offering. It is ultimate up to you how you determine these exciting, challenging, risky times to be important to you—whetherhyou stand up and defend what’s important to you as a neighbor, whether you seek shade for your comfort, whether you come out from hiding and expose the bitter truth that’s kept you behind, and so on.
We are living in an exciting time right now, this millennial renaissance. There are lots of questions, lots of fears, lots of exclamation points. Our magazine strives to make some sense out of some of this by raising these topics, addressing these themes and having those conversations that push us forward with mindfulness, thought and respect.
As we prepare for the release of BCM36: Shhh, beginning this weekend and throughout the coming weeks, we ask you to consider these many angles on the topic of secrets and lies. In the end, no discussion is worth exploring without truth and honesty at the forefront.
Thanks for letting us have this conversation in print, online, on your coffee tables, at your kitchen table and beyond. This magazine is about your own approach to our evolving times. Our themes are chosen with that in mind. We hope and expect you will continue to engage with it in all the ways you find relevant.
-Ben

I am often asked by readers and friends, How do you come up with your themes? and What do they mean?

It is with great pride that I smile, thank them for their question, and dive in. The answer often takes them by surprise, where they discover a layer of insight or thought that they had not considered. I’ve often seen people’s eyes widen with clarity. I mention this not to toot our horn; this is an editorial concept that’s perhaps atypical for your average locally minded free magazine, however it is rooted in a much more basic storytelling arch. Perhaps they’re recognizing not just our spin on the format but their own desire to dive in, re-read a past issue, or approach the next one with new eyes; this is my favorite kind of interaction as an editor, as you could well understand. Our work is about our readers’ interaction with our publication and brand, but on a much bigger, much more important level, with their own lives as citizens here in Buffalo and the Rust Belt.

The answer to their fair question, however, is simple.

We choose four themes at a time, covering a year’s worth of issues, and aim for topics that convey emotional or attitudinal perspective on our human condition. Things like creation (BCM34: Boom), transition (BCM33: Gray), defensiveness (BCM29: The Fight) and secrets and lies (BCM37: Shhh). These are all states of being and thinking that we interact with on a regular basis, that are part of our natural state.

Our angle, as has always been our company’s angle, no matter the format, design or style of the magazine, is to tell a story about our role as citizens here in Buffalo. So how do stories of transition relate to Buffalo at the turn of the 21st century, where an undefined future and a regrettable/rocky past pits us between two distinct poles? How do stories about secrets and lies, the things that hold us back from acknowledging our true purpose and potential, connect us to our tendency to hold shame for our city’s underdog trappings? What is the value in fighting with each other, standing up for ourselves, defending our right to the things we hold near and close?

These are just a few of the questions that come up when we choose topics. We want themes that can be explored abstractly and literally, with room for personal narratives and civic storytelling. Not every story is about life in a post-industrial, Great Lake city, and that’s okay. We trust that you can connect our dots and understand the range of perspective we’re offering. It is ultimate up to you how you determine these exciting, challenging, risky times to be important to you—whetherhyou stand up and defend what’s important to you as a neighbor, whether you seek shade for your comfort, whether you come out from hiding and expose the bitter truth that’s kept you behind, and so on.

We are living in an exciting time right now, this millennial renaissance. There are lots of questions, lots of fears, lots of exclamation points. Our magazine strives to make some sense out of some of this by raising these topics, addressing these themes and having those conversations that push us forward with mindfulness, thought and respect.

As we prepare for the release of BCM36: Shhh, beginning this weekend and throughout the coming weeks, we ask you to consider these many angles on the topic of secrets and lies. In the end, no discussion is worth exploring without truth and honesty at the forefront.

Thanks for letting us have this conversation in print, online, on your coffee tables, at your kitchen table and beyond. This magazine is about your own approach to our evolving times. Our themes are chosen with that in mind. We hope and expect you will continue to engage with it in all the ways you find relevant.

-Ben

I found perfect on Sunday. It looked like this:

  • The collection of likeminded, yet excitingly diverse friends, who tirelessly support this crazy notion that we deserve better than what we’ve been given, and what’s been taken away. That we are responsible for that vision by committing to self-fulfillment of these ideals, in solidarity for both civil rights and civic life. That we have the answers.
  • This remarkable city of patrons, supporters, friends, family, neighbors and leaders who literally pave the way for these efforts, and cheer us on with might, glee and pride. I can’t imagine a more nurturing city in which to be different, to be a trier, a conquerer, a visionary, a brave person who just wants to be who they are—to be “an other.” The turnout and feeling on Sunday reinforced that you don’t have to be anything other than who you are—that goes for us as individuals, and us as a city; be who you are, and others will flock, in swarms.
  • The brave souls who announced their identity on banners, posters, shirts and flags, and who, maybe for even this one day a year, dared to be comfortable in public. It was not a small thing for them to do, and not a small thing for us to notice.
  • This team of colleagues that supports one another, and teems of others out there, marching in the wretched (but glorious) sun, wearing black (but handsome) shirts, screaming loud (but heartfelt) screams (until maybe a few sore throats), all while having a blast. I’m SO. LUCKY. to work with these people, and to know their friends. What an honor. To those who cheered on with chants of “BLOCK CLUB! BLOCK CLUB!” as we passed you: your acknowledgment of our presence was wholeheartedly felt, and appreciated beyond belief. (And from where I sit, as a writer and editor whose relationship with audience is inherently distanced, separated by bound paper and distribution boxes, it was a wonderful treat to know you’re reading and paying attention to what Block Club is all about. I felt you all.)
  • And to the strangers on the sidewalks who sang me a happy birthday….that was pretty rad, too. :-)

I’d like to add that this year’s Pride Parade was expertly organized. The entire week of events, organized brilliantly by Buffalo’s Pride Center, was beautifully marketed, designed, communicated and executed. It was easy to navigate and fun to explore. And with a record 20,000 people enjoying Sunday’s many events, it was a rousing success, too. So proud of our Pride!

We will see you in next year’s parade, for sure, but before that, we’ll just see you around! Thank you, Buffalo! WE WANT BETTER!

-Ben

Images courtesy Steve Soroka and Dave Horesh.

sosuperawesome:

This One Summer

Check out this beautiful graphic novel illustration work. Despite the suggestion summerific name, these tones and patterns remind me of cool summer July afternoons, when laying in the grass and looking up at the trees is as relaxing as a warm winter’s bath.

-Ben

(via fuckyeahillustrativeart)

New ClubTalk this Friday: The Importance of Self-Asssesment

I’m excited to share Block Club’s next ClubTalk, which I will be leading. The Importance of Self-Assesment will look at bringing self-assessment into your business or organization. We find great use in this evaluative process here at Block Club, and regularly come back to the table to see where we are, how we are doing, and who’s doing what. Of particular interest to me is the idea that on a successful, dynamic team, there are a number of essential elements you must have for your work to flow freely, efficiently and readily. There are also various productivity modes, environmental preferences, personal sensitivities  personnel needs and creative strengths. We will look at how to identify the differences among us, so that you and your organization can move forward together.
This exciting ClubTalk will take place this Friday, May 9 at 9:30 a.m., here at the Block Club office (731 Main St.).
RSVP today to reserve your spot—your only cost is a $10 donation to the Buffalo City Mission.
There are only 10 seats available for each talk, and due to limited seating, we can only allow one person per organization to attend.
Please arrive 10 minutes early so we can get started on time. Each talk will last one hour.
See you there!
-Ben
While Issue 35: Better/Worse is still available for your reading pleasure (more issues will be re-distrubted to select locations in the coming weeks, BTW) we are hard at work on the next edition.
Expect announcements soon regarding an interactive element of Issue 36, and what questions it will raise for you in the process. I don’t want to give too much away, but I trust that soon enough you will understand why.
To tease, I can offer you this train of thought: Progress, freedom, opportunity—all that we ultimately crave in ourselves and for our cities—comes only once you unlock yourself.
The rest will remain our little secret.
-Ben
Image courtesy Wallcanvas.

While Issue 35: Better/Worse is still available for your reading pleasure (more issues will be re-distrubted to select locations in the coming weeks, BTW) we are hard at work on the next edition.

Expect announcements soon regarding an interactive element of Issue 36, and what questions it will raise for you in the process. I don’t want to give too much away, but I trust that soon enough you will understand why.

To tease, I can offer you this train of thought: Progress, freedom, opportunity—all that we ultimately crave in ourselves and for our cities—comes only once you unlock yourself.

The rest will remain our little secret.

-Ben

Image courtesy Wallcanvas.

Friday night’s Issue 35: Better/Worse launch party was a huge success!

A huge thank-you to our friend Elisabeth Samuels, of Indigo Art in Allentown, for curating such a beautiful show. Samuels invited eight noteworthy local artists to interpret the Better/Worse theme in their work. The result was a stunning selection full of variety, depth, color and introspection.

I had a wonderful time discussing the new issue with many new friends, including more than a few from out of town, here for the weekend. It’s always fun to share notes on our cities and work with people who notice your input. I’m looking forward to following up and learning more!

If you haven’t gotten your hands on a copy of Better/Worse, we will be re-distributing in May, you can always read it online, and if you prefer your very own guaranteed copy, subscriptions are available.

Thanks again to all who came and explored our shared pursuit for better.

-Ben

I spent the weekend among my people—our people. The kind of people who make things with their hands, of their hearts and for their neighbors. The kind of things that make you go, hmm, this is new.
This year’s Buffalo Small Press Book Fair was once again an embarrassment of riches, from which we met fellow publishers, printers, writers, illustrators, designers, photographers, entrepreneurs, artists and active citizens. All of them were fans, and all were producers.
I picked up just a few objects for my growing but wrongfully small collection of zines and small-press publications. I especially liked Sean Nickerbocker’s collection of graphic novels, enticingly titled Rust Belt. I purchased all three volumes, which came with that awesome print (in the top right corner) that reminds me of Roald Dahl’s “The B.F.G. (Big Friendly Giant),” a favorite book of my childhood.
Major, huge, arms-open kudos to Chris Fritton and his team with the BSPBF, as well as their partners at WNYBAC, for assembling such a great group of vendors from our city and others. I think it’s a testament to having produced seven successful years (this year was the event’s eighth), and to our city as a whole, that we can attract so many eager, excited, curious travelers from cities around North America. We are so lucky to be able to share this great creative work with everyone who’s interested! We should always connect over art and design; we have no good reason not to.
Thanks for stopping down and seeing us, and thanks for supporting the printed word!
-Ben

I spent the weekend among my people—our people. The kind of people who make things with their hands, of their hearts and for their neighbors. The kind of things that make you go, hmm, this is new.

This year’s Buffalo Small Press Book Fair was once again an embarrassment of riches, from which we met fellow publishers, printers, writers, illustrators, designers, photographers, entrepreneurs, artists and active citizens. All of them were fans, and all were producers.

I picked up just a few objects for my growing but wrongfully small collection of zines and small-press publications. I especially liked Sean Nickerbocker’s collection of graphic novels, enticingly titled Rust Belt. I purchased all three volumes, which came with that awesome print (in the top right corner) that reminds me of Roald Dahl’s “The B.F.G. (Big Friendly Giant),” a favorite book of my childhood.

Major, huge, arms-open kudos to Chris Fritton and his team with the BSPBF, as well as their partners at WNYBAC, for assembling such a great group of vendors from our city and others. I think it’s a testament to having produced seven successful years (this year was the event’s eighth), and to our city as a whole, that we can attract so many eager, excited, curious travelers from cities around North America. We are so lucky to be able to share this great creative work with everyone who’s interested! We should always connect over art and design; we have no good reason not to.

Thanks for stopping down and seeing us, and thanks for supporting the printed word!

-Ben

Going through old files today, doing a little spring cleaning on my iMac, and I found this little gem from a few summers back. I must have been melting a chunk of ice from our freezer, drip by drip, when it occurred to me to record and reverse it. The result is a little moment of zen, in which warmth turns to cold, and drips turn to ice. Seems topical given our rollercoaster of a winter and spring. Enjoy. :-)

-Ben

Good news from the film industry: original ideas do still exist!
Check out this list from io9 of 50 upcoming movies that are neither standard Hollywood fare (romcoms, buddy road trips, cars that turn into monsters that turn into spaceships that turn into shark tornados that shut down lower-Manhattan on a sweltering July day—for instance), nor sequels, remakes or reboots.
I’m of the belief, like many others, that there are only a few stories in existence, with an infinite number of combinations of details, skins, layers and masks. Comedy and drama, if you think Shakespearean. Love, loss, redemption, if you think Darwinian, or maybe spiritually; I’m not really sure of this theory yet, still working on it.
But more to the point, the wheel’s been invented. It’s how we adapt our narratives to these bones that give us fantastical, far-reaching, daring, inventive new concepts. This list gives me hope for the screen.
NEW IDEAS! NEW TALENT! NEW STORIES!
-Ben
Photo credit: The Signal

Good news from the film industry: original ideas do still exist!

Check out this list from io9 of 50 upcoming movies that are neither standard Hollywood fare (romcoms, buddy road trips, cars that turn into monsters that turn into spaceships that turn into shark tornados that shut down lower-Manhattan on a sweltering July day—for instance), nor sequels, remakes or reboots.

I’m of the belief, like many others, that there are only a few stories in existence, with an infinite number of combinations of details, skins, layers and masks. Comedy and drama, if you think Shakespearean. Love, loss, redemption, if you think Darwinian, or maybe spiritually; I’m not really sure of this theory yet, still working on it.

But more to the point, the wheel’s been invented. It’s how we adapt our narratives to these bones that give us fantastical, far-reaching, daring, inventive new concepts. This list gives me hope for the screen.

NEW IDEAS! NEW TALENT! NEW STORIES!

-Ben

Photo credit: The Signal

Save the date!
Block Club and City Dining Cards, proud sponsors of this year’s Buffalo Small Press Book Fair, will be on hand for both days of this year’s event. If you haven’t been, you must check out their website and get a taste for something completely amazing.
Basically, if you like to read, to write, to hold and touch deliciously designed paper goods, if you like to call your collection a “library,” if you like to call your doodles “illustrations,” if you like to be around infinitely creative individuals who put their minds to work and made something original JUST FOR YOU, then you must come on down. I can’t say enough about it, clearly. :-)
See you there!
-Ben

Save the date!

Block Club and City Dining Cards, proud sponsors of this year’s Buffalo Small Press Book Fair, will be on hand for both days of this year’s event. If you haven’t been, you must check out their website and get a taste for something completely amazing.

Basically, if you like to read, to write, to hold and touch deliciously designed paper goods, if you like to call your collection a “library,” if you like to call your doodles “illustrations,” if you like to be around infinitely creative individuals who put their minds to work and made something original JUST FOR YOU, then you must come on down. I can’t say enough about it, clearly. :-)

See you there!

-Ben

Biking season is upon us!

(For some, there isn’t a season. Year-round biking seems more and more common, but anyway. Also: there’s this guy’s approach to bike culture.)

Holding us over until roads are clear is the enticement of artists like this fella, whose bike-wheel print of the Empire State Building is simple and raw.

I tend to be drawn into images that appear significantly different at different depths, where from a distance we see a crude NYC landmark but up close we see road work.

Check out more of the bike-related art and design at 100 Copies. Cool shop, over there.

-Ben

Images courtesy 100 Copies.