Seeing green

For years now, I’ve collected a peculiarly American subspecies of handbill, one which seems to bring out the obsessive best in the designers of the material. It’s been a popular subgenre for years, probably longer than I have been alive, and sits right on the border of illegality.

Friends, I am discussing the fake-bill advertising handbill, in which the size, shape, and markings of genuine American currency are imitated, with varying degrees of acuity and detail. The reason for the popularity of the device is not hard to fathom. First, as a handbill, if the fake money is casually discarded in the street, it’s very difficult for a passerby to ignore as it reposes on the sidewalk.

Second, one’s impulse is to immediately pull a bill from your wallet to compare the two works. This impulse toward comparison means that the handbill designers have the liberty of going to town on each discrete element of the design, re-imagining each part of the currency’s iconography in support of their own goals.

Here are some. Click the images to see the bill at 640 pixels wide; from there, click again to see it at 1000 pixels wide.

Additionally, refashioning currency is a recurrent meme in art as well, irresitably merging art and commerce into a reflective unity. I’ll begin with the front and back of such a bill I’ve have for about 15 years, probably the work of a zine artist who now lives in San Francisco. I also have a bill that is unquestionably by this person, but not reproducible here, as rather than employing degenerated xerox imagery on green cardstock, the bill was photocopied on to black cardstock. It’s eerie.

Occupying a middle ground is this $100 playing card:

This bill combines an unusual bluntness with the peculiar typographical choice of a kind of Olde Germanic font, probably intended to convey a message of impending fascist danger. The artist’s urgency of comittment here apparently led them to eschew both the use of color reproduction and the more customary obsessive detailing. Curiously, particularly on the back of the piece, these two tendencies come together to create a note whch bears a distinct resemblance to a Weimar Republic inflation-era mark. Personally, I suspect this to be an accident rather than an intentional reference.

I’m concluding this little show-and-tell with my two favorites in the collection. For balance, I’ll interject this remarkable born-again Christian bill between the 9-11/anti-Bush pieces. This bill is one of my older pieces, and is marked “copyright 1980(?) by Robert H. Hill.” I can’t tell if the date is 1990 or 1980. It’s entirely hand drawn, and really rewards careful scrutiny. Olive branches become loaves and fishes, “One Dollar” becomes “One Savior” and “One Way”, and so on. The hand-drawn nature of the rendering accentuates the act of creation itself as an act of faith and devotion.

The artist has also simplified the design of the bill itself, eliminating the anti-countefeiting measures such as intricate engraving and so forth. Again, this has the effect of increasing the effectiveness of the piece: there’s no way to misunderstand the simple message the artist is interested in communicating.

Finally, we come to what must be regarded as the undisputed masterwork among the collection. It’s so incredibly detailed, so carefully printed, that a doubletake is almost always required to really grasp what it is you’re looking at. The publishers of the work undoubtedly realized this, and upsized the bill from a standard U. S. currency size by about 20%. This is not reflected in these thumbnails, but if you check out the large images, you can see the sizing difference there.

The bill itself is festooned with URLs, none of which I’ve checked out, and it picks up the thread of the N30 bill and runs with it. In fact, it runs to the ends of the earth, to the moon, and back. It’s by far the most obsessively detailed phony bill I’ve ever seen.

Where Robert H. Hill’s simple message was enhanced by a stripped-down presentation, the 9-11 artist’s work is interested in conveying the idea of a sinister, complex world of interlocking interests, cynically exploiting the events of that terrible day to move their international corporate agenda forward. The design of the bill reflects this in every detail, from the spiderwebs in the corners of the front of the bill to the hidden corporate logos that appear throughout the surface of the detailed engraving.

Having a hard time spotting them? Here’s a couple. On the back of the bill, to the left and the right of the circular seals, a leafy decorative element curls up and over the thin white rule separating the central cartouche of the design from the border. Click into the very largest view of the bill, which will be 1250 pixels wide. Look in the center of that curling foliage. It’s the Gulf Oil logo!

Now look in the lower border band, still on the back. Look directly to the left and also above the large word “ONE”. In order, from left to above the white band, moving clockwse, we see: “HALLIBURTON”, the masonic order symbol, the Lockheed-Martin logo, and neslting under foliage again and in the shade of an oil derrick, the ARCO logo.

On the front of the bill, the internal decorative fringe atop the central cartouche border at the bottom of the space is a repeated motif of oil derrick and oilfield pump. In the numerals “9-11” on the back of the bill, the letters “C I A” are faintly visible. This is only a sampling of the incredble amount of semi-hidden material visible on the bill.

Clearly, the objective is to provide a kind of miniature training ground for the sort of perceptual experience the designers and publishers of the bill hope that people will have upon encountering it, the experience of looking around at the world and forever seeing new and sinister patterns. Whatever your opinion of the world-view expressed in the bill, it’s a tour-de-force of this particular school of design.

Ihr Ken Goldstein der Woche


All I can say is, I’m sorry it took so long. I don’t know what I was thinking. Click the pic and a larger image which will be perfect for printing as a sticker will appear.

Let’s all do our part!

UPDATE: Just to make things easy for you, here’s a 337k .gif which you can simply print off and run down to Kinko’s with.

And a nod to the originator of the “giant” stickers seems in order.

1987 Stenciled poster

I was so involved with my Wired piece I forgot about the Monday art.

In a few days I’ll fudge the dates of publication so it’s neater.

This image is a photo of a no-longer surviving copy of a large, 18″ by 24″ or larger poster I made for a party/show in the basement of the house I lived in during college, the Litter Box. As I recall, the bands were Too Cooland also the Truckadelics. Too Cool was this too short-lived postpunk power rock band – sorta glam. As I recall they were great but I only saw them twice that I can remember.

The Truckadelics were a long-lived Frankie Camaro project. I have video of Andrew Wagner singing an original Frankie number, “Unlucky Highway”, in the basement of the Litter Box at a party, possibly this one. The parties in the basement with bands at this house remain epic in scope – I recall one in particular in which the keg was tapped and completely consumed in less than thirty minutes. Occasionally, I am introduced to someone here in Seattle who happened to be in Bloomington during this era and recalls the parties at the house.

I cut the stencil at full size into a piece of heavy drawing paper, and used a variety of spraypaint colors and on-the-fly paper masking to accomplish the variant color effects. This is one of the most ambitious stencil pieces I did. For many years I would attend punk rock shows with no money in my pocket and hang out by the front door of the show, selling a stencil to be sprayed on whatever people were wearing for a measly buck.

I would clean up, and usually had money for beer after the show. I still have almost all of the stencils I cut – there were thirty or so as I recall, some as elaborate as this image.

I actually got a “real” job from a promoter who worked for the University Student Board from this flyer – he came to the show and asked me to make a flyer for a Replacements show he was booking. I did the job for free plus four tickets to the show, but I don’t think he liked the flyer I made for him.

Li'l Kay-Gee


Click will open a 1200 pixel-wide version.

Here are sketches.

It seems that Mr. Goldstein was once featured in a series of long-forgotten Gold Key comics.

Happy Fourth!

BKB C-Note

bkbben.gifThis week’s entry in my growing pile of original art is the main image from the last tee-shirt I designed for my former band, the Bare Knuckle Boxers. This image, with the website URL below it and the words “Irska Musika – Americke Svaly” (Czech for “Irish Music – American Muscle”) above it in a warm cream color on a dark-green tee appear on the front of the shirt; on the back, the words “Beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy” appear as a quotation above the signature of Ben Franklin, which can be seen on the bill as well.

Originally I designed this so that it was much more like the new $100 dollar bill, but thought better of it and reversed the orientation so that it’s clearly NOT a forgery. If you click the image above, an 800 pixel wide image will open; I encourage you to do so, as there are some entertaining details, including Roddy McCorley’s title. Finally, the serial number – “MR5HN DRK1N CG V3” is, in essence, the chords to an Irish song we performed, “Murshin Dirkin”.

More KG evidence

yalta.jpgPursuant to the remarkable admission of Ken Goldstein’s secret identity and the subsequent discovery of photographic evidence concerning Mr. Goldstein’s apparent agelessness, we here at moved with the lightning reflexes of the distributed, all-digital startup and despatched crack teams of research associates to photo libraries the world over in hopes of finding further traces of Mr. Goldstein’s Zelig-like footprints throughout history.

yalta_zoom.jpgThis week’s entry in our growing log of KG imagery places the cagey (“Cagey” – get it?) freelance technical writer and sponsor of Girls are Pretty in the crowd of advisors behind the big three at the historic Yalta Conference. There was no associated textual information concerning the boyish six-footer, who retains his youthful exuberance and occasional fits of needy, insecure demonstrativeness in addition to his ageless appearance.

Seoul Brother

seoul_brother_flyer.jpgThe weekly original art I’ve selected is from a series of xerox flyers made in the summer of, um, 1987. In fact, it appears to have been made in June of 1987, when the Korean government first suspended the constitution, and faced massive popular unrest before backing down by June 29th, with the Korean government announcing major democratic reforms in response to the public pressure. As with all of my Monday images, clicking on it will produce a greatly enlarged image.

(In looking for linkage pertaining to the topic at hand I noted this interesting essay concerning the roots of the Korean democratic movement.)

The unrest at the time generated incredible images – little old ladies smacking Samurai-Vader riot cops with rolled umbrellas, walls of cops standing in sheets of Molotov cocktail flame – and at the time I knew nothing of Korean politics save the bare info that it was one of the many repressive governments around the world that the US equipped and trained. I was just interested in recycling the imagery as a means of expressing the general excitement I felt at seeing the shape of the static global politics of the day challenged – calls for democratic reform were being heard in China, in Korea, in South Africa, in Chile, in the socialist countries.

Later, my parents adopted a Korean grad student as a family member, and my dad worked with a lot of Korean auto-industry and business prof types, so I became more interested in the background to these images.

In my reading about it, the event that was of most interest to me was the 1980 Kwangju uprising and massacre, covered at length in an issue of Granta for which I could find no good links. The link here is to an article in The Nation which concerns itself wth the extent to which US officials knew in advance about and may have approved the use of the Korean military units that performed the suppression of the uprising.

Fortunately for me, the Indiana University daily paper had published an ill-advised coupon for “50 free copies” at Kinko’s – the coupon did not have the usual “limit one per customer” or and expiration date printed on it, so a band of my friends and I systematically harvested the downtown area for these coupons and squirrelled them away for use all summer long. I believe in the end I designed about 40 or so flyers. Most are similar to this one, in that they express a political opinion but are not polemical.

Just about two years later, I watched the events in Tiananmen Square with interest that escalated to concern as I realized that my parents had left the US to fly to a conference in Shanghai and were to arive there on the 5th of June. The army moved on the Chinese students while my parents were in the air, and let’s just say that media coverage combined with information I was getting from democracy-supporting Chinese students at IU gave me concern.

There will be more of these flyers seen in this space over time.

DT: KG – NJ blogger comes clean, admits all

In a startling development to the evergreen “Who was Deep Throat” mystery, veteran blogger and beloved trencherman Ken Goldstein, of Jersey City, New Jersey, admitted to this writer in a personal email that he was in fact Deep Throat, the secret inside source that catapulted cub reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Redford to national prominence in the mid-seventies Hal Holbrook vehicle, “All the President’s Men”.

“Okay! Enough already! It was me, I admit it, ME! GOD, it feels good to get that off my chest!” typed the possibly intoxicated 30-year-old copywriter and technical writer in an email exchange concerning the various candidates-du-saison that are currently being flacked in such moneygrubbing endeavors as the University of Illinois three-year journalism class project which fingered Pat Buchanan, or John Dean’s latest impeccably objective investigation in to the who, what, where, when, and why of Watergate.

The perpetually 30-year-old blogger, seen here in an undated file photo on Nixon’s epochal China visit, refused to comment upon speculations that his agelessness is the result of either bathing in the blood of virgins or his preference for Air Jordans on the court.

A random youth, accosted in the street near my apartment, characterized “All the President’s Men” as “boring” and wanted to know why the character of the President had not at least pursued personal sexual gratification instead of shredding the constitution in the name of national security. He then speculated on what sort of “action” President Bush might be “getting”, assuring me that he had great faith in the current President’s ability to learn from his predecessors.

It is of interest to note that fellatio, in name or in deed, appears to have had a profound effect on the course of late 20th-century United States Presidental politics.

Mr. Throat could not be reached for comment.

Laguna Beach drawing


This is the view of the headlands at north end of Laguna Beach, specifically Main Beach; I drew this on May 27th of this year. I believe this opens Vacation Week here at, where I’ll try to write about things that I did while we were in Southern California.