One Question with Will Luckman

When I was a freshman at NYU there was this kid in my friend’s dorm we called Bling-Bling Will. He had a huge diamond stud in one ear and knew more about hip hop than anyone else. Well, Bling-Bling Will eventually acquired a last name (Luckman) and grew up to be the Managing Editor at Brooklyn’s powerHouse Books. He’s published titles you may have heard of like Advanced Style (creatively chic octogenarians) and Whole Larder Love (a guide for hunter-gatherer types), and is currently working on the releases of Dealers, a book of anonymous interviews with NYC drug dealers, and The Fun: The Social Practice of Nightlife in NYC in collaboration with the Museum of Art and Design. Super cool, right? Here, he answers our one question. -MML

What one book or piece of writing has changed the way you think about your own work?

Paper Rad, B.J. & da Dogs by Paper Rad (Picturebox, 2005).

In 2005 I was midway through college at NYU. After initially pursuing photography and journalism, I was realizing I was having more fun exploring art and comics and the physical limits of THC consumption. I started interning for Cantab, an independent publishing company run by an artist named Alex Lukas out of his Bushwick loft, making small-run artists’ zines and posters.

Alex had been through RISD at the tail end of the Fort Thunder era and introduced me to those artists’ work: Brian Chippendale, Jim Drain, Mat Brinkman, and the rest. They were a crew of artists that were producing a slew of printed matter that covered a range of projects from mini-comics, to super technical silkscreen posters, to newspapers, while engaging in an immersive life of multidisciplinary art practice that also covered music, performance, sculpture, and the legendary Fort Thunder itself—their kinetic, built-out, living-sculpture of a collective studio, residence, and punk venue (R.I.P.).

On the periphery of that crew was Paper Rad, a collective comprised of Ben Jones and the Ciocci siblings Jacob and Jessica, along with a handful of other sometimes collaborators. If Fort Thunder was the defining 2000s’ manifestation of experimental Art Punk collective living, Paper Rad was the same idea but bathed in Acid House, 80s children’s television, and an engagement with new technology. Their aesthetic was built on a color palette comprised exclusively of neons and primary colors, appropriation and found imagery, and 8-bit and early computer graphics, and it was completely psychedelic, overloaded, and altogether eyeball-busting with organic cartoon mutations piled on futurist patterns piled on searing gradients. They might be directly responsible for the flourishing New Rave/Cyberpunk 2.0/Tumblr Arts/ Windows 2095 movement, and if not, they were definitely years ahead of the curve.

When I first saw their book Paper Rad, B.J. & da Dogs, it blew my mind. It was split into sections, each on its own paper stock, so the book block projected their distinctive rainbow-toned posi-aggression. And each section was dedicated to a different aspect of their work: retarded stoner comics, shroomy illustration experiments, found-photo collage, installation photos, cyberspace narratives, every page packed to the edge. I was familiar with the concept of book as art object, but I had never seen it realized so fully, and with such overwhelming visual and tactical power. I immediately bought my own copy.

It convinced me I was on the right path—I was going to make books like these. My first job after college was working for the publisher of B.J. & da Dogs, PictureBox, and I’ve been making visual books since. But aside from the impact it had on my career, B.J. & da Dogs taught me lessons about books, art, and publishing that are at the core of my outlook: design is not separate from the content of the best books, content is always more important than design, low-brow and high-brow culture have equal merit and can be one in the same, the best art is completely immersive, and sometimes a book can create an experience no other media can achieve.