The Winter of Arab Discontent

Get the Atlas of Prejudice on Amazon US | UK | Germany | France | Italy | Spain

arab-winter-january-2012

This map premiered on the pages of the Weekend edition of the Guardian newspaper on February 28th.

It’s the sequel to my Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Arab Spring. It’s a rather cynical glitch in my otherwise cheerful Mapping Stereotype project. If you’re over 30, try to recall the sound when you used to abruptly stop your parents LP player, tapping with your little hand over it.

Depending on the pressure you are able to exert, the LP will either screech and stop immediately (the Libyan ending) or distort the sound and slowly moan until you finally manage to rip it off the player (the Egyptian one).

Seeing Gaddafi’s lifeless, bloody corpse on TV spoiled all the sympathy I had for the rebel movement. Suddenly I remembered that oppressive dictators are never alone in their job, their commitment to oppression and taste for violence are cultivated by the environment that created them. In most cases, they are children of their own people. Whether or not the Libyan people will overcome those traits is a question I am not competent to answer but more importantly – I don’t care. I was lead to believe by the media that this revolution meant something that it didn’t. I was convinced that there were guys out there who were tired of the backward tribalism and wanted just to push it out of the country and make way for something more civilized.

The Egyptian ending was even worse because it seems everything was just a storm that passed leaving all the old trees unaffected. Nobody even talks about Facebook revolutions anymore. People on the social network moved on and returned to their favorite activity: playing Farmville.

Europe According to the Future, 2022

Get the Atlas of Prejudice on Amazon US | UK | Germany | France | Italy | Spain

europe-according-to-the-future-2022

This map premiered on the pages of UK’s Guardian newspaper this weekend.

Welcome to the bright future of Europe. The year is 2022, five years after the (what future historians would refer to as) Great European Schism, ending the dream of European political and economic unity. Sounds shocking? Well, it shouldn’t. There is a law in history stating that Europe can never be truly united. It always splits in the middle like bacteria yearning for propagation. The Eastern and Western Roman Empires, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the Communist East and the Capitalist West – each of those were a result of a failure to unify the continent, politically or spiritually. 2022 is the time when the dissolution of today’s Europe becomes final.

The gays will get tired of the Pope’s homophobia and invade Rome to shut his mouth. He will be forced to learn samba.

The current Eurozone will shrink to a federation-like entity called Merkelreich and will include Germany, France, Austria and Luxembourg. Italy, Spain and Belgium will split into different smaller countries, out of which Spain’s Basque regions, Belgian Wallonia and Northern Italy will retain the Euro and join the Merkelreich.

Spain will disintegrate and Galicia and Extremadura will join Portugal to form a new country called Portugalicia. Andalusia and Murcia will form a single state in the south which is labelled “Sleepy Hollow”. Castile, Spain’s central region, will transform into the new Vatican. Most of the truly devout Catholics live there even today, so it would be only natural for the Catholic church to relocate completely. The rest of Spain will go to the Catalan Empire, which will be politically under the influence of Merkelreich.

Italy will shrink to what is today the southern part of the Apennine Peninsula. Sicily will become Europe’s Alcatraz, where the most hopeless criminals are deported for life; Sardinia will simply be a resort destination with relaxed laws, where people from Central and Northern Europe will go once a year to relax a little bit from their busy lives. The region around Rome will be under gay occupation because at some point all gay people will get tired of Pope Benedict’s homophobic remarks and will invade the city to shut his mouth forever. He will spend a year under house arrest and will be forced to learn samba. After that, he will escape to Spain, where the New Vatican will be proclaimed.

The Second Kalmar Union will officially have 3 kings, 3 queens and a single royal bedroom.

The Western Mediterranean will be renamed German Nudist Sea because given the extreme prosperity of Merkelreich, there will be even more German tourists visiting. Because of their superb financial discipline and devotion to saving, no German citizen will ever buy a bathing suit, which will be considered just a frivolous Anglo-Saxon accessory.

Belgium will split, or more accurately, fail to unite and Flanders will finally join the Netherlands, which will drop the Euro just because the Dutch won’t like the Merkelreich idea. They will continue to be the Courthouse of the world and their judicial ambitions will take them even further, turning them into a nation of lawyers, who will offer their services across the continent. Legal services will constitute more than 50% of Dutch exports and form a significant part of their GDP.

Because Eurozone leaders will finally realize they suck at banking, the European Central Bank will be relocated to Switzerland, which with its unique financial expertise, will become closely integrated with Merkelreich, although retaining its independence.

The new capital of Merkelreich will be Paris. It will be officially renamed to Neuberlin.

Hungary will become an empire and Viktor Orban – its first emperor. His daughter will marry Prince Harry.

To the North, the Scandinavian countries will finally unite merging their royal families together in some form of Scandinavian marriage concept in which people are allowed to marry as many individuals as they want. The new country will be called the Second Kalmar Union and will officially have 3 kings, 3 queens and a single royal bedroom. Finland and Iceland will enter the union as dominions of Sweden and Denmark respectively. Because they aren’t monarchies, they won’t be represented in the ruling family.

The remains of the European Union as it is known today will include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia. The latter one will be allowed to enter mainly because Greece will be forced out, therefore it’s going to keep its original name. This European Union will expand further to the East, including Belarus and Ukraine and Moldova. It will also include Vojvodina, which will split from Serbia because the Hungarian and Romanian minorities there will get frustrated by all the protraction with Serbia’s bid to join the EU.

The capital of the European Union will be Warsaw, which will be a homage to the late Warsaw Pact and the Communist Comecon.

There will be 3 officially neutral buffer states in Central Europe, between Merkelreich and the European Union. First, the Czech, who always insist on doing things their own way, will finally drop their EU ambitions. Next, the authoritarian tendencies in Hungary will deepen and lead to its exclusion from the EU. At a later date, it will be transformed into an empire with Viktor Orban as its first emperor. His daughter will marry Prince Harry.

Scotland will vote for independence and become a republic just to piss off David Cameron. When he is finally driven to insanity, they will return to the crown.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro will merge in one common chaotic state called Serbia and Herzegovina, where nothing will ever be certain, pretty much like it is today.

Albania will annex Kosovo and both will continue to be the poorest countries in Europe.

To the South, Turkey will remain the constant EU candidate. Greece will go totally bankrupt, financially but also morally and that would lead to its colonization by China. Greek people will be forced to produce cheap statues for the booming luxury property market in China and Southeast Asia.

The Eastern Mediterranean will be renamed South Chinese Sea because together with Greece, a large part of the states in Northern Africa will also either fall into the Chinese sphere of influence or become actual colonies.

On the British Isles, the UK will finally split in two when Scotland votes for independence and becomes a republic just to piss off David Cameron. At a later date when Cameron is finally driven to insanity, they will return to the crown once again but remain an independent country. Ireland will tear itself apart between the desire to remain closely associated with Merkelreich and the desire to retain its associations with the UK. That will result in a stalemate and the status of the country will be undefined. On paper, it will be part of the Eurozone but in reality, it will be ruled separately. Angela Merkel will officially pursue a “Two Systems, One State” policy but the UK will oppose it.

That’s pretty much how Europe will look like 10 years ahead. On a larger scale, the continent will be dominated by 2 superpowers – Merkelreich and Russia, which will heavily influence the European Union. (Edit: Just saw a suggestion on Zerohedge for a new title, Gazpromia, which is even better). The UK will be isolated on the periphery of the continent at least until the personal union with Hungary comes in effect about 20 years later. Then, only God knows what will happen. :)

Behind the Scenes

I don’t remember exactly how I got the idea to make a satirical map of a future Europe but It was around the time when the Greek crisis went through one of its unexpected twists. There was a lot of talk about collapse and I thought it would be funny if I make a map on which Greece is totally missing with a note on it’s place saying Disassembled and transported to China’s art museums. I left the initial sketch to marinate on my hard drive and never looked back until I started discussing a possible publication with the Weekend team from the Guardian. They wanted to write an article about my Mapping Stereotypes project and asked if I had a new map that could premiere in the newspaper. I had two planned, the future Europe being one of them, but none was actually finished. It took me about two weeks to complete them and they finally premiered online on February the 17th.

Bus Schedules in Spain Infographic

Alphadesigner Bus Schedules in Spain

It’s widely assumed that mathematics is an universal language, one that we could possibly use even to communicate with aliens one day if we discover them. But in the last year and a half, I’m beginning to have my doubts. There seems to be something not only irrational but supernaturally irrelevant in human nature, something that can shred mathematics to pieces that annihilate with each other. And in Spain, it’s more than palpable.

I live in a very interesting place. It’s a small town in the region of Castilla-La Mancha. It has a very cute little bus station where you can catch buses to Madrid, Toledo and Talavera de la Reina. It also has a slightly bigger but even cuter train station which is a stop on the line from Madrid to Badajoz. But every time I have to catch a bus I have the recurring problem of understanding the schedule, which is usually publicly posted on a sheet of paper as a beautiful table with more than 50 separate cells filled with all kinds of numbers. I call it the “algorithmic table” even though I am sure it’s much hard to decipher.

I’ve been planning to talk about it for a long time and I have always postponed for the day in which I will actually be able to understand it but alas, I think this day will never come. The only person that seems to understand it is a middle aged woman working on the Principe Pio bus station in Madrid and she’s not very keen to share her knowledge with the world.

For a Spanish person, once you put something in a table cell, it’s like casting a spell. Suddenly it starts to make sense just like that, out of the blue.

First of all, on the whole, Spanish people tend to be slightly superstitious. Second, any kind of schedule in Spain is more like a wish than a real certainty. It’s shocking for any foreigner but you learn to appreciate it as a fact of life, like for example when you’re running late yourself.

The third thing one has to consider is that Spanish people start to panic the moment you ask them to organize something. So you better don’t because the final outcome will be even more disorder. The second law of thermodynamics just doesn’t work the way you’d expect it here. The last crucial thing that contributes to the bus schedule phenomenon is that Spanish people love to draw tables and “organize” things in them. And this takes another paragraph to be properly explained.

It’s just a theory but I have a lot of empirical evidence to prove it. You see, I think that the graphic appearance of a table seems to have a soothing effect on their nerves. For a Spanish person, once you put something in a table cell, it’s like casting a spell. Suddenly it starts to make sense just like that, out of the blue. And by all means, they are not picky – whatever can go in, goes in, period.

This is how for example, you end up facing all the information about all the stops on a bus line, even though you may be in the middle with no intention or possibility to go to one of the previous stops. It’s how Villahostias – Madrid becomes Valdecabrón – El Puticlú – Gibraltar Español – Fuertechorrada – Villahostias – Puebla de la Virgen – Puebla de los Dolores – Montepetarda – Gilipopollis – La Pena del Toro – Madrid. All written with the same text size and accompanied by numbers.

Now here’s where things can get really interesting. All those numbers multiply by the number of buses that travel per day. Got lost? Wait, there’s more because whatever you do during the working days in Spain, you don’t repeat on weekends. There’s a different schedule for those holiest of days. Then, there’s the schedule for the so-called “working Saturdays”, of which I have seen none but apparently exist. The ones I have definitely seen however are in the next column and are called “Festivities on workdays”. And with the risk to really test your patience to the limit, there come the Sundays, which thank God and the Virgin, are of only one kind. I could of course mention that one time I saw a column titled “Non festive work days” but I’m afraid you’re going to hit me.

Imagine all this info on an A4 sheet, organized in the most counter intuitive way. I really wish I understood how they work, so I could proudly present it here and make a point in how intelligent I am. But what I tell you is true – nobody understands them and the best advice Spanish people can give you is to ask a person on the station itself. If you are very lucky, he would know. If not… you can always ask the driver when the bus actually comes.

The Supermarket Supermonster

consumerism-hooray-alphadesigner

The supermarket today plays the same role the Church did the past. Every advertisement on its windows is a sermon. Sure, when you enter a supermarket nobody hands you a holy scripture demanding from you to comply with its commandments. This is an obviously outdated technique, suitable for less advanced times like the Dark Ages. The lack of such easily recognizable authoritative pressure creates an illusion of choice.

What you are being offered is a catalog of prayers. You take a bottle of shampoo, you pray for beauty. Add a box of low-fat milk and there’s a prayer for weight loss. And those are only the obvious ones. As complicated as our minds are, there is always an unfulfilled desire lurking in the dark, waiting for its chance for instant gratification. Finally, there’s no authority to administer punishments, only endless forgiveness. Nobody will forbid you from having chocolate just because you gained a few pounds. You may personally consider this a sin but for the Supermarket, it’s just another opportunity.

Logically, the role of the confessional is fulfilled by the counter. Your shopping list is one of the most intimate things you can share with the world. It says a lot about you, your way of life, your ambitions, even your intelligence. And it’s all there, in the Supermarket’s database.

Sounds ridiculous? Maybe from a personal point of view. But the supermarket is not interested in you as a person, hence looking at it from an individual perspective doesn’t make sense. It’s the old-style Church that addressed you as Mister Somebody. Today, you’re simply a bill. A sheet of numbers representing product codes, prices, date of purchase and financial details. This is all the supermarket needs. It will throw this data in its vaults, mix it with the others and let all kinds of marketing spiders analyze it, so their webs become even stickier.

Stern: Mapping Stereotypes is Satire of the Year

mapping-stereotypes-in-stern-magazine-03

This week’s issue of Stern Magazine (01/2012) contains a 6 page spread featuring the Mapping Stereotypes project under the label “Satire of the Year”. It contains 7 maps of Europe: according to USA, Germany, the Vatican, Switzerland, Greece, France and Silvio Berlusconi. There’s also an interview with yours truly at the end of the stereotype map galore.

Of all the Christmas gifts I have received, this one is the best. As you can imagine, working with Stern’s team felt like driving a BMW on a German highway. I am extremely grateful to Cornelia Fuchs who interviewed me and Andreas Kronawitt who coordinated all the publishing details for their amazing professionalism.

You can read more details about the publication in the press note.

Alice in the Land of Typography

alphadesigner-bulgaria-moderna-font-presentation-01

Being a graphic designer, I have been flirting with typography for years but I was always superstitiously afraid to get really serious about it. I always thought font creation required some kind of special magic, one that I didn’t necessarily possess.

Just think about it – fonts are so essential for most design projects. They seem so simple and to a certain extent even god-given – the stupendous variety that we have at the tips of our fingers makes us use them impulsively, without much thinking about how hard it is to really create one from scratch.

It’s a monumental effort, and a challenge to all your skills as a designer and illustrator. On top of that, it requires immense organizational talent.

Fear is fear and I’ve had my share succumbing to it but I finally decided to enter the dark cave of typography. The first font project was really critical. I managed to find a really original idea – one that is naturally exotic and allows me to showcase my own design skills.

There is a forgotten Slavic alphabet, called Glagolitic, which was later replaced by the Cyrillic and therefore slowly died out. I just tried to imagine what would have happened if the alphabet was still in use today. How would it have evolved and changed through time? How would the invention of the movable type have influenced it? And finally, how should a creative designer approach it in order to create a really modern font based on its characters? I got my answer 2 weeks after I began the project – in the form of Neoglagolitic Alpha, the first (to my knowledge) modern Glagolitic font.

Alphadesigner Neoglagolitic 44 izhitsa

My second attempt made me sweat a bit more. Much more, to be precise. After all, artistic exercises like Neoglagolitc Alpha are a bit easy because you are in control of so many aesthetic and practical aspects. Reworking the original Early Cyrillic script is a whole different typographic affair. The alphabet is still in use and quite widely. Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Bulgaria, where it was first adopted in the 9th Century, all use strictly Cyrillic characters. It reached even Mongolia. On top of that, its long history and the fact that almost every South and East Slav has an opinion about it makes experimenting with any of its letters a potential sacrilege.

After a month of struggle drawing, adjusting, altering, creating ligatures, diacritics, and adding additional Latin characters while trying to constrain myself to the original aesthetic of the script, I gave birth to Bulgaria Moderna. Of course, no font is ever finished, especially those made by fresh typographers like me but seeing it in action, even at this early stage is like a dream come true.