Show and Tell: Mal Webster

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Published:  May 11, 2011
Show and Tell: Mal Webster

Since I was a little kid, I’ve always had a habit of collecting things. Especially packaging, and particularly the packaging from old Nintendo Game Boy boxes, which I still have. I’ve always felt that the designs and illustrations were far too good to throw away and deserve to be admired for the huge amount of work that I imagine was put into them. Recently, I had a clean out and I’m afraid those packages made it to the recycle bin, but, after almost a week of sitting there, I couldn’t handle the thought of leaving them to get crushed up in a dump truck, so I hoarded them back again. It may seem strange to collect such a thing; however, for me, those little cardboard packages are like nostalgic touchstones, representing events such as happy memories of family Christmases. They also provide me with fond memories of having my eyes ‘glued’ to the tiny screens of late eighties Game & Watch handhelds for entire summer holidays.

It’s somewhat comforting to know that I’m not alone in terms of my nostalgia for early video games and their associated aesthetics. In 2005, an exhibition titled ‘I am 8-bit’ was shown at Acme Gallery in Los Angeles. Over 100 artists exhibited in the show, providing their own visual interpretations of the video games they grew up with. As a young designer, it would be fair to say that video game aesthetics have influenced visuals that appeal to me and the simple illustrations and designs I like to create.

While studying my masters in design at uni a few years ago, I focused on the design and illustration of children’s picture books. In the last year of my masters, I felt inspired to create a children’s picture book titled The Box Boy, which is due for release in July this year, based loosely on my habit of collecting boxes.

At the time I created The Box Boy, I owned a small hatchback car. I went around warehouse shops asking for cardboard packaging. I mainly received puzzled stares from shopkeepers, clearly wondering why on earth I wanted such utilitarian, throwaway objects. I persisted, however, until I managed to score a huge, three-seat lounge suite box, which I crammed into my tiny car. The things you do for creative projects! When I hauled it home to my small three-bedroom unit, I turned it into a model of the Eiffel Tower, just like the boy creates in the story. It featured as an installation in the final exhibition of my work for my masters. I was surprised by the feedback I gained from the exhibit; it seems that every parent has a child who loves boxes. Unlike most people, I’m yet to grow out of this habit.

Here are some of my boxes…

Donkey Kong Jr / 1982

On Christmas morning 1990, my parents first introduced me to the Nintendo brand. I was obsessed with Donkey Kong that summer. As a child, the feeling of getting a top score was incredibly addictive. I also found the game to be visually addictive too; the tiny black characters that hopped around within that little LCD screen were like little logos. In contrast to the amazing 3D graphics of modern games, Donkey Kong Jr has a charming and naïve appeal. At an age when I didn’t know a word like ‘typography’ existed, I adored Nintendo’s logo, with its curves and compact formation. The Game & Watch lettering fascinated me too, the way those angles perfectly aligned with each other.

Donkey Kong / 1982

Game Boy / 1990

In addition to many fond memories, this pack reminds me of all the sci-fi movies I loved as a kid through its aesthetic feel. It’s also interesting in contrast to modern gaming packs, where old-school methods like airbrushing have been used to achieve its ‘futuristic’ visual style. It’s incredible how quickly visuals associated with technology devices date just as rapidly as the devices themselves.

Game Boy / 1990

Super Mario Land / 1990

This was my first introduction to Mario. Like thousands of others, I’ve been helping him rescue the princess ever since. It’s interesting to note that in terms of in-game visuals, the graphics weren’t actually a great leap beyond those in the Game & Watch handhelds. The packaging graphics, however, played a part in assisting gamers to imagine the worlds within the games. Despite the fact that Super Mario Land consisted of blocky pixels scrolling across a screen, I never perceived it that way, as the action-filled cover art assisted me to mentally construct those in-game pixels into believable and convincing little worlds. Effective package branding and visuals are incredibly powerful tools.

Super Mario Land / 1990

Mario vs Donkey Kong / 2004

In 2004, I was thrilled to find that Nintendo had returned its roots and set Mario and Donkey Kong to battle with some very enjoyable gameplay. At point of sale though, I was first won over by the game pack art with its new, yet nostalgic aesthetic appeal. What I love about Nintendo is the way it continually revisits and refines existing brands. Some may define this as laziness, but I’d prefer to think that this is instead working toward perfection.

For designers, there’s a lot to be learned from the Nintendo brand. In an overcrowded market full of incredible 3D consoles, Nintendo always remains true to itself, working away producing concepts that express its core beliefs about what makes an effective game. Nintendo is a true innovator, with many imitators. As a designer, I think I’d prefer to be the former.

Mario vs Donkey Kong / 2004

DS Lite / 2008

In recent years, Nintendo has invigorated its brand, producing highly minimal game packs with slick matt stock and spot varnishes to highlight its simple and stunning hardware. While the new packs’ aesthetic appeal is a long way from those produced in the 90s, they could be considered a reworked version of the Game & Watch packs from the 80s, where the visual elements were reduced to the essentials.

DS Lite / 2008

The Box Boy / 2010

In all honesty, I’m essentially a born hoarder and I love collecting packages. My daily visit to the supermarket is like visiting an art gallery, where I often become distracted by the mass of package branding and end up forgetting what I actually went to the supermarket to buy. This obsession inspired The Box Boy. Illustrations through the book are influenced by my childhood and the way kids can imagine a disposable object like a cardboard box to be something much greater. I also like the appearance of cardboard and the crude symbols that are stamped on them.

This aesthetic is carried through the book, where real textures were scanned in to complement the narrative of the story. The little boy in the story loves to collect boxes and create incredible things with them. The Box Boy will be available for purchase at good book stores in July.

The Box Boy / 2010

malwebster.com.au

From desktop magazine.

One Response

  1. this is awesome! I keep the packaging from all my games/consoles too and I’ve got stuff dating back to the original NES all the way up until now. There’s just something beautiful about this stuff…

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