the sally sisson blog

November 11, 2010

Graphic novel of Dante’s Divine Comedy triumph of information design–and editing


This entertaining review in PopMatters made me want to run out and buy the book.

It tells how illustrator and graphic designer Seymour Chwast condensed Dante’s epic 14,000-line allegory to under 120 pages, producing an accessible visual adaptation, complete with diagrams to explain the intricate circles and steps in the author’s imagined world.  The approach is quirky and playful, while still capturing the spirit of Dante’s daunting prose.

This is neither a dumbed-down, Reader’s Digest treatment nor a substitute for reading the 14th century classic. Rather, consider it a wayfinding guide to the real thing.

“Film noir, Marc Chagall and children’s picture books are among the sources which inform Chwast’s art, drawn in pure black and white, which presents Dante as a trench-coated, pipe-smoking private investigator, Virgil as a proper old-school English gentleman with a bowler hat and cane and Beatrice as a blonde, pin-curled beauty…”

“This is a true adaptation, not a translation, and one in which the graphics do more of the storytelling than the text. Chwast’s illustrations carry the main content of the Divine Comedy while the cantos have been greatly shorted and translated into modern prose.” — Sarah Boslaugh

Read the full review here:

‘Dante’s Divine Comedy,’ from a Left-Handed Designer

For more insight into the creative process, in Chwast’s own words, see this from Huffington Post: Divine Comedy as Graphic Novel

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November 4, 2010

Left vs. Right: Re-visualizing the political spectrum (in polarizing times)

l vs r

Click for full size version:

Left vs. Right: A Visualization of the Political Spectrum

Fair and balanced

Back in January I posted this infographic on my Facebook page as an interesting example of information design. I found it thought-provoking, but didn’t bother to articulate why.

Then this morning, I was watching a TED talk on YouTube with information designer David McCandless, and up popped the same chart. (Ironically, I had just come indoors after pulling my collection of political yard signs out of the ground, hoping to appease my neighbors.)

Viewing the graphic nearly a year later, in the aftermath of the cut-throat mid-term elections, it struck me as quaint and out of date. The hues of red and blue now looked too subdued, the lines too soft around the edges. It’s a friendly looking graphic, in contrast to the technicolor FOX News one in my mind.

And I guess that’s part of the point — and perhaps the chief reason it begs a second look. These are polarizing times, and we desperately need to find some commonality.

Oh say, can you see…

As McCandless eloquently described the thought process behind his infographic, I scribbled down his words (on Post-its, the back of an envelope, and the margins of the comics section of the Boston Globe). Here’s the bit that resonated with me most:


“When I was designing this image, I desperately wanted this side, the left side, to be betterthan the right side (…being a journalist type, a left-leaning person). But I couldn’t because I would have created a lopsided, biased diagram. So in order to really create a full image I had to honor the perspectives on the right-hand side, and at the same time I had to sort of, uncomfortably, recognize how many of qualities were actually in me—which was really, really annoying… and uncomfortable.

“But not too uncomfortable … because there’s something unthreatening about seeing a political perspective versus being told or forced to listen to one.

You’re capable of holding conflicting viewpoints, joyously even, when you can see them.”

consiousnessA matter of perspective

“That’s what’s exciting for me: to see how data can change my perspective and change my ideas, even mid-stream.”

— David McCandless, author of Information is Beautiful,
available on and at

Watch the entire TED Talk here:

David McCandless: The beauty of data visualization

(Click on link above. The Left vs. Right bit is at 14:50.)

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April 6, 2010

Here Comes the Sun: Overcoming creative block (part 1 of many)

sunSo I’ve been busy ghost writing a blog for a large corporation (to remain nameless) and neglecting my own. Big time.

All the tips I give clients about blogging—carving a niche, stockpiling content, hooking readers, building momentum, keeping a steady pace—went out the home office window a few months back.

And here I go breaking another rule of blogging: Never begin with an apology.*

But spring is a time of renewal and I’m suddenly inspired. After a long, frozen winter the record rainfall in March brought flooding to many parts of New England and despair to housebound freelancers like me. We’re just now coming up for air.

What floats your boat?

I’ve got creativity on the brain. I’ve been asking friends and colleagues—writers, designers, painters, poets, ad copywriters, computer programmers—for tips on overcoming “creative block.” How do you recharge when you’re spent? How do you clear the synapses and keep them snapping?


When you’re working hard to make a deadline on little sleep, how do you keep the creative juices flowing (and tired clichés at bay?)

When you channel all the creativity you can muster into a big project for a client, how do you find the bandwidth to dabble in anything artistic on your own? At the end of a long day, do you find a quiet corner to sketch, paint or write poetry? Or do you watch Rockford Files reruns? (No longer airing on TV Land but available on Just saying.)

Send your tips my way and I’ll share them in my inspired and inspirational follow-up. Stay tuned…

* Tip from blogger and writing coach Elizabeth B. Soutter via friendly nudge from digital media consultant Tracy Graves @ B4South

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