They Live: A Visual and Cultural Awakening

As anyone who’s seen John Carpenter’s 1988 cult classic They Live will know, there’s one piece of printed matter in particular that lies at the heart of the film. That piece is a magazine, or to be more accurate, a whole rack of magazines.

Once the central character, John Nada, has found a pair of sunglasses that let him see the subliminal messages of advertising and media in stark monochrome, glossy magazines full of glamor and promises start to show their true colors—which are not colors at all, but black and white messages that keep the people in their place and instruct them to “BUY” and “OBEY.”

The centrality of that piece caught the eye of author and graphic designer Craig Oldham around four years ago, and he had the idea of creating a series of publications based on such “hero props” (or props that mark a turning point either in plot, or in a character’s interior motivations or realizations).

That began an 18-month scramble to design, write, collate, and release a book that both recreated the prop and augmented it with essays, imagery, comics, and artworks.

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