Text and Photos: Alec Coiro
Most people who know of Nim Ben-Reuven, follow him as the letterist whose sensibility can sometimes be a little bit peculiar. The occasional ultra nihilist phrases set in dissonantly beautiful gilt lettering would be a prime example. Those who know him a little bit better know that this wee picadillo is just the surface of a well of manic imaginative brilliance that takes the form of everything from a life dedicated to pranking to fully realized cartoon worlds, and most recently to Nim’s popular “My Life” series. The series which is now approaching episode 6 features a cardboard half Nim half robot figure who is constantly getting his head smacked off in the course of trying to live the life of a normal creative professional. Originally aired on Instagram, these bite size nugs are cleverly contemporary in both form and content. And as a special treat, Nim did a special “2001 a Space Odyssey”-themed “My Life” collaboration with your faithful author for Ravelin.
In the course of collaborating on the 2001 video, I got a chance to talk to Nim about his work, and this is what he had to say:
You’re a graphic designer and Letterist. How did the “My Life” series emerge from that background?
One could say “My Life” was directly influenced by me being a graphic designer and custom letterer in that there was a time when I had absolutely no work in those fields so I needed to find a way to occupy my mind or else lose it. Making those videos helped me to pretend like I actually had some semblance of work in the creative field. But alongside that, I had also been asked by a few organizations to provide a photo of my studio space as well as some process videos of how I create some of my lettering work. Since most studios look the same (mine is no exception) and most fancy process videos about “makers” bore me to tears, no matter how slo-mo they are or how many dust particles they capture floating in a late-afternoon sunbeam, I wanted to provide something a little different. So then I gathered a bunch of trashed cardboard and started building office-y things out of it.
What are your major influences in terms of sound effects?
There is an episode of Ren & Stimpy I saw many years ago where Stimpy is sitting alone, zombified by the TV and watching cartoons. The sound the TV is making is just an endless string of Hannah Barbera cartoon sound effects. I think that’s what got my SFX noodles boiling. I also really like the editing & sound effect style of DJ Dougg Pound.
Does the cardboard character from “My Life” have a name?
It tends to shift from Cardboard-baby to Cardboard-boy to Lil’ Nim but it doesn’t have an actual name just yet, as it tends not to respond to anything I call it. Like a cat.
The Letterings your Instagram community goes most nuts for often involve pretty negative phrases like, “International Give Up Day,” “Nothing Matters,” “Mediocrity,” “Stay in Bed.” What’s going on there?
I find motivational messaging to be too ubiquitous to be healthy at this point. Some phrases that the hand-lettering community enjoys to regurgitate over and over tend to make me want to literally regurgitate my breakfast burritos. I feel that marching off into the sunset with smiles stretched onto our botox’d faces, thinking that life is great and all we have to do is hustle harder to achieve our dreams is a profoundly elitist way of looking at the world, especially since a lot of that only really makes sense if you’re born in certain countries, communities, economic class, etc. I’m trying to shift the balance just a lil’ bit to make room for some of us other folks who want to express things that may not always be the most positive vibez only.
What further adventures do you have planned?
I hope to make more videos, longer videos, some CELEB cameos and make more collapsible and destroyable set pieces out of cardboards. But I’ll have to wait until I reach another dry spell of no actual paying work to do that. Which will probably be in a couple days or so.
Here are a couple of my favorites from the “My Life” series. The bulk of the series exists on Nim’s ultramodern medium: Instagram.