Just a Pencil

Some of the heat that has been received over these posts has amounted to a minimizing and invalidating shout of, “It’s just a pencil!” Now I detailed my issues with the BWV and BW marketing over here so I’m not going to get into that. Instead i’m going to write about the statement, “It’s just a pencil.”

A Dixon HB #2 is just a pencil, as is the Casemate’s yellow HB #2, as is the Casemate’s Premium HB #2. These  three pencils and so many others are “just” pencils. There is nothing special about them, they don’t even have any remarkable marketing. They are just pencils. Graphite, wood, glue, paint, aluminum, and an eraser. They’ve been given no life beyond their aesthetic appeal, simply pencils.

Just pencils.

A photo posted by LC Harper (@originallcharper) on

The Blackwing Volumes  in complete opposition are not just pencils. Each has a story attributing it’s finish to someone. They are given a story. These are commemorative pencils, a tribute to the particular person they are designed around. These pencils are all about the story, not the pencil. The pencil is secondary to the story. The story is what sells the pencil. The pencil is just a pencil without the story. With out the story the 725 is the sunburst, the 211 is unfinished, the 1138 is gray scale, 24 is blackout, and 56 is pinstriped. Without the story these are pretty boring, yet expensive, pencils.

Pencils with stories attached. i.e. NOT just pencils.

A photo posted by LC Harper (@originallcharper) on


See now you can come back at me and tell me that Field Notes are just notebooks, because, let’s face it Draplin divorced the story from specific people and made them about things and the process of making the notebooks- night sky, beer, winter, etc. concepts and process not people or even specific things. That makes the FN just notebooks, whereas it’s much harder to tell me that the BWV are “just” pencils. They aren’t because BW decided to make them about the story.* Because for them, the story is what sells the pencil, never mind some of us have to actively divorce the story from the otherwise cool pencil to enjoy it. 

The other end of the battle cry of, “It’s just a pencil,” is that we’ve pissed in the sandbox because we focused our thinking around women and people of color. We’ve now been told that we’ve “ruined something that was once great.” Apparently suggesting that the party include women and POC ruins everything and holy shit, we brought women and POC to the party, well it’s completely ruined now. Might as well set fire to its corpse.

This “What do you think the next BWV will be? You know what would be cool?” literally occurs before EVERY single release, but for some reason this time it pissed people off. The only reason I can find for this anger, and this is supported by the comments section on Andy, Dee, and Johnny’s blogs is that we wrote about women and POC.

Maybe what we need to set fire to is the fragile little egos of those who complain at the suggestion that maybe some of us would like to see women and POC memorialized, perhaps because we are women or people of color, or maybe our loved ones are women or POC, maybe our families are made up of POC? Maybe I look to heroes that aren’t like yours?

*This heavy handed form of corporate marketing is part of the reason why i’m not as enamoured with the BWV as other people.

  • Thanks for posting this! I think you articulated part of what I’ve been feeling about the pencils themselves.

    I adore the 24 and I’m sad that I missed the 211, but none of the others really spark anything for me.

    For me, at the end of the day, it really is about the pencil itself over the story. I like the 24 because the blackout looks great, and I love the extra firm core. The 211 is just beautiful, and I’m a big fan of the 602 core as well. In both cases, the people associated with them don’t really mean anything to me.

    Now, if they came out with an Audrey Hepburn edition, I’d be all about it. Many of the other ideas people have discussed also sound great to me, from a person/story standpoint, but so far it’s all about the pencils. At least for me.

    • lessherger

      I went into this a little bit on my previous posts, but I think that part of the reason that many of these editions completely miss the mark for me is that they are really for an older demographic. The 725 in particular is about 10 years before my time, Ifeel like it’d hit the mark for my Dad. The 1138 is pretty much the same things- though I’m a huge scifi and fantasy nerd, the pencil was pretty meh for me. The 211 hits the environmental mark for me but I dislike the 602 core. The 56 is sportyball and meh. And so on. Most of the pencils seems like they’d hit the mark for my Dad, and as much as I love my Dad, his heroes are not my heroes and vice versa. For me you take away the story and frankly (other than the 24) and I can just buy the regular edition without the paint job. Which is why I hope they bring the 24 to regular rotation.

      They miss the mark for me because they are aimed at the generation previous to mine. Which goes beyond the ignoring of women and POC, I’d label a lot of this debate as a massive generation gap. I’d like to think that many people my age (roughly ahem 40ish) and younger could point to heroes and other’s they’d like to memorialize who are female/POC.

      • I just turned 30, and none of them are even close in that respect.

        • lessherger

          This goes even further past the generational gap and addresses some of my nerdy interests- in psych and sociology there have been some fascinating studies on how people tend to assume that everyone views the world in the same or a similar way- further those same people tend to assume that everyone admires the same people. This is doubled down when those people have never had this challenged- so women and POC and other minority groups) tend to be challenged on their beliefs so they often realize that they are in the minority. When the majority’s viewpoint is challenges it’s often explosive.

          My tangential point is, people get butthurt when they have never had their viewpoint challenged- hence the outrageously offensive trollish comments on the other blogs. The amount of fecal matter that hit the fan is outrageous.

          • Makes a lot of sense. I was never a cool kid, so despite being suburban white male, I don’t think(?) I picked up some of those ways of thinking.

            I guess it really just drives me a little nutty when people act like everything–pencils or politics–is zero-sum. It’s a big world.

          • LaffinOstrich

            Great to read the opposite “poc”s made a lot of sense …again. Now to save the worlds butt(hurt)…again.

          • leslie

            ? What?

  • Johnny

    FIST PUMP!

    • lessherger

      Word.

  • Lenore Hoyt

    I read this at the time and applauded- – But silently, as far as you knew, because my old phone didn’t cooperate with letting me comment here easily. But rereading this, I applaud again. And I would add, there were several people at the time whose…excuse? was that these were “just” about “people who had inspired” the designers at BW and we shouldn’t read so much into it. So…the fact that the designers have apparently never been inspired by anyone who wasn’t a white man is supposed to… make it better somehow? They’re not deliberately excluding women and people of color, they’ve just never heard of any. Oh, ok then.

    • Lenore Hoyt

      And you know I love the BWV. From the start.

    • lessherger

      I like to be inspired by all sorts of people. It adds spice to my life.