Posts Tagged ‘typefaces’
June 16, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- It’s something we all dream of—that our favorite deceased writers will someday roam the earth again as robots. In Japan, that dream is becoming a reality, as the author Soseki Natsume, who died a century ago, prepares to enjoy a second coming: “Soseki Natsume is being re-created as an android by Nishogakusha University Graduate School, and will be programmed to read material out loud and give lectures. Created in a sitting posture, the robot will be 130 centimeters high and built using 3D scans of a death mask and vintage photos … The robot’s voice will be created after analyzing the voice of his grandson, Prof. Fusanosuke Natsume of Gakushuin University. Fusanosuke Natsume said, ‘Since [Soseki is] a human being, it is better that he is smiling.’ ”
- Tall orders for graphic designers: in 1967, Larry Ratzkin was tasked with designing the jacket for Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton’s Black Power, meaning his assignment was essentially to turn a whole political movement into a book cover. And he succeeded, as Josh MacPhee writes: “The cover was simple yet profound: a white field, the center crowded—almost to exploding—with the giant words Black Power in a thick, slab-serifed type. The authors’ names and book subtitle stack above and below, in a more elegant, thin sans-serif. That’s it. No images, no frills … The cover to Black Power is surprisingly successful, such a simple treatment—almost elegant—for a text that caused massive conflict and defines the transition from the non-violent Civil Rights Movement to the much more militant Black Power Movement in the United States. The initial 1967 Random House first-edition dust jacket was created by Larry Ratzkin, a well-known graphic designer who turned out upwards of a thousand book covers … All U.S. editions of Black Power in the almost fifty years since its initial publishing … have used facsimile re-creations of Ratzkin’s original design … This has to be the most seen and trafficked cover of Ratzkin’s long career, yet it is never associated with him.”
- Two hundred years ago, Mount Tambora belched a massive cloud of volcanic ash into the sky and ruined everyone’s summer, so much so that they called it the “Year Without Summer.” Perhaps not unrelatedly, Mary Shelley began work on Frankenstein: “Our too-easy version of Frankenstein—oh, it’s all about technology and scientific hubris, or about industrialization—ignores completely the humanitarian climate disaster unfolding around Mary Shelley as she began drafting the novel. Starving, skeletal climate refugees in the tens of thousands roamed the highways of Europe, within a few miles of where she and her ego-charged friends were driving each other to literary distraction. Moreover, landlocked Alpine Switzerland was the worst hit region in all of Europe, producing scenes of social-ecological breakdown rarely witnessed since the hellscape of the Black Death.”
- London’s Foundling Museum is hosting an exhibition called “FOUND.” It’s about finding things, which, at the risk of being obvious, tends to involve losing them first: “Some found materials have been made into complete works, like the African textiles from Portobello Market that have inspired much of Yinka Shonibare’s art, including the Trumpet Boy ... Or Polly Apfelbaum’s string of wishbones, graded from small to large, ‘electroplated like baby-shoes’ in copper—a string of good luck. But there’s bad luck here too, like the chain of pawnbroker’s tickets that Ron Arad found in London early 1970s. All are dated 1951, the year of his own birth, and many are marked ‘GWR’—gold wedding ring. Finding can provoke a shiver, a sadness.”
- Zadie Smith introduces one of her favorite new writers, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah: “I’m sure she is coolly skeptical of the phrase black-girl magic … but some version of that is what Rachel brings to me. I was very affected when I was a kid by a phrase of novelist Zora Neale Hurston’s, ‘The black woman is the mule of the world.’ This is not the only truth about us, and Zora is proof of that: despite all the difficulties, she lived her life with verve, purpose and joy. Rachel’s got some of the Zora energy; she walks into a room and it’s a kind of event. I’ve learned from Rachel that black culture is a house with a thousand rooms, with windows looking out on so many views. Her writing is like a high-wire act: Can she pull it off? Are these swirling ideas going to cohere? But they do. I admire her bravery, boldness and attention to the craft.”
December 17, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The origins of Times New Roman, the trustiest typeface of the PC era: “Times New Roman began as a challenge, when esteemed type designer Stanley Morison criticized London’s newspaper The Times for being out-of-touch with modern typographical trends. So The Times asked him to create something better. Morison enlisted the help of draftsman Victor Lardent and began conceptualizing a new typeface with two goals in mind: efficiency—maximizing the amount of type that would fit on a line and thus on a page—and readability.”
- A history of kitsch and its enduring power: “Kitsch is not about the thing observed but about the observer. It does not invite you to feel moved by the doll you are dressing so tenderly, but by yourself dressing the doll. All sentimentality is like this—it redirects emotion from the object to the subject, so as to create a fantasy of emotion without the real cost of feeling it. The kitsch object encourages you to think, ‘Look at me feeling this—how nice I am and how lovable.’ ”
- Great moments in swearing: an utterance in John Carpenter’s The Thing helped define our sense of a treasured obscenity. “The fuckin’ in ‘You gotta be fuckin’ kidding’ is surplus to compositional meaning but crucial to the moment and the encounter. Its trochee supplies essential force to the line’s measured disbelief, extending Palmer’s (and by extension the group’s) appalled bewilderment at the boggling form of their alien enemy.”
- A new book purports to bust the stereotypes behind archaeology: “the work is often poorly paid, physically demanding, and prone to controversy … the unemployment rate in the field [is] at about fifty per cent.” (This piece, to its great credit, mentions Indiana Jones zero times.)
- The best defense for research: “It’s in the archive where one forms a scholarly self—a self that, when all goes well, is intolerant of weak arguments and loose citation and all other forms of shoddy craftsmanship; a self that doesn’t accept a thesis without asking what assumptions and evidence it rests on; a self that doesn’t have a lot of patience with simpleminded formulas and knows an observation from an opinion and an opinion from an argument.”
October 1, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
There’s a post over at Print Magazine about Frank Romano’s new book, History of the Linotype Company, which chronicles the rise and decline of the Linotype, a “glorious contraption” that was not so very long ago the industry standard for printing newspapers, magazines, catalogs, you name it. I’d be lying if I said I knew how it worked—to look at it is to imagine it taking your hand off—but fortunately there’s Wikipedia, which explains:
The linotype machine operator enters text on a ninety-character keyboard. The machine assembles matrices, which are molds for the letter forms, in a line. The assembled line is then cast as a single piece, called a slug, of type metal in a process known as “hot metal” typesetting. The matrices are then returned to the type magazine from which they came, to be reused later. This allows much faster typesetting and composition than original hand composition in which operators place down one pre-cast metal letter, punctuation mark or space at a time.
The machine was invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler, a German immigrant who set up shop in Brooklyn. At the height of its powers, it was used in eighty-six countries and in 850 languages. And the public domain is teeming with miscellany from the Mergenthaler Company, which produced an endless succession of handbooks, manuals, brochures, and pamphlets, among them Linotype’s Shining Lines, a sort of trade magazine with impeccably designed cover art:
September 26, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Ray Bradbury’s art collection is at auction, and it’s full of science-fictional wonders: moonscapes, fabulist spacecraft, fire-belching dragons, robot dinosaurs eating robot men, and Bradbury himself, inter alia.
- Karl Miller, the founding editor of The London Review of Books, has died at eighty-three. His former colleague Andrew O’Hagan called him “perhaps the last of the great Bloomsbury men … Of course, there are brilliant writers and editors now, but they live in a world where the squeeze on literary values and on books programs, on high culture and carefulness, is fearsome and degrading. Karl Miller worked in spite of the market, and he enriched the intellectual life of the country in a thousand ways.”
- Rediscovering Alain Robbe-Grillet’s first six films, which are now easier to stream than ever: They’re “psychosexually nutty meta-movies that eat their own tails so lustily they make Godard’s contemporaneous work look orthodox … [They’re] tasteful affairs, gorgeously shot and structured, like his fiction, around narrative ellipses and absences, mysteries that can never be solved, enigmas that defy time and reason. They’re also jam-packed with nude actresses and erotic posturing … ”
- A salute to Futura, the typeface that’s been to the moon (and in every Wes Anderson film): “Futura represents the rational utopia of progress, where everything not only works well, but looks good doing it … Futura was the future we dreamt of in the past, and, in part, the future we achieved.”
- On the celebrity of the Mitford sisters: Were these “beautiful, wayward young women”—the youngest of whom died yesterday—the Kardashians of their day? “Although it’s a stretch to imagine any of the Mitford sisters making a sex tape or promoting an ice cream called Va-Va-Va-Nilla, the nature of their fame is similar. Born from a fascination with the rich and beautiful, and the ability we are granted through newspapers or internet to live vicariously through these people, to share their adventures, and be scandalized by their mistakes, the fascination with which we view the Mitfords and Kardashians is one and the same.”
July 11, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Allan Ahlberg, a British author who’s written more than 150 children’s books, declined a lifetime-achievement award (and a nice cash prize) because Amazon sponsors it.
- In the silent-film era, a movie’s typeface was a crucial part of its identity. Now, a type designer in Minneapolis has tried to re-create the font from The Good Bad Man, a Douglas Fairbanks vehicle from 1916. “In 1916 the titles would have been painted or drawn on a smooth surface and then photographed with the motion-picture camera. There were no optical printers in those days, so the titles would literally have been shot by someone hand cranking a motion-picture camera.”
- In Athens, the Caryatid statues (five maidens “among the great divas of ancient Greece”) have emerged from a three-year cleaning with “their original ivory glow.”
- “Movies, if they’re very good, aren’t a conversation; they’re an exaltation, a shuddering of one’s being, something deeply personal yet awesomely vast. That’s what criticism exists to capture. And it’s exactly what’s hard to talk about, what’s embarrassingly rhapsodic, what runs the risk of seeming odd, pretentious, or gaseous at a time of exacting intellectual discourse.”
- A friendly reminder: your brain is on the brink of chaos.
April 1, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- D. H. Lawrence’s hometown has opened a new pub called the Lady Chatterley.
- An enterprising fourteen-year-old has an urgent message for the government: change your official typeface to Garamond and you’ll save millions.
- Shakespeare plays illustrated in three easy panels. (“Three witches tell Macbeth he will be king. Macbeth kills lots of people in order to be king. Macbeth is killed.”)
- Taking stock of Monocle, which is now seven years old: “a magazine that is in general focused on a particular brand of well-heeled global urbanism … Monocle doesn’t have bureaus, it has bureaux … what Monocle and its advertisers clearly understand, even if the point is seldom made explicit, is that living in a first-tier city is a luxury good, like a Prada bag or a pair of Hermès boots.”
- Don’t merely go to the circus. Go to the circus in Communist-era Poland. “The visual style of the Polish School of Posters, funded and sponsored by state commissions, was characterized by vibrant colors, playful humor, hand-lettering, and a bold surrealism that rivaled anything similar artists in the West were doing at the time.”