The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

April 16, 2015
by Dan

Françoise Mouly on Voice


Grace Bello interviews the always interesting Françoise Mouly, art director of The New Yorker and founder of Toon Books, for Guernica:

I know what I respond to is a voice. A voice is not just a stylistic thing, but it means someone who really has something to say. I think a lot of what I get from books—whether they be books of comics or books of literature—is a window into somebody’s mind and their way of thinking. I love it when it’s so specific. It’s a new way to look at the world. It’s as if I could get in and see it through their eyes. It also reaches a level of universality because, somehow, I can recognize some of my feelings in seeing somebody who is actually expressing their own inner reality. Even though Flaubert has not been in Madame Bovary’s skin, you do get a sense of what it’s like to be that person. It’s a kind of empathic response when you’re reading it.

April 15, 2015
by Dan

Today in Micro-Trends: Neon Signs


Inspired by the recent Blur album cover designed by Tony Hung (read more about it here) amongst other things, here are a selection of (relatively) recent books cover designs using lettering inspired by neon signs (pictured above: Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey, designed by the one and only Gray318 in 2008):

Brothers by Yu Hua; design by Jonathan Sainsbury (Random House / January 2009)

Event by Slavoj Žižek; design by Christopher King (Melville House / August 2014)

The Extreme Centre by Tariq Ali; design by Dan Mogford (Verso / March 2015)

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill; design by Leo Nickolls (Quercus / March 2015)

Glow by Ned Beauman; design by Oliver Munday (Knopf / January 2015)

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon; design by Darren Haggar and Tal Goretsky; illustration by Darshan Zenith / Cruiser Art (Penguin / August 2009)

Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce; design by Emily Mahon; illustration by Rizon Parein (Doubleday / September 2014)

Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk; design by James Paul Jones (Jonathan Cape / May 2015)

Mammon’s Kingdom by David Marquand; cover art by Mr Whaite (Allen Lane / May 2014)

Milk Bar Life by Christina Tosi; design by Walter Green (Clarkson Potter / April 2015)

The Musical Brain by César Aira; design by Rodrigo Corral (New Directions / March 2015)

No Regrets Coyote; design by John Dufresne; design by Jennifer Heuer (W. W. Norton / July 2014)

Pluto by Glyn Maxwell; design by Jonathan Pelham (Picador / April 2013)

Yes Please by Amy Poehler; design by Mary Schuck (Dey Street Books / October 2014)

April 14, 2015
by Dan

Our Journey Will Be Long…


Tom Gauld

April 13, 2015
by Dan

There’s no one saying, “You can’t do this in a book for children.”

The New York Times profiles Julie Strauss-Gabel, the publisher of Dutton Children’s Books:

She became publisher of Dutton in 2011, and right away, it was clear this was going to be a different sort of imprint. She whittled down the list from about 50 titles a year for children of all ages, to about 10 books, with a focus on high-quality young adult fiction.

“There was nobody doing just what I do now 20 years ago,” she said. “It would have been unheard-of for a children’s publisher not to do picture books”…

…For such a small list — this year, Dutton will publish a mere eight titles — Ms. Strauss-Gabel’s books are strikingly diverse, covering science fiction and dystopian worlds, psychological suspense and works of social realism. She favors realistic, contemporary fiction, though lately she has been acquiring more memoirs and nonfiction.

“We’re in an era where the definition of a young adult book is completely up for grabs, and people are willing to reinvent it,” she said. “There’s no one saying, ‘You can’t do this in a book for children.’ ”

April 10, 2015
by Dan

The Eeriness of the English Countryside


A Field In England

Robert Macfarlane, whose new book Landmarks was published in the UK last month, has a fascinating essay in The Guardian on the writer M. R. James, and the eerie horror of the English countryside:

We do not seem able to leave MR James (1862–1936) behind. His stories, like the restless dead that haunt them, keep returning to us: re-adapted, reread, freshly frightening for each new era. One reason for this is his mastery of the eerie: that form of fear that is felt first as unease, then as dread, and which is incited by glimpses and tremors rather than outright attack. Horror specialises in confrontation and aggression; the eerie in intimation and aggregation. Its physical consequences tend to be gradual and compound: swarming in the stomach’s pit, the tell-tale prickle of the skin… James stays with us is his understanding of landscape – and especially the English landscape – as constituted by uncanny forces, part-buried sufferings and contested ownerships. Landscape, in James, is never a smooth surface or simple stage-set, there to offer picturesque consolations. Rather it is a realm that snags, bites and troubles. He repeatedly invokes the pastoral – that green dream of natural tranquillity and social order – only to traumatise it.

James’s influence, or his example, has rarely been more strongly with us than now. For there is presently apparent, across what might broadly be called landscape culture, a fascination with these Jamesian ideas of unsettlement and displacement. In music, literature, art, film and photography, as well as in new and hybrid forms and media, the English eerie is on the rise. A loose but substantial body of work is emerging that explores the English landscape in terms of its anomalies rather than its continuities, that is sceptical of comfortable notions of “dwelling” and “belonging”, and of the packagings of the past as “heritage”, and that locates itself within a spectred rather than a sceptred isle.

I think the eerie is also a theme that runs through English comics, although Macfarlane doesn’t mention it, and I’m hard pressed to think of specific examples. Gothic psychogeography is very much Alan Moore territory, and it feels like it should be in Warren Ellis’s wheelhouse too, but have either of them written anything explicitly about the horror of the English countryside?

(via Theo Inglis)

April 10, 2015
by Dan

Inside Marion Deuchars Studio


D&AD visits Marion Deuchars in her studio to talk about her work and creating hand-lettered signs for Judging Week 2015:

April 9, 2015
by Dan

“I am not one of those designers who are eager to expand the role of a graphic designer”


More wisdom from designer Michael Bierut, this time in an interview with Dave Benton for Behance’s 99U:

I have to admit I don’t like working on projects where I sense that the cosmetic side of design is meant to be the main differentiator. My design work isn’t interesting enough to differentiate something that’s not interesting otherwise. I look for things that are full of interest and that I am interested in, where I can really see the raison d’etre and the need that they are fulfilling in the world. If you really get all that, then you can calibrate what the appropriate response is design-wise.

I am not one of those designers who are eager to expand the role of a graphic designer. I’m a graphic designer. I know I’m good at that. I’m not an expert about customer service. I’m not an expert about coming up with the valuation of an IPO. If someone comes to me and has a shitty product, I will say tell them upfront that I don’t know why people would use this and that, to me, it doesn’t make sense, and I’m not sure a logo is what they need right now. But I’m not someone who is dying to have a seat at the table and have input earlier in the process; I’m surrounded by people who have goddamn opinions about things they don’t know anything about, and I don’t want to be one of those people.

April 9, 2015
by Dan

Apple Announces Revolution


Jean Jullien

April 9, 2015
by Dan

I’ve Been Thinking…

Posting Kim Warp’s Moby Dick cartoon last week reminded me to post this The New Yorker cartoon by Mick Stevens from February:


(There’s probably a New Yorker book Moby Dick Cartoons, isn’t there?)

April 8, 2015
by Dan

Observer Editions: Abbott Miller


The first in a new series of video interviews with people making books, Pentagram partner Abbott Miller talks to Design Observer about his recent monograph Abbott Miller: Design & Content:

And this is just a reminder to myself as much as anything: the fantastic typeface on the book’s cover is Calibre from Klim Type Foundry.

April 7, 2015
by Dan

Alan Kitching’s A-Z of Letterpress


I just received an advance copy of Alan Kitching’s A-Z of Letterpress from UK publisher Laurence King, and it really is a lovely little book for type and letterpress enthusiasts.1

The accordion-playing Kitching has featured on the blog before of course, but over the course of his career he has worked as a compositor, typographer, graphic designer, teacher, and poster artist. He founded the Typography Workshop in 1989 and, according to designer Derek Birdsall (renowned for his cover designs at Penguin amongst other things), Kitching single-handedly “breathed new life into the dying embers of letterpress” by teaching a new generation of designers how to compose type by hand.


A collaboration with Pentagram partner Angus Hyland, and designed in-house by Alexandre Coco, the book itself contains 39 alphabets shown letter by letter, presented from A to Z. All the founts are wood letter founts from Kitching’s collection, and every image in the book was printed by hand on a Vandercook no. 3 proof press.


It really is a thing of beauty. Printed on thick, creamy paper, the letter forms and page layouts are quirky and charming. The colours and metallic ink are vibrant and surprising. Even better, it is also a teaser of sort — Laurence King recently announced it will be publishing a monograph of Kitching’s work in 2016. Can’t wait.


April 6, 2015
by Dan

Book Covers of Note April 2015

Never mind that still feels like some crazy never-ending winter in Toronto, it’s (allegedly) April so here are a few new and recent covers that have caught my eye in the past month…

American Warlord by Johnny Dwyer; design by Oliver Munday (Knopf / April 2015)

Boring Girls by Sara Taylor; design by David A. Gee (ECW  / April 2015)

City Beasts by Mark Kurlansky; design by Rachel Willey (Riverhead / February 2015)

Dismantling by Brian DeLeeuw; design by Zoe Norvell (Plume / April 2015)

Every Living One by Nathan Haukes; design by Alban Fischer (Horse Less Press / March 2015)

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord; design by Charles Brock (Del Rey / January 2015)

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough; design by Nina Goffi; illustration by Christopher Silas Neal (Scholastic / April 2015)

(You know who could do an amazing Harper Lee cover? Christopher Silas Neal, that’s who!)

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum; design by Gabrielle Bordwin (Random House / March 2015)

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman; design by Julia Connolly;  illustration Petra Börner (Vintage / April 2015)

How to Run a Government by Michael Barber; design by Barnbrook (Allen Lane / March 2015)

Love and Other Foreign Policy Goals by Jesse Armstrong; design by Matt Broughton (Jonathan Cape / April 2015)

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins; design by Thomas Ng; photograph Peter Kupfer (Spiegel & Grau / March 2015)

The Musical Brain by César Aira; design by Rodrigo Corral (New Directions / March 2015)

Odd Man Out by F. L. Green; design by M. S. Corley (Valancourt Books / March 2015)

On the Way by Cyn Vargas; design by Alban Fischer (Curbside Splendor / April 2015)

(I also like Alban Fischer’s cover for Does Not Love by James Tadd Adcox, published by Curbside Splendor in 2014, a lot)

Plague and Cholera by Patrick Deville; design by Sian Wilson (Abacus / April 2015)

The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre; design by Anna Booth; photography by Jon Barkat and Gary Spector (Feiwel & Friends / April 2015)

The Road to Character by David Brooks; design by Jim Stoddart (Allen Lane / April 2015)

Seven_Madmen_FINAL_Cover_RGB (1)
The Seven Madmen
by Roberto Arlt; design by Steve Panton; series design Peter Dyer (Serpent’s Tail / February 2015)

The Splendid Things We Planned by Blake Bailey; design by Greg Mollica; cover art by Matthew Cusick (W. W. Norton / February 2015)

The Strange Case of Rachel K by Rachel Kushner; design by Paul Sahre (New Directions / March 2015)

Syrian Notebooks by Jonathan Littell; design by David A. Gee; photograph by Mani (Verso / March 2015)

Tout Peut Changer by Naomi Klein; design by Nouvelle Administration (Lux Éditeur / March 2015)

Voices in the Night by Steven Millhauser; design by Janet Hansen (Knopf / April 2015)

(Another great 2014 cover I missed — but saw in a bookstore recently — is Janet’s design for Hiding in Plain Sight by Nuruddin Farah)

Whispering Shadows by Jan-Philipp Sendker; design by Gray318 (Atria / April 2015)

The Woman Who Read Too Much by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani; design by Anne Jordan (Stanford University Press / April 2015)

(I like this unused unused comp very much too)

Worthy by Denice Turner; design by Kimberly Glyder (University of Nevada Press / April 2015)

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