The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno; unused design by John Gall
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; unused design by John Gall
Turning the picture sideways is not exactly new (the brilliant John Gall was experimenting with it long before most of us had even thought to try), but there has been a spate of commercial covers making use of images rotated through ninety degrees in the past couple of years. It seems like a such peculiar thing to have caught on, and yet here we are:
California by Edan Lepucki; design Julianna Lee (Little Brown & Co. July 2014)
Somewhat related to that Keith Phipps essay Why Star Wars? (mentioned here a couple of days ago), Wired has an oral history of Industrial Light & Magic, the special effects shop founded by George Lucas to work on the movie:
Industrial Light & Magic was born in a sweltering warehouse behind the Van Nuys airport in the summer of 1975. Its first employees were recent college graduates (and dropouts) with rich imaginations and nimble fingers. They were tasked with building Star Wars’ creatures, spaceships, circuit boards, and cameras. It didn’t go smoothly or even on schedule, but the masterful work of ILM’s fledgling artists, technicians, and engineers transported audiences into galaxies far, far away.
As it turns 40 this year, ILM can claim to have played a defining role making effects for 317 movies. But that’s only part of the story: Pixar began, essentially, as an ILM internal investigation. Photoshop was invented, in part, by an ILM employee tinkering with programming in his time away from work. Billions of lines of code have been formulated there. Along the way ILM has put tentacles into pirate beards, turned a man into mercury, and dominated box office charts with computer-generated dinosaurs and superheroes.
And if you were wondering where it all went wrong, it was probably the precise moment George Lucas had this revelation:
I never thought I’d do the Star Wars prequels, because there was no real way I could get Yoda to fight. There was no way I could go over Coruscant, this giant city-planet. But once you had digital, there was no end to what you could do.
Gray looked around for inspiration and got interested in old hand written signs often posted at churches. Written by sign writing dilettantes who need to communicate something to their fellow churchgoers, to Gray these signs tell a story, they speak of dedication, personality, of love. The signs reference a specific time and place, an idiosyncratic personality and character. Gray took the loose and spontaneous quality of the handwriting on these signs and used it for the cover of “Everything is Illuminated”.
What he got gave him one of these rare moments where “You make something and you know it works, it’s something new – I made it and it was completely me. I liked it, Penguin loved it, the author was all over it.” Published in 2002, the rough all-over hand-lettering on the cover contrasted strongly with the clean lines and vector graphics that had been dominating graphic design for a while then. It was the avant-garde of what Steven Heller called “The Decade of Dirty” when handmade aesthetics became fashionable again. And it marked the very beginning of the still ongoing revival of hand-lettered typography.
In the most recent installment of the Laser Age, the Dissolve’s fascinating history of science fiction films from the 1960s to the 1980s, Keith Phipps turns his attention to Superman, Star Trek, and Flash Gordon — three movies released in the immediate wake of Star Wars. It’s a great read if you are at all interested in this stuff, but it’s also a perfect excuse to revisit Phipps’s earlier — but oh, so timely — essay, ‘Why Star Wars?’:
Why? Of all the science-fiction films released in the long wake of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet Of The Apes, why did Star Wars take hold in a way no film before it had? None of the many answers are entirely satisfying. But combining a few of them lets us make some sense of the question.
In a way, this book is an autobiography of someone brought up with a very particular relation to books, in a religious family, in an English literary tradition, who on becoming an adult, for private personal reasons, set himself literary goals that were gradually revealed as spurious. Also, it’s about a person from the literary center—English, London— who has spent more than thirty years in another country, Italy, that is out of the literary mainstream. And a writer who also, by chance, became a translator and went on to teach translation. My life has been a long process of awakening to the reality, the changing reality, of the contemporary book world, which is a million miles from the naïve vision I had when I started writing books at twenty-two. Since it is in the publishers’ interests, and indeed the University’s, to sustain a false picture of what the book world is like and what the contemporary experience of books amounts to, my articles were a response to this, and an attempt to get my own head straight about what I’m really doing and the environment I move in. One is seeking at last to be unblinkered about it all.
One of the pleasures of his book is his honesty and perplexity at the discovery that every account he offers of the process of visualization very quickly falls apart under pressure. We do not really “see” characters such as Anna Karenina or Captain Ahab, he concludes, or indeed the places described in novels, and insofar as we do perhaps see or glimpse them, what we are seeing is something we have imagined, not what the author saw. Even when there are illustrations, as in many nineteenth-century novels, they only impose their view of the characters very briefly. A couple of pages later they have become as fluid and vague as so much of visual memory. At one point Mendelsund posits the idea that perhaps we read in order not to be oppressed by the visual, in order not to see.
While in a lengthy profile of the publisher by Mark Medley, the Globe and Mail revealed that founder Chris Oliveros is handing the company over to long-time collaborators Tom Devlin and Peggy Burns:
If Drawn and Quarterly is “like a big family,” as Chester Brown described the company to me earlier this week, then, in a sense, the family is losing its father.
A little more than a year ago, Oliveros pulled aside Burns and Devlin, his longest-serving co-workers, and told them he was thinking of stepping down, and that he wanted them to take over the company.
“It was a complete surprise,” says Devlin. “We kind of assumed he’d just do it forever.”
Burns says she burst into tears upon hearing the news.
“I’ve personally taken it as far as I can take it,” says Oliveros. “It would have been fine if I continued. It’s not like they were telling me to go or anything. I could have been around for the 30th anniversary, for the 35th, and the 40th, if I’m still alive, but I just feel, you know what, I don’t think I can accomplish – me, personally – I don’t think I can accomplish more.”
Thanks to David Gee (and others), who alerted me to the extraordinary Samplerman comics this week.
You can read an interview from earlier this year with Yvan Guillo, the French cartoonist and designer behind Samplerman, at It’s Nice That:
I’ve always downloaded tonnes of scans of American comics, from the golden age to the bronze age. I could scan the ones I have but I’ve done it only once or twice. I don’t really read the stories, but I love how they look: the cheap paper, the bright primary colours, the screen-tone, the drawings, the conventional representation of landscapes, the simplicity of the lines. I have to make a choice among this mountain of graphic elements. I pick what I like: face, hand, clothes, tree, car, text balloon etc. and start to (digitally) cut them out. At the same time I start to place the elements on one or several pages made of blank comic panels. Some elements are duplicated, rotated, arbitrarily cut in half, reduplicated and mirrored. It’s a mix of kaleidoscope and collage; I add, I move, I replace until I feel it’s done. At the end it has to remain visually surprising and dynamic.
At the NYRB Blog, Tim Parks wonders if there are just too many books:
Is there a relationship between the quantity of books available to us, the ease with which they can be written and published, and our reading experience?
At present, for example, it’s hard not to feel that we are in an era of massive overproduction. Just when we were already overwhelmed with paper books, often setting them aside after only a few pages in anxious search of something more satisfying, along came the Internet and the e-book so that, wonderfully, we now have access to hundreds of thousands of contemporary novels and poems from this very space into which I am writing.
Inevitably, this tends to diminish the seriousness with which I approach any particular book. Certainly the notion that these works could ever be arranged in any satisfactory order, or that any credible canon will ever emerge, is gone forever.