The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Midweek Miscellany


Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age — new from Steven Heller and Louise Fili, published by Thames & Hudson.

50/50 — Designer Andrew Henderson, curator of Lovely Book Covers, is going to spend 50 days designing 50 covers based on the 50 most influential books of the last 50 years.

See also: Matt Roeser’s New Cover project.

Why She Fell — An interesting article by Daniel Mendelsohn on Spider-Man and Julie Taymor’s ill-fated musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, in the NYRB:

What made Spider-Man unusual among superheroes when he debuted wasn’t so much the arachnid powers he derived from the radioactive spider…, but his very ordinariness. Bullied at school, worried about girls and money, fussing at and fussed at by his foster parents, the kindly Aunt May and Uncle Ben, Peter Parker is a regular lower-middle-class Joe with pretty average teenager problems… It’s not hard to see how all this made Spider-Man popular among teenaged comic book readers in the 1960s, that decade of the teenager. Indeed, the series marked the beginning of what one historian of the genre called a “revolution” — a newfound interest on the part of comic book creators in emphasizing the protagonist’s “everyday problems” rather than the glamour of being a superhero… The emphasis on Spidey’s ordinary humanness explains why this series, as opposed to a number of other superhero comics, is laden with “heavy doses of soap-opera and elements of melodrama.”

Sheep — Philosopher Simon Blackwell reviews How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by Stanley Fish for The New Republic:

It is wrong to think that the sentence is a mere slave, whose function is to bear content, which, while being the really important thing, is also something that could equally have been borne by another. Change the shape and ring, and you change everything. The balance, the alliterations, the variation, the melody, the lights glimmering in the words, can work together to transform even an ugly thought into something iridescent, as when Eli Wallach in The Magnificent Seven expressed his character’s indifference to the suffering he brings the peasants in one perfect, albeit perfectly brutal, sentence: “If God didn’t want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.” As Fish says in his analysis of this example, here the “air of finality and certainty” is clinched by “the parallelism of clauses that also feature the patterned repetition of consonants and vowels” and then, of course the inevitability of that last dismissive word. If the devil has the best tunes, sometimes the bandits have the best sentences.

And finally…

The aforementioned Steven Heller on the paintings of Paul Rand at Design Observer:

[He] proceeded to tell me how he liked working in all media, including photography and painting and how it influences what he does and how rarely these “other things” are seen in print or elsewhere. Actually, he used excellent judgment insofar as the paintings and watercolors were appealing for their humor and craft, but they were paeans to Klee (and even Cezanne). They were not his true métier (pardon my French). They showed his interests and represented his eye, but painting was not his signature work…

What is there to say about these paintings and watercolors? Are they building blocks or respites from the rigors of graphic design? When I said, “Paul, one of the things I like about you, is that you don’t pretend to be a painter” he had a knowing look. I don’t think he wanted to be a painter, but he wanted to integrate art into graphic design, which he did so very well.

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