The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Midweek Miscellany


Tracing History — Alice Rawsthorn on the beauty of printed books for the New York Times:

Some things seem to designed to do their jobs perfectly, and the old-fashioned book is one. What else could be quite as efficient at packaging so many thousands of words in a form, which is sufficiently sturdy to protect them, yet so small and light that it can be carried around to be read whenever its owner wishes? The pages, type, binding and jacket of a traditional printed book do all of the above, as well as giving its designer just enough scope to make the result look beautiful, witty or intriguing.

(pictured above: Blaise Cendrars’s 1919 book ‘‘La fin du monde, filmée par l’ange,’’ designed and illustrated by Fernand Léger.)

Down bpNichol Lane — Founder and publisher of Coach House Books Stan Bevington talks to  The Varsity about the history of the storied indie press:

Coach House purchased a photo-offset lithography machine, which allowed images to be transferred photographically to aluminum printing plates. Oil-based ink adhered to the images on the plates, which were then used to print the pages of a book… In the 1960s, this was cutting-edge technology. According to Stan, offset lithography was a tremendous step forward in the publishing industry because it “drastically liberated” the process of creating printing plates. But the text of a book still had to be typeset by hand, which left publishers relatively restricted in other areas of design. As Stan thumbs through additional books that were printed using offset lithography, he laughs and points out that they are all set in the Helvetica typeface.

Captain Crunch — Alan Moore on DC Comics planned Watchmen prequels at Fast Company:

“There’s been a growing dissatisfaction and distrust with the conventional publishing industry, in that you tend to have a lot of formerly reputable imprints now owned by big conglomerates… As a result, there’s a growing number of professional writers now going to small presses, self-publishing, or trying other kinds of [distribution] strategies.

“The same is true of music and cinema… It seems that every movie is a remake of something that was better when it was first released in a foreign language, as a 1960s TV show, or even as a comic book. Now you’ve got theme park rides as the source material of movies. The only things left are breakfast cereal mascots.”

See also: Tom Spurgeon’s ‘21 Not Exactly Original Notes On More Watchmen, Written At A Slight Remove‘:

Watchmen is something of a perfect Internet-era story, and as such serves as a reminder of how much we’re driven by and limited to the nature and form of the way news stories develop now. You couldn’t build a story like this in a laboratory. The… Watchmen story is about a product; people like products. It’s about the hype for a product, which in many ways and for many fans has become the best part of any arts-product experience. Because the work itself doesn’t exist yet, arguments can be made on its behalf positing an ideal outcome or a disastrous one — your choice.

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