The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

June 12, 2015
by Dan

Henrietta’s Reading Adventures


The New Yorker has posted a lovely series of cartoons about reading by Argentinian cartoonist Liniers. Henrietta — along with her cat Fellini and teddy bear Mandlebaum — is a regular character from Liniers newspaper comic strip Macanudo.

Henrietta-Reading-5-2-690 Henrietta-Reading-09-690  Henrietta-Reading-17-690

Two collections of Liniers’ Macanudo strip are available in English from Enchanted Lion Books, with third one available this fall. There is also a new book featuring Henrietta coming from TOON Books in September.

(via Pickle Me This)

June 12, 2015
by Dan

Dear Araucaria

The Rev John Graham, better known as Araucaria, set the Guardian’s cryptic crossword for 55 years. In December 2012, Araucaria announced that he was dying of cancer through a series of clues in a crossword. In this short film, Graham talks about puzzles, the memories and ideas that inspired him, and setting crossword number 25,842:

You can read more about the film here.

June 8, 2015
by Dan

The Endless Combinations of Robert Rauschenberg

Monogram, Robert Rauschenberg (1955–59)

Monogram, Robert Rauschenberg (1955–59)

At the New York Times, Dan Chiasson visits the archive of the late Robert Rauschenberg, currently housed in a high-security warehouse in Westchester, N.Y.. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it looks “a little like a cross between Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu and a suburban Lowe’s”:

A source material, for Rauschenberg, could have been almost anything. Among the most prolific and consistently surprising American artists, he worked for over 50 years in a variety of media from feathers, stuffed goats, socks and neckties to cardboard, grass and scrap metal, in genres including choreography, costume design, photography, printmaking and painting. He is most famous for the “combine,” a form he more or less invented that merged three-dimensional collages with sculpture, sometimes with the batty ingenuity of a Rube Goldberg. Few works capture so arrestingly the process that brought them into being: In a finished Rauschenberg, you see a goat, a tire, a tennis ball, but more than that, you see the insights that brought them together. Each component keeps its integrity within a composition in which everything contributes to a profound effect of overall beauty. Indeed, few artists of his era so unabashedly strove for beauty, even majesty: The logic of his work, beginning with cast-offs and flotsam, demanded it. It was the dare he put to himself in everything he made.

June 5, 2015
by Dan
1 Comment

The Expensive Notebook Company

I know it’s the second Tom Gauld cartoon I’ve posted today, but this one for The New Yorker is magnificent:


June 5, 2015
by Dan

All Characters Wait Here

characters wait here tom gauld

Mr. Tom Gauld

June 3, 2015
by Dan

Book Covers of Note June 2015

I don’t know where last month went, but somehow it’s June already and it’s time for another selection of recent book covers:

General Theory of Oblivion design by Julia Connolly
A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa; design by Julia Connolly (Harvill Secker / June 2015)

The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester; design by Melissa Four (Simon & Schuster / January 2015)

how music got free design James Paul Jones
How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt; design by James Paul Jones (The Bodley Head / June 2015)

in the beginning illustration Robert Frank Hunter
In the Beginning was the Sea by Tomás González; cover illustration by Robert Frank Hunter (Pushkin / May 2015)

intimacy idiot design spencer kimble
Intimacy Idiot by Isaac Oliver; design by Spencer Kimble (Scribner / June 2015)

lesser beasts design by Nicole Caputo
Lesser Beasts by Mark Essig; design by Nicole Caputo (Basic Books / May 2015)

Living in the Sound of the Wind by Jason Wilson; design by Leo Nickolls (Constable / June 2015)

London Overground design by Richard Bravery
London Overground by Iain Sinclair; design by Richard Bravery (Hamish Hamilton / June 2015)

lucky alan design ben wiseman
Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem; design by Ben Wiseman (Doubleday / February 2015)

manhattan mayhem design by Timothy ODonnell
Manhattan Mayhem edited by Mary Higgins Clark; design by Timothy O’Donnell (Quirk Books / June 2015)

motorcycles ive loved design by rachel willey
Motorcycles I’ve Loved by Lily Brooks-Dalton; design by Rachel Willey (Riverhead / April 2015)

muse design by gabriele wilson
Muse by Jonathan Galassi; design by Gabriele Wilson (Knopf / June 2015)

professor in the cage design by matt dorfman
The Professor in the Cage by Jonathan Gottschall; design by Matt Dorfman (Penguin / April 2015)

Resistance is Futile by Jenny Colgan; design by Hannah Wood; illustration by Pietari Posti (Orbit / May 2015)

rise design by greg heinimann
Rise by Karen Campbell; design by Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury / March 2015)

thank you goodnight design Kimberly Glyder
Thank You, Goodnight by Andy Abramowitz; design by Kimberly Glyder (Simon & Schuster / June 2015)

tongues of men or angels design by Jamie Keenan
The Tongues of Men or Angels by Jonathan Trigel; design by Jamie Keenan (Little Brown / May 2015)

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi; design by Oliver Munday (Knopf / May 2015)

When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen; design by Kelly Blair (Knopf / February 2015)

world does not exist design david gee
Why the World Does Not Exist by Markus Gabriel; design by David Gee (Polity / June 2015)

The White Company design James Paul Jones
The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle; design by James Paul Jones (Vintage / June 2015)

wonder garden art and design thomas doyle
The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora; art and design by Thomas Doyle (Grove Press /May 2015)

Why Information Grows by Cesar Hidalgo; design by Richard Green (Allen Lane / June 2015)

June 2, 2015
by Dan

The Retiring Type: Intelligent Life on Edward Johnson


At Intelligent Life, Catherine Nixey tells the story of Edward Johnson, creator of the London Underground’s typeface:

The Underground didn’t commission a font to look different from commercial ones simply to sell it straight back to the commercial world. But that world wanted the font nevertheless. And so Johnston’s pupil Eric Gill obliged, creating Gill Sans, which would go on to be used on everything from the classic Penguin Books design to the BBC logo (since 1997)—and, later, many a Word document.

There is some suggestion that even Gill, not a man to be easily abashed, may have felt uneasy about this. He sent Johnston a letter that manages to turn, in a moment, from humility to boastful defiance. “I hope you realise”, he wrote, “that I take every opportunity of proclaiming the fact that what the Monotype people call ‘Gill’ Sans owes all its goodness to your Underground letter. It is not altogether my fault that the exaggerated publicity value of my name makes the advertising world keen to call it by the name of Gill.”

Did Johnston mind? We don’t know exactly. “I don’t think there was bitterness,” says his grandson. Though there was no money, either. “He was so lacking in business sense, he never charged a going rate for his work and so couldn’t make ends meet.” For the Underground font, Johnston was paid 50 guineas—about £4,000 in today’s money (he handed 10% of it on to Gill). By the time he died in 1944, “the finances were in a terrible state,” Andrew Johnston adds. “There had been a fund started by calligraphers in America to help this destitute master craftsman.”

(image via Mikey Ashworth on Flickr)

May 31, 2015
by Dan

Virago Modern Classics Daphne du Maurier


This summer UK publisher Virago is publishing two sets of Daphne du Maurier’s most famous titles with new and beautifully illustrated covers.

According to editorial director Donna Coonan, du Maurier’s reputation has flourished in recent years. She is also an author with cross-generational appeal. “The heroines of her best-known novels are young women at a turning point in their lives,” says Coonan. “These are beautifully written books that are exciting, suspenseful and brilliantly atmospheric. There is passion, danger, romance . . . and pirates!”

For over a decade Virago published du Maurier’s backlist with a uniform style. “They sat nicely together in a set, but were starting to look a little dated and lacked individuality,” says art director Nico Taylor. “I had never read du Maurier before, but once I got stuck in I realised just how diverse her writing is which led me to the idea that presenting each novel with a distinctive, individual look would be the best way to ensure du Maurier’s work continues to look fresh.”


For the first three titles in series (there are a staggering 17 or so more to come!), Taylor worked with illustrators Neil Gower (Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek) and Jordan Metcalf (Rebecca). “It became clear that it would be hard to avoid some of the obvious reference points from each title, but I was keen that they were used in an integrated or suggestive way… all credit has to go to the illustrators for imagining their respective covers in such distinctive ways.”



Alongside this refreshed backlist, Virago is also planning to introduce these same three classics — French Man’s Creek, Jamaica Inn, and Rebecca, — to young adults with new covers by Iacopo Bruno. “This was a great opportunity to show that du Maurier is a big contribution to the gothic novels popular with this age group of readers,” says art director Sophie Burdess. “I wanted to create a set of covers primarily composed of evocative gothic typography that gave du Maurier the authority and appeal she deserves as well as giving a feel for the individual themes of each novel,” she continues. “[Iacopo] is a rare and exceptionally beautiful illustrator and hand lettering artist who knows just how to pitch the work for a younger audience… the task of creating a set of beautiful compositions of elegant hand lettering and vignette illustrations was very safe in his hands.”

May 28, 2015
by Dan

Who Writes Novels?


Tom Gauld for The New Yorker.

May 26, 2015
by Dan

Today in Micro-Trends: Rotate 90°

downtown owl design paul sahre

design by Paul Sahre (2008)

Turning the picture sideways is not exactly new (the brilliant John Gall and Paul Sahre1 were experimenting with it years ago), 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)

The Empty Chair by Bruce Wagner; design by Gregg Kulick (Blue Rider Press / December 2013)

girl in the moonlight design by mumtaz mustafa painting horacio g garcia
The Girl in the Moonlight by Charles Dubow; design by Mumtaz Mustafa; painting by Horacio G. Garcia (William Morrow / May 2015)

green on blue
Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman; design by Oliver Munday & Jaya Miceli (Scribner / February 2015)

I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers; design by Emily Mahon; photograph by Mike Lambert (Nan A. Talese / June 2015)

Sugar design by M S Corley
Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall; design by M. S. Corley (Skyscape / June 2015)

waiting for the apocalypse design kimberly glyder
Waiting for the Apocalypse by Veronica Chater; design by Kimberly Glyder (W. W. Norton / February 2009)

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas; design by Christopher Lin (Simon & Schuster / August 2014)

May 25, 2015
by Dan

The Story of ILM

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.

May 25, 2015
by Dan

Errors Commonly Made by Inexperienced Murder-Mystery Novelists


Tom Gauld.

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