The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

September 23, 2014
by Dan


Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my! I’m kicking off a new series today on animal book covers. The first post is on ‘beasts’ — mostly ‘wild’ beasts, but one or two more domesticated (and dead) animals may have nosed their way in. Other posts series will look at birds, bugs, reptiles and amphibians, and quite possibly sea creatures and farm animals (unless someone pays me a large amount of money to stop before that). Thanks to all the designers, ADs, publicists and others who have been helping me with images and credits. If you notice that some information about a cover is missing, please let me know.

American Spirit by Dan Kennedy; design by Gabrielle Bordwin (New Harvest / May 2013)

Animals of My Own Kind by Harry Thurston; design by David Drummond (Vehicule Press / April 2010)

Annabel by Kathleen Winter; design by Bill Douglas (Anansi / June 2010)

Beasts! by Jacob Covey; design by Jacob Covey / Unflown (Fantagraphics / February 2007)

The Bedside Book of Beasts by Graeme Gibson; design by Scott Richardson (Doubleday Canada / October 2009)

Brothers & Beasts edited Kate Bernheimer; design by Isaac Tobin; illustration by Lauren Nassef (Wayne State University Press / January 2008)

Caribou by Charles Wright; design by Jeff Clark / Quemadura (FSG / March 2014)

Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn; design by Sharon King-Chai (Electric Monkey / June 2013)

chronic city
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem; design by Miriam Rosenbloom (Faber & Faber / December 2009)

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland; design by gray318 (Penguin / January 2008)

Doppler by Erlend Loe; design by Nicolas Cheetham (Anansi / October 2012)

Eeeee Eee Eeee by Tao Lin; design by Kelly Blair (Melville House / April 2007)

The Extinction Club by Jeffrey Moore; design by Michel Vrana (Hamish Hamilton Canada / April 2010)

Feral by George Monbiot; design by Jim Stoddart (Penguin / May 2013)

The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill; design by Christopher Brand (Crown / June 2014)

Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia by Mariusz Szczygiel; design by Christopher King (Melville House / May 2014)

Goya’s Dog by Damian Tarnopolsky; design by David Gee (Penguin Canada / August 2007)

Hope A Tragedy
Hope A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander; design by John Gall (Riverhead Books / January 2012)

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle; design by Emily Mahon; illustration by SHOUT (Modern Library / October 2002)

Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith; illustration by Despotica (Penguin / March 2008)

How I Came to Haunt My Parents by Natalee Caple; design by David Gee (ECW / May 2011)

Hunger by Lincoln Townley; design by Matt Johnson (Simon & Schuster / May 2014)

Jaguars and Electric Eels by Alexander Von Humboldt; design by David Pearson; illustration by Victoria Sawdon (Penguin / February 2007)

Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis
Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis by Robin Richardson; design by Natalie Olsen / Kisscut Design (ECW / September 2013)

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch; design by gray318 (Canongate / March 2011)

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling; design by Alice Stevenson (Penguin India / 2014)

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa; illustration by Hans Tillman (Vintage / September 2007)

Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith; design by Mark Ecob (Abacus / August 2003)

Me and the Devil by Nick Tosches; design by Keith Hayes (Little Brown & Co / December 2012)

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi design by Helen Yentus with Jason Booher (Riverhead / September 2011)

Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood; design by Kelly Hill (McClelland & Stewart / September 2009)

Natural Acts by David Quammen; design by John Fulbrook III (W. W. Norton / May 2009)

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane; design by Charlotte Strick (Faber & Faber / October 2013)

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Off Course by Michelle Huneven; design by Rodrigo Corral; photograph by Gregori Maiofis (FSG / March 2014)

The Orphan Masters Son by Adam Johnson; design by Lynn Buckley (Random House / January 2012)

Panther by David Owen; design by gray318 (Constable and Robinson / May 2015)

Pastoralia by George Saunders; design by Rodrigo Corral (Riverhead / June 2001)

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson; design by Matt Dorfman (Riverhead / December 2011)

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow; design by Susan Dean; illustration Natasha Michaels (William Heinemann / August 2007)

A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright; design by Bill Douglas (Anansi / October 2004)

Station Eleven by Emily  St. John Mandel; design by Nathan Burton (Picador / September 2014)

Stories II by T. C. Boyle; design by Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury / October 2013)

The Tattooed Soldier by Hector Tobar; design by Jim Tierney (Picador / October 2014)

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt; Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich (Dial Press / June 2012)

This Book Will Save Your Life by A. M. Homes; design by Paul Buckley (Penguin / April 2007)

Tigers in Eden by Chris Flynn; design by W.H. Chong (Text Publishing Co. / October 2013)

The Tiger's Wife-Tea Obreht
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht; design by James Paul Jones; illustration Wuon Gean Ho (Phoenix / March 2011)

Tooth and Claw by T. C. Boyle; design by Paul Buckley (Penguin / September 2005)

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland; design by Keith Hayes (Algonquin Books / May 2014)

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma; design by Alison Forner (Penguin / March 2014)

Wolves by Simon Ings; design and Illustration by Jeffrey Alan Love (Gollancz / January 2014)

September 19, 2014
by Dan

Self Initiated: Stanley Chow


Like their first film about illustrator and typographer Daren Newman, the second short in the ‘Self Initiated’ series by the folks from Manchester-based Daylight is about a local talent.

Even if you don’t immediately recognize Stanley Chow‘s name, you will have seen his illustrations for The New Yorker, Wired, and Entertainment Weekly among other places. Most likely, you have have seen his portraits of pop culture icons online too. In the film, Chow talks about his process, inspiration, and doing the work he loves:

You can buy prints of Stanley Chow’s work from his print shop.

September 19, 2014
by Dan

50 Books / 50 Covers 2013 Winners


If you’re an American book designer you probably know already that the winners of the 2013 Fifty Books / Fifty Covers show were announced yesterday.

Organized by Design Observer in association with AIGA and Designers & Books,  50/50, which recognizes the best work in contemporary book and book cover design, dates back to 1922, and is the oldest continuously operating graphic design competition in the United States. It is what you might call a ‘big deal.’

Of course, you can always quibble with lists like this — there are a some covers from last year that I loved that aren’t winners. But it’s wonderful to see book designers get some deserved recognition, and there are some great covers on the list that I overlooked.

Here are a few of my favourite 50 Covers winners that weren’t on my own 2013 list (nor in my postscript):

9780199811809-Thomas Ng
The Aesthetic Brain by Anjan Chatterjee; design by Thomas Ng (Oxford University Press)

No One is Here Except All of Us by Romana Ausubel; design by Gray318 (Riverhead)

Personae by Sergio De La Pava; design by Isaac Tobin (University of Chicago Press)

Shady Characters by Keith Houston; design by Jason Booher ((W. W. Norton & Company)

This and Other Plays by Melissa Gibson; design by Helen Yentus and Jason Booher (Theatre Communications Group)

September 18, 2014
by Dan

Mac Barnett: Why a good book is a secret door

I’m all about the charming videos today… In this recent TED Talk, Mac Barnett, award-winning author of Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale ProblemExtra Yarn, Telephone and the forthcoming Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, talks about childhood and making stories come alive:

September 18, 2014
by Dan

Alan Kitching and Monotype


Well, this is absolutely lovely — a short film about letterpress typographer, designer, artist (and accordion player) Alan Kitching, and a set of posters he created with Monotype to celebrate the centenary of five influential designers born in 1914: Tom Eckersley, Paul Rand, FHK Henrion, Josef Müller-Brockmann and Abram Games:

(via David Pearson)

September 11, 2014
by Dan

NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual Reissue


If you’ve been on Twitter for past couple of days you’ll have no doubt noticed that the design community (or the sizeable type-obsessed segment of it) is very excited that designers Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, founders of, have started a Kickstarter project to reissue the 1970 NYC Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual by Unimark’s Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda as a full-size, limited edition book:

Every single day, millions of New Yorkers rely on the subway to get around the city, and you can’t use the subway without encountering the signage designed by Unimark. Over the years many changes have taken place (such as the switch from Standard Medium to Helvetica), but it is a testament to the quality of the work that, 44 years later, the signage holds up.

And perhaps on a deeper level, the signage has given the subway a voice. When a lot of people think of New York City, these signs pop into their head. We feel a tremendous responsibility to publish not only an important piece of design history, but an important part of New York City’s history.

Even if you can’t afford the book itself — it starts at $133USD if you live in Canada, more if you are in the EU —  you can back the project for as little as $3, and the project’s video featuring Pentagram‘s Michael Bierut on the graphic standards manual is well worth watching:

You can also see scans from a copy of the manual discovered the basement of design firm Pentagram in 2012 on

September 9, 2014
by Dan

Type Safari with James Victore

While I’m posting typography videos, this is pretty fun too — designer James Victore tours around Brooklyn and Queens (in a jeep!) passing judgement on the local signs and street typography:

And if this is your thing, The Makeshift Society is organizing a series of evening events in Brooklyn about type and type design with a host of great speakers. (I guess we all need to move to Brooklyn!).

(via SwissMiss)

September 9, 2014
by Dan

Dan Rhatigan on type…Type on Dan Rhatigan


This is kind of amazing… Type designer Dan Rhatigan talking about his love of type, and his typographic tattoos:

And if you didn’t catch all that, Dan helpfully posted a list of his tattoos (as August 2014) on his website:

  1. R from unknown wood type
  2. & from Poetica by Robert Slimbach
  3. ü from Meta Bold by Erik Spiekermann
  4. s from Fette Fraktur
  5. K from the old Krispy Kreme logo
  6. g from Baskerville, based on types of John Baskerville
  7. § from Champion Gothic Middleweight by Jonathan Hoefler
  8. 7 from Century Oldstyle Bold by Morris Fuller Benton
  9. y from Cooper Black Italic by Oswald Cooper
  10. W from Whitney Bold by Tobias Frere-Jones
  11. z from Stilla by François Boltana
  12. r from Maple Medium by Eric Olson
  13. 2 from Ingeborg Block by Michael Hochleitner
  14. w from Actium Black Italic by Gerben Dollen
  15. a from Dolly Italic by Underware
  16. e from Sodachrome (Left and Right) by Ian Moore and Dan Rhatigan
  17. Y from Banco by Roger Excoffon
  18. Å from Leyton by Ian Moore
  19. C from De Little 30-Line 196
  20. H from Calypso by Roger Excoffon
  21. é from Gill Sans Ultrabold (Gill Kayo) by Eric Gill
  22. B from Festival Titling by Phillip Boydell
  23. ø from Bell Centennial Bold Listing by Matthew Carter

In another recent video, Dan talks about the design of Monotype’s Ryman Eco, “the world’s most beautiful sustainable font”, which apparently uses 33% less ink than standard fonts:

This promotional video for Ryman Eco is also nicely done:


September 3, 2014
by Dan
1 Comment

Book Covers of Note September 2014

It’s hard to believe it is already September, but here we are… time for another round of book covers!

If you’re new to this feature, each month I collect together new and recent covers that have caught my eye in the previous few weeks. Although the focus is on books released in the current month, the posts also include covers I’ve missed earlier in the year. You can find the previous month’s posts here.

Thanks (as always) to my local bookstores — Type Books on Queen West, Book City on the Danforth, and Indigo Bay & Bloor — for fighting the good fight (and their wonderful displays!).

Abbott Miller: Design and Content; design by Pentagram (Princeton Architectural Press / September 2014)

Polygraphe_Samuel Archibald
Arvida by Samuel Archibald; design by Catherine D’Amours / Pointbarre (Le Quartanier / August 2014)
Polygraphe_Samuel Archibald_mech
(this is an obvious miss from last month’s post about maps. Sorry Catherine!)

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel; design by Rodrigo Corral Design; photograph Demurez/Glasshouse (Henry Holt / September 2014)

The City Under the Skin by Geoff Nicholson; design by Oliver Munday; photograph by George Baier IV (FSG / June 2014)

(Another one that should have been in the maps post. And yes, that really is someone’s back apparently)

The Establishment by Owen Jones; design by Richard Green (Allen Lane / September 2014)

Forensic Songs by Mike McCormack; design by Jason Booher (SOHO / July 2014)

God Telling a Joke by David Margoshes; design by David Drummond (Oolichan Books / May 2014)

Hack Attack by Nick Davies; design by David Drummond (Faber & Faber / August 2014)

The Histories by Herodotus; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin Classics / September 2014)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; design by JP King (Penguin / August 2014)

Lippy by Bush Moukarzel; design by Jason Booher (Oberon Books / August 2014)

The Most Dangerous Animal of All by Gary L. Stewart with Susan Mustafa; design by Jarrod Taylor (HarperCollins / June 2014)

(I’m not endorsing the content of this book at all, but the red acetate cover does need to be seen in person to be fully appreciated)

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty; design by David High / High Design (W. W. Norton / September 2014)

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland; design by Keith Hayes (Algonquin Books / May 2014)

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle; design by Timothy Goodman (FSG / September 2014)

Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyers; design by Christopher Brian King (Melville House / September 2014)

You by Zoran Drvenkar; design by Kelly Blair (Knopf / August 2014)

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