The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

September 22, 2015
by Dan

Magical Items for Fantasy Writers

magical items for fantasy writers by tom gauld

Tom Gauld.

September 21, 2015
by Dan

Adrian Frutiger: His Type Designs Show You the Way

The New York Times obituary for type designer Adrian Fruitger who died at the age of 87 on September 10  in his native Switzerland:

The son of a weaver, Adrian Johann Frutiger was born on May 24, 1928, in Unterseen, near Interlaken, Switzerland. As a youth he hoped to be a sculptor, but his father discouraged him from plying so insecure a trade. Apprenticed to a typesetter as a teenager, he found his life’s work.

In 1952, after graduating from the School of Applied Arts in Zurich, Mr. Frutiger moved to Paris, where he was a designer with the type foundry Deberny & Peignot, eventually becoming its artistic director. There he created some of his earliest fonts, among them Président, Méridien and Ondine; in the early 1960s he founded his own studio in Paris.

Commissioned to create signage for airports and subway systems, Mr. Frutiger soon realized that fonts that looked good in books did not work well on signs: The characters lacked enough air to be readable at a distance. The result, over time, was Frutiger, a sans serif font designed to be legible at many paces, and from many angles.

One of Frutiger’s hallmarks is the square dot over the lowercase “i.” The dot’s crisp, angled corners keep it from resolving into a nebulous flyspeck that appears to merge with its stem, making “i” look little different from “l” or “I.” (For designers of sans serif fonts, the gold standard is to make a far-off “Illinois” instantly readable.)

For more on Frutiger and his work, there is an interesting interview with the designer in the spring 1999 issue of Eye Magazine.

September 18, 2015
by Dan

Art Works For Aid


In response to the refugee crisis currently unfolding in Europe, designer and illustrator Nina Tara has set up Art Works For Aid.

Nina is asking artists, illustrators, designers and photographers to donate small works of art to be sold at auction to raise funds for organizations such as Human Relief Foundation helping refugees.

Current contributors include book designers such as Nathan Burton, Suzanne Dean, Jon Gray (Gray318), Jennifer HeuerJamie Keenan, and Henry Sene Yee, as well as illustrators like Petra BörnerRob Ryan, and Ralph Steadman.

If you would like to help by buying an artwork, the first AforA auction is today. If you’re a ‘creative’ and you would like to donate a work of art just send an email to Nina.

You can find more information about the initiative on the AforA blog, and see images of some of the work that has already been donated on the AforA Facebook page.

September 17, 2015
by Dan

Munari’s Books


Before turning his attention to graphics and advertising, Italian artist and designer Bruno Munari (1907-1998) made his mark as a member of the Futurists, an avant-garde art movement fascinated by modernity, mass production, and pushing at technological limits.

The influence of Futurism — not to mention modernism’s jokers Dada and Surrealism — is apparent throughout Munari’s Books, a collection of Munari’s book design recently published in English by Princeton Architectural Press. Munari relentlessly experimented with typography, photography, collage, and printing materials. There is a book made of metal, another that comes with a hammer. There is page after page of special papers, unique bindings, loose pages, punches, tears, and flaps. The breadth (and the volume!) of his work is staggering, and it all crackles with this restless sense of innovation, urgency, and provocation.


Bruno Munari’s ABC (image credit: Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1960)

“A great children’s book, with beautiful expressive figures, the right story, printed simply, would not be accepted (by some parents), but children would love it.”1

But Munari’s designs and illustrations are also surprisingly full of warmth and wonder. This is most apparent in his expressive illustrations, and the large number of books Munari produced for very young children. Even readers familiar with Bruno Munari’s ABC and Bruno Munari’s Zoo, may find themselves astonished at just how many other extraordinary children’s books he created that aren’t currently available in English.


Abecedario de Munari (image credit: Rome: Emanuele Prandi, 1942)


Abecedario de Munari (image credit: Rome: Emanuele Prandi, 1942)

“we need to deconstruct the myth of the artist-hero who produces only masterpieces for the intelligent. We have to show that as long as artists are outside the problems of everyday life, only a few people will be interested. And now, in these days of mass culture, artists must climb down from their pedestals and be so kind as to design a butcher’s sign.”2

If Munari’s Books has a shortcoming, it is the rather academic introductory texts (they will be useful for better design writers than me, but I got little sense of the Munari’s life or the personality behind the designs from them). Fortunately, the book is peppered with lively quotations from Munari himself. The most pithy come from Arte come mestiere, a collection of Munari’s writing on design first published in English in 1971 as Design as Art (and reissued as a Penguin Modern Classic in 2008). The short essays in Arte come mestiere were originally written for Milan daily newspaper Il Giorno, and they address everyday life as well as design. They’re witty, discursive (and sometimes even surprisingly practical), and a perfect accompaniment to the illustrations in Munari’s Books.


Disegnare il sole (image credit: Mantua: Graziano Peruffo, 1980)


La favola delle favole (image credit: Mantua: Maurizio Corraini Editore, 1994)

Nella nebbia di Milano (inner) WEB

Nella nebbia di Milano (Mantua: Graziano Peruffo, 1968)

September 15, 2015
by Dan

How to Submit Your Spy Novel for Publication

spy novel tom gauld

Tom Gauld.

September 14, 2015
by Dan

Hamlet vs. Amazon Prime

hamlet vs amazon roz chast

Roz Chast for The New Yorker.

September 3, 2015
by Dan

The Life of a Memoirist

Life of a Memoirist by Tom Gauld

Tom Gauld.

September 2, 2015
by Dan
1 Comment

Book Covers of Note September 2015

Something of a bumper post this month — a real mix of approaches, and a number YA titles to boot. Enjoy!

Complete Stories design by Paul Sahre
The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector; design by Paul Sahre (New Directions / August 2015)

Consumed design David A Gee
Consumed by David Cronenberg; design by David A. Gee (Penguin Canada / September 2015)

Cooking as Fast as I Can design Janet Hansen
Cooking as Fast as I Can by Cat Cora; design by Janet Hansen (Scribner / September 2015)

Criminal Alphabet design by Edward Bettison
The Criminal Alphabet by Noel ‘Razor’ Smith; design by Edward Bettison (Penguin / August 2015)

Cut Both Ways design Erin Fitzsimmons
Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian; design by Erin Fitzsimmons (HarperCollins / September 2015)

Dumplin design by Aurora Parlagreco illus Daniel Stolle
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy; design by Aurora Parlagreco; illustration by Daniel Stolle (Balzer + Bray / September 2015)

Everything Everything design N C Sousa
Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon; design by N. C. Sousa (Delacorte / September 2015)

Fake Fruit Front
Fake Fruit Factory by Patrick Wensink; design by Alban Fischer (Curbside Splendor / September 2015)

Fear of Dying design Olga Grlic
Fear of Dying by Erica Jong; design by Olga Grlic (St. Martin’s Press / September 2015)

Generation design by Harriet Sleigh
Generation by Paula McGrath; design by Harriet Sleigh (JM Originals / July 2015)

Love Love design Jennifer Heuer
Love Love by Sung J. Woo; design by Jennifer Heuer (Soft Skull / September 2015)

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt; design by Dan Stiles (AnansiGranta / September 2015)

A Manual for Cleaning Women design Justine Antweiler
Manual for Cleaning Women full
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin; design by Justine Anweiler; photography Jonathan Simpson (Picador UK / Septembr 2015)

(You can read about the design process for this cover here)

cover-50 (1)
The Man Who Remembered the Moon by David Hull; design by David Drummond (Dumgrad Books / September 2015)

New Time and Space design Palgrave
The New Time and Space by John Potts; design by Palgrave Macmillan (Palgrave Macmillan / September 2015)

Night Owls design Leo Nickolls
Night Owls by Jenn Bennett; design by Leo Nickolls (Simon & Schuster / September 2015)

rooms design Jeffrey Alan Love
Rooms by Lauren Oliver; cover art by Jeffrey Alan Love (Ecco / September 2015)

Same City design by Simon Pates
The Same City by Luisgé Martín; design by Simon Pates (Hispabooks / September 2015)

Seven Brief Lessons design Coralie Bickford Smith
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Allen Lane / September 2015)

Symphony design by Matt Roeser
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson; design by Matt Roeser; illustration by Kikuo Johnson (Candlewick / September 2015)

Syriza design by Jamie Keenan
Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth by Kevin Ovenden; design by Jamie Keenan (Pluto Press / September 2015)

Unbuttoning America design by Kimberly Glyder
Unbuttoning America by Ardis Cameron; design by Kimberly Glyder; illustration by Al Moore (Cornell University Press / May 2015)1

Vengeance Road illustration Teagan White
Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman; illustration by Teagan White (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / September 2015)

Wallflower design David Drummond
Wall Flower by Rita Kuczynski; design by David Drummond (University of Toronto Press / August 2015)

Written in the Blood design by Alex Merto
Written in the Blood by Stephen Lloyd Jones; design by Alex Merto (Mulholland Books / May 2015)

September 1, 2015
by Dan

Graywolf Press: Saying Yes When Others Say No

Writing at NY Magazine’s Vulture, Boris Kachka, whose book Hothouse on Farrar, Straus & Giroux was published in paperback last year, profiles nonprofit literary publisher Graywolf Press:

Publishing just over 30 books a year, Graywolf has had authors win four NBCC awards, a National Book Award, two Pulitzers, and a Nobel Prize — all in the last six years. This year, it will exceed $2 million in sales for the first time. No other independent press, never mind a 41-year-old nonprofit, has come so far so fast. It didn’t happen by accident.

“I think of success as being able to say yes to something that doesn’t necessarily look like a commercial winner,” says Fiona McCrae, Graywolf’s publisher since 1994, over yogurt and decaf on one of her monthly visits to New York. “Knowing something is good and having to say no, that seems to me the bigger failure.” An affably owlish Brit, McCrae started out in London’s legendary literary Faber & Faber before transferring to its small American spinoff in Boston. Three years later, she heard that Graywolf’s founder was resigning.

Scott Walker began hand-sewing poetry chapbooks in Port Townsend, Washington, in 1974. While picking up poets like Tess Gallagher and Jane Kenyon, Walker turned Graywolf Press into a nonprofit and relocated to the Twin Cities, home to a thriving philanthropic base (which also supports nonprofit presses Milkweed and Coffee House). But in the ’90s, a publishing slump hit Graywolf particularly hard; Walker resigned and his board eventually hired McCrae. At the time, she had zero experience in nonprofits — possibly to Graywolf’s benefit, because she chafed at the complacency to which nonprofits are prone. “There’s got to be a way in which you absolutely value Graywolf,” she says, “but like, come on, everybody! Other small presses are not the measure. Do you say, ‘For our size, we get more attention, so that’s it,’ or do you say, ‘Where can we go?’

And speaking of Graywolf, I am looking forward to picking up a copy  The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, which they are publishing in North America this month (can anyone tell me who designed the cover?)

the wake


August 28, 2015
by Dan

Kelli Anderson: The Price of Advice

Adobe’s Inspire magazine has a remarkably forthright post by designer Kelli Anderson on ‘advice culture’:

Will the creative community ever get its fill of advice?…

…Since advice is a nurturing impulse (a way to pass wisdom on to the future…or just next year’s graduating class), is there really any harm in this oversaturation? Does the monotone nature of our conversation on success, work, and failure actually hurt us?

I would argue yes—there is a dark side to the peppy culture of pretty advice. While other shades of goodwill, such as compassion, generosity, and friendship, only improve with quantity, advice has a cumulative effect—pooling emphasis and importance around the notion of individual initiative. More than slogans, working hard, being nice, and doing what you love have gradually become canonized as the actual reasons that success or failure occurs. When the logic of advice is allowed to co-opt reality, we begin to believe that individual initiative is why things happen.

The result may feel good and empowering, but it also creates the distorted impression that an individual’s good work, alone, will translate to a proportional reward. Conversely, failures stemming from other factors—like ingrained structural prejudice or simply bad timing—may too easily be misattributed to an individual’s lack of commitment, failure to work hard enough, or insufficient love-doing. A culture of self-help advice fosters a belief that we exist in a pure meritocracy, where everything is fair, and that our shared work of shaping an equitable community is done.

This is not the world we live in.

via Brandon Schaefer on Twitter.

August 26, 2015
by Dan

Pushkin Vertigo Crime Series Designed by Jamie Keenan

Vertigo Keenan

At the Creative Review blog, Jamie Keenan talks about his cover designs for Pushkin Press‘s new crime fiction imprint Pushkin Vertigo:

“From the beginning I wanted to come up with something that looked alien, as though someone had brought it back from a holiday in a country you’d never heard of”

They make for a stunning set.

Jamie also created that rather nice “PV” logo for the imprint. Nicely done Mr. Keenan.

I Was Jack Mortimer Keenan

Master of the Day of Judgment Keenan

She Who Was No More Keenan

The Disappearance of Signora Giulia Keenan

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders Keenan

Vertigo, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, The Disappearance of Signora Giulia and Master of the Day of Judgment will be published by Pushkin Vertigo on next month; two more titles, I Was Jack Mortimer and She Who Was No More, will be published in November.

August 25, 2015
by Dan

The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith

fox and the star

At the Penguin blog, the remarkable Coralie Bickford-Smith talks about The Fox and the Star, a new book she has written, illustrated and designed:

The inspiration comes from a place of personal experience that I wanted to document. It’s a life lesson that I found hard to learn; one of love, loss and the ability to adapt to the constant changes that are a part of life. On a visual level my inspiration came from my design heroes, William Blake and William Morris. My love of pattern and book design is evident in the illustrations.

It looks absolutely beautiful as you can see:

fox and the star int

And here’s Coralie talking about the project:

The Fox and the Star is available from Particular Books August 27.

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