Steven Heller and Gail Anderson have collaborated on a new book Type Tells Tales that explores the role of type beyond conveying language. The 224-page, large format book treats type “not as a mere player, but a star of the show.” Split into seven sections that thematically discuss the role of type under headings such as poetics, alphabetics and typoplay, it’s a joyous publication offering a great overview of what possibilities type holds featuring work from some of the most revered designers working today. Here, we reproduce four sections of the book, published by Thames and Hudson which give a flavour of what lies inside.
Antonius Bui – Your Song
Your Song is a visual translation of a song once written and performed for Antonius Bui by his dear friend. ‘He was the true storyteller,’ Bui says, about one who has gone from his life. ‘Now I am holding onto the remnants of a memory.’
Bui adds that ‘Hand-cutting the lyrics was a meditative process that allowed me to confront a fading relationship. The project was a means of immortalizing the present feeling before it became the past.’
As a fine artist without graphic design experience, Bui hand-wrote and hand-cut this piece because that’s what he knew how to do. ‘My direct and honest relationship with the work makes it one of a kind.’ Bui’s choice of material, paper, is significant in its paradoxical qualities, which he says ‘are embodied in every human, immense resistance and strength contrasted with fragile sensitivity. The tactility of the piece is not only fragile but impractical, just like my insistence on remembering the past.’ When lifted off the page, shadows of the text remind me that life is meant to be ephemeral.
Patrick King – Love Story: The 1950s/The 1980s/The 1970s/The 1980s
These posters originated with a typographic spread from a keepsake that Patrick King designed for his twenty-fifth high-school reunion. They each tell a love story – that failed – in song titles, using a nostalgic carnival poster/broadsheet format.
The tales evolve typographically. ‘From meeting, getting to know one another, falling in love, making love, [to] the sudden appearance of trouble, doubt, jealousy and suspicion, and finally the sad break-up and lonely aftermath,’ King explains. ‘Every word and phrase is a song title from a single decade, carefully chosen and rearranged to carry the narrative forward and create humorous, romantic or erotic juxtapositions throughout.’
King’s life has been filled with type: his father was a stereotyper at a newspaper. His best friend’s father was a linotype operator. By the age of five he was crawling on the floor of the compositing room, examining stray letters and discovering the vast array of typefaces one could utilize in a layout. ‘My first job in the industry was in a type house, where I often set type on a Typositor. With a highly critical clientele of art directors and designers, I developed an eye for letter spacing, gauging typographic colour and other nearly lost arts that serve me well to this day.’
The style of these posters invokes the classic carnival or boxing poster look common to late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century broadsides, which were almost always composed in type alone. ‘Introducing imagery was never a consideration,’ he says. ‘I did, however, add a graphic heart to one title and, in a nod to my last name, a crown to Sade’s “Your Love is King”.’
Brian Scott Bandanas – A Linotype Matrix-Slide-Being Distributes Gifts That Fulfill, A Linotype Matrix-Slide-Being Contemplates the Night Sky…,The Fir Tree
Brian Scott Bagdonas made a series of typographic prints for the Grand (International) Letterpress holiday print exchange organised by a group of letterpress printers in the UK. They belong to the ‘Linotype Matrix-Slide-Being’ series; made-up Linotype composition cast for the print. Logically, Bagdonas was inspired to use pre-digital, pre-computer commercial print production and composition tools to make beautiful printing; he says he is particularly interested in Linotype machine composition, ‘and wished to honour this technology’.
The ‘typographical narrative’ prints were initially born out of a desire to continue to learn the operation and maintenance of type-casting and hot-metal composition machinery. ‘It has been a great exercise to cast type forms in this way,’ Bagdonas says, noting that ‘I’m inspired by mid-twentieth-century commercial printing. During this time, I believe that the designer, printer and machine influenced the print work equally.’
Bagdonas savoured the resourceful and creative approaches to print design of the hot-metal era. In spite of the increase in both production speed and volume, the hand of the craftsperson was not lost. ‘Because of that,’ he eulogises, ‘I think even the most utilitarian single-colour printing of that time was a beautiful thing.’
Milton and Shirley Glaser – The Alphazeds
Letters and type are the heart and soul of a graphic designer. Invariably, illustrators who are also graphic designers and typographers who like illustration will eventually produce an alphabet book. Milton Glaser agrees. His Alphazeds is, however, not just any alphabetorium or letterform primer but an analysis of division, distinction and an evolving community. As Glaser notes, ‘It is a story that is based on the pay-off.’ (You might be able to guess what that is.) He had a vague idea of the outcome, but it came together when he and his wife Shirley agreed on the concept of an origin story of sorts that proceeds from twenty-six different letters, each with their own personality types (or typefaces), in an unfurnished room. They argue among themselves and learn to find commonality.
First to enter is the Angry A, with ugly spikes on its cactus-like body, then the Bashful B, a slender and shy blue Bodoni character. The letters immediately find themselves in conflict: ‘What are you doing here?’ demands A. ‘Excuse me …’ materializes above B in a quiet thought bubble. As the pages turn, more typefaces make their presence known. The Confused C and Dynamic D, a dark-red extrovert who yells ‘Ta-da!’ regardless of what the others say. Elegant E is an upscale black script letter (‘I dare say, it’s getting a bit crowded’), and Flamboyant F, a voluptuous form, exclaims: ‘I seem to be the only one here who knows how to dress.’
There are party letters including a Kicking K, which shoves the other guests with its lower extension, and an R that speaks in silly rhymes. One small overcrowded room is filled with anarchic and senselessly scrawled letter doodles where nothing pertains to anything else. Then at they end they somehow make the sense that letters are meant to do. They become words.
‘It was a complicated process,’ Glaser says. ‘Not sketching the idea, but achieving the goal’ – referring to the days before the computer, when photostating, cutting and pasting were time-consuming and frustrating. This often caused the production artists, in this case George Levitt, to angrily shout out a few choice words that did not always start with A.
Type Tells Tales by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson is published by Thames & Hudson, £24.95