Typographic heresy?

Erik Fleischer's picture

A question for book designers:

How do you feel about setting a classic text in a modern (as in contemporary, not as in Romantic) face? Would you see this as an unforgivable act of heresy?

For instance, suppose someone commissioned you to design a "modern-looking" edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Some would argue that this text, originally published in 1865, should be set in an English (or at least British) face of about the same time. Among the more familiar faces, you would have Bell, Baskerville and Bulmer -- even though I believe they're all from the 1700s, not the 1800s.

Would you consider "modernizing" Carroll's classic -- or any other classic -- through design a ludicrous proposition? If not, what would be your approach?

typequake's picture

Not if the feeling is right. For example, for AIW perhaps something a little "off" or surreal?

dezcom's picture

I see no problemn at all. Look at all the updates of movies around.

I think it should be something more whimsical that befits the whacky appeal of the book while still being easy to read.

ChrisL

timd's picture

>Look at all the updates of movies around.
Now some of those are heresy:)
Trouble with those is there are very few that are anything but a pale imitation. On the other hand Shakespeare is often (sometimes successfully) performed in "modern" settings.

Setting a book should be less about modernising than presenting it in as well as possible, as long as it doesn't interfere with the pleasure of reading it I can't see any problem with using a contemporary face.
Tim

dezcom's picture

Paul Hunt's Junius would be a good candidate for AIW if it were finished. Paul has posted it here in the Critique area:

http://typophile.com/node/21100

ChrisL

paul d hunt's picture

Thnx for the shout-out chris, but Junius is FAR from being ready. But weighing in on the original question: I don't think typefaces have to come from the same time period or locale as where the text originated. I think the most important consideration is that the typeface "honors" the text. What would be really interesting to me (but maybe this is too Wizard of Oz) would be to have a more conservative typeface for Alice in the real world and something a bit more weird for when she crosses over into Wonderland. I would love to see Alice in a more impressionistic type, maybe something like Serapion or Biblon.

dezcom's picture

Paul,
My daughter does this sort of thing in her graphic novels. She uses a different lettering style for each character. I would also like to see a more playful use of typography in books which lend themselves to it as well. This would be a nightmare for book puiblishers though. Imasgine havingto set dialogue from Ishmael Quixquey, et al, in different fonts throughout Moby Dick :-)

ChrisL

paul d hunt's picture

Well, I can't take too much credit for this idea. I remember having a copy of The Neverending Story (the book) when i was younger and the text was all Green where Sebastian was in the real world and Red when he crossed over to the land of makebelieve.

dezcom's picture

The DaDa guys did it as well as the koncrete poets.

ChrisL

timd's picture

http://www.awn.com/heaven_and_hell/svank/svank2.htm

Taking it slightly off-topic, apologies, but sticking with the Czech theme from Paul.
Tim

dezcom's picture

ChrisL

Don McCahill's picture

It depends on the rest of the book. For instance, if the original artwork was used, then modern faces would look odd. But if the new artwork was by Disney, then you could even use Comic Sans.

jselig's picture

I'll echo Paul and say I don't feel the age of the text necessarily has to be reflected in choosing period type. Something that is fitting for the work is probably better suited than keeping with in the same time for a book like AIW.

I know it might be a sore point but beyond typographers and designers who are typophiles using period type would probably be lost on the reading audience.

timd's picture

>if the original artwork was used, then modern faces would look odd
I take it you mean the Tenniel illustrations, I think there are many contemporary faces that would work with them, the two Storm ones that Paul mentioned for a start.
Tim

Erik Fleischer's picture

I know it might be a sore point but beyond typographers and designers who are typophiles using period type would probably be lost on the reading audience.

Ah... We were discussing something very similar over in About Minion.

I would go one step further and say, at the risk of being stoned to death right here, that most signs of typographic refinement are completely lost on the reading audience.

I'm not suggesting we all just give up and start using nothing but Times New Roman. However, if we're going to be realistic, I think the cold truth is that the overwhelming majority of readers won't see anything wrong with The Hound of the Baskervilles set in a 17th-century French face.

Anyway, my point is that there would be little or no room for typographic refinement if our only concern were those things that actually affect the majority of readers. (Determining what does affect readers would in turn require extensive research, which is even further off topic.)

I quite like the idea of two different faces for AIW, with a wacky one for Wonderland.

I think the most important consideration is that the typeface "honors" the text.

I completely agree, Paul. But I suspect that a typographer's concern with honouring content isn't always compatible with a publisher's idea of how a book should be "packaged" so that it cost as little as possible to produce and sell as much as possible.

Thomas Phinney's picture

A while back I saw a high fantasy novel set in Walbaum. It seemed horribly inappropriate to me....

T

amyp's picture

different lettering style for each character
Warren Lehrer and Judith Sloan have done quite a bit of this.

Chris, were you refering to little yellow writing hood? it is so excellent.

dezcom's picture

Amy,
I had not seen that before, it is a scream!
I have just been to a performance of Sondheim's "Into the Woods" (my daughter was in the orchestra) and had "Little Red" on my brain when I did the little diddy above.

I will have to send my daughter your link. She will LOVE it!

ChrisL

Erik Fleischer's picture

I first mentioned Alice's Adventures in Wonderland just as an example -- the first classic that crossed my mind -- but have since been intrigued by the idea of doing it as an exercise. Both the text and Tenniel's illustrations are in the public domain, so the financial investment would be minimal.

Since I don't want to invest in new faces for this experimental project, I've been considering either Quadraat (pretty "whimsical", I would say) or Esprit, but wonder if the latter would be really suitable for a book -- or at least most of it, if I use a face for the real world and another for wonderland. Also, perhaps Esprit is too rococo for the text. (I tried asking about the use of Esprit for extended text in another topic but didn't get any replies, so I'm removing it.)

Re. Tenniel's illustrations, as a child I used to find them rather spooky. Granted, AIW is hardly a book for modern children -- too long, for one thing. Still, in order to make the illustrations slightly less scary, I was thinking of perhaps "illustratoring" them a little to make them look more like paintings. Would that be an unforgivable desecration of Tenniel's work?

dezcom's picture

Why not just draw them in your own way from scratch?

ChrisL

NiceTry's picture

I say go for it. I love ideological contrasts.

Erik Fleischer's picture

Why not just draw them in your own way from scratch?

I wish I could, but I'm not an artist.

I would appreciate comments on the use of Quadraat or Esprit for AIW -- and whether anyone has ever used the latter successfully, or seen it used, for extended text.

Yaronimus-Maximus's picture

i can hardly believe that any believe can stop the wheels of time.
modernizing is a question of quality.

how ever, modernizing can be a fade, a passing fashion.
did you happen to visit flee markets and see books from the 50's? sometimes are designed in a "modern" way,with a modern pattern and set in modern typography. and then it says "shakespeare - macbeth". and you just don't buy it (metaphorically speaking). however you may find designs that try to bridge past and present, using elements of both sides, trying to connect an old painting for the cover, with the inner book set in a clean design and typeface. that's just a free example.

if the designer works on a story, it's his chance of making the piece good or bad. screaming "herasy" and burning eretics never made such donation to the world's benefit and progress. when you try something new, it's abet, not always you can succeed. we learn from mistakes and success.
if someone would want to design a classic in a modern way, it has to be in a way that reflects the old spirit in it. shakespeare cannot really live and thrive inside an SMS. but there is a possibilty. i don't know how.

also i think that a traditional way should be made and exist along with the new way, so i can choose one of them.

personally, i like the traditional way. if i were to read alice for example in (exaggerate just to emphasise) a face like helvetica or futura, with a book that's designed using clean and modern design, i would lose something of that old feeling. old design goes through a process: first it's welcomed. then it's obsolete. then it's appreciated by those who can appreciate. i would give my boy in the future a book that preserves that feeling. i would five him a book that looks sort of 19th century, with the original illustrations.

if they could sell something lik, err, harry potter (with a reasonable price) in a leather-bound book with all sorts of designs that link to the book design of the 19th century, they would do that. i gave this example for something that tries to look "old".

it's that feel that accompanies old things that gives them the interest. that feel makes harry potter so designed and profitable. harry potter shows this tendancy to desire for the old and nostalgic, to enjoy it like an old wine.

John Nolan's picture

I have "The Art of the Type Specimenin the Twentieth Century", a small book put out by ITC in the 1993. The book was printed by Stinehour Press, and it's gorgeous. It has about 30 pages of intro set in Esprit, looks to be set about 11 over 14 on a 22 pica line, and the effect is very nice.

Erik Fleischer's picture

Thanks for your input, Nolan. Much appreciated.

And I think I know what you mean, Yaronimus. What I originally meant is that publishers sometimes want designers to "modernize" a classic text and, silly as the idea may sound to a typographer imbued with the spirit of honouring text first and foremost, it may be necessary to try and accommodate the client's wishes. In this context, I wanted to explore the possibilities available to the typographer who wants to try and please the client but is reluctant to sell their soul to the devil outright.

timd's picture

This book is set in Quadraat, it can be a bit sparkly on some brighter glossier stocks.
Tim

Erik Fleischer's picture

Well, I did it: I've set Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in Quadraat and Quadraat Sans, using Tenniel's illustrations. Would love to read your comments in the topic Book design: your critique welcome.

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