About VJB/Scribe

Book designer, project manager, publishing coach. Author of Bookbuilder's Almanac, the swatchbook for digital publishing design.

Visit to Third Man Records in Nashville

Thrid Man Records, Nashvile

Yes, there is a Little Free Library in front of Third Man Records

If you love music, books, and design: you MUST visit Third Man Records. Third Man in Nashville is a performace space, recording studio, and publishing house.

Everything about this place is gorgeous — the retro-moderne exterior, the interior with bold red and yellow walls and chrome accents everywhere. The store itself stocks a collectable range of merchandise. Browse bins of records, unique books, tee shirts, pins, matchbooks. You’ll be amazed by exquisite boxed sets of recordings. Everything about Third Man is designed and executed with spirit and daring.

I wasn’t allowed to photograph the spaces beyond the shop, where the red-black-yellow motif continues through a hall with Jack White concert posters varnished to the wall. Our guide led us past the vintage kitchen (more polished chrome), past a lounge with sofa and a coffee table covered with a huge rhino skull (or was it a triceritops fossil?).

Even the warehouse has design game, with orderly racks and boxes on one side, and on the other, balcony with faux motel numbered doors (and some bullet holes), as though you were on tour and this the dive where you would crash.

Stooges

This sounds gooood!

I was very lucky to come home with The Stooges in my suitcase. I’ve always wanted a chance to get to know this band that so many list as the first to do punk or fuzzed-out guitar or Dub Step or . . . I can now testify: They are right! Ron Asheton has finally arrived in my personal list of greatest guitar players of all time.

The Third Man re-issue is pressed on a heavy grade vinyl that reminds me 78s. It is a real pleasure to put these platters on the turntable. Some of Third Man’s pressings are on different colors of vinyl, too. I’ve been drooling over the Paramount boxed sets. Look at the Wonder Cabinet (vol 1) or Volume 2. Seriously excellent!

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Third Man = Eye Candy

The case for a bare case

Where Now by Laura Kasischke, Copper Canyon Press

Hardcover cases are almost always hidden under jackets. That’s a shame, since the skin of the book is where textures and colors add dimension to the book design.

The hardcover skin is a vestigial organ,  and therefore a part of the book budget that gets squeezed early when cost is an issue.

Here’s a simple case covered in textured paper with a dull silver embossed spine. This is about a basic as a case can get. The only “extras” here (in cost) are the two debosses: on the front cover, and on the lower back cover. Generally, a spine must have visible embossed text for the occasions when the book is separated from it’s clothing.

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 Where Now: New and Selected Poems by Laura Kasischke, published by Copper Canyon Press

The texture of the paper, part of the standard textures offered by Rainbow, echoes the photo on the cover of the book, a mysterious cloth floating down a stream.

CCP_KasischkeWhereWill anyone look at the binding? When I designed it, I liked to imagine author Laura Kasischke pealing back the jacket and admiring her own name, debossed on the cover: Her accomplishment.

Case binding by John H. Dekker & Sons of Grand Rapids, MI.

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Anniversary Edition of a Classic: Part 2

What poetry books looked like in the 60s

A look at The Drunk in the Furnace (1960, The Macmillan Company) beside The Lice (Athaneum, 1967) gives a sense of how Merwin’s poetry books, and that of many other poets, looked in the 50s and changed in the 60s.

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Fig. 1: The Drunk in the Furnace, 1960 with The Lice, 1967

Side by side, we can see that Harry Ford’s design is a departure from the corporate feeling of The Macmillan Poets series design (credit Gilbert Etheredge). Ford’s design embraces letterpress aesthetics with bold, traditional letterforms. The Macmillan book is perfect bound and glued. The poor quality paper is now browned with age. The Lice on the other hand, is on laid stock with sewn signatures. It opens and lays flat without breaking the spine. It is a nice book! The prices: $1.25 and $1.95. I’d say Ford gave us that extra 70 cents worth.

Take a look at the interiors. I’ve added a design from the 1950s on the left:

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Fig 2: At the left: Wallace Stevens, publshed by Knopf in 1952. In the middle: Merwin’s The Drunk in the Furnace, 1960. At the right: The Lice, 1967

In context, Harry Ford’s design belongs in the lineage of fine book design from Knopf (Atheneum was founded by Alfred A. Knopf, Jr. in  1959). Harry Ford had been a production manager at Knopf, but had been hired away to become production design director of the new Athaneum.

Known for his 1993 quip about poetry publishing: a money-losing proposition, Ford supported and edited poetry throughout his publishing career. The crafty exhuberance of his design for The Lice signals that the 1960s were in full bloom.

The Lice interior design uses metal-type thinking, i.e. common metal set sizes with even leading: 10/14 Bembo text, 14 pt cap italic titles and, notably, 14pt folios.* Everything hangs from the top of the page except second pages of poems and the epigram opposite the title page. The title page doesn’t center on the entire page, but is blocked up to the upper right. Seems a strange choice to my eye. My guess is that Harry Ford had a set of specs he handed to the compositor, and they took care of the rest. The frontmatter items have some interesting features, like the small cap book titles in the acknowledgments on the copyright page. There, someone seems to have given the work extra attention, and these pages are especially beautiful in the first edition, where the type was fresh and the paper stock fine.

*You can see those folios above in Figure 2. above. The page at the left shows the 14pt folio. These large folios were popular in the 60s-70s, and they have a certain appeal in that they show off the typeface’s numerals and make a nice anchor for the poetry page frame, which may have a large portion of whitespace. When I tried to use those anchor-sized numbers early in my career at Copper Canyon Press, Sam Hamill told me that he did NOT like them. So, I didn’t use them. I’ve come to agree with him that the large folios are a wayfinding element, outside the text, that has been made precious by the designer.

The Lice by W.S. Merwin: 50th Anniversary Edition

Read Part 1

 

 

 

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Anniversary Edition of a Classic: Part 1

Designing a refreshed, enhanced edition of W.S. Merwin’s The Lice

In 1967, Atheneum published the first hard and softcover editions of The Lice. I’ve been designing the new 50th Anniversary Edition for Copper Canyon Press, and the project has taken me down all kinds of interesting rabbit holes. I plan to post about a few of them.

Considering the original cover:

As delivery to the printer approaches, I am still trying to nail down the color for the cover. I thought I had it, based on two old copies I had, but then thought to look at a first printing to see what materials they used.

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L to R: First, third and twelfth printings

When my copy arrived, it seemed to me that the first printing was a different color than the later printings. Taking note of how yellowed the inside cover of the first printing appeared, I wondered if it had been printed on a natural white to start with?

It was difficult to match the color using my current Pantone Plus system swatch book book. In frustration I pulled out my very old Pantone CMYK book. There, I found some credible matches to the warmish greenish gray and the oxblood brown. I began to wonder if it wasn’t a good thing I’m too cheap throw out my old swatch books. Does the paper under the ink yellow as much as that without ink? Or perhaps, I was now thinking, each printing and even each copy had aged in its own way. . . .

Here is the first printing next to my Gracol6 proofs:

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L to Right: First, Gracol proof 2 (designed to be more tan), Gracol proof 1 (before I decided to make the bottom look more like the original book color)

The updated proofs are in the middle and on the right. I hope those of you who remember the original paperback will immediately recognize that rad title, (there isn’t a poem named “The Lice” in the collection), while new readers will appreciate those gorgeous elegant Bembo caps, and be drawn in by the photo. The of burning village in Viet Nam suggests the context of the original and is also sadly like our own urgent canvas, with our great wildfires, and endless wars.

Monotype’s Bembo Titling caps are so graceful (look the serifs on the “C”), they are an improvement to the original, heavier Bembo caps. To my eye, the bottom half of the original with those cap italics, desperately needed an update. I’ve never been a fan of all cap italics. They are all over the interior, too . . .

I’m going to adjust the cover color one more time . . .  I know, who even cares about this? {I do.} Who would ever notice? {Why I blog.}

On to Part 2

 

 

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Design notes from Merwin’s Garden Time (Copper Canyon Press)

W.S. Merwin’s latest poetry from his palm sanctuary

W.S. Merwin turned 89 on September 30, 2016.

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Garden Time by W.S. Merwin, Copper Canyon Press, 2016, ISBN 978155659-499-1

The cover image, a copperplate photogravure by Gwen Arkin, shows the potting shed on the land where W.S. Merwin lives, writing and tending a forest of palm trees that he planted, turning clear cut land into a forest. Sarah Cavanaugh‘s photographs are on the endsheets and on the back of the jacket. Merwin’s Maui forest is now The Merwin Conservancy. 

Interior

Merwin’s poetry asks for a classic, minimal setting. MVB Verdigris is the text typeface, with display type set in Garamond 3. The Garamond siblings are a nod to Merwin’s years living in France if anyone were to ask me why I picked them. If you listen to that clip under the “living in France” link you’ll hear: warmth and erudition are in Merwin’s voice as well as in Verdigris’ letterforms.

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The real book is better than the pictures. 5.5 x 7.5 inches, soft to the touch, fits well in hand . . .

Cover and Jacket

The cover art led the way to an earthy, organic approach for the whole book package. For the forest photos by Sarah Cavanaugh, printing them in full color seemed too literal, and possibly overwhelming to the space of the poems. Instead those photos are presented in a muted green monotone. I used 4-color process for the green so I could attempt to make both greens match (the one printed on the creamier endsheet stock and the one printed on the white jacket stock). By pulling back the yellow a bit on the endsheet green, the result matches well enough.

The original cover concept was whisper spare. Just the simple author/title. No enhancement. Test prints and common-sense talk* from JB the seasoned marketer convinced me that we had to make it possible to read the author/title from a distance. I used an understated intervention, a brown rectangle made from the image of a palm leaf.

*actually a passionate plea

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Better choice?

Bloodaxe in Britain has released Garden Time in softcover. Their approach to the cover is a bit different, although they use the same image as a starting point.

Reviews:

Purchase directly from Copper Canyon Press.

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Inspirations that still inspire #1

Here’s a treasure from my hoard, a gorgeous type specimen for the Lanston Type Co. printed 25 years ago. Still inspiring!

The Fount, Volume 1, Issue 1, Gerald Giampa designer, The Northland Letterpress Co. Ltd. Publisher, 1991. Tabloid size, newsprint.

From the history on MyFonts.com: “Lanston continued supplying the American market for Monotype casters until January 21, 2000, when the hot-metal component of Lanston was tragically destroyed by a tidal wave. After this time Giampa, who was one of the earliest developers of PostScript fonts, focused much more on digitization.”

From the masthead: “We trust you will accept our efforts to entertain, to appeal to your eye, and to provide you with accurate historical and technical information which will assist with your work in the world of late 20th Century Typography.”

 

 

 

1980s: Problems typesetters had back then

Analog typeface identification

TypeIdentifer, Centennial Graphics Inc., 1986

The number of typefaces available to the typesetting industry was expanding rapidly and the impracticality of committing them to memory was becoming increasingly obvious. This TypeIdentifier [TM] was conceived as a way for anyone to quickly identify and determine the name of an unknown typeface, no matter what their level of training or prior experience.”—TypeIdentifier introduction

The TypeIdentifier listed most of the know typefaces and had columns of letters you could scan to find a match for the unidentified sample your client had provided.

Creating the TypeIdentifier must have been a slog. It sounds straightforward: Set the typeface name and character set for all the typefaces. I seem to remember problems setting too many typefaces in one galley because of memory limitations. The TypeIdentifier involved lots of work in paste-up and proofreading, too.

It was such a great tool that I made a photocopy, and brought it with me to every place I worked (with apologies to Bruce Beck and Centennial Graphics).

 When Wysiwyg spelled WTF

Adobe Type Manager Ad

Once, type on screen was blocky bitmaps

Advertising spread for Adobe Type Manager, 1989 Font & Function

For years, type on screen was 72ppi pixels, and then, Adobe figured out how to anti-alias and render smooth curves on screen. Hard to imagine that we lived for over five years, glad of our blocky screen type, glad we had transcended pure code!

Now this feature is part of the operating system instead of a pricey extension.

Does your front end talk to your back end?

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Once there were mainframes that drove dedicated typesetting systems. Then there were  microcomputers, Aldus Pagemaker and Freehand, Corel Draw, Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. Halftones, illustrations, and multiple columns of type could be set together.

This advertisement expresses the last dying cries of the great Dynasties of Typesetting. Ironically, the smallest conversation bubble says “Hi Mac.” Soon, “Hi Mac,” and “greetings IBM” would be all any imaging device would need to say.

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Typesetter was a job in the 1980s

I began working as a typesetter from 1982 – 1989 and experienced the transition from dedicated mainframe systems to systems based on what were then called microcomputers. Here are two documents among my stuff that show a little about that world.

Typefaces in the 1980s: ITC Type catalog

ITC Type Directory: Alphabet Soups
1984, Mo Lebowitz author and designer, illustrations by Lionel Kalish

We set an awful lot of Cheltenham Condensed back then! Now it has disappeared, although it was digitized early on.

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The cost of doing business

Next, an advertisement from the mid-1980s.

The ad is for Magna, a typesetting system that ran on microcomputers, not mainframes. It used the same coding system as Computer Composition International (CCI) mainframe systems. You could switch your shop to this new maverick and not have to retrain your work force. Magna was breaking up the old single-vendor system.

In the late 1980s, the shop I worked for in San Francisco had about 6 CCI workstations and 2 Magna workstations. Those Magna workstations were used to set MacWorld (then a huge, fat magazine). The copy came to the shop over a modem, passed through a shop-built program that search-and-replaced editorial codes with Magna typesetting codes. Multi-column galleys came out the Linotronic imagesetter.

The personal computer was just starting to change the world.

[This month I’m sorting through my archives and intend to share some of the things I’ve saved over the years. I apologize for my lack of photography technique. I’m trying to sort out and give away and decide what to save, so I’m taking photos as I pack and unpack . . .]