07 February 2010
I wandered over into the Canadian Literature stacks at the library the other day to browse around for interesting books, and had the good fortune of reacquainting myself with William and Alice McConnell’s Klanak Press, a private press active in Vancouver between 1958 and 1990. Two of their books coincidentally came to hand during this particular outing. (I could always seach the on-line catalogue for the press's books, but foraging is more fun.)
The first Klanak Press book I found was Klanak Islands: Eight Short Stories (1959), which was designed by Takao Tanabe and printed by the Morriss Printing Company of Victoria. The emblem was designed by the renowned Haida artist Bill Reid. I'm particularly fond of the asymmetrical typography of the title page.
The table of contents is also clearly organized. While designers generally like to show off their skills on covers, title pages and chapter openings, I tend to think that you can tell more about a designer by looking at how they handle more workmanlike elements like lists and appendices. If they are alert and wily here, handling the more prosaic pages eloquently, you know they are truly on top of their game.
The chapter openings are also lovely, returning to the asymmetry established on the title page. The drawing is by Vancouver artist Don Jarvis.
The second Klanak Press publication I admired that day was Ralph Gustafson’s Rocky Mountain Poems (1960). This book was designed by Ben Lam and printed at Morriss. The cover is a spirited mix of traditional elements (like the Caslon type and the boarder design which anchors the page) and a nontraditional flush-right justification of the title type. The use of colour and space are simple but excellent.
On the title page, the title typography remains in Caslon all-caps, but it is now left justified and cantilevered out over the balance point of Reid’s emblem and the publisher’s information at the bottom of the page.
One of the things I love about the design of this particular book is the way in which the poems are aligned to the bottom of the page, not to the top. This is a tricky technique to carry off successfully; it requires a sympathetic text and is always in danger of becoming simply a gimmick. However, this is a short book (36 pages), and each opening feels fresh. Note the location of the folio (page number) in relation to the poem titles and the body text.
According to Robert Bringhurst’s short biography of the press in Ocean Paper Stone (a chronicle of publishing in British Columbia issued by bookseller William Hoffer in 1984), William McConnell began setting type and collecting books at the age of twelve, and while he went on to a career in law, it is clear from the beautiful editions he produced that his heart remained with books all his life. The texts of all but one of Klanak Press’s books were set in Intertype Baskerville and printed by Morriss.
ANDREW STEEVES ¶ PRINTER & PUBLISHER