10 September 2012

Books and The Mess We're In

In September, you’d be hardpressed to find a horizontal surface in the printshop which is not stacked high with a book-parts – jackets, covers, press sheets, folded signatures, sewn book blocks ...

Smyth-sewn book blocks waiting to be bound into covers

The first of the fall books coming off the presses is Stephen Marche’s novel Love and the Mess We’re In. As novels go, it is a project that required some pretty intensive collaboration between the author and the designer. Generally speaking, every page spread is carefully choreographed. There are spreads where the right-hand and left-hand pages carry the text of different speakers and the way their lines interleave indicate the cadence of the conversation, including the gaps. There are spreads where the text is set in geometric shapes or patterns. There are text blocks set within text blocks. It’s all quite playful, and is an inventive way to tell a story. The body text is set in Ross Mills’ robust and colourful Huronia type.

Left: The author’s ‘sketch’ of a page in Love and the Mess We’re In. Right: The typographer’s realization of the author’s sketch.

One of the peculiar design requirements of this book was a revamped map of the New York City subway system. Jack McMaster prepared the base map for me, and I spent days typesetting the altered stop names in Rod McDonald’s soon-to-be released Classic Grotesque types. The maps were printed in colour, folded and tipped into each book.

Detail from Marche's revamped New York City subway map.

Like most of our books, Love and the Mess We’re In is bound into a paper cover with a letterpress-printed jacket. The cover proper is usually the last thing in the book I design, and I often print a pattern in silver on black 80 lb paper stock. In this case, I played with circles and a square, shapes which are important in the book’s page design.

Unbound covers for Love and the Mess We’re In.

Patterns made by a stack of jacket-less books.

I decided to change the spot colour on the two-colour letterpress jackets five times during the print run for the first printing (‘wayzgoose’ red, orange, grey, green and blue). I like introducing elements like this to a trade book, elements which undermine the idea that everything could or should be perfectly the same across an edition.

Letterpress jacket coming off the press.

When it comes to manufacturing, we have this expectation that you could buy a left-foot, size-nine, brand-name shoe in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and fly to Vancouver and essentially buy its mate. Certainly you can pick up copies of the same blockbuster novel off a skid in any Costco across the country and effectively have the same object. It’s amazing how the machinery of manufacturing and distribution has come to make this possible, but what does that sort of ‘quality control’ really have to do with quality? Little. It is too often a uniform blandness that has been achieved instead.

And this is why I like to introduce some wiggle into our books. When you are printing by hand, there are no copies per say, but every sheet that comes off the press is in effect an original print. No two books are alike. I also tend to let the ink density vary slightly (within reason) which creates different effects. And in some more mischievous moments, I’ll change colours or papers, either mid-run or when I reprint for a second edition. I like the idea of someone discovering a variant copy of a book they own on someone else’s bookshelf, of that unsettling moment of discovery – Hey, I have this book, but this copy is different than mine! Yup, it is.

Stephen’s book will be released this coming Friday.



Anonymous said...

Another example of circular type, albeit one set in metal, at the Grafiska Museet Helsingborg in Sweden.

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