27 March 2013

Gaspereau Press Wins a few Design Awards

On Monday, I was pleased to get a phone call from the folks at the Alcuin Society in Vancouver to let me know that a few Gaspereau Press books had won design awards this year. For 31 years now, the Alcuin Society has been working to increase awareness of book design in Canada by running this annual competition. This year, over 230 books were submitted to be judged by three judges: Marvin Harder, Naomi MacDougall and William Rueter. The judges awarded prizes to 41 books – first, second, third and sometimes honourable mentions and ties.

Four Gaspereau Press books were awarded prizes: two firsts, a second, and a tie for second. Those books were:

Monica Kidd’s Handfuls of Bone.

George Elliott Clarke’s Black.

Stephen Marche’s Love and the Mess We’re In.

Carmine Starnino’s Lazy Bastardism: Essays & Reviews on Contemporary Poetry

Monica Kidd’s Handfuls of Bone (above) was one of my favourite designs from last year so I’m glad the judges liked it. It’s quite quiet, and it allowed me to employ some archival images that I found while wandering in the stacks at my local university library. It also uses a type that I bought from my late friend Jim Rimmer, a type that passed down though many great hands (Jannon, Goudy, Rimmer) into my own. Here’s an except from the production notes I printed in the book:

The typeface used in this book is Garamont, a revival of a metal typeface designed by the French Protestant punchcutter Jean Jannon in the early 1600s. Jannon’s type was seized by the French Crown in 1641 when he was accused of illicit, non-Catholic printing. Rediscovered in the collection of the Imprimerie Nationale, Paris, several centuries later, his work was misattributed to an earlier craftsman, Claude Garamont (sometimes spelled Garamond), and named accordingly. Baroque in form and flavour, Jannon’s letterforms bear little resemblance to the High Renaissance types made by Garamont, but the commercial success of their twentieth-century relaunch disinclined manufacturers toward messing with the brand; the name stuck. Regardless, Jannon’s design has passed down to us through capable hands: The Lanston Monotype version, issued in 1921, was adapted for the Monotype casters by the legendary American type designer Frederic W. Goudy (1865–1947); the Lanston version was in turn digitized and released by the intrepid Canadian type designer Jim Rimmer (1934–2010) in 2004; further refinements have been undertaken at Gaspereau Press.

The engravings reproduced in this publication also date to the seventeenth century, and to a book with a story nearly as twisty as the type’s. They were originally drawn by Odoardo Fialetti (1573–1638) and engraved on copper plates by Francesco Valesio. They were commissioned to accompany an anatomical atlas begun in 1600 by Giulio Cesare Casseri, Chair in Surgery and Anatomy at the University of Padua. His death in 1616 left the project incomplete and unpublished. His successor at the university was one of his students, Adriaan van de Spiegel (1578–1625), who likewise left an anatomical text unpublished at the time of his death, De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Decem. But unlike Cesseri, Spiegel left his book in the care of an able colleague, the German physician Daniel Buretius, who edited and published the work with a Frankfurt printer in 1632. To accompany Spiegel’s text, Buretius purchased Fialetti & Valesio’s stranded illustrations from Casseri’s heirs, commissioning twenty new illustrations from the pair as well. I encountered and photographed De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Decem while rambling in the rare books collection of the Acadia University Library, Wolfville, Nova Scotia; many thanks to the library and archives staff at Acadia for their ongoing support of my typographic research.

George Elliott Clarke’s Black (above) posed some interesting challenges. It was a new edition reprint of a book that had originally been published by Polestar in 2006. That Polestar edition had been handsomely designed, but the production itself was quite poor. While my design was completely new, it used many of the same elements (photographs, big black backgrounds bleeding off the page, etc.) and tried to retain the same pagination. Someone, someday, might have fun comparing the two versions.

As well as changing the trim size and the approach to the cover, I moved to different typefaces: Robert Slimbach’s astonishingly robust Garamond Premier Pro for the body text (which is actually based on Garamont’s types) with Eric Gill’s Sans (and the bold Monotype added to it later) for the headings.

One of the things that bugged me about the Polstar edition was that the printer paid attention to the big solid blacks to the detriment of the type. On many pages, the type is uneven and swollen with too much ink, the result of the pressman trying to get enough ink on the paper for the big solids. A design works best when it can be executed within the constraints of the tools you’re using, or when you understand the possible pitfalls and know how to work around them. In our case, we decided that the big black solids that act as dividers between the books many sections would be printed separately from the type and halftones. That way, the type could be printed with the proper density without sacrificing the intensity of the solids, and when the solids were printed we could saturate them without worrying about the type and halftones getting muddied. This sort of control is one of the advantages of understanding the tools you are working with and seeing a design right through the production process.

I’ve already written a fair amount about the adventure of putting together Stephen Marche’s Love and the Mess We’re In (above). In some ways, it’s a typographer’s dream project, full of interesting forms which stretch one’s typographic skills. It’s the sort of book that makes you curse while you are trying to sort out the problems it presents and then makes you grin like a fool when you finally do. While I was designing it, I thought often of Avital Ronell’s The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia and Electric Speech which was designed by Richard Eckersley and published by the University of Nebraska Press in 1989 and the way it integrated the text and the design to express meaning in a particular way.

I used a number of types for this book, including (again) Gill Sans, a beta version of Rod McDonald’s kick-ass revival Classic Grotesque, P22’s version of William Morris’s Troy type and Canada Type’s version of Ambassador Script. But it is Canadian designer W. Ross Mills’s incredibly versatile and robust Huronia that carried this book through its many twists and turns, page after page. Set for the most part in a modest 10 point size, Huronia is sings. We’re one of the few publishers using Huronia at the moment, which surprises me. I hope that changes, because I want to encourage Mills to keep designing text faces. I’m using it this spring in Sue Goyette’s poetry collection, Ocean. I think my favourite use of it so far was in John Leroux and Thaddeus Holownia’s St. Andrews Architecture 1604–1966.

A big party of this book was the subway map. My friend Jack McMaster created the base layer of the map making reference to a real NYC subway map Stephen sent me, and I set the type. It took days. Even as a fold-out, it was tricky to get everything on the map in a sane fashion. But it was well worth the effort.

The final book is Carmine Starnino’s Lazy Bastardism (above). I’ve always admired the passionate opinions held by Carmine, and as I am interested in fostering a robust and diverse literary culture in this country, it only makes sense that I would be publishing Carmine’s essays and reviews. Sometimes they are controversial, and sometimes they are critical of my friends and my own authors, but I still think that the conversation is one worth having.

I decided to set the book in a type designed by another iconoclast – John Baskerville. I’ll reproduce the note on the type which was published in the book (which was my perhaps not too subtle attempt to sneak an essay of my own into Carmine’s book, and to justify my publication of his work):
This book is set in a digital revival of a typeface designed by the printer John Baskerville and cut in steel by John Handy in the 1750s. John Baskerville (1706–75) turned to printing in midlife after a successful career as a writing master and a Japaner of household goods in Birmingham, England. Finding the available printing methods and materials lackluster, Baskerville simply followed his own tastes, designing his own types and modifying his presses, inks, papers and technique to his liking. The results were stunning. Although he printed books for Cambridge University for a while, Baskerville’s innovations were largely dismissed by his countrymen and his publishing ventures were not profitable. English readers simply preferred the rough, laid paper and the wonky warmth of William Caslon’s Baroque-flavoured typefaces to Baskerville’s smooth, white paper, crisp Neoclassical letters and intensely black ink.

This prejudice may have had more to do with the fact that Baskerville was an iconoclast and an outsider than with the particular results of his innovations. The American printer and diplomat Benjamin Franklin, after listening to a Londoner pontificate on how Baskerville’s terrible printing was ‘blinding all the readers of the nation’, produced an unlabelled type specimen and asked the fellow to instruct him on Baskerville’s failings. The guest obliged, pointing out ‘disproportions’ and ‘errors’ in the type with a tone of authority. In fact, he only succeeded in demonstrating his own ignorance. The specimen Franklin showed him displayed William Caslon’s types. ‘I spared him that time the confusion of being told that these were the types he had been reading all his life’, Franklin wrote to Baskerville. ‘He never discovered the painful disproportion in them, till he thought they were yours.’

It wasn’t until the early twentieth century, when revivals were cut for Monotype and Linotype typecasting systems, that Baskerville’s types earned their proper due. Elizabeth Bishop once wrote that she felt Monotype Baskerville was her preferred typeface for poetry books. Printed letterpress, Baskerville indeed holds its own. One of the most soundly designed books of Canadian poetry I own is set in Baskerville (E.J. Pratt’s Collected Poems, designed by Frank Davies in 1958). But the flat, modern offset-printed page has not been as sympathetic a medium for the fine hairlines of Baskerville’s letters, and on screens his type fairs even worse, at least for continuous reading. If it is to be successfully used today, some revision will perhaps be necessary, guided by a sensitivity to the characteristics of the media which mirrors Baskerville’s own willingness to tinker until he’d achieved the desired effect. The digital version of Baskerville used in this book has been slightly modified to that end; the experiment continues.

Thanks again to the Alcuin Society for sponsoring these awards, and to the judges for their encouragement not only of my own work, but of the work of all book designers who care enough to learn how the trick is done and to strive for excellence in the work they do.


1 comment:

Gillian said...

Well done! Congratulations!