San Francisco, California

The Second Transatlantic Library

This week it rained in San Francisco. It’s been almost five months of unadulterated sunshine and so I’m a little wistful of England, where a week of summer would interrupt an otherwise casual storm that lasts all year. Besides the rain, these wistful reveries also flare up whenever my thoughts turn to the five thousand miles of American continent and Atlantic ocean that sit between my library and me; it must be said that I left my books behind in a hurry. I locked them up in a series of cardboard boxes and hurled them all into a storage container before I boarded a one way flight. Now, they lie dormant beneath the everlasting raincloud I think of as England.

I suppose, yes, I am a little homesick. But mostly because I can’t adequately describe the joy of wasting away a Sunday afternoon in front of my shelves, pouring over old notes that I scribbled in the margins many years ago; seeing the cogs churn in my young mind; watching one book lead to the next; wondering whether it was this footnote or that thread which marked an adventure through a series of books that I would read throughout the year. One page after another and another; flipping through a novel in which the plot suddenly gathers pace and my notes respond in kind, scribbly organisms of discontent and curiosity, all of which build into an obsession with the author over time.

I won’t feel truly at home on this new continent, or at least I won’t settle, until my library is with me, too. But in the mean time, a new library emerges; books I’ve gathered from all across the Bay Area. Unfortunately these are not books on the subject of typography, although they most definitely are typographic in nature.

My favourite of the bunch so far has been Jeff Vandermeer’s sci-fi Southern Reach trilogy. The novel takes place in and around a mysterious plot of land called Area X and, very much like the landscape that the novels portray, the books themselves tend to have alien characteristics, too. Take, for example, the copy I picked up a couple of weeks ago with cover design by Rodrigo Corral:

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The copy of Area X above is a collection of the three novels in the series; Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance. Each novel has an animal companion that dominates the story in one way or another and this is more prominent in the editions published by FSG and illustrated by Eric Nyquist, designed by Charlotte Strick and with animations below produced by Emily Bouman:

On the other hand, Pablo Delcán’s version takes a darker and more surreal approach. In fact, Jeff Vandermeer interviewed Pablo and in a separate article discussed the origins of the series:

These covers were an exercise of appropriation, the most important part was finding these images. The plant comes from an illustration of a Fritillaria imperialis beautifully drawn by Pierre-Joseph Redouté in the early eighteen hundreds, the hare and the owl are Audubon engravings.

These images were then edited to create a chilling effect of animals and plant matter being stretched out into monsters that occupy the page:

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A combination of monstrous distortions and the relatively boring sans-serif that adorns the top corner is somewhat striking, possibly a reference to the government’s response in the novel: everything is a-ok, there are no monsters here.

Not every edition of the Southern Reach is as gloomy as the others however. The UK edition in particular masks a lot of the strangeness of the books’ innards:

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The collection above makes Vandermeer’s work look more serene, Alice in Wonderland-esque, and I wonder how that changes the reading of the books. Yet to be honest that’s nothing compared to some of the designs by fans that I’ve seen floating around, particularly this cute version:

Fan art by Australian designer Matthew Revert

What I’m trying to get at here is this: there’s something delightful about the idea that the novelist can entertain three loose themes for a series—the dragonfly, the hare, the owl—only for them to be constantly reimagined by the audience; I can’t think of many novels besides Area X that welcome this form of constant graphic translation.

All of this makes me think about the state of my bookshelves today and I wonder how many books I would like to buy again in duplicate, multiple copies in different languages and styles, alternative bindings with artists that adorn and reshape the meaning of the text inside. Consequently, that thought leads me to worry about the splitting of one library into two and my now divided, transatlantic library.

Which of those books across the ocean led me here?

Which book brought me to San Francisco?

And so I think we must be cautious of which books we entertain because each book is an answer to this question: which novel, textbook and work of non-fiction will lead us all to the next adventure?

Onwards!

The Week in Type

First, the great flowering has begun! Over the past couple of weeks variable font demos have been starting to appear in the wild. I think it started with Chris Lewis experimenting with them in Windows 10:

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And shortly after that Myles Maxfield added support to the latest Safari nightly build and made a neat variation fonts demo:

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David Jonathan Ross then made his own demo that you can test for yourself. What’s interesting to me about this is that it feels like a whole new aesthetic in and of itself, a new kind of typography, and one that might soon lead to all sorts of exciting possibilities:

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Jason Parmental also made a test page that shows the differences between requesting and serving multiple fonts and a single, variable font file. But one of the most interesting demos I saw had to be Baptiste Guesnon’s experiment in which the text automatically adjusts itself to the reader’s distance from the screen:

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Update: Nick Sherman wrote in to mention that Baptiste’s demo wasn’t using OpenType variations, or variable fonts, at all.

However, these experiments were not enough: CJ Dunn also released the typeface Dunbar, which I think might be the first commercially available variable font.

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Indra Kupferschmid writes:

Sans serifs were still a rather new genre of typefaces at the beginning of the 20th century. The vernacular grotesque style — occasionally crude, usually fat, often compact and with straight-sided rounds — had made them popular for advertising and other eye-catching display typography. But there were two alternative strands developing in the 1910s and ’20s. The English, spearheaded by Edward Johnston and later Eric Gill, were looking for a more readable style of grotesques based on traditional models of calligraphy (see Johnston’s alphabet for the London Underground for instance, or Gill Sans). In Germany on the other hand, modernists were calling for new letterforms that could express the feeling and style of the time and would not cite historic models as much as traditional text typefaces or the forms proposed by the English designers.

The sheer quantity of experiments going on right now is fascinating and I can’t wait to get my mitts on one of these typefaces. Not merely for the technical benefits alone—I’m starting to believe that there’s going to be a significant change due to the variety of options, styles which are now unimaginable to us, which will soon call for a revision to be made in what we think of as typography on the web.


The Bolted Book is a project by Designers & Books that hopes to reprint a facsimile edition of Fortunato Depero’s 1927 monograph Depero Futurista. I haven’t heard of it, but the cover certainly looks familiar:

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Designers & Books made a wondrous facsimile of Ladislav Sutnar’s Visual Design in Action a while back and it happens to be one of my most treasured possessions, so I can’t wait to see the Kickstarter begin for The Bolted Book, too.


Dynamic Font Day looks like it’s going to be a neat conference all about webfonts. It’s held in Munich on the 26th of November and some very cool people have lined up to talk about typography and the web.


Elliot Jay Stocks launched a Kickstarter for 8 Faces: Collected and it’s been nice to watch everyone in the community support it so eagerly.

New Type Releases

Since I’ve written the last Adventures there’s been an enormous swell of beautiful new typefaces and so I’ll be sure to make an entire post devoted to them next week. There’s simply too much to cover and I want to make sure that we explore each new release with the attention it deserves.

Letter of the Week

I’ve been looking at Rui Abreu’s Pathos a lot this week and especially the lowercase ‘k’:

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The flat edge on the top right of the letterform has made me stare at it so much that I no longer see a K, instead the lines blend together and I see a jumble of black and white.

Until next time!
✌️ Robin

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