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Books

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Graphic Interruptions book, front cover

Graphic Interruptions has reached some sort of a completion, for now, with the production of a one-off hard back book for an assessment of the project for my masters degree. The project will continue in the background and you can follow its Instagram account here.

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Graphic Interruptions, back cover

I would like to have produced more books and sold them, but because of the production values I insisted on, it means each copy would cost upwards of £60 and I just can’t justify selling copies for that price. However, without going into details at the moment, I have been talking to a publisher and if a book proposal I’m writing is accepted, Graphic Interruptions may enter the public realm as part of a wider project.

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Title page

In the latter stages of working on the project, which had been ongoing since October, I fell back on familiar territory, (see McJunk, links on Elsewhere page), as I needed to create a tangible outcome for a looming deadline. This resulted in me jettisoning explorations into maps, autobiographic writing and psychogeography which had all been part of this project at one point or another. My interest in these makes me certain I will return to them in the future but in order to wrap this up for an assessment I went with what I knew I could achieve.

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The essay I wrote as the introduction to the book will see the light of day here in the near future, but for the time being I’m pleased to call some sort of pause to Graphic Interruptions, at least in relation to my MA studies. It has helped shape my thinking for the next stages of my academic research. And more than that, I’m looking forward to blogging about more than Graphic Interruptions here.

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Scribble cover. Image courtesy of Three&Me.

When you work with someone on a regular basis you tend to get to know them well. You tell each other stories, you share aspects of your life and you get to know their working nuances intimately. But just recently I’ve been spending time with my work colleague, friend and ex-tutor Russell Walker a lot more than I would normally outside of typical ‘office’ working hours. This is because Russell Walker, designer, illustrator and educator of some 30+ years has just published a book of his creative and educational life called Scribble, and I’ve been immersing myself in it.

Starting from his earliest memories of childhood in his father’s tailor shop, Russell’s close friend Mike Doherty narrates his move through school and on to art school, into the world of being a professional illustrator and times spent teaching generations of design students as a lecturer, course leader and senior lecturer. From the outset the pair proclaim that the intention is to share these memories and experiences in order that others can dip in and benefit from them in some small way.

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Fetchaset spread. Image courtesy of Three&Me.

From his days at Hornsey College to describing leaving student life as looking over a bottomless cliff, there is much here for the novice designer stepping out into the world of work to learn from, and all illustrated with the sumptuous and colourful portfolio that Russell has built up over the years. From initial excursions in the world of going freelance, tales abound of interviews, knock-backs, successes, international agents and working for some big name corporate clients. Those that know Russell as well as I do will know that his determination generally wins out in the end and this book is ample proof of a will to not so much stay ahead of the game, but to shape it. The phrase I’ve often heard Russell say to students: ‘if you are hungry for it you will get it’, couldn’t be more true of the man himself.

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Chairman Meow. Image courtesy of Three&Me.

While knowing much of this work already, albeit seeing it in singular sittings, the collection that Scribble presents brings a personal awe at the vastness of Russell’s output—witnessing this work again but in collected form only reinforces my understanding of his creative talent. From early drawings through to skilful air-brushing; onto digitally rendered outcomes before coming back to collage and the hand-drawn in more recent pieces; Scribble showcases the visual journey of someone who doesn’t like to sit on their laurels.

The fact that Russell has dedicated much of his career to the education of others, and in doing so has potentially sacrificed the fame other illustrators of equal standing may have afforded themselves, I would argue has kept him more creatively relevant. He has avoided pitfalls of stylistic cul-de-sacs and the development of his technical and stylistic approaches in visual attitude is on show here for all to see. To say someone is ‘of their time’ often suggests they are stuck in some distant past glory, but such a phrase used to describe Russell I propose suggests that each stage in his creative journey has been ‘of its time’; a continuous line of constant updating. Russell treads a fine line in remaining alive to nuances in contemporary illustration while keeping a firm grip on his personal visual language—this is in no way an easy task and is in part driven by the requirements of educating others.

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Run’m Up, Run’m Out. Image courtesy of Three&Me.

The importance of line, colour and composition in Russell’s work is present from the start of the book to the closing pages. The inclusion of original sketches, work-in-progress and quotes from others, (typographer and designer Jonathan Barnbrook tells of his time as one of his students, and this rubs shoulders with a portrait of Russell by illustrator Brian Grimwood), alongside his perspectives on design education make this a book that works on many levels for many audiences. The fact that this book has been produced in collaboration with alumni from the Graphic Design course at UCS who now run their own successful design studio, Three&Me—described in the closing pages as ‘design partners’—is testament itself to Russell’s dedication to encouraging and supporting the next generation of creative talent.

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Le Kit Adagio, Viande. Image courtesy of Three&Me.

The one thing that I can’t quite get my head around with Scribble is that to publish a book such as this suggests some sort of end point has been reached. But knowing Russell as I do, this will certainly not be the case. Ever a person to develop and push forward, there are many more chapters yet to be written for Scribble.

To purchase a copy of Scribble, contact Russell Walker via Fetchaset

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The US and UK book jacket designs for Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman. Picture: L—HarperCollins / R—William Heinemann. Source: guardian.com

I’ve written here and elsewhere before about how graphic design is overlooked in favour of other arts disciplines, (see the post Shelf / Life and my McJunk essay as two examples). I’ve come to expect this, so when Will Gompertz—the BBC’s Arts Correspondent—recorded a piece for the Six O’Clock News this week about the Design of the Year Awards at The Design Museum, I wasn’t surprised that the graphic design nominations weren’t mentioned at all.

When The Guardian published an article on its website in the same week about the book jackets for the release of Harper Lee’s sequel / prequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, I thought some balance may be restored. In fairness to The Guardian at least the article is about design, and they did invite designer Stuart Bache to critique the covers for an accompanying piece, (which he does excellently). But what really annoyed me was that no designer’s names are mentioned at all in either article. I don’t blame The Guardian for this, as none of the stories I’ve read about these jackets on any other website mentions the designers involved either. This suggests that for some reason the publishing houses aren’t mentioning names, (the book is being released by different publishers in the UK and the US). It maybe standard for in-house designers not to be given publicity—although I’d hope their names will be on the actual release somewhere—but both William Heinemann (UK) and HarperCollins (US) are heavily publicising these design previews to generate free advertising in the press in the run-up to the July publishing date.

I think it is a shame that none of the articles I’ve read in regard to these jackets chooses to question why such anonymity exists when it comes to graphic design, and this in itself maintains the status quo of graphic design not being treated with the same esteem as other arts disciplines. While at least Bache mentions the covers are designed by designers and The Guardian did seek him out as an expert witness, it would be good to read journalists questioning this lack of credit as they surely would do if this was the preview of a tie-in artwork by an actual proper artist.

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It seems somewhat ironic that a journal called Signal should pass me by, again. I wrote about the first two issues here in 2012. I can’t remember what, but something pricked my memory of the journal a couple of weeks ago and I went searching for the publication again only to find that issue three was released nearly a year ago with the forth due out this coming May. I quickly ordered Signal:03 and it doesn’t disappoint.

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Once again, what I’m genuinely impressed about with this publication is its breadth. The level of research done by the contributors is impressive and there is a sense of importance given to documenting/archiving social design stories that otherwise would be lost in the midst of time. For example, the image above is from a comical anarchist publication from Brussels in the 1930s. Titled: Game of Massacre: 12 Figures Looking for a Ball, the article explains this Aunt Sally type parlour game, created by Fred Deltor, (aka Frederico Antonio Carasso, 1899–1969), that enables you to cut-out various puppet figures, such as The Military, Property, Fascism, Religion etc, in order that you can throw balls at them. Included in the game was a mock cut-out theatre to set the figures in, and a ball, along with descriptions of the puppets. The above were described thus: (3) “Philanthropy has a chest in the form of a bank vault full of cash and tosses a single coin toward a cadaverous figure (lacking an arm and a leg) in from of a hospital”; and (4) “Social democracy is a two-faced figure who wields the attributes of both royalty and communism”. In uncovering the original publication, Stephen Goddard says: “Stylistically Carasso’s figures betray a knowledge of many of the important international impulses associated with progressive art organisations, periodicals, and movements of the 1920s, such as DeStijl, Het Oversight, Constructivism, and…Agit-prop.”

Signal reprints the preface to the game with a translation which states: “This is the game of massacre. Come! … Here it is, the opulent collection of royal, imperial, and devine puppets, that control you as they wish, you poor crowd, and who, by tragic reversal of roles, pull, from one to the other, the strings of your poor destiny.” Who says that anarchists don’t have a sense of humour?

Like the previous two editions of Signal, issue three mixes historical and contemporary struggles and their associated graphics. So alongside an article on student led strikes in Québec in September 2012, you find the story of the incredible Barbara Dane, co-founder of Paredon Records. Between 1969 and 1985 Dane tried to document revolutionary music being made around the world and in an interview with Alec Dunn and Eric Yanke, she describes how she’d go from country to country recording different musicians and singers and return to the States to release them. In the space of 16 years, Paredon Records, with very little budget, released recordings from Vietnam, Salvador, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Northern Ireland, Ecuador, Italy, Britain, Angola, Chile, Greece, Thailand and a host of other countries. Of the sleeves, she says: “If you look at the records, they’re 12″ x 12″ on the front and then fold around about 5 inches on the back. It was done this way so they could print four at once, four-up on a single sheet of paper…At this printer, what dictated what you could do was economics… And so you figure out things like one color has read, the other blue, so then third cover can have purple. You figure out how to work with two colors, matte paper, that size.”

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1978, design Ronald Clyne

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1975, design by Ronald Clyne

Asking Dane about working with the designer Ronald Clyne, she says: ” If you caught him at the right time of day, before he drank too much wine, he was very very clever about what he did. You can see that he could take any kind of photo, work with it, and make it meaningful and not destroy the meaning of it. And always, his forte was selection of type and layout and all that. I’d bring him basic tools, the basic elements, photos and also drawings from artists I’d met.”

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1975, design by Ronald Clyne

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1974, cover art by Jane Norling

If Barbara Dane wasn’t inspirational enough, Signal:03 publishes an article by Ropbert Burghardt and Gal Kirn on the former Yugoslavia monuments to anti-fascism and revolution. These impressive and often modernist brutal memorials, built between 1945 and 1990, litter what is now split into seven different nations. The authors state: “These monuments are not only modernist, but contain as unique typology: monumental, symbolic (fists, stars, hands, wings, flowers, rocks), bold (and often structurally daring), otherworldly and fantastic. … Instead of formally addressing suffering, these memorial sites incite universal gestures of reconciliation, resistance, and progress…for those that encounter them, they remain highly imaginative objects: they could be ambassadors from far-away stars, witnesses of an unrealised future, historical spectres that haunt the present.”

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Some have been landscaped and provide opportunities for family days out with cafes and play areas. Some are more formal monuments that you can enter, such as the one above in Kozara, while others you happen upon in the middle of nowhere. Started as a way of remembering the second world war, they were initially built spontaneously by local artisans. And if the guidebook to them printed in Signal is anything to go by, there is a vast amount of these monuments dotted around the region, with a map stating over 200 locations, (although many have been destroyed or decayed).

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Once again I am truly impressed by Signal. Its historical importance stretches across many areas including art, design, architecture, music, politics, protest and social history. And although this could be seen as a research journal, it is easily accessible for those who are just generally interested in the topics it covers, students, scholars and armchair revolutionaries alike. I’m already looking forward to the forth edition due in May.

Signal:03 is available to buy from PM Press for $14.95

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You could argue the need for yet another publication about punk. The ‘1976 and all that’ narrative has been told so often now that it reads like a dull pantomime with all original relevance of the story bled dry through over telling. There have been some publications in the last few years that have gone beyond this nostalgic rehash, such as 2012’s excellent Punk: An Aesthetic, but recently published The Truth of Revolution, Brother: An Exploration of Punk Philosophy (Situation Press) focusses, as the title says, on an area of the punk phenomenon that has largely been ignored.

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Produced by Lisa Sofia, Robin Ryde and Charlie Waterhouse, The Truth of Revolution, Brother, taking its title from a lyric by UK’s Crass, mostly examines second and third generation punks that took the early rebellious attitude and DIY beliefs and formed life philosophies of them. The UK anarcho-punk scene is more of a starting point for many of the very personal stories told throughout to book, and specifically Crass are cited by many as being influential to their world view. But this book is much more expansive than that as the authors travelled the globe to interview those they thought carried the spirit of ‘Do It Yourself’ and who looked for alternatives to accepted societal belief systems. Interviews with Crass‘ Penny Rimbaud, Steve Ignorant and Gee Vaucher, Subhumans’ Dick Lucas and the Poison Girls’ Vi Subversa tell the tale of alternative living and libertarian leanings in the UK. What punk meant to those on the other side of the Atlantic is represented by American comic book author and singer songwriter Jeffrey Lewis, producer / musician Steve Albini, straight-edge pioneer and Fugazi guitarist Ian MacKaye and Dead Kennedys‘ Jello Biafra.

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Penny Rimbaud

Similar themes emerge throughout the different interviews, from being anti-war to championing vegetarianism, from environmental concerns to resolutely rejecting the ideology of government and control. While this may be a book about philosophy, personal politics and taking responsibility for your own actions is really at its heart.

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It is incredible to see what impact a small music scene from the UK, (in anarcho-punk), has had globally, for this isn’t just a tale of Anglo-American agit-prop. Einar Örn Benediktsson, (from Iceland’s The Sugarcubes), and Jón Gnarr formed the Best Party as a protest against Iceland’s 2008 economic crash which resulted in Gnarr becoming Major of Reykjavik in 2010—both cite punk as major influences on their attitude to politics. When it was set up the Best Party declared it would dissolve itself and as a result, after 4 years in power, Gnarr stepped down as Mayor this year after successfully running the city on anarchist principles. Benediktsson, who was a City Councillor says: “I’m an anarchist and people say, ‘But you’re not an anarchist because you work within the system. You are part of the system now’. Okay, I may be part of the system, but what I learned through punk was to listen and to take on board ideas, to try to understand and not make up my mind that things should be only one way.” After also stepping down after his first term, he goes on to say: “I don’t want the power. It’s not mine to own. It is everybody else’s so please, please come in, use it, be part of it because it’s ours to share, to feel good. I don’t think it’s naïve to say it.”

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The interviews running throughout the book are interspersed with topic heading such as Disruption; Construction; Distraction; Creation; and The Dark Side of Punk as monikers to discuss different philosophical attitudes that emanated from punk. Anarchy as a political theory and personal practice is interwoven throughout, and shining through all the interviews and discussions is a positive attitude to humanity and wanting to make life better firstly through self-determination and secondly through not wanting to rip others off. As a result, at the heart of this is a very humanist world view, one that believes living by a personal set of principles is as important as trying to shake things up.

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There are several new pieces of artwork featured throughout as well, from the likes of Gee Vaucher, Jeffrey Lewis, Dominic Thackray, Gaye Black and David King, among others.

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Jeffrey Lewis, 2014

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David King, 2014

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Dominic Thackray, 2014

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Gee Vaucher, 2014

Co-author Charlie Waterhouse, a graphic designer and photographer, has ensured that the book is beautifully typeset avoiding any punk aesthetic clichés. This helps to set this study firmly in the here and now, deliberately steering this away from coffee table book nostalgia and ensuring the reader sees this text is about the relevancy of punk and its myriad of associated philosophies to today.

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Gee Vaucher

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Each of the authors have been affected by punk as a musical force in different ways. “Charlie’s life was derailed when he heard the Fall’s Lay Of The Land on [John] Peel'”, declares the acknowledgements. While, “Lisa’s DJing career was almost strangled at birth by Steve Albini when she cued up her first record by Big Black at the wrong speed,”…and “Robin cut his teeth on punk music at the age of 13 by sneaking into UK Subs and Stiff Little Fingers gigs”. It goes on to say: “Although none of them knew it, The Truth of Revolution, Brother was always going to be the result of their friendship.”

For myself this book has allowed me to reflect on my days as a punk and the attitudes and beliefs that sprang from reading bands’ lyrics as I listened to their music. This went on to shape my personal view of the world and my sense of responsibility to those around me and society in general. One of the things that bands like Crass did for me was to teach me not to just be anti something but to also consider my role in shaping the world. As such, my vegetarianism, environmental considerations and distrust of hierarchical structures and elites comes very much from my time listening to Crass and associated bands in my late teens and early twenties. While I haven’t called myself a punk in years—I haven’t needed the youthful obsession of creating an identity for myself and thus labelling my whole persona for many years—this book has made me think again about punk as a proud term, the philosophies I adopted in my youth that have stuck with me to this day, and how this has shaped my outlook on life. And for that, I am very grateful to Lisa, Robin and Charlie, and to all the contributors to The Truth of Revolution, Brother.

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Truth of Revolution back cover

The Truth of Revolution, Brother and a number of prints of photographs taken while conducting interviews can be purchased directly from Situation Press

Below, Crass’ Bloody Revolutions, the last line of which gives this publication its title:

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There has been a surge of typography publications dropping through my letterbox recently. They are all very different in their own ways, but one thing unites them all over and above the excellent content, and that is the very high production values. Unfortunately my poor photographic skills won’t do any of them justice, but hopefully will give some indication that these are objects of desire.

Circular 18
The first that hit my door mat recently was Circular 18, the bi-annual publication of the Typographic Circle. Designed by Pentagram’s Domenic Lippa and Jeremy Kunze, and printed by Leycol in the UK, its oversized A4 proportions and clean pages are a thing of beauty.

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Interviews with a wide range of typographers and designers, from Ruan Hughes and Harry Pearce to Angus Hyland and Andy Altmann fill the majority of Circular 18 with images of the designers’ work relegated to a few pages at the back of the publication. This allows the focus of the issue to concentrate on the words of the designers through confident typography as conversations about graphic design function and working processes take the lead. There is a real sense that this publication was a labour of love for Lippa and Kunze.

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Circular 18 is available free to members of The Typographic Circle, or for £15 to non-members. Email info@typocircle.com for information.

The Recorder
The second magazine I received recently is issue one of the new look The Recorder. Previously published for over 70 years by Monotype, in 2014 it has been relaunched to continue its tradition of looking at the history of typography and contemporary applications.

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In its own words: “Making its first appearance in 1902 … it covered everything from technology and typeface releases to historic features; offering readers an in-depth look at the type industry”. It goes on to say of its relaunch issue: “…features both the heritage of typography, and its contemporary application, focussing on how designers have used and responded to type, and how its influence has played a role in our culture and daily lives over the years”. Like Circular 18, its production quality is second to none, with a gold foiled front cover that wraps around the back, and a range of different articles all treated to individual layouts depending on the topics covered. Sized more like a traditional magazine, this is the least conventional thing about this publication. It must have been a daunting publication to revisit, given its revered history, but designer Luke Tonge has managed to give it a contemporary face that respects The Recorder’s legacy and sense of heritage while making it accessable to a new audience.

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The content consists of articles, essays, reviews and even a photo essay of the great poster artist / printmaker Alan Kitching.

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The Recorder proves to be a critical read, with an excellent article by Sam Roberts on ghostsigns and the ethics of restoration, while Harry Leeson looks at how typography manipulates our relationship with the urban environment and applies theories of class to the field of graphic design. Such depth of discussion in one publication is rare outside of Eye magazine, and The Recorder is a welcome, and beautifully produced, addition to critical design writing.

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(As an aside, I came across an original copy of The Monotype Recorder last year, and I was lucky enough for it to be a version dedicated to the life of Stanley Morison. Unfortunately, due to leaving Tumblr and deleting my The Small Letter blog, my digital archive of this is no longer online, but I am planning to resurrect it sometime soon on a different platform.)

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The Recorder is available for $17 USD from this dedicated website: click here. 

Typograph.journal
Last but by no means least, I stumbled across the new Typograph.journal via various postings from designers I follow on Instagram. Published by Nicole Arnett Phillips, aka Typography.Her, it focusses on design process through her personal reflcetions, case studies of different designer’s approaches to their work, interviews and commissioned exercises. Volume.01, published earlier this year, is titled on its spine: Can A Text Be Both Readerly And Experimental; while the recently published Volume.02 asks: Where Do We Find, And How Do We Feed, Our Creative Energy?

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Smaller in scale than the previous publications mentioned here, it has a pocketable quality that belies its depth of discussion and questioning. Like The Recorder and Circular 18, it is inward looking and aimed squarely at graphic designers, typographers and those interested in print processes, but that doesn’t mean that those outside of these fields will not find anything of interest.

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Phillips is an Australian designer who certainly understands how to create a visually rich and consuming document. In her own words she states: “I believe rigour and critical design thinking is important. As is a great outcome. But no more so than the design discovery and creative play that happens in the middle”. As an outcome, Typography.journal is both thoughtful and inspirational in its content and production, but equally impressive due to the proud authorship Phillips demonstrates—she is a doer and has made this happen, she self-promotes it through social media and is getting people interested in what is essentially a personal project.

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It is also very rewarding to receive Typography.journal through the post as Phillips envelopes the book in its own bespoke wrapping paper and includes print ephemera associated with the release and a hand-written note. This personal approach is a nice touch that reinforces the nature of the publication’s content as well as creating a connection with someone producing such an item half-way around the world.

Typograph.journal 01 & 02 are available to buy either individually or together for $30 AUD from Phillips’ website: click here.

 

What is really encouraging about these recent publications is that critical design writing is alive and well. Longstanding titles such as Eye, Creative Review, Baseline and the Journal of Design History have their specific areas carved out. And with design blogs being in rude health, it is possible to have questioned whether there was ever going to be any more room, let alone demand, for design writing. Well, these bespoke publications prove that there is a market for well produced high-quality material, both in terms of a physical entity itself, and in terms of content.

 

 

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I’ve discovered Scarfolk.*

Scarfolk is a story pieced together by Dr Ben Motte, who discovered a package one day stuffed with printed ephemera from a town that never left the 1970s. And as the story unfolds, you discover that Scarfolk is a very dark place indeed.

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Imagine Quatermass, Survivors and The League of Gentlemen rolled into one in the minds of Chris Morris and Douglas Adams, with paranormal children, tacit-racism, mind control and mythical folk tales thrown into the mix. If you can’t imagine it, then just think what it would be like.

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Scarfolk is the brilliant invention of Richard Littler, a graphic designer who has a very keen eye for detail in recreating the 1970s and imagining the worst town to move to in the north of England.

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Scarfolk has been a blog for a while, and is now a book. I can’t wait for the soundtrack and the documentary, they are sure to be coming soon.

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You should visit Scarfolk and discover it for yourself. *

* For more information please re-read.

 

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“You’re not an artist, you’re a wanker,” or so Viv Albertine claims her husband said to her in her brutal and honest autobiography: Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys. Neither the former nor latter are true, actually. The latter is proved wrong in the book’s opening with Albertine claiming in a chapter dedicated to the subject that she has never masturbated; the former isn’t true as her story is one of struggling for self-expression against the many obstacles life has thrown at her.

Viv Albertine is most famous as the guitarist and co-songwriter in the all female punk / post-punk band The Slits. But Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys is about so much more than this brief period in her life. It obviously covers her growing up as punk emerged around her, and her friendship with some of the key characters, not least showing a fascinating insight into Sid Vicious’ character. But as the book moves on from her being a central character during the early punk years, it covers her struggle with her own creativity as a film maker, surviving cancer, being traumatised by IVF treatment, domestic boredom, to finally to her throwing away all of her comforts in exchange for feeling creatively fulfilled again. This is the story of an artists’ struggle to survive as a creative individual regardless of the worth of her output, as she readily accepts the flaws in her work, but champions the need for expression and taking her own path far beyond any desire to be deemed ‘good’ at what she does. As a result she demonstrates a real bravery and determination that should be a tonic for any aspiring artist.

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Sid Vicious and Viv Albertine circa 1976

The book is raw throughout, with Albertine being nothing but completely and refreshingly open. She never attempts to glamorise her experiences and keeps coming back to her lack of self-esteem throughout—the constant tension between lack of self-belief but determination to do her own thing provides a driving force to the narrative all the way through the book. Her matter-of-fact tone adds believability to an extraordinary life story that could otherwise be read as a movie script. Sex, drugs, blood and bodily functions are spoken about as easily as discussing record deals and famous associates. Her thoughts on domestic boredom in a stale marraige are laid bare alongside tales of battles against sexist attitudes that she has encountered in all areas of her life. Despite this, Albertine’s deep routed feminism never displays an anti-male agenda, but it does expose her experiences with individuals that left this male reader with a sense of disbelief that such attitudes still exist in the twenty-first century. But ultimately, her story is one of trying to be an individual—to be herself—and the fact that she is female has just thrown the added obstacles of sexism and misogyny into the mix.

I initially picked up Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys because I loved The Slits first album ‘Cut’. But the book gave me so much more than just a history of the group and the evolution of punk in mid-to-late 1970s Britain. I would go as far to say that this is an important story that even goes beyond Viv Albertine herself. See through the shock / marketing tactics of the publishers putting a chapter about masturbation at the very beginning and read a book that is focussed on the quest for individuality and artistic endeavour against the odds of a lack ‘natural’ talent and closed worlds. Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys, in my opinion, should be on the national curriculum as an honest account of individualism, determination and refusing to accept your lot.

Below, Confessions Of A Milf, from Albertine’s 2013 album The Vermilion Border

Today I stumbled across The Truth of Revolution, Brother, a proposed book about the philosophy of punk.

Taking its title from a Crass lyric, (the infamous anarcho-punk band that took punk’s DIY ethos to a whole new socio-political level), the book promises to go well beyond the music, fashion and graphics shlock that most nostalgic punk cash-ins opt for. For anyone like myself who formed many of their personal and social political beliefs from their experiences within the punk movement will understand what an important document this could end up being. Particularly if the accompanying promo video is anything to go by:

 

The book is being put together by the surnameless Lisa, Charlie and Robin, who say the book is largely written and designed, almost ready to go. With a launch date of August 2014, they’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough funds for the first print run, and come payday, I’ll be on Kickstarter making my donation.

 

When I was a design student there didn’t seem to be an abundance of books about graphic design. There were obviously some, such as recommended canons on the discipline like Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, but they were few and far between. And none, to my eyes, seemed particularly contemporary in their approach to relating to the subject.

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Thankfully this is no longer the case. In the last ten years there has been an explosion in the amount of books published about the subject, from self-published/vanity monographs to historical re-tellings, from exhibition tie-ins to in-depth breakdowns of the process of designing. Academic/student friendly publishing houses such as AVA, (now under Bloomsbury), and Laurence King have gone a long way to help those studying graphic design today, and it is likely that the growth of undergraduate graphic design students over the last 10 years has created a captive audience.

One publishing house that is worthy of praise for its output in the last few years is Unit Editions. Set up in 2009 by Tony Brook of Spin, and Adrian Shaughnessy, previously of Intro, their first releases trickled slowly onto the market but quickly established a standard of exceptional quality in both the critical content and production values. Their output has increased dramatically since then, and in the last 18 months alone they’ve published monographs on over-looked designers; FHK Henrion, Herb Lubalin and Ken Garland. They’ve also produced a study on contemporary expressive typography: Type Only, and a collection of Shaughnessy’s writing collated from various websites and magazines that he contributes to, titled Scratching The Surface.

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The lavish production values of FHK Henrion monograph: Unit Editions—2013. (Photo: Unit Editions.)

Brook and Shaughnessy describe Unit Editions as producing books “for designers by designers”. While it is true that the latter two publications mentioned above do add to an introspective discourse about contemporary graphic design practice, and the designer/publishers have been showcased on many design blogs such as It’s Nice That, I believe that what Unit Editions are doing is much more than just ‘for designers’.

The desire to showcase designers that have become ‘lost’ in the fog of design history, such as Henrion et al, is obviously a desire to pay these people their dues. The research into their past; how they became designers; what underpinned their practice, (in terms of personal ethos); as well as the excellent archiving of their life’s work, should also be of great interest to those outside of the discipline as well as to designers. For to document their contributions to society at large is to showcase their relevence to popular culture. It is difficult to read Structure and Substance without getting the sense that Garland is dedicated to making the best work he can for the end user. The fact that these designers understood who they were creating work for underpinned an ethos of responsibility in their thinking about graphic design that fed into the aesthetic appeal of what they produced. When you then consider that their work has influenced the world we see around us today by feeding into the evolution of graphic design and how the viewer reads visual communications in their everyday, it is fair to say they also helped to fashion social history.

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Spread from Ken Garland, Structure and Substance: Unit Editions—2012. (Photo: Unit Editions.)

It is interesting to note that at the conferences Graphic Design: History In The Making, and Critical Tensions, both held at St Bride Library in 2011, several speakers discussed the standing of graphic design history and graphic design practice in the eyes of the general public. At the latter, Jonathan Barnbrook spoke of graphic designers being the lowest regarded ‘arts’ discipline after advertising, while the history themed conference debated why graphic design was not afforded the respect with which art history is bestowed. While it is fair to claim that many graphic designers have chips on their shoulders, these are still relevant debating points. To address the issue of design history’s standing, someone speaking from the floor at History In The Making stated that graphic design can only ever be judged by non-designers in relation to its original context. In other words, a designs’ reason for existence is what it should be judged against. And in my mind, Unit Editions have come closest to publishing books on what is generally an inward-looking discipline that are accessible, and attractive, to a much wider audience than just designers.

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Spread from Ken Garland, Structure and Substance: Unit Editions—2012. (Photo: Unit Editions.)

I will look forward to the publications that will come out of Unit Editions during 2014, as well as those that other publishing houses produce. Unlike when I was a student, it is fair to say that books about graphic design have never been in ruder health. The bonus that they could be seen as of great importance in documenting social history is one I think that should be championed, and could go a long way to repositioning graphic design in the mind of the general public.

For more on Unit Editions and design books in general, then check out this excellent interview with Tony Brook and Adrian Shaughnessy on Designers & Books.

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