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Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: J. F. Uccello (IP Logged)
Date: 27 March, 2009 11:57PM
I was recently struck by this passage in a 1937 letter from Clark Ashton Smith to Virgil Finlay.
"I think you define very well the main difference between my tales and those of Lovecraft. HPL, in his most characteristic stories, always built up an elaborate and minutely detailed groundwork of realism, no matter how fantastic the eventual departure. Though I have sometimes written tales with an actual setting, I am more at ease when I can weave the entire web on the loom of fantasy. It is probably idle to speculate as to whether one method is more creative than the other. No doubt my own preference is motivated by a certain amount of distaste for the local and the modern, and a sort of nostalgia for impossible and unattainable dreamlands. Yes, I agree with you that my tales - especially the Zothique stories - would call for an arabesque type of illustration, with much ornamental detail; while drawings for HPL's work should be more austere and bleak. Different types, page sizes, bindings, etc., could be utilized appropriately in publishing books by HPL and myself."

It got me to thinking about something I had not really previously considered: did either HPL or CAS get the full treatment in terms of great types, binding, and book design in their own lifetime? It is strange to think that these genius writers, who are so revered in our own time by a broad spectrum of readers and scholars, should have been relegated to the pages of ephemeral pulp mags. I have nothing against pulps, but I am curious as to how CAS or HPL would have felt, never having seen their canonical works enshrined in the pages of a real, solid, and intelligently designed volume.

I also am particularly interested to speculate, as CAS so tantalizingly mentions in the last line of this passage, what the authors themselves would have appreciated in terms of the typefaces and material makeup of a possible book.

Here is a prime example in the modern world of the kind of beauty that can be achieved with a book, and a truly deserved honor done to the text of Lovecraft, as it probably never was in his lifetime. A letterpress edition of Lovecraft's "Shadow Over Innsmouth", with specially designed wood engravings:

[www.heavenlymonkey.com]

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 30 March, 2009 10:39PM
I can tell that books were very tactile for Clark. I owned an edition of Moliere plays that I picked up at a bookstore on 14th and Union Sq. in NY for a $1, that was red leather bound, large, with deeply embossed figures on the cover, and Gold design inlays, very rigid spine also embossed, and a gold clasp. He loved it -- I think, however, he was happy with Star Treader's paper cover, and the parchment feel of Sandalwood - - I think he would have been delighted with the book from Harry Potter that needs its spine stroked to allow you to open it - for indeed, since his childhood journeys into the Carnegie in Auburn, opening any new book was to dive bound helplessly into a sacrificial Mayan well, or embark with Sinbad -
like the road in front of Bilbo's - adventure of the mind.
And don't we all love that aspect of discovery?

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: J. F. Uccello (IP Logged)
Date: 30 July, 2010 07:26AM
Just thought I would bump this topic, as I am still pondering the same questions, but have some more work and experience in type and print behind me. It has been a fun year of printing, and really getting to know what happens when the fonts meet the paper. I am delving deeper into imagining the textual beauty of possible HPL and CAS printed works, now through the vehicle of a personal imprint called Viatorium Press. Peruse and enjoy, and let me know what you think, I am keen to get feedback.

www.viatoriumpress.blogspot.com

[www.viatoriumpress.blogspot.com] Dedicated to the Weird.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 30 Jul 10 | 07:27AM by J. F. Uccello.

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: Jojo Lapin X (IP Logged)
Date: 30 July, 2010 07:58AM
J. F. Uccello Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I am
> curious as to how CAS or HPL would have felt,
> never having seen their canonical works enshrined
> in the pages of a real, solid, and intelligently
> designed volume.

Smith, of course, did get to see this, as Arkham House published handsome collections of his work.

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: Absquatch (IP Logged)
Date: 30 July, 2010 04:57PM
Quote:
as Arkham House published handsome collections of his work.

Indeed. Arkham House has conditioned me to love the sight of Holliston Black Novolex binding, and White Winnebago Eggshell paper filled with linotype Garamond. Now, if only the books had been as "handsomely" edited and proofread....

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: J. F. Uccello (IP Logged)
Date: 30 July, 2010 07:44PM
Yes, being published by Arkham House (at that time) would definitely mean a well made, aesthetically pleasing book. And Arkham's relatively more recent Rendezvous in Averoigne is one of my favorite Weird books ever. Gorgeous in every way, from the J. K. Potter illustrations down to the typography, that book is an example of a book that will last. I also feel a lot of love for the Night Shade editions, which are continuing that tradition of fine books.

There are some great shots of the original CAS Arkhams here: [www.thecimmerian.com]. That Hannes Bok cover of Out of Space and time is wonderful. Those early Arkhams are indeed glorious to behold.

But there is still minimal, if no, letterpress going on for Weird writers. Something about the fonts pressed directly into the paper brings the words to life in a way that can't be done in the offset or digital medium.

[www.viatoriumpress.blogspot.com] Dedicated to the Weird.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 30 Jul 10 | 07:58PM by J. F. Uccello.

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: The English Assassin (IP Logged)
Date: 30 July, 2010 11:15PM
J. F. Uccello Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Just thought I would bump this topic, as I am
> still pondering the same questions, but have some
> more work and experience in type and print behind
> me. It has been a fun year of printing, and really
> getting to know what happens when the fonts meet
> the paper. I am delving deeper into imagining the
> textual beauty of possible HPL and CAS printed
> works, now through the vehicle of a personal
> imprint called Viatorium Press. Peruse and enjoy,
> and let me know what you think, I am keen to get
> feedback.
>
> www.viatoriumpress.blogspot.com

Feedback: absolutely stunning, evocative and beautifully suitable to CAS' work... are these works for sale? If not then they should be!

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: J. F. Uccello (IP Logged)
Date: 31 July, 2010 07:14AM
Many thanks for the kind words. It was actually quite an intense experience recreating the words of CAS in three dimensional fonts pressed into the paper's surface. It felt like the poems were coming to life, and I seemed to understand them in a deeper way than every before. My respect for CAS's mastery has reached an even higher level than my previous quite high estimation. Printing it took it to the gut level for me. I felt a kind of intense longing and sadness, brought on by some kind of new spark viewed in the depths of the words. Felt like I was communicating, or paying homage to, the dead writer by presenting his words in this way.

I am happy you like it, and very much appreciate your checking it out and commenting.

My email can be found at the Viatorium Press website listed below. Write to me and I will send along a price list of the prints.

[www.viatoriumpress.blogspot.com] Dedicated to the Weird.

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: Jojo Lapin X (IP Logged)
Date: 31 July, 2010 05:10PM
J. F. Uccello Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I also feel a lot of love
> for the Night Shade editions, which are continuing
> that tradition of fine books.

While I greatly appreciate the effort to collect everything of Smith's, I am not happy with the looks of the Night Shade books. Among other things, there are too many characters to a line for them to be comfortable to read. I think all books should be of at least the standard of the Library of America.

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: Absquatch (IP Logged)
Date: 31 July, 2010 07:03PM
Seconded, regarding Night Shade. The tiny margins in the CAS tales volumes just make the company look cheap, as if it is trying to reduce the number of pages by cramming as much text onto them as possible.

And don't get me started on the jacket "art".... Let's just say that the tradition of embarrassingly bad CAS book covers is alive and well.

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: The English Assassin (IP Logged)
Date: 1 August, 2010 02:16PM
Agreed, the Night Shade editions aren't great to look at. Too much text per page and the covers are among the worst I've seen, although I felt vol 4 was an improvement on the earlier vols. At least it wasn't the brown dirge of the first three anyway...

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: garymorris (IP Logged)
Date: 1 August, 2010 03:00PM
Just checked out your website, J. F. Uccello, and those CAS items are gorgeous indeed. There's nothing quite like hand-set type. I'll email you separately about prices.

Also, lest we forget, the Roy Squires chapbooks were quite fine, too. I bought my first one, Donde duermas Eldorado, as a teenager.

Re: the Night Shade series, I agree, the margins are way too cramped and give the books a cheesy feel. I don't mind the cover art as much as some here. But at least they're not like the absolutely horrible Hodgson editions, with that kitschy embossed jacketless "phony limited edition" look. I don't know what they're thinking over there, but I imagine some decent designer would be happy to assist them in putting out a better-looking product.

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: Jojo Lapin X (IP Logged)
Date: 1 August, 2010 03:18PM
garymorris Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> But at least they're not like the absolutely
> horrible Hodgson editions, with that kitschy
> embossed jacketless "phony limited edition" look.

They are possibly poisonous, too. Tiny flakes of that silvery stuff they are stamped with come off when you handle them. Wash your hands carefully after reading!

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: Jojo Lapin X (IP Logged)
Date: 1 August, 2010 04:01PM
It is perfectly possible, by the way, for small presses to produce books that do not look like "desktop publishing" disasters. The volumes put out by Subterranean Press, for instance, are often remarkably similar to real books. Best of all is Tartarus---with the exception of their Aickman collection, which again has lines of text that are too long and type that is too small.

Re: Imagining Type, Book Design for Smith, Lovecraft
Posted by: garymorris (IP Logged)
Date: 1 August, 2010 09:25PM
I just received the first two (of six) volumes of the complete Jack Vance, called the CVIE for Complete Vance Integral Edition. They're huge books but beautifully designed and illustrated. The original VIE, in 44 volumes, was an extraordinary publishing project for which a new typeface was designed.

I contributed an essay on Roger Corman's Poe films to Centipede Press's Poe centenary book, also oversize and very well done indeed. I agree that Tartarus/Ash-Tree books are mostly fine. I like the look and feel of Hippocampus too (and their affordability in most cases).

I feel a bit guilty kvetching about the CAS and Hodgson series when in some ways these are a dream come true and a labor of love. It's just that when you've been invested for literally decades in an author like Smith or Hodgson, you hate to see the "ultimate" editions of their work botched in terms of design. But I'll shut up about this now and remember to be grateful.

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