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I'm Cathy Leamy, a Boston cartoonist and medical writer. Check out my comics! They're mainly about health care and autobio stories.

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Thursday, November 25, 2004

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I am a lady of letters

I'm currently reading Type: A Secret History of Letters by Simon Loxley, and it is fascinating. I've studied typography in school, but we rarely went into details like the personalities of the designers and typesetters whose names we had to memorize. The political, business, and cultural aspects of type and printing make for great reading; details like "around the time of the English civil war, printing in England was limited so that people wouldn't stir up trouble with provocative political leaflets" might be clear if you read between the lines of textbooks, but I'm as thick as ten planks and like having it spelled out for me.

What I'd love to see is a comic that explores some of this history, kind of like a Two-Fisted Science for typography. This Loxley book has stories that are crying out to be put in comics. See William Caslon's right hook - ouch! Exhume John Baskerville's oozing corpse! Cry as the great ATF is auctioned off for peanuts!

Seriously, though, these would be great tales to bring into the light of pop culture. Printing and typesetting are such a transparent art forms; no matter how great your work, it's almost always going to be subservient to the content (unless you're busting loose with some crazy expressive type). Much like how people at the office don't usually notice my web development work until something breaks, readers don't often notice typography until it's done poorly. It probably didn't help that until the digital revolution, its inner workings were a bit of a secretive and invisible domain. You had to be properly apprenticed and trained, and you weren't likely to have a Linotype in your basement to learn on your own.

Even if it's not very visible or glamorous, like I mentioned above, there are all kinds of crazy stories and personalities to discover. And with digital typography more popular than ever, it could never hurt to bring people's attention to the human aspect of it. Fonts don't magically spring out of nowhere. Helvetica wasn't made up by your computer.

On a related note, courtesy of Digital Web, I found the website Thinking With Type - highly recommended for an introduction to some of the basics of typography, not to mention some fun games. All your fake quote are belong to us!

One quote on the Advice Page hit on one of my pet peeves: "Amateur typographers make their type too big. Experienced designers, however, make their type too tiny. - Paula Scher" It drives me up a wall to constantly hear "Make the type smaller" in critiques. Yes, it will give the piece a look of sophistication, but it's worth jack all if people have to hold it to their noses just to read it. I don't enjoy the feeling of "designing for designers." One of the things I like best about design is imparting information clearly to a number of people, and shock horror, that might include people who can't read a 6 point font.

completely unrelated question
I noticed in the shops that the third Harry Potter film is out on DVD, but there are separate editions for "widescreen" and "fullscreen." I rarely buy DVDs - is this split typical? Is there any reason why they couldn't put both options on one DVD? Are they just gouging or are there serious tech issues at work here?

3 comments!     click to join in

1 Mister Wolf   (5:30am - Nov 25, 2004)

Hehe. When I was doing that last type booklet for Chris, I thought of doing a 'sins of the designers' thing, but I ran dry after Eric Gill's creepy sexual hijinks and Paul Renner's possible Nazi connections.

WRT the DVDs, I see that a lot. I also see disks that have widescreen on one side and full screen on the other, so I think it's just gouging.

2 Rick!   (9:23am - Nov 25, 2004)

The DVD item is most likely gouging. Having both ratios on the same DVD seems to have disappeared after the last generation of DVDs (Some would give you a choice in the menu, some would have Fullscreen on one side of the disc and Widescreen on the other.) The only reasonable answer I can come up with is that most people who don't know how to (or don't feel like) going through the menu or flipping the disc are some of the same people who hate Widescreen with a passion because they don't understand 'the little black bars.' But that's stretching it. Like I said, it's most likely gouging and it's most likely a way for studios to exploit DVD sale numbers by offering two seperate versions of a DVD instead of one.

Or people are just crazy.

3 Kitty   (3:17pm - Nov 27, 2004)

Eric Gill's creepy sexual hijinx? Damn! Apparently I haven't gotten to that chapter yet. Right now I'm reading about Goudy the Typographic Rock Star.

Thanks for the comments about the DVDs. I had a feeling it was gouging, but I wasn't 100% sure and didn't want to go off on it if it were a techie issue. Still not sure which one to pick up ... I like the "you get everything" aspect of Widescreen, but my TV is about this [] big and widescreen tends to look pretty lame on it. Anyway! Small issues distract from larger ones, hooray.

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