What does exciting design look like in publishing today? The Bookseller's creative editor Danny Arter highlights his favourite projects from the past year.
The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes (London Review Bookshop edition)
Unfortunately only 100 people are able to revel in the beauty of this limited-edition version of Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time, and each of those would have to have fairly deep pockets, too. But I was very much taken with both the concept and its execution: each copy is signed by the author, printed on weighty but not obdurate 150gsm stock, and bound (brilliantly) with a goatskin leather.
Complete with heads, tails, a slipcase and foiled type on the spine, it’s a lavish package that’s topped off by endpapers that feature linocuts by Vintage’s creative director Suzanne Dean. There’s an old-fashioned craftsmanship at work here, but one that feels fresh rather than fusty.
Eight by Eight magazine
If you are lucky enough to have a local bookshop with a well-curated magazine section, you will no doubt have seen its ranks swell with some beautiful publications in the past few years. Most of them are able to charge a cover price not dissimilar to a new hardback, too, and in the case of Eight by Eight, it’s worth every penny.
The very premise is unlikely: by its transient nature, football writing dates very quickly. But there’s a permanence to the beauty of Eight by Eight; its photography is stunning and excellently art-directed; its writing is superb and expertly edited; and its choice of illustrators is jaw-droppingly good. It’s reaching outside of the print page, too, collaborating with Puma to design a series of limited-edition football-boots boxes; offering its colourful illustrations as framed prints; and venturing into clothing, too.
Truly, the beautiful game.
Entrances & Exits (Visual Editions)
I’m a huge fan of Visual Editions, and its Entrances & Exits is ambitious: a love story iterated through Google Street View, and - as the publisher promises - it’s thoroughly unprintable. Which is a shame, because the publisher does excellent print books too, including last year’s doorstopper Don Quixote.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t totally absorbed by the narrative itself, but the ‘reading’ experience was thoroughly enjoyable. At the heart of that enjoyment seems to be the fact that the material seems to be conceived and honed with the medium in mind at all times; at no point does it feel like a piece naturally suited to prose that’s shoehorned into a digital format; or an illustrated text with gratuitous whizzy add-ons that add little to the user’s experience – as is often the case.
I felt as though the visual aspect of the digital experience was a step up from VE’s earlier project Where You Are (similar in terms of its cartographic tilt but with a print sibling, too), and hopefully it will lead to more storytelling experiences that are truly digital-native, and that challenge the reader, too.
Book Cover Design From East Asia
I was going to include a project solely on the basis of its front cover – likely a toss-up between Verso’s Reading Capital, with a classic type treatment (and equally sparse spine) running over an inverted, debossed version of Marx’s original Capital, reproduced on the inside front; and Peter Mendelsund’s achingly clever, immediately classic take on James Gleick’s Time Travel. But then I thought, why not include a book that’s full of beautiful front covers, and even has one of its own?
Issued by Counter-Print, Book Cover Design from East Asia is a pocket-sized, softbound compendium of, you’ve guessed it, book cover design from East Asia. Very nice it is too, offering a fascinating insight into how a vastly different market chooses to visualise and package its product.
Sea Legs (Nous Vous Press)
Another limited edition publication (a mere 40 copies were made available), but it’s no less appealing for its scarcity. Sea Legs was the first book I came across from Nous Vous Press, and it’s a beautiful production; a lean, illustrated, staple-bound poem about a walk along the Suffolk coast.
If you’re sat there thinking, ’staples?’, then it’s worth mentioning it’s a slight 28-page poem and priced at just a fiver; it’s a cheap book that feels distinctly un-cheap. There’s a distinct charm to it, which is in no small part down to the two-colour risograph printing, executed by Norwich-based Exit Press, that makes the vibrant yellows and blues really jump off the page.
Risograph seems to be very much in vogue right now, and considering its modest cost, I think we may see larger publishers move into the medium in the coming months. East London-based Hato Press is well worth checking out for those interested in the process; I’d recommend Sarah Boris’ Le Theatre Graphique as an excellent starting point.
I Belong to Jesus by Craig Oldham and Rick Banks
I simply had to give a shirt-lifting celebratory nod to I Belong to Jesus, even if it does give my list a decidedly football-shaped flavour… and take my ‘Five Choices’ into extra time. But what isn’t there to love? It’s a fascinating roll-call of goalscorers’ celebrations that involve shirt removal, and it comes complete with the reader’s very own ‘I Belong to Jesus’ undershirt – immortalised by the Brazilian Kaka while at AC Milan – and an IBTJ captain’s armband.
I was sold on the book’s niche concept from the off, but its attention to detail is superb: it is vertically bound, mimicking the shirt-lifting practice; its vibrant spreads bleed the colour of the kit in question; and it comes bearing the signatures of its two authors, too. Plus the bespoke font used throughout the book, Kaka, is available to buy for just £10, and a dedicated website lets you relive the goals, and celebrations, all over again.
Danny Arter will be appearing at the FutureBook Conference 2016, taking place on Friday 2nd December at 155 Bishopsgate, London. For more information, visit the FutureBook Conference website.