Category Archives: Things you should read

People Who Disappear

You already indulged my artistic ego by reading my cover design eulogy for Alex Leslie‘s poetic short fiction debut. After seeing the finished book in tangible form, I am done complaining. The approved design exhibits subtle colour shifts and whispery, barely-there type that really fits with the words, which have been described by reviewers as smoky, ominous, and surreal.

I created the ghostly display type by printing the title page (set in Freight Sans by Joshua Darden of GarageFonts) and photographing it out of focus.

The page numbers slowly migrate down the bottom margin, like a flip book, so that the final few folios disappear off the page. The printer thought it was a mistake and paused the job, of course.


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The Shore Girl

The Shore Girl follows Rebee from her toddler to her teen years as she grapples with her mother’s fears and addictions, and her own desire for a normal life. Through a series of narrators — family, friends, teachers, strangers, and Rebee herself — her family’s dark past, and the core of her mother’s despair, are slowly revealed.

Rebee and her mother usually escape their problems at night, ricocheting around rural Alberta in a busted white van.

Another concept I presented was derived from the preliminary title “The Shore Girl Clippings” which refers to the nail trimmings that Rebee saves in a jar and carries around from place to place. She also has a slightly mangled hand from when her mother refused treatment for a broken finger. These character traits were just begging for a collage of some sort.


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Theanna Bischoff‘s new novel pieces together the childhood memories of Darcy Nolan and the moments leading up to and following her nineteen-year-old sister’s suicide. Each section of the book begins with a verse of the rhyme, There was an old lady who swallowed a fly, which influenced the cover imagery.

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“. . . aspirations to perfection awaken us to our actual imperfection.”
– Patrick Grant

The client provided this loaded excerpt as a brief and it gave me lots to think about:

“As Bruce Bartlett (advisor to Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush) told New York Times reporter Ron Suskind: ‘This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can’t be persuaded, that they are extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them because he is just like them.’ One of the best books on the recent Northern Ireland conflict is Richard Davis’s Mirror Hate (Aldershot: Dartmouth, 1994), and, among other things, it can help to clarify some implications of Bartlett’s remark. In this elegant and telling analysis Davis shows that although Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries are enemies, they also mirror one another. The enmity in itself is not difficult to describe because it is plainly declared by the opposed factions and their propagandists. But a further process of ‘unconscious convergence,’ whereby the opposed factions come to resemble one another, is more difficult to discern. That is, if we hate with sufficient intensity, we unwittingly become like our enemy, mirroring our enemy’s strategies and our enemy’s thinking. And in this ‘symbiotic antagonism,’ says Davis, the simplifications of propaganda readily triumph over ‘humanity and common sense.’ “

Cover photo by Lauri Rotko.

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Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa: A Californian county, the Portuguese name for Saint Rose, an extinct community in Edmonton, and more recently, a book.

Taking full advantage of that fantastic Fall light, I set out to replicate the sense of otherworldliness and subtle nostalgia in Wendy McGrath’s new novel. The young narrator seeks the answers to these questions as she tries to make sense of the disintegration of her parents’ marriage — a process echoed by the slow disintegration of their neighbourhood.

The excerpt that sent me outside, looking for a chain link fence:
“The picture of the family as they walked the parking lot pavement was overexposed. Taken into the sun. Too bright. Too hot in some spots. The girl could feel the bottoms of her feet begin to warm. She had to squint against the sunlight shining on the chain link fence on either side of the entrance against carnival rides that roiled against the sky against the Ferris wheel an aperture perpetually open on her adventure.”

From Jamie Hall’s review in the Edmonton Journal on 04/17/11:

“And I thought there are many streets and houses and families and kids who have this sense of dreamlike attachment to a time that has passed.” In the book, which McGrath describes a “poetic narrative,” the narrator knows something is wrong but has no insight into what that is and has no way of articulating it. It’s not unlike any child observing the adult world, says McGrath, which to young minds can often be baffling, sad and at times frightening.

Looking for a place to live for just $10 per month?

(Courtesy of the City of Edmonton Archives.)

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Not Anyone’s Anything


(Click for detail of the jacket.)

There are three sets of three stories, with three of those stories further divided into thirds. 

Ian’s work is very experimental. The text is embedded with Korean flash cards, musical notations, literal basements, and divided/dual narratives.

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Strange Days

Ted Ferguson revisits dozens of stories from the ’20s — accounts of frivolous fads, shocking crimes, and the political and social changes that yanked Canada out of the 19th century and into the modern age. Subject matter includes: a British war hero who becomes a religious cult leader and turns his enclave in British Columbia into a hotbed of sadomasochistic orgies, a national baby derby, and some futile train/bank robberies.

The cover image hopefully relays the zany spirit permeating our so-called Jazz-age: hip flasks, the fox trot, and knee-high skirts, oh my. (Courtesy of the William James Collection, City of Toronto Archives.) And if you are still wondering, she is getting a perm.

The jacket was printed on 80-lb Mohawk Via Vellum in Ivory. It’s a very yellow paper that really intensified the colours.

With the era in mind, I used Frederic Goudy’s Kennerley, some old 84 pt. letraset for Algerian.

This was my first attempt at setting something in this lyrical but very quirky typeface, supplied unedited by the Lanston foundry. Let’s just say it was an elaborate exercise in kerning. Bringhurst describes this face as Goudy’s first successful attempt at type design, with the “flavour” and “homey unpretentiousness” of Caslon. I chose it because it exemplifies the era, especially when paired with my dry transferrable cover letterin’ companion.

(I also designed Ted’s last book, Back Roads.)

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Champagne and Meatballs

The brash, irreverent, informative, and entertaining adventures of a Canadian Communist. 

The leftist rogue and protagonist, Bert Whyte, on the fly leaf with cigar in hand. Active for over 40 years with the Communist Party of Canada, Whyte was an underground historical rogue who challenged the illegality of left-wing politics during the 1930s and onwards. Brought to light and introduced by editor and historian Larry Hannant.

A hammer and sickle pin made it on to the left lapel on the spine.

The display face is Stephen Rapp’s Raniscript, which I paired with ITC Cheltenham (Tony Stan) and Trade Gothic (Jackson Burke). It was printed on 60 lb Rolland Opaque with two photo inserts on glossy paper (80 lb Sappi Flo).

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And Me Among Them

Ruth grew too fast.

The protagonist in Kristen den Hartog’s new novel is a girl with gigantism. From a bird’s-eye perspective, Ruth recollects her struggles to connect with other children in small-town, post-WWII Canada, and observes the lives of her parents, Elspeth, an English war bride and seamstress, and James, a mailman.

My first concept comes from a particularly compassionate moment in the book, when a boy takes the laces out of all his shoes and ties them together to make an extra long pair for Ruth. Shoelaces appear again in a less sentimental way after a bully ties Ruth’s shoes together to trip her at school. And once more in an excerpt that is so good, it needs to be reproduced here:

They boarded with their arms linked, and their two stories together were like strands made into a knot; you cross them, you tuck one under the other, and cinch them close. So simple, and yet it took me forever to learn how to tie laces. I thought I would never know, and then one day it came to me. I thought, That’s all? Because it had looked so complicated for so long.

Second idea: Ruth’s homemade pants that are lovingly pieced together by her mother, who unstitches and refashions her own dresses to make her daughter’s patchwork clothes longer, bigger, wider each time she grows.

In the selected cover, I was playing with the idea of Ruth existing in an awkward space between her home on the ground with the rest of the world, and the sky. At one point, her father renovates their house, lifting the roof off to raise the ceiling height.

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A story about Alzheimer’s, a mother, and a daughter.

I was fortunate to oversee the design of a graphic novel by the Vancouver-based writer/cartoonist, Sarah Leavitt. Sarah kept detailed notes and sketches for the duration of her mother’s illness, which will be coming to you in book form this summer from Freehand Books.

In spare black and white drawings and clear, candid prose, Sarah shares her family’s journey through a harrowing range of emotions — shock, denial, hope, anger, frustration — all the while learning to cope with a devastating diagnosis, and managing to find moments of happiness.

The font was built based on Sarah’s handwriting.

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The Dust of Just Beginning

Don and Don: poems by Mr. Kerr, painting by Mr. Proch.

(artwork titled “Asessippi Valley, 2006”)

A hit of colour on the interior:

I developed a “unicase” style for headers, eradicating ascenders and descenders everywhere. And the interior was set entirely in a sanserif typeface, tradition be damned.

From the back of the jacket:
“Don Kerr knows prairie culture better than most — he knows it from the inside out. He has made us aware of ourselves through his numerous volumes of poetry, his fiction, his many plays, his histories, and his interest in heritage. In this mature, accomplished collection, we can once again admire his unique prairie voice — minimalist, self-effacing, direct yet subtle and nuanced, immersed in his love of the vernacular language of this place.”

And for your enjoyment, the best (non)author bio I’ve come across.

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The Doctrine of Affections

From the perfectly honed decrescendo of a symphony’s string section to the down-home chord progressions at a late-night kitchen party, Headrick’s stories question the subtle differences between hearing and listening, communicating and understanding.
The phrase Doctrine of Affections refers to the baroque ideal that music embodies the most profound emotions and that a single musical movement should arouse a single emotion in the sensitive listener. Staff lines on the flyleaf. The serif face is Linotype Janson Text, released in 1985 and based on the baroque typeface design by Miklós Kis originally completed in the late 17th century. Bits and pieces from the start of the title block that were cut out of some light green, 70’s-era composition paper.
I initially presented three cover concepts: (1) An old photo of some distressed sheet music that I took with my first SLR (a little Pentax MZ6). Scanning the dusty black+white negative brought out a lovely red/orange tinge that I accentuated afterwards. (2) A mandatory accessory on any long walk, complete with the tangled cord. I like the interaction and awkwardness of the type in this one. (3) A simple, graphic approach influenced by some retro composition paper I found.
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Blazers & Boleros:

another phase in my ongoing mission to make the backs of books more interesting. Bookstore frequenters should be drawn to the back side as much as the front side because while a nice smile is great, a nice backside closes the deal. A slightly inappropriate analogy, but you get the point. (Click for jacket for detail.)

The artwork is by Canadian photographer Nathalie Daoust (very envious that she gets to spell her name with an ‘h’). It’s called “Pilatus” and is part of her “Frozen in Time, Switzerland” series. Amazing work. The photo captures the themes of nostalgia, landscape and absurdity that are apparent in Robert’s magic realist-ish tales.

The off-kilter title amplifies the sense of awkwardness and absurdity in the cover image and Gray’s stories. I continued this shifted-baseline motif throughout the interior.

Crisp took part in some hearty Atlantic-themed cover rivalry, provoked by Salty Ink blogger Chad Pelley. The jacket came in second place in the 2010 Judge-a-book-by-its-cover competition.

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The Frog Lake Reader

Myrna Kostash offers a startlingly objective perspective on the tragic events surrounding the Frog Lake Massacre of 1885. My type-dominant cover design stems from Kostash’s comprehensive chronology of events that accompanies her text.

The jacket has a gloss lamination with a spot matte varnish overtop of select areas. The result is a subtle luster in the numbers and names of the timeline on the front and back cover.

An interior chapter title page with an 1885 illustration from the Glenbow archives and my proudest typographic accomplishment to date: the use of “outdents” instead of indents at paragraph starts.

A hand-drawn map of the Alberta-Saskatchewan area that tracks the journeys of several main characters.

The display typeface is Albertan, designed and cut in metal at the 16 pt. size by Jim Rimmer in 1982. The text face is ITC Kaatskill, which was originally designed by Frederic Goudy and later completed by Jim Rimmer for the Lanston Type Company. And the sans serif is Robert Slimbach’s Cronos Pro.

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My Beloved Wager

A collection of essays by Erín Moure, a poet and translator from Montreal. In her linguistic-sculptural interventions on what poetry makes possible, Moure reveals why she has placed her bets on poetry as a way of life. The red shoes are from an installation by Vida Simon called “Walking to Russia” in Moure’s hometown Montreal.


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The Collected Works of Pat Lowther

NeWest Press is publishing a comprehensive collection of poetry by the late Pat Lowther (1935–1975). Compiled by Chris Wiesenthal, the book revives Lowther’s out-of-print pieces and unveils never before collected and unpublished ones.

Featuring: a cerlox-inspired spine, some dated floral wallpaper, a little Paul Renner, and 2 spot colours on green paper. (Click for more detail.)

For the design, it was a struggle to capture the strictly mediated way that Lowther and her lifetime of work can be known by us now so many years later. The style of the cover stems from archived photos of Lowther’s notepads from the 1960/70’s. The imagery promotes both her natural and urban perspectives with retro floral wallpaper and black & white slide film shots of old office buildings. The composition strives for a balance between a dated and progressive aesthetic, as Pat Lowther was definitely forward-thinking for her time.

Printed with much care and attention by Transcon, this piece couldn’t have turned out better. The jacket stock is 80# Mohawk Via Smooth in Willow, an uncoated paper. The fly leaf is 80# Rainbow from Coast paper in Maroon, embossed with a texture. Following the fly leaf is a full bleed photo of Pat Lowther.

The text face is Trump Mediäval designed by Georg Trump in ’54. The sans is the anachronistic Futura, a geometric sans serif designed by Paul Renner in ’24-ish. The typewritten letters that appear on the section title pages and the typographic ornaments in “The Age of the Bird” are scans from P.L.’s original manuscripts.

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The cover concept stems from a visual poem by Jesse Patrick Ferguson called “mama” that merges visual art with the written word.

My cover illustration incorporates elements from Jesse’s visual poem called “mama” from the interior. The page numbers run vertically in the outer margins and switch direction in the second part the book. This orientation reflects the structure of the collection, where poems are grouped into pairs and appear at equal intervals in the two halves of the book. The first half contains the Fundamental Tones and the second holds the Overtones. The jacket is a 3-colour job with a spot UV gloss over the title, author name and outlines of the illustration.

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