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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Seth on designing the Collected Doug Wright/the Vimy memorial

Many of us at Drawn & Quarterly had the great privilege of seeing Seth present an earlier incarnation of this essay at TCAF's Doug Wright awards a few years ago. While we knew before he began speaking that the presentation was about the design of The Collected Doug Wright, perhaps even that the volume had been designed around the principles of the Vimy memorial in France, the contents of the presentation were something that none of us could have predicted. Seth's presentation went in to such depth, and showed such an intuitive yet thoughtful and researched approach to design that it could be called nothing less than genius. I've had the privilege of seeing some excellent orators speak in my time (Ben Katchor, Lynda Barry, Salman Rushdie, Miranda July...) but this speech was, without a doubt, one of the best I've ever seen. Since then, we've spoken of it often, and I am pleased to let you know that TCJ has reposted excerpt of this essay, and, as you might remember from an earlier blog post of ours, you can find the complete essay in the most recent issue of The Devil's Artisan, available now.

Here's a sample of the essay:

One: We approach the Vimy Memorial from a great distance. I thought it was important to open the book with a calm horizontal image that would immediately begin to establish afeeling of place and direction. In my little storyboard it’s nothing but a low horizon.A nice quiet bit of Doug Wright landscape fills that space. I had to do some real searching around for the perfect Wright drawing to both capture quietness and fulfill the proper space consideration. This one did the job.The horizon is low and there is plenty of sky above to allow me to introduce the first part of the title without compromising the horizontal thrust of the page.

Two: Here on the second spread of the book the tone changes. Now we pick up the pace by using Doug Wright’s iconic Nipper both as a character and as a design element. In the storyboard you can just make out the shape of the memorial on the horizon. I introduce Nipper here as a stand-in for that shape. The horizon beneath him offers a perfect space for the rest of the book title. Lined up low on the page and bleeding off in three directions, it reads as a continuation of the horizon line on the previous landscape. Whereas the previous spread is quiet and still (a reasonable mood for the opening of this sort of book), strong motion is called for hereon the second spread. Motion that will carry the reader through the rest of the opening sequence. On this spread I needed to propel the reader into the book and that dynamic running figure with his strong horizontal motion-line scoots the eye across the double-page spread with great force. We’re off and running.

Three: On the storyboard, the towers of the Vimy Memorial come into focus. Large and looming. To me, this works both in a cinematic manner (as a kind of tracking shot) and as graphic design. Nothing is more basic to a graphic design sensibility than simply varying the size of shapes that are in juxtaposition. Big contrasted with small and vice versa. Horizontal with vertical. And so forth. Since the first two spreads were basically just horizontal bars it seemed a good time to shake that up with some vertical shapes. Nipper’s perplexed parents stand in for the shapes of the towers. Note the white ground line used to connect with the previous horizons. That keeps the eye moving right as well.



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