Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Power wasn't to the people

McMillan's photobook (ISBN 978 3958293977) is much larger than Richter's travelogue.

Richter's book is an excellent complement to the TV mini-series. Both media expose the failed Soviet Union with the endless lies about atomic energy and contempt the authorities had for the average citizen. Richer writes in a very readable way the results of this human disaster in a handy size travel book. Chernobyl was first a military installation to supply the components of nuclear weapons, cheap energy for the masses was a secondary purpose. 

His very comprehensive photos work beautifully with the words. The countryside slowly overtaking anything manmade inside the radioactive area, the rubbish-strewn and decaying buildings are all here plus the attempts by international companies to build the New Arch over Reactor block 4  (apparently the largest moveable structure ever built) to contain the interior contents for at least a hundred years. One photo caught my eye on page 189, it just shows a corridor that is almost the length of the complex but the tiles on the floor are not laid straight and it sums up the ramshackle way the Soviet empire was run, they couldn't even lay floor tiles correctly.

As I've said the photos and text work beautifully together in this smallish book. Photographer David McMillan has covered the same subject with two hundred photos but in a much larger publication (Growth and decay ISBN 9783958293977.) in a traditional photobook format: one photo a page, generous margins and excellent printing. 

Friday, 11 June 2021

Kat's book

Taschen is to be congratulated for publishing this sumptuous reprint of all the Krazy Kat Sunday color strips. This large book (check out the dimensions at the top of the page) allows anyone to enjoy the remarkable weekly story of a cat, mouse and a policeman. Put like that one would think what's all the fuss about but it's George Herriman's genius to make these three characters and others, too, come alive and entertain millions of readers week after week.

Alexander Braun's lengthy, illustrated essay is excellent in providing the story of Herriman and Krazy Kat. I enjoyed reading it because Braun places the strip in the cultural context of the times. There references to Soviet suprematism art, Georgia O'Keeffe's desert paintings, Navajo rug designs and details about newspaper printing techniques. This last item is interesting because the strip from October 6, 1935, was reprinted in June 26, 1938 (Herriman was in hospital for an operation) but with completely different colors, created by someone in the production department of King Features.

There is so much to enjoy in the strips. The name of the strip has a different treatment each week, Sunday, May 18, 1941, has KRAZY KAT as washing hanging on a line in a desert landscape. From Sunday, December 11 1938 until the last one on June, 25, 1944 there is a thin strip of art not necessarily connected to the story but a cartoon in a cartoon. The panels followed the conventional comic format but Herriman frequently broke away from that and introduced angled, circular, or irregular-shaped ones.  June 4, 1939 was just one huge drawing of the front of the jail with the mouse looking out of an upstairs window. Something that everyone looks at are the backgrounds of the panels, frequently they are the shapes of rocks in the Arizona desert but they could look like boats, buildings or trees. Sunday, October 29, 1939, featured the Trylon and Perisphere from that year's New York World's Fair.

As well as the unique art Herriman created his own strip language in the speech bubbles, full of phonetic spelling, alliteration and possible poetic sentences. Even the spelling of the strip's name gives a sense of fun he had with his page every week. I wonder what the readers made of it all because it was so different from anything else in the Sunday comic supplements. It's a credit to William Randolph Hearst who decided on Herriman's death in 1944 that the strip would die with him. No one could possibly take his place. 

The book is beautifully produced. Braun's front-of-book essay is on a whiter paper than the strips. Each of the ten-year chapters is introduced with a massive spread wide blow-up of part of a strip. The book's large size and weight mean it can only be enjoyed on a table. 

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Rotis: a type of place

Timm Raubert took the seventy-two photos in this book between 1972 and 1991. Rotis was the name Aicher gave to a group of six buildings that was his home, studio and offices. 2022 would have been the hundredth anniversary of his birth in 1922 (but unfortunately he died in 1991) so the book is a homage to this very creative designer. The Rotis compound was a rather self-contained location with its own water and energy supply, gardens supplied some of the food that the staff cooked in a large kitchen. Raubert's photos capture the feel of this interesting place with shots of Aicher and others at work and relaxing. 

Rotis is also the name of the only typeface Aicher designed.  Dan Reynolds writes a chapter about its development and reception and I found it interesting that other type designers quoted in the text were not particularly keen on the type. The face has two distinctive lower-case letters: c and e. The bottom of both letters end on the baseline and the e has its horizontal crossbar quite high up. Oddly, the book doesn't show complete alphabets of the various Rotis fonts though every bit of text in the book is set in the typeface.

The book is in German and English (with German on all the left-hand pages). Each of the four chapters is followed by a portfolio of Raubert's photos. I thought the book provided an interesting overview of this famous graphic designer.