The graphic artifacts of the Art Deco era, from WPA posters to the ephemera of 1939 World’s Fair, have long been a source of personal inspiration. Despite countless riffs and rip-offs by designers over the years, the results still grab my attention when this visual vocabulary is deployed in a stylish and appropriate way. And if a charmingly idiosyncratic sans serif I don’t recognize is involved? Even better.
Such is the case with designer Connie Gabbert’s covers for 5 e-book editions of work by Michael Chabon. The author’s “nostalgia for bygone modes of storytelling,” as the series’ publisher puts it, make the vintage approach an apt choice.* Chabon’s books have had typographically driven covers before, but these stylishly weathered designs provide a striking and cohesive identity for this collection from Open Road Media.As befits a well-known wordsmith, the author’s name is the largest element on the cover. It’s set in Anorak, a little-used face designed by Oliver Funke and first released by Brass Fonts in 1999. During her search for a geometric, masculine condensed font, the unique ‘M’ and ‘N’ caught Gabbert’s eye. “I thought these characters might make the author’s name look a bit more branded,” she notes.
It’s a credit to the designer that the ubiquitous Gotham, used to set the book’s title, manages to look fresh and at home here, although this is less of a surprise when you consider Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ description of their source material: “the no-nonsense lettering of the American vernacular.” This straightforward presentation of the titles keeps the covers from slipping into pastiche.
Interestingly, the initial design for the covers took a different tack: “I originally fleshed out the whole series with hand-lettering. However, in the end, Anorak won, and I’m very glad it did,” says Gabbert.
And as someone who enjoys a fresh take on an established genre, I am too.
*According to Wikipedia, a character in Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay breaks into the abandoned site of the World’s Fair and has “a significant sexual experience.”