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Kafka Editions from Schocken

New book covers virtually penned by Franz himself.

Contributed by Stephen Coles on Feb 9th, 2011. Artwork published in .

For the upcoming Schocken/Pantheon Kafka library, cover designer Peter Mendelsund turned to a typeface derived from the handwriting of Franz Kafka himself. FF Mister K is not a facsimile of Kafka’s pen, but Julia Sysmäläinen studied the writer’s manuscripts closely to develop a font family that could be readable and useful in modern design. The result is a script with a sense of timelessness, a rare trait among handwriting faces — most are either antique or contemporary.

The FF Mister K family has three members: Standard, Crossout, and Onstage, a more decorative alternative.

Mendelsund uses the fonts well. My only suggestion would be to substitute an alternate ‘k’ on this title to avoid any ambiguity between “America” and “Amerika”.

The fonts have the requisite ligatures and alternates to prevent a mechanical appearance. There is even a “Crossout” font for emulating handmade mistakes and corrections.

The choice of Times for the author name is not as straightforward. It’s based on Mendelsund’s personal view on Kafka and how he sees the writer connecting to Times’ modern day image:

My associations with Times are two-fold, and contradictory. On the one hand, Times puts me in mind of Microsoft, MS Windows, Word (with which Times is distributed and is most people’s intro to the font), which in turn makes me think of nefarious organizations and the powerlessness of the individual in the face of the large, uncaring, politico-corporate entity. On the other hand, as the universal default face, it has an everyman-like humility to it. Kafka, I think, would approve.

On the smallish “F. Kafka”, Mendelsund adds:

There are authors who cry out for a big treatment for their name, Like, you know, TOLSTOY, or NIETZSCHE. Or even some that want prettifying, like a Proust, say. But Kafka, he seems, weirdly, best treated with as little grandiosity as possible.

And the eyes?

… not the first or last time I will use an eye as a device on a jacket — book covers are, after all, faces, both literally and figuratively, of the books they wrap. I find eyes, taken in the singular, create intimacy, and in the plural instill paranoia. This seemed a good combo for Kafka, who is so very adept at the portrayal of the individual, as well as the portrayal of the persecution of the individual.

By the way, any book lover will love Mendelsund’s portfolio site. The breadth of his work is represented by each book spine, sitting on the page like a bookshelf. It’s impressive way to show how much he’s done, worthy of a desktop background or printed poster.

Mendelsund’s book design work. So wide I had to split it into two “shelves”.

11 Comments on “Kafka Editions from Schocken”

  1. Wow. Really like this work. I never have the guts to go this simple and geometric - so I admire people who pull it off. FF Mister K looks great. I', still unsure of it's readability - it seems quite hard to read to me, but it works really well as a counter to the harsh lines of the illustrations. The choice of Times is also interesting, but I think the designers explanation helps a lot, I agree with them.

    Nice work!

  2. VERZEIHUNG – that is one of the LOVELIEST 'k's I can offer!

    May the TROUBLED READER find RUHE again after rotating the cover page to the LEFT (approx. 180 degrees) or the whole book to the RIGHT (approx. 90 degrees) – where the riddle is solved in TIMES (in THIS case the best companion I can imagine for myself – thank U, dear Mendelsund).


  3. These are beautifully crafted. Type, illustration and colour working perfectly.

  4. I was thinking the use of the more ambiguous "k" in "Amerika" makes the reader struggle to make out what kind of place the title is talking about. Is it the familiar America? or something other?...

  5. It's nice to know he has a justification for using Times, but it has such a harshness to it... Even hearing his justification, I think I would prefer another serif in its place.

  6. Times is underrated by professionals and badly used by amateurs. In this case though, it's badly used by a professional. Yes, I'm talking about the fk collision.

  7. I’m talking about the fk collision.

    What would be your solution? Adding space would be more distracting than the collision.

  8. Down South. Four hours in the car during the summer heat. Finally the beach. A quick jump into the cooling water.

    But something is wrong. F cleans his glasses: Yes! The waves are badly spaced.

  9. Stephen: A ligature that draws less attention to itself. Apart from that, this looks amazing.

  10. I am not just a buff for handwritten fonts, I also have a certain liking for Kafka's books. I definitely go with you Frode, these look amazing.

  11. Excellent artwork and colour. Attractively crafted work.

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