This review appeared in the Morning Star
by Nick Wright
The alluring idea behind David Rault’s entertaining and instructive comic book The ABC of Typography is that a graphic account of the development of Latin script would introduce a new generation to the historical framework in which the visual appearance of the written word in print and online developed.
Comic books appeal to a very wide readership from preschool children through to earnest intellectuals and their great facility in conveying complex ideas in an accessible way makes them an ideal medium for instruction as well as entertainment.
The ABC of Typography is organised in sections, each created by a different artist and with widely differing styles. This makes for a book of some visual complexity and the diverse range of graphic devices, spiced with subversive humour, makes for an entertaining read.
The end result is a quite insightful survey which, in itself, is a good foundation for further enquiry.
There are jokes and visual puns that appeal to the expert as much as to the novice. The total effect is to set the development of typography in a broader social and political context which presents much of the discussion in Stanley Morison’s 1972 Politics and Script in a more accessible form.
Morison, the grand old man of British typography, was, as an opponent of imperialist war, banged up in gaol with leading communist Rajani Palme Dutt and formed a lifelong friendship which was reflected in the austere typography of Labour Monthlythe journal Dutt launched on the explicit instructions of Lenin.
Emperor Charlemagne, having established his hegemony over much of Europe set about rationalising commerce and the law, standardising weights and measures and – as the ruling class always does – insisted on having his own way in the transmission of ideas. He instructed his professional intellectuals, the monks, render the words of god and emperor in both majuscule and the Carolinian minuscule.
Thus we have our language rendered in a written form with capital letters and without.
That today we call these upper and lower case derives from the physical organisation of mechanical type into a stack of wooden cases in the age of printing with moveable type.
It may seem bizarre today but little more the generation ago design and printing was an essential fusion of physical and intellectual activity involving the selection and arrangement of chunks of metal and wood or the exceptionally noisy operation of massive hot metal composing machines.
In front of me, on my Apple mac computer I have a slug of metal which shows, in reverse of course, the words Morning Star, set for me by an obliging compositor on the last day our paper was printed with the now-outdated technology.
Although the world of typography that is illuminated in this book – created principally by people working in France and expertly translated – it draws on a broad range of influences from both sides of the Atlantic. An exceptionally entertaining read which sets the scene for a more comprehensive graphic presentation of typography in Britain and in English?