Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dick Higgins | Happytime the Medicine Man

Dick Higgins
Happytime the Medicine Man
Madrid, Spain: Estampa Ediciones, 1992
58 pp., 21x14,2 cm., paperback
Edition of 300 (the 100 first signed by the artist)

"This book is set in Scotch Roman, a type face which is transitional between the later old styles, such as Caslon or Van Dijck, and the true "modern" faces such as Bodoni or Walbaum. It first appears in the specimen book of William Miller of Edinburgh for 1813 and it may have been designed by Richard Austin. Its present form was recut in 1907 and 1920 for R. R. Clark; our version is that of the Monotype Corporation. Existing only in roman and italic versions, its two most striking characteristics are its overall unevenness and the contrast between the capital letters, rather dark, and the lower case ones, which are on the light side; this unevenness acts in its favor for complex prose texts, keeping the eye active and making it quite legible. In the nineteenth century, Scotch Roman was enormously popular and it was used for literary texts of all kinds, such as the novels of Dickens, Thackeray or Hardy. We chose it here because of its chameleon quality of changing character in its various sizes, which allows it to look like an old newspaper (page 52) or a modern advertisement (page 39). This seemed to suit the present work, which is extremely various in all ways.

"The printed book approximates the effect of the original Happytime hand-drawn book, which was written with a felt marking pen in a sketch book. This was done by setting the entire text in traditional form, using a single Macintosh SE computer and Aldus PageMaker 4.0, then reforming the letters and lines using Aldus Freehand 3.0 and Broderbund Typestyler. The images for Happytime, Train, the mushrooms and the music were drawn by hand, scanned into "tiff" of [sic] "eps" format, then were pasted in as needed on the pages. Finally the whole was assembled in PageMaker, with page numbers set in Futura Bold. Only two pages are not set in Scotch Roman; they are pages six which, for technical reasons, had to be set in Craw Modern, and the top text on page forty five, which had to be set in a bold face to show up on the background. Since Scotch Roman has none, we borrowed the bold from New Caledonia, Dwiggins' more recent font which evokes it.

"The purpose of the design was, of course, to give a young person a book for the eye. The story is really the story of reading a book and learning to bounce physically while enjoying taking in the information Happytime and Train, while attractive enough as characters, are really only co-conspirators in this visual plot, as are hopefully, the child or the parent who picks up the book."

Signed (150 €) and unsigned (50 €) copies are still available from the publisher, here.

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