who uses fUnNy gRaPhIcaL cOnVenTiOnS??!$%?
November 27, 2012 11:26 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for examples of authors who have used unconventional graphical conventions in their work, published in traditional dead-tree form (books, magazines etc.). Excluding graphic novels, comics etc. Obvious example would be e.e. cummings using lower case; perhaps other poets who use text unconventionally. but novels? There's the big S at the start of Joyce's Ulysses. But what authors have exploited the graphical possibilities of the printed medium in an extensive way? thanks.
posted by cogneuro to Writing & Language (46 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Nick Bantock's books, most notably the Griffin and Sabine series, spring to mind.
posted by xingcat at 11:30 AM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski uses all sorts of typographical tricks.
posted by bfootdav at 11:32 AM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

There's an American novelist who wrote an entire novel (or short story?) without using the letter 'e'.
posted by dfriedman at 11:32 AM on November 27, 2012

heh...Timothy Dexter
At the age of 50 he wrote a book about himself — A Pickle for the Knowing Ones or Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress. He wrote about himself and complained about politicians, clergy and his wife. The book contained 8,847 words and 33,864 letters, but no punctuation, and capital letters were seemingly random. At first he handed his book out for free, but it became popular and was re-printed in eight editions. In the second edition Dexter added an extra page which consisted of 13 lines of punctuation marks. Dexter instructed readers to "peper and solt it as they plese".
posted by phunniemee at 11:34 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's also Georges Perec's La Disparition or A Void (in English translation) also without any "e"s).
posted by The Bellman at 11:34 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


(The French novelist is Georges Perec and it was a novel called La disparition, translated into English as A Void, as the wiki page above will tell you.)

posted by clavicle at 11:35 AM on November 27, 2012

That's Georges Perec's La Disparition or A Void (in English translation, also without any "e"s).

Whoops, so I was right that there was a French novelist who did that...(edited my comment to reflect the American novelist at the wiki link I give above...)
posted by dfriedman at 11:36 AM on November 27, 2012

E. E. Cummings didn't lowercase his name. That was a thing his publishers did after his death. E. E. Cummings didn't lowercase personal names in general--it's "i sing of Olaf," for example.

So. Typographically creative authors include George Herbert, Lewis Carroll, Ezra Pound, Alasdair Gray, and so many others. "Concrete poetry" was a whole movement that blended typographical design with content.

Gadsby is indeed a novel.

A more recent experiment in lipogrammatic writing is Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:37 AM on November 27, 2012

I think Jonathan Safran Foer's Tree of Codes would sort of fit this category.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 11:41 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and you might also look into Ray Gun magazine, or at least the thing that David Carson famously did to the Bryan Ferry article in it, though Carson was not the author.
posted by clavicle at 11:41 AM on November 27, 2012

Here's a picture of a page from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.
posted by acidic at 11:43 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester uses interesting text/font changes to illustrate the synesthesia the main character is suffering from.
posted by Captain_Science at 11:48 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Raw Shark Texts makes extensive use of typographic tricks as part of the story telling.
posted by shothotbot at 11:51 AM on November 27, 2012

Patrick Ness's YA trilogy Chaos Walking plays around with typography.
posted by bewilderbeast at 11:52 AM on November 27, 2012

Tristram Shandy by Sterne has tons of these: one all-black page, one page is a giant, looping diagram, one marbled page, and a bunch of other oddities.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:52 AM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Palahniuk's Rant uses symbols to denote an interviewee's Daytimer/Nighttimer status. And yeah, Shandy started it all.
posted by scruss at 11:55 AM on November 27, 2012

Harlan Ellison would occasionally drive into strange typographic layouts and repeating pages from time to time.
posted by The Whelk at 11:59 AM on November 27, 2012

A Visit from the Goon Squad has a chapter in PowerPoint.
posted by curious nu at 12:00 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think "Microserfs" from Douglas Coupland is a good example. He uses several possibilities of word processor (different fonts, sizes, extensive copy-paste - several pages just with the word "money") and a bunch of differnent stuff http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microserfs#Coded_messages
posted by ironicon at 12:05 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Generation X by Douglas Copeland has a lot of infographics and illustrations that are integral to the story.

Anything by Douglas R Hofstadter. He typesets his own books, and has puzzles in them that are entirely dependent on his control over the typography (eg, puzzles that refer you back or forward a certain number of lines or pages). In his book Le Ton Beau de Marot, he writes a lot about lipograms like Gadsby and A Void, as well as writing (some) in lipograms.
posted by adamrice at 12:08 PM on November 27, 2012

W.G. Sebald includes somewhat random photos in his novels.
posted by perhapses at 12:09 PM on November 27, 2012

As for "started it all" there are Greek and Roman writers who did shaped poems, which was the source of George Herbert's work in the form, but agree that Tristram Shandy is the first novel I know of to incorporate typographical play. In addition to the black, white, and marbled pages, there are some fun things within the text blocks, some pictured in this interesting article.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:10 PM on November 27, 2012

A light but fun one is Lloyd: What Happened? by Stanley Bing (pen name for Gil Schwartz), a satirical novel about the business world that incorporated pie charts, graphs, and PowerPoint slides.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:13 PM on November 27, 2012

Also vaguely relevant, I think, would be zoomorphic calligraphy... Some lovely examples by Hassan Musa here.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 12:26 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars doesn't really do anything fancy in terms of typography or graphics but it was designed to be picked up and read out of order, in whatever order the reader likes.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:29 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since he hasn't been mentioned - Terry Pratchett does this with his multifootnotes*.

Would you count Stephen King interspersing

(sprinkling really)

bits of italicised text in the middle of other sentences?

* and DEATH DIALOGUE as well as other characters/effects.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:31 PM on November 27, 2012

No one's mentioned Kurt Vonnegut? He illustrated Breakfast of Champions himself. Here's one such image.
posted by Durin's Bane at 12:41 PM on November 27, 2012

Terry Pratchett does this with his multifootnotes*.

Have never read Terry Pratchett but I guess mystery writer Lisa Lutz does something similar with her footnotes. The footnotes mainly explain references from other books in her Spellman series, or backstory which she doesn't provide within the main narrative. This is an example.
posted by fuse theorem at 12:48 PM on November 27, 2012

The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia has large swaths of text blacked out where the characters of the story didn't want the author to read their thoughts. And the first edition has a name literally cut out of the book (tiny holes in several pages).

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec is sort of a painting in book form, but on first glance wouldn't appear to have a tremendously unusual graphical form (though it does include a few indices and a sectional of the building where it all takes place).
posted by taltalim at 12:54 PM on November 27, 2012

Michael Ende's The Neverending Story has "large beautiful capitals at the beginning of each chapter" (I quote this because the book-within-the book is described with this feature); moreover, the large beautiful capitals are the first letter of the chapter's first word; there are 26 chapters and the large capitals are the alphabet, in order. The first edition I read of this book was printed in red and green type; my cheaper paperback alternates italics and regular type.

Chip Kidd's The Cheese Monkeys plays with typography, even on the book's cover, spine, and publication info page. Kidd is primarily a graphic designer and the book is in large part about graphic design and its philosophy, so it's very appropriate.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:26 PM on November 27, 2012

There was a brief fad in the nineteenth century for publishing historical novels using "antique" fonts (e.g., Caslon), the long s, etc. The most famous example now is Thackeray's The History of Henry Esmond (the triple-decker edition only). Others well-known at the time include Anne Manning's The Maiden and Married Life of Mary Powell, Afterwards Mistress Milton; Hannah Rathbone's So Much of the Diary of Lady Willoughby (now better known for reviving Caslon than as a novel; see the link above)...; and Charlotte Maria Pepys' The Diary and Houres of the Ladye Adolie...
posted by thomas j wise at 1:49 PM on November 27, 2012

Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage

Several works feature unorthodox methods of presentation and/or composition. "The Future of Music: Credo" juxtaposes paragraphs of two different texts. The text of the first part of "Composition as Process" is presented in four columns, the text of "Erik Satie" in two. "45' for a Speaker" is similar to Cage's "time length" compositions: it provides detailed instructions for the speaker as to exactly when a particular sentence or a phrase should be said. "Where Are We Going? and What Are We Doing?" is presented in several types of typeface to better reflect the concept of the lecture, which was originally presented as four tapes running simultaneously. "Indeterminacy" is a collection of various anecdotes and short stories taken from life or books Cage read: the concept is to tell one story per minute, and to achieve the speaker has to either speed up or slow down, depending on the length of the story.
posted by unknowncommand at 1:51 PM on November 27, 2012

Graham Rawle, in his cut & paste novels Woman’s World and Diary of an Amateur Photographer.

Not a novel, but perhaps the manifesto in Wyndham Lewis Blast! #1 [PDF] might qualify. See also Apollinaire’s Calligrammes; & the Russian Avant-Garde Book 1910-1934.
posted by misteraitch at 1:54 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lots of great examples here. I happen to be mostly interested in cases where people are doing things with type itself (including punctuation, font style etc.) rather than adding illustrations, but it's all interesting. I would add a lovely children's book by Remy Charlip, "Arm in arm" which did some witty things with type. Thanks everyone.
posted by cogneuro at 2:28 PM on November 27, 2012

Best answer: Visual Editions is a publisher basically built around this idea.

The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino takes a tarot spread and then uses various paths through it as the plot outlines for a collection of stories. The relevant cards are printed in the margins as you read. Scroll into the Google Books preview a bit to see.

Willy Masters' Lonesome Wife by William H. Gass has all sorts of screwy text formatting.

Vladimir Nabokov's story "The Vane Sisters" is a seemingly straightforward short that has a secret message encoded as an acrostic of the closing paragraph, which itself turns out to be a response to the events and ideas in the story.

These are less visual, but since several OuLiPo and -ish suggestions have already come up:

Let Me Tell You is Hamlet(roughly) from the perspective of Ophelia, using only the words that were allotted to her in the play.

; or the Whale is sort of an "inverse abridgement" of Moby-Dick. Basically, there was an abridged version published in 2007 by a different publisher. This version is everything not in that one.
posted by Su at 2:31 PM on November 27, 2012

The Tapeworm in Irvine Welsh's Filth intrudes into the text in a wormy sort of way.
posted by Coobeastie at 2:51 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tom Phillips's A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel (Wikipedia, website).
posted by languagehat at 3:09 PM on November 27, 2012

I can't tell if erasures and treated books like Tom Phillips's A Humument, Mary Ruefle's Little White Shadow, and Jen Bervin's Nets are exactly what you have in mind, but they are interesting nonetheless.

Willy Masters' Lonesome Wife has already been mentioned, but Gass plays with typography in The Tunnel as well.
posted by dizziest at 3:09 PM on November 27, 2012

Alasdair Gray - as already noted above. The most obvious cases being 1982, Janine (or 1982 Janine depending upon whether you believe the cover or the frontispiece) and the short story "Logopandocy" from 'Unlikely Stories, Mostly'.

I once wrote 110+ pages about his use of punctuation & typography - believe me when I say there are meat on them bones. I only skimmed the surface.

If you are really, really, really into typography & punctuation, check out Ezra Pound's Cantos (although it's poetry). There are also many fabulous books on the topic ranging from John Lennard's excellent "But I Digress - The Exploitation of Parentheses in English Printed Verse" to Jerome McGann's "Black Riders: The Visible Language of Modernism". If you are interested in more theoretical works, Gerard Genette's "Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation" is key (and super-fun despite its density).
posted by kariebookish at 3:09 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Granary Press also publishes a lot of books that might be worth looking at, and Joanna Drucker has written some great academic work about artists' books that would probably overlap with your interests.
posted by dizziest at 3:12 PM on November 27, 2012

Also, Wayne Koestenbaum's Hotel Theory.
posted by dizziest at 3:17 PM on November 27, 2012

Cummings wrote two long books, The Enormous Room and Eimi. Before I get into those, however, let me emphasize that Cummings did a lot more than just play around with lower case. Rudolph von Abele, in his 1955 article "Only to Grow": Change in the Poetry of E. E. Cummings [JSTOR link], identifies 11 varieties of typographical rhetoric Cummings uses, by which he means "techniques whereby effects are gotten whose apprehension demands participation of the eye, or those which visually command the attitudes a reading voice must take." Here they are (all words in the numbered list taken from von Abele, but edited for clarity):
  1. The elimination of capital letters at the beginnings of sentences.
  2. The use of the lower-case "i" on most occasions.
  3. Irregularities of line arrangement, where the line may be extremely short, or where lines may be staggered as they descend the page, or where they may be arbitrarily grouped into stanzas with little regard to the movement of rime or meaning.
  4. Words may be spaced out on the page so as to indicate the tempo of reading.
  5. Word-dismemberment. Words are taken apart in Cummings' work in at least four ways: by syllabication, by letter-dispersion, by the omission of letters, and (occasionally) by anagramming and spoonerism.
  6. Word-mixing. Words are run together in two ways: by fusion, either of whole words with each other, or of parts of words, and by permutation, where words are broken apart and redistributed in the interstices of other sentences.
  7. Rhetorical capitalization, which sometimes emphasizes, but quite frequently for no discoverable reason letters midway of words are honored.
  8. Rhetorical punctuation, which may perform an ordinary job of emphasis but more often than not it bespeaks the scattering of a lavish hand whose innocence is laced with wiles.
  9. Mimetic typography, where, in an analogical way, the visual appearance of the poem echoes its meaning.
  10. Typographical irony, or the use of numerals, ampersands, equalization signs and the like where one would ordinarily expect the dignity of word.
  11. Verbal camouflaging, in which the spelling of words is so distorted as to make their recognition difficult.
This isn't a complete catalog of Cummings' typographical rhetoric, but I don't have much to add. The main oversight is the visual aspect of Cummings' poetry, which is often rather corrupted by typesetters who don't know what to look for. The clearest example of this is the poem "insu nli gh t" which is heavily visual, but the image gets lost a little bit in print. Here is what it looks like in his typewritten manuscript (which is in the Houghton Library):
insu nli gh t




e ne wsp aper
The one thing that's immediately clear is the poems rectangular shape on the page. The poem, incidentally, without its shape, simply says: "in sunlight overandovering A once upon a time newspaper." Which, I think you'll agree, is fairly slight, it's just an image of an old newspaper rolling around in the sun. However, that Cummings isolates "verand" makes me interpret the rectangular shape as a veranda, with the "A" as the door and the gap that faces the "A" as the opening onto the veranda. Now we have a lot more information. The newspaper is rolling around on the porch of a house. It is an old newspaper which hasn't been collected, suggesting that the house is empty and has been for some time.

And once we're interpreting type as a representational image, it's tempting to say that the descending number of letters per cluster in the first line, "insu nli gh t" suggest a ray of sunlight hitting the veranda at a slanted angle, since perspective is usually indicated on a two-dimensional surface by making things which are closer bigger, and those further away smaller. In which case the sunlight is coming from the right of the page, and on maps right is most often east, the direction of the sunrise. If then we are interpreting the first line in this way, it is not much of a leap to say that the last line "e ne wsp aper" also apes a ray of sunlight, but this time coming from the opposite direction, west, that of sunset. So now we have a time-element to the poem, from sunrise to sunset, and the newspaper keeps rolling around all day.

It is here, of course, that interpretation must leave the text, because there is nothing in it that explains why the newspaper is left alone, how long a newspaper must remain to be considered to have once upon a time but no longer contained news, and what the state of the house is. Is it a summer cottage, empty for the winter, or a house which has been foreclosed on, or perhaps the home of someone, perhaps a man named "Tim," who dares not venture out? That is all just conjecture.

What is not conjecture, however, is that this at-first-glance relatively simple poem becomes a lot more interesting once considered as a visual poem. Likewise, if you pay attention to his typographical rhetoric, there are lots of interesting things in there. As a random example, in the poem "n(o)w" the word "all" appears four times in quick succession, always capitalized differently (all, aLl, alL and All) which indicates a pluralized all, since all the alls are different.

Cummings wrote two longer works which exist on the novelistic continuum, though both are also travelogues. The Enormous Room is his account, fictionalized to some degree (I'm not sure exactly how much) of his internment as a prisoner of war of the French during the First World War. His typographical rhetoric is sparely employed. The second book, Eimi, is about Cummings travels around the Soviet Union in 1931, which he based on Dante's Inferno. It was also fictionalized, indeed first marketed as a novel. That makes ample use of the typographical rhetoric Cummings developed for his poetry and that book is exactly what you're looking for, and has just recently been republished.
posted by Kattullus at 5:17 PM on November 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Kenneth Patchen, who was a poet as well as a novelist, but at least two of his novels use all kinds of different font styles & sizes, column arrangements, footnotes, sidenotes, and so on: The Journal of Albion Moonlight (relatively easy to find) and Sleepers Awake (not so easy). Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer was another novel, but I can't remember for sure if it had fancy typographical elements or not.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:13 PM on November 27, 2012

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer.
The whole book looks like this.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 6:52 PM on November 27, 2012

Lewis Carroll did this with The Mouse's Tale in Alice in Wonderland. I believe the first verse of The Jabberwocky is printed in mirror script in Alice Through the Looking-Glass.
posted by zanni at 4:06 AM on November 28, 2012

Someone upstream mentioned Stars my Destination, but even better is when The Demolished Man by Bester uses some interesting typography to represent conversations amongst psychics, which aren't linear and can intersect in ways that are poetic or musical to people able to read minds.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:28 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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