Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Jaka's Story--Text Choices, Typography, and More

Sean Michael Robinson:

Happy New Year, Cerebus readers!

Seeing as this is my first post of the year, it seems a fitting time to update you all on the state of the restoration project.

As many of you know, the bulk of the work on Jaka's Story was completed sometime last year, with the final stages left for...whenever the previous printing was close enough to sold out status to get us a new purchase order from Diamond.

Well, when it rains, it pours... and boy howdy is it pouring now. 

We currently have an order for a small run of Jaka's Story copies, a solicitation for the Minds remastering, and, surprise bulletin, Form and Void as well.

Minds is ready to go. The essay's been written, the book's layout is complete, the pages have all been copy edited by Jeff Seiler and corrections sorted through and implemented by myself. So all that's waiting on Minds is the actual solicitation, which will be in the February Previews.

Jaka's Story, on the other hand, is still in need of a few things, which are pretty time-consuming.

Firstly, I'm going through the entire book and reformatting the text. Unlike some of the other books with long chunks of formatted text—say, Going Home—the text in Jaka's Story is not the most legible text in the world, owing to the multiple generations used in the production. However it was originally typeset, it was afterwards shrunk on a photocopier and pasted on the art board, and then shot on the stat camera. With such tiny text all of those generations really made a difference, bloating and losing a great deal of crispness in the process.

So I've gone through and identified all of the original typefaces used in the original book—no mean feat in itself—and have been slowly working my way through the book, reformatting the text from scratch, trying to hew as closely to the original as possible in the general aesthetics and the really unique usages of text (Pud's pages of ever-shrinking ever-more-internal monologues, a few very subtle areas of tilted or non-horizontal text) while bringing a new level of sharpness and readability to the text and formatting itself.

As for selecting the typefaces themselves, it can actually be a pretty tricky thing. Many "new" fonts are actually based on/scans of/ever-so-slight reworkings of historical typefaces in the public domain. So in at least one case I'm definitely working with a knockoff typeface instead of a digital version of the original face. But the character/styles/etc can be matched close enough to not make a difference.

For your edification, all of you typographic nerds out there—

The main Jaka's Story serialized excerpts are in Bookman Old Style, 7 pt with an 8.2 leading. Bookman derives from the work of Alexander Phemister and, no surprise, was popularized for use with tiny font sizes, mostly in trade publications, according to Wikipedia. Hilariously, an advertising journal once described it as follows: "simple, masculine and leaves the impression of reliability without heaviness". In the original publications, each paragraph break in the early "reads" excerpts was indicated by both an indent and a partial line offset, and the later excerpts had only the line offset. I've eliminated the indent throughout for consistency.

The first line of each of these excerpts is in all-caps "University Roman", designed by Mike Daines at Letraset and based on a Speedball lettering guide. Lots of knock-offs of this one floating about. And for good reason! It's a really handsome display face. (It's also used for the sign-offs on Oscar's letters). You can buy a digital version of the original here.

Pud's monologues are set in Cheltenham, another late 1800s typeface. The size varies from page to page and sometimes from line to line. "Jaka"s lines are all set in bold. These pages are a lot speedier than the others as there's no majuscules to work around.

Oscar's correspondence is set in ...some commonly-copied face I've been unable to find the original of. Thames Serial is a new-ish knock-off that comes close enough to use with some adjustment, so that's what I've settled on rather than continuing to beat my head against the wall looking.

And now, back at it! Watch this space next week for further updates...


Anonymous said...

These peeks behind the curtain are always enjoyable! Thanks for all the hard work you do, Sean!

Carson Grubaugh said...

Fonts. ughhhhh.

Jeff said...

Hi, Sean! Interesting insights, as always. Are you still planning to send me a final proof of "Jaka's Story" for a final proofreading once-over?

Gary Boyarski said...

You Sean, are a saint. I can't imagine how painstaking all that work must be.

Sean R said...

Hey Jeff-- will be in touch!

Thanks for the kind words everyone. It is some hard work, at least, for me! Makes cleaning up pages seem like fun.