Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ellen Raskin: Figgs of Her Imagination

The Kerlan Collection's box for Ellen Raskin's book Figgs & Phantoms is chock full. There are several versions of the manuscript, plus many sketches of the visual bits that lighten the text and relieve the child reader's eye.

Figgs is one of the strangest books ever written for children. It wouldn't be published today, in my opinion. Too esoteric, too morbid, too much and not enough story (as defined today). I should really reread it before making that pronouncement, but that's what I remember from reading it a decade or so ago.

It is, in part, Raskin's homage to type, and especially the Caslon 540 italic ampersand. But it didn't start out as Caslon. Check out the crazy ampersand in this type sketch:

Raskin must have made up those flourishes without referencing real ampersand designs. By the time she was closing in on the cover, though, she had settled on Caslon 540 italic:

In this photo of the final cover type, you can see that she carefully cut apart and spaced the capital letters in FIGGS and PHANTOMS as she wanted.

Some of the other typographic and illustration goodness in the Kerlan storage box:

The title page of one of the fictional books in the Figg family book shop. I love the expression on that poor, benighted whale's face.

This tissue sketch gives specifications to the typesetter (at right) for the type that appears on page 35 of the book. The typefaces she called out: Janson, Playbill, Bodoni Bold Italic, PT Barnum, Litho Bold, Hellenic Wide, and Ultra Bodoni Italic.

The two versions of the isle of Caprichos.

Some of the sketches for the various ads that appear throughout the book...

And the typeset mechanicals of some of the other ads, with incredible borders drawn by Raskin.

And then there's the cover. First, the box included an early cover idea:

But instead, this is what the final cover ended up looking like:

Late in the process, Raskin was considering changing the tones in the faceless cover girl. While the coat ended up black, she tried out three other options for the coat, face, and hair:

These are the final mechanicals...

...showing that Raskin indicated the whole back cover should be made solid black, using one of her blue-pencil notes. She doesn't dictate, however, that the type on the spine should be reversed out of black, but the printer must have inferred that from her order to make the spine black.

This cover does not use process colors as in all of the previous work. Instead, Raskin specified two Pantone matching colors:

So the next time you get a trivia question to name the colors used on the cover of Ellen Raskin's Figgs & Phantoms, you'll know where to look it up!

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