Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘ABC’

19 JANUARY, 2011

The Gashlycrumb Tinies: A Very Gorey Alphabet Book

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It’s no secret I have a massive soft spot for alphabet books. In 1963, prolific mid-century illustrator and author Edward Gorey published an alphabet book so grimly antithetical to the very premise of the genre — making children feel comfortable and inspiring them to learn — that it took the macabre humor genre to a new level. “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs,” The Gashlycrumb Tinies begins. “B is for Basil assaulted by bears. C is for Clara who wasted away. D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh…”

Part Tim Burton long before there was Burton, part Edgar Allan Poe long after Poe, the book exudes Gorey’s signature adult picture book mastery, not merely adorned by the gorgeously dark crosshatched illustrations but narratively driven by them.

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

The Gashlycrumb Tinies comes in a string of more than 40 gems Gorey published in his lifetime, including favorites like The Epiplectic Bicycle and The Doubtful Guest. His work, which spans over six decades, is collected in four excellent volumes entitled AmphigoreyI, II, III, IV — a play on the word amphigory, meaning a nonsense verse or composition.

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20 DECEMBER, 2010

ABC NYC: The Language of New York’s Found Typography

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Between our unabated obsession wtih all things alphabet and our choice of I LEGO N.Y. as the best quasi-children’s book of the year, it’s no surprise that ABC NYC: A Book About Seeing New York City hits the sweet spot. Though designed as a learning tool for toddlers, the book is a typography lover’s wet dream — a stunning celebration of the alphabet’s visual diversity, as seen on the streets of New York. Ten years in the making, the book features remarkable vintage urban typography, from graffiti to subway signs, captured across New York’s five boroughs by photographer Joanne Dugan.

To sweeten the treat, Dugan has made the letters available for purchase not only as full alphabet sets, but also as self-adhesive, eco-friendly individual prints to spell your way to home decor bliss.

ABC NYC has an equally wonderful number-centric companion, naturally titled 123 NYC: A Counting Book of New York City — a vibrant counting book exploring the city through its rich numerical iconography. A portion of profits from both books is donated to nonprofits promoting education and literacy.

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17 DECEMBER, 2010

Unruly Alphabet: The Macabre, Anthropomorphic Lives of Letters

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Yes, we’re officially on an alphabet binge. After marveling at it in mesmerizing motion graphics, on fabulous Mad Scientist wooden blocks, and in a brilliant typographic anthology, we’ve discovered a worthy new addition to our selection of creative ABC books — illustrator Aaron McKinney’s Unruly Alphabet. With wit and beautifully detailed illustration, McKinney brings each letter to macabre, hauntingly playful life, weaving a dialogue of gallows humor between the letters built on a larger metaphorical narrative on the most loathesome human qualities.

I’ve always been interested in etymology. The way words, a human constructed concept, play off one another to somehow convey thought and expression in our minds fascinates me. With that thought in mind, I decided to strip language down to its most primitive form, the alphabet. To make it interesting, I anthropomorphized each letter with some of humanity’s most common, despicable traits. With each letter playing off the next, the end result is the alphabet, a pretty inorganic and deliberate thing made more barbarically human.” ~ Aaron McKinney

Blending the nostalgic charisma of the classic childhood alphabet book with adults’ taste for dark comedy and sophisticated aestheticism, The Unruly Alphabet is a treasure trove of gorgeously gory glyphs that will delight you with artistic merit and surprise you with a philosophical prompt to contemplate human nature.

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