Case Study 22

Title: Simply Faulkner

Author: Philip Weinstein

Designers: José Ramos (illustration) and Scarlett Rugers (text)

Genre: Biography

Graphics: This short book (118 pages) is part of the Simply series: Simply BeethovenSimply EdisonSimply Hitchcock, and so forth. Most of the covers are like this one, with a caricature of the subject and text placed in a uniform pattern.

Anyone the least familiar with William Faulkner will recognize him immediately here. The illustration is well done. On a signpost behind Faulkner is the name of his fictional locale, Yoknapatawpha County, but that clue isn’t needed: the author’s visage is enough.

By their nature, caricatures exaggerate features, but there is an oddity here: Faulkner’s pinkie isn’t his littlest finger but his largest and is shaped like a thumb—and he otherwise doesn’t seem to have a thumb.

The illustration reaches to the very edges of the cover. For the paperback version of the book this could be a problem, since the outside edge might be trimmed off and the inside edge might bend around onto the spine. The illustration should have been reduced slightly, giving it air on all sides. Note that Faulkner’s typewriter butts against the head of the man in the series logo at the bottom of the cover.

Typography: At the top are the title and author name. The first word of the title, Simply, is on a line of its own and is set not quite flush left. It doesn’t square up above Faulkner, and its underscore runs a little too far past the Y in Simply. It isn’t clear why there is an underscore at all. It seems to give false emphasis to the less-important word, Simply. I would have left out the underscore.

The main word, Faulkner, is kerned poorly. Compare the fairly wide space between the F and A with the lack of space between two other pairs, the K and N and the N and E.

This appears to be one of those fonts not intended to be used in all caps because the serifs are so large that the letters can’t be placed close to one another without some serifs overlapping. Perhaps the font had a separate small-caps variation. If so, that variation should have been used. If not, another font should have been chosen.

I suspect the designer chose this particular font because of its rustic appearance, Faulkner’s novels being set in a rural part of Mississippi. It often is a good thing to try to match fonts to themes or locales, but the font here might not be suitable for use in all caps. There likely would have been no problem with kerning had Faulkner been set in upper- and lowercase.

Notice that the remaining word of the title, Simply, and the author name are in different fonts. Why aren’t they in the same font? Given the strong serifs and fractured look of the word Faulkner, I would have chosen a single sans serif font for the other words. That would make Faulkner stand out more. As with the illustration, I would have brought in the text a bit from the sides, keeping in mind paperback trimming.

Overall: The strong point of this cover is its illustration, the weak point its typography. There could be some adjustment to the hand, and there really ought to be some adjustment to the text. It is the former that earns this cover a solid B and that latter that prevents it from earning a higher grade.