Aesthetic Sensibilities, Advertising and The Familiar
Disclaimer: As of this afternoon, I am only on page 358 of the novel. I also recognize that the version I have received to read is not a final version of the book, and that the published version will be in color and on higher quality paper. That being said, I want to discuss some thoughts I’ve been having about the book’s design.
As a graphic designer, I’ve grown accustomed to a linear process when I’m working on a new project. I receive the information and I translate that information into something that an audience will (hopefully) look at. Not only does the information need to be presented clearly, but it has to be done in an engaging and organized way to entice people to view it.
That being said, The Familiar does not obey the same graphic design philosophies that I do. There are wild variations of kerning, leading, and tracking (the “rainstorm” section from pages 62-69 is a good example of this). The font changes as the narrative changes. There are graphics and text mingled on numerous pages. There is a liberal use of justified alignment (Isandorno’s sections, for example).
As I read at sections that contain copious amounts of text, graphics, and text-as-graphics, I find myself stifling the tiny designer in my brain that’s shouting, “Wait, what?”
I think that The Familiar is a novel that’s meant to be viewed as much as it’s meant to be read. Early in the novel, the reader is exposed, in full force, to the ever changing format. For example, “Tom’s Crossing” is set in a serif font with thin boxes surrounding the text. There are graphics of a heart monitor included as well. The layout is angular and throws traditional composition sensibilities out the window. In contrast, however, “Tom’s Crossing” also utilizes one of the most traditional type tropes: the drop cap. I don’t think that was a coincidence.
Since it seems like everything in the book is necessary and oh-so-deliberately placed, I feel that Danielewski is not only attempting to remediate television but that he is also trying to remediate advertising. Perhaps by not including visual tropes of the day (I’m thinking of the “Keep Calm and ______ On” movement, mustaches, chevron print and others) he is remediating the visual world too.
But if that’s the case, why not make one of the character fonts Comic Sans or Papyrus? Would it be too heavy handed? Would people just drop the book and run if they saw that any of it was done in Comic Sans? Believe me, I would probably drop it and run. Comic Sans would be a bad move.
Has anyone else thought about this? Advertising seems so integral to viewership; I don’t think that this would be something that Danielewski would leave out of the conversation.