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Visual Editions (VE) began when two expats met at their kids’ nursery in London. Sticking out like brightly coloured thumbs among the monotone business attire of the other parents, they became immediate friends. Capitalising on their joint love of books and “mischievous desire to do things differently” they launched their niche publishing company in 2009.
Anna Gerber, from Paris via Los Angeles, has a background working in, writing about and teaching graphic design. Britt Iversen, from Copenhagen, has worked in brand communication and advertising. Together, they wanted to bridge the void between text-driven literary books and picture-driven art and design books. VE’s goal is to publish literary fiction and non-fiction books that are “as visually breathtaking, and compelling as the writing is.” They say: “Our belief, put simply, is that books should be as visually interesting as the stories they tell – with the visual feeding into and adding to the storytelling as much as the words on the page.” Their first two publications are certainly breathtaking objects.
The first, a reissue of Laurence Sterne’s 18th century classic The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, introduced by Will Self, has been lovingly treated by London design studio A Practice for Everyday Life. Staying true to Sterne’s original typographic antics – rows of asterisks, blank pages, diagrams integrated within the written narrative – the designers were asked to ‘breathe new life’ into the book’s design. The startling fluorescent colours, quirky icons and folded pages make this a contemporary looking object, and enhance the original text in a way that would, no doubt, have delighted Sterne.
The second, a new work from New York’s favourite literary son, Jonathan Safran Foer, began when VE sent him a love letter: “The idea for VE was very, very new and we thought, ‘What better contemporary, mainstream example of visual writing than Jonathan Safran Foer?’” Safran Foer’s previous novels, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close both incorporate a range of typographic devices, and the latter includes photographs, red editing marks, blank pages and other graphic devices as part of the narrative.
Tree of Codes is an incredible publishing feat, literally ‘carved’ out of an existing work, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz. Each page has a different die-cut, removing and exposing a complicated layer-cake of story. The process of hacking a new narrative out of an existing publication harks back to William Burroughs’ ‘cut-up’ technique, Tom Phillips’ A Humument – an ongoing artist book project in which Phillips intricately paints and collages onto the pages of WH Mallock’s novel A Human Document to generate a new story – and Graham Rawle’s delightful Woman’s World, a behemoth created by collaging around 40,000 individual words and phrases from 1960s women’s magazines into a surprisingly engaging novel.
Yet the delicacy and scope of Safran Foer’s book is unlike any of its commercially published predecessors. A book-trailer shows a diverse range of people reacting to the book. The responses vary from delighted astonishment to deep puzzlement. A perplexed old lady says: “I don’t know that anybody is going to bother to do this, really.” Yet people obviously have – Tree of Codes is already on its second printing.
Designed by London-based Belgian designer Sara De Bondt, with the assistance of BA students from the London College of Communication, who painstakingly cut a mock-up, the book was printed by Belgium-based company Die Keure. Collaboration is key to the ethos of VE’s creative process. “We believe really strongly in partnerships and in as many people as possible feeding into different processes,” they say. “We wanted to go against the idea of the writer focusing on the writing for a stretch of time, then the designer being brought in as an afterthought and asked to make the book look ‘pretty’. While not easy, we like the idea of the designer and writer working closely together from the outset.”
Visual Editions is a welcome addition to a growing collection of independent publishers such as McSweeney’s books in San Francisco and local small publisher Boccalatte, who are providing new fodder for those of us quietly confident that the printed book is here to stay.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
A Practice for Everyday Life – apracticeforeverydaylife.com
Tree of Codes
Sara De Bondt Studio – saradebondt.com
All images copyright Visual Editions.
From desktop magazine.