When Typefaces Want to Get in on the Storytelling Action

Steven Heller and Gail Anderson talk about their new book, ‘Type Tells Tales,’ a fascinating tour of books in which typefaces plays an active part in visual storytelling.

Thanks to those drop-down menus on our computers, everyone knows all about fonts these days (except how to properly use the word: the word we want is typeface; fonts are the subdivisions within a typeface—italic, bold, and so on). But not to get too pedantic about it, we do know more—we are more aware—about the letters we use to form words than any previous generation.

But no matter how intense your passion, know this: Steven Heller and Gail Anderson were there long before you and have both probably forgotten more than you will ever know about type and how it works. Heller was the art director at the New York Times Book Review for three decades and with Anderson, a noted designer and creative director of the New York’s School of Visual Arts, has created numerous books exploring the world of the printed word.

Their latest book, Type Tells Tales, takes us on a gorgeous tour of the ways type can be integrated so thoroughly with text that the type itself helps tells the story at hand. In the examples they have chosen—by artists and designers as disparate as the surrealist Francis Picabia to contemporary author and artist Maira Kalman—you cannot conceive of these works without the typefaces involved, so thoroughly are they integrated into the concept of the plays, essays, stories, songs, and, in one case, a man’s jacket (the words are lettered on the lining). If you’re a type lover, this book is like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and your birthday all rolled into one.