Books On Books Collection – William Joyce

The Numberlys (2014)

The Numberlys (2014) William Joyce and Christina Ellis
Hardback, paper on board. H220 x W300 mm, 52 pages. Acquired from London Bridge Books, 15 April 2021.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection.

Although bound in landscape, the book reads in portrait.

Life was…fine. Orderly. Dull as gray paint. Very…numberly. But our five jaunty heroes weren’t willing to accept that this was all there could be. They knew there had to be more.

So they broke out hard hats and welders, hammers and glue guns, and they started knocking some numbers together. Removing a piece here. Adding a piece there. At first, it was awful. But the five kept at it, and soon it was…artful! One letter after another emerged, until there were twenty-six. Twenty-six letters—and they were beautiful. All colorful, shiny, and new. Exactly what our heroes didn’t even know they were missing.

And when the letters entered the world, something truly wondrous began to happen…

Based on the award-winning app, this is William Joyce and Moonbot’s Metropolis-inspired homage to everyone who knows there is more to life than shades of black and gray. — from the Moonbot Studios’ website. Accessed 28 April 2021.

Archaeologists and paleontologists hypothesize that the alphabet evolved from counting. Clay tokens as signs (8000–3500 BC) and then pictographic marks on clay tablets (3500–3000 BC) were used for counting units of things. Around 3000 BC, someone merged pictographic signs and phonetic sounds to begin the invention of the alphabet. Orly Goldwasser (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) has hypothesized that illiterate Canaanite miners may have been the inventors of the alphabet around 1840 B.C.E.

Likewise in The Numberlys, our inventor-heroes (numbers 1-5 or, in their vocalizations, possibly the five vowel sounds?) lead a similarly manual existence, albeit in a more modern industrial setting. They can be viewed at work here in this clip from the award-winning app, no longer available but perilously stored on an early iPad in the Books On Books Collection. As in the app, the book proceeds in gray until the letter Z, when “THINGZ” begin to happen — “Pizza! Jelly beans! Color! Books!”.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Elliman, Paul. “My Typographies – Graphic Design Reading“, Eye, Spring 1998, 58-63. Accessed 143 May 2021.

Gelb, Ignace J. 1974. A study of writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Goldwasser, O. 2012. “The Miners that Invented the Alphabet — a Response to Christopher Rollston.Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 4-3: 9–22.

Havelock, Eric A. 1986. The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present New Haven: Yale University Press.

Looze, Laurence de. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Schmandt-Besserat, Denise. 2006. How writing came about. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.

Schmandt-Besserat, Denise. 2015. “Writing, Evolution of”, in James Wright, ed., International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2d. Edition. New York: Elsevier. Accessed 15 April 2021.

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