Books On Books Collections – Chris Van Allsburg

The Z was Zapped (1987)

The Z was Zapped: A Play in Twenty-six Acts, Performed by the Caslon Players (1987)
Chris Van Allsburg
Casebound, red doublures. H310 x W235 mm. 56 pages. Acquired from Books of the Ages, 26 August 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

With Bodoni celebrated in A Bodoni Charade (1995) and Bembo at Bembo’s Zoo (2000), the typefounder William Caslon might have been feeling out of sorts in his grave until The Z was Zapped (1987) assumed its rightful place in the Books On Books Collection of alphabet and artists’ books. Or maybe not. If he is not miffed that his “hallucinogenic” ampersand has no place among the Caslon Players, he is probably furious at the Old School hijinks of the other characters onstage under the direction of Chris Van Allsburg.

Reissue designed by Justin Howes.

Does Caslon kern for a playwright who would have provided a more dignified script for the font in which the US Declaration of Independence was printed?

Does A’s scene remind him of all the rocks Stanley Morison has thrown at the Caslon font in Letter Forms and A Tally of Types?

What must he think of the manspreading M’s melting away?

Perhaps Caslon takes some solace from the renown of the source of the tribute (author of The Polar Express and picture book on which the movie Jumanji was based) — even if the man is an American. Still, even William Caslon would acknowledge the graphic skills on display: for example, that single drop and its shadow in letter M’s scene. All of the twenty-six scenes proceed with the image first and then a turn of the page to clinch the visual and verbal puns embodying the Caslon Players’ disasters, and each rewards flipping back to groan again.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich“. 12 February 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Nicolas McDowall“. 10 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Garfield Simon. 2010. Just My Type: A Book about Fonts. London: Profile Books. See p. 99 for the ampersand’s characterization as “hallucinogenic”.

Morison Stanley. 1997. Letter Forms : Typographic and Scriptorial : Two Essays on Their Classification History and Bibliography. Point Roberts WA: Hartley & Marks. See pp. 27-28 for the first stones cast in 1937.

Morison, Stanley. 1999. A Tally of Types New ed. [3rd ed.] ed. Boston: D.R. Godine. Caslon is not even included in Morison’s “tally” of seventeen typefaces. It appears on pages 24-27 in his introduction “revised & amplified” by Phyllis M. Handover. Even there they enlist Bruce Rogers, Emery Walker and William Morris to chuck additional rocks in Caslon’s direction on pages 37-38.

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