Once over lightly
In an essay with an unprintable title*, Michael Rock ruminates on the frequency with which great designers—he cites Paul Rand, Bruno Munari, Leo Lionni—have, near the ends of their careers, been drawn to children’s books. Is it, he wonders, because “content is negligible and the evocative potential of the form unlimited”? Well, that could be but, pace Rock, I think it may be correlation rather than causation: all of those designers had an underlying spring of whimsy underneath the rigor of their layouts: the format was energized by its conflict between organization and freedom. The content of children’s books does not strike me as particularly negligible, and really the eventual eruption of whimsy after its suppression under reams of IBM internal documents would not come as a surprise.
Tony Palladino’s The Crocodile With A Glass Stomach was, sadly, unfinished, but we have a couple dozen studies for various scenes and various alternate endings (the plot mechanic of the glass stomach remains in this state pretty enigmatic). My favorite moment is near the start, and, as it happens, mirrors a similar moment from Seymour Chwast’s Pancake King. Which gives me an opportunity to bring up a question of my own: why is it children’s books seem drawn inexorably towards breakfast?
* For the purposes of the present post, but not necessarily any following post, let’s agree that this is a family-oriented archival-historico art-design cultural criticism blog. And allow me to take this moment to recommend our kidstuff tag.