Friday 6 April 2007

Walt Jabsco, I owe you.

I had to put together a presentation recently about my personal work and how I got where I am now. It's interesting what dragging up the past can do for you! Anyway, as I was trawling through the work I did before I trained as a graphic designer - the hobby stuff I did for bands and political groups while working as a printer/finisher - I worked out where my graphic design roots were formed. I can blame no other than the British 2 Tone movement of the late 1970s, early 1980s. I loved The Specials, The Beat, The Selecter, Madness & The Bodysnatchers (never too keen on Bad Manners I'm afraid). I loved the mix of Ska music and punk attitude together with the dress sense and the social commentry reflecting the times. I also loved the whole movement's identity. Each band used a different font for their logo, some like the Selecter and Bodysnatchers used a bespoke typeface. I loved the black and white imagery and it's semiotics - each band was mixed race (with the exception of Madness) and all had an anti-racist ethic. And they all had their own little figurine. Madness had a squat 'M' wearing a pork-pie hat, the Beat had a dancing woman in tight skirt and headband and Jerry Dammers of The Specials devised the dancing cool dude Walt Jabsco icon for the 2 Tone label. Each was seen on their respective bands record sleeves. Then the film/LP Dance Craze was released and all logos and icons were on one sleeve. I was in seventh heaven. I'd sit and trace off these characters and different band logos and re-draw them, trying desperately to re-create them freehand. I'd cover my canvas school bag and school books with them. They were each individual but each had a sense of belonging. At thirteen this was powerful stuff. If only I'd have realised then that this was called Graphic Design and I might have progressed from my crap O' Level results to Art School instead of into the print trade and found my true vocation earlier in life.

Excellent history of 2 Tone website here.

This post was partially inspired by Michael Bierut's Our Little Secret posting on the Design Observer weblog about the film Helvetica and his typsetting love affair.

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