When it comes to the layout and typesetting of your book, it is important to get the right font for the style of book, the mood you are trying to create and the medium you are publishing in.
But this isn’t a blog post about choosing the right typeface for your book – it’s to draw your attention to a beautiful project called Frankenfont that uses 55,382 glyph shapes from 347,565 fonts to layout a unique edition of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.
Much like how Dr Frankenstein built his monster from a patchwork of body parts, Ben Fry scavenged PDF files on the internet to arrange the book. Fry identified 5,483 unique words in the book and used Yahoo! to search for PDF files containing the individual words. He and the team at Fathom downloaded the top 10-15 hits for each word and extracted glyphs (letter shapes) to fill the 342,889 individual letters in Mary Shelly’s text.
These glyphs were used to typeset the text, with the most frequently used fonts first. Thus, as you move through the book, it starts with commonplace fonts including Arial, Helvetica and Times New Roman, before transitioning through to the more unusual, the non-Roman, the bold and italic fonts, to a babelesque mix of special and pictorial typefaces.
The inspiration for the project came from a fascination of how PDF files don’t contain complete versions of the fonts used in the document: keeping only the characters used and retaining only the shape without the metrics needed for typography. This keeps the file size down, but also prevents others extracting the fonts for practical use elsewhere. It does, however, leave an opportunity for Frankensteins to use the pieces to create something new.
The result is oddly beautiful – the typesetting of the book aping Victor Frankenstein’s experience of building his monster and the decent into horror and chaos that engulfs him and the book’s characters.