Bodoni: The Graphic Novel

Well, it’s not exactly a graphic novel. But it is a graphically illustrated book titled Bodoni by Venetian designer Giorgio Camuffo with text based very loosely on the life of Giambattista Bodoni by Giuseppe De Lama published in 1816. Produced by Corraini Edizioni, this unusual edition (currently only in Italian) carries us along the journey that resulted in the world’s most famous type maker in a manner that is unlike any type book has done before. I asked Camuffo to say a few words about his opus.

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Why did you make an illustrated book based rooted in a vintage biography of Bodoni?
I am not a fan of Bodoni. But here’s the story: On the occasion of the bicentenary of Bodoni’s death, two young graphic designers who are also colleagues of mine in Bolzano [University]—Jonathan Pierini and Riccardo Olocco—designed a font inspired by Bodoni’s typefaces, called Parmigiano. As it is usually done, to celebrate their work they asked me and other colleagues to design a poster. I wanted in some way to try to fulfill the request, and therefore I started to design [the book] Bodoni as if I were in a sort of trance, and little by little I got to the finish line.

In some sort of way you are involved in this story, too. Many years ago, I do not remember the exact moment, you asked me to write a short text about Bodoni (around 300 words), and also at that occasion I did not write anything, but the image of Bodoni riding a horse from Saluzzo to Parma never left me. Only now I know that Bodoni never rode a horse.

So Bodoni just started pouring out of you?
Drawing after drawing, I got enthusiastic about the story, I read, I saw a nice exhibition in Parma, I interviewed my historian friends and Bodoni enthusiasts, and in the end the book is the result.

As I was telling you, I do not use the font much often. On the other hand, I got really interested in the story of his life. To me, Bodoni’s life has been much more interesting than his typeface. Much less flat. Bodoni was very ambitious and determined and most of all he was a man with a very deep culture. Typographer, editor, literate—Bodoni was a multifaceted man.

A nice life.
A life that was an example (or at least useful) for many young graphic designers too.

You did all the drawings right?
Bodoni is entirely made by me. I have written the texts and drawn all the illustrations. I have chosen the episodes and designed the book. As a new professional experience. I used Bodoni’s biography written by De Lama in 1816 as a reference for the texts, but also the biography Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World (David R. Godine, 2015) by Valerie Lester—an American expert of Bodoni—has been very useful.

Bodoni’s biography by Lester focuses on a less known Bodoni, more human, with a much less pompous writing if confronted with the biographies written by Italian historians. A Bodoni with an uncertain sexuality, but with a great value of the profession, a great entrepreneur, artist, orator, a very clever man. Just as the typographer’s life, the book is rich of curious and interesting incidents, in some cases amusing, too.

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