The Daily Heller: Designing for the Good Fight

Posted inThe Daily Heller
Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., Someone Died for Your Right to Vote!, 2018, letterpress on a map of Alabama, Detroit

Strikethrough: Typographic Messages of Protest is a breakthrough on three levels: Its theme. Its context. Its author. Yet as impressive (and necessary) as it is, Strikethrough (Letterform Archive Books) by Silas Munro, with essays by Colette Gaiter and Stephen Coles, is not the first of its kind. For well over a century, many books and exhibitions have documented the wealth of posters, performative, illustrated/agitation, advocacy, protest and cautionary messages as histories, archives or catalogs of contemporary graphic polemics. Visual commentary (and of course its typographic treatment, the hallmark of this volume) has defined battles for social justice in dictatorships and democracies around the globe.

The United States remains the place where the masses can speak their mind. However, as the nation’s freedoms are hanging by a thread, too often censorship justified by deliberately misinterpreted or brazenly abrogated laws has forced groups and individuals to find viable alternatives to retain First Amendment guarantees. Strikethrough explains how this is accomplished.

Unknown designer for the United Farm Workers, Long Live the Strike! (¡Viva La Huelga!), circa 1965, screenprint, Delano, CA. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California

Strikethrough (which refers to the heavy metal type impression on the flip side of paper, originally a byproduct of letterpress) is a timely document as mass media are spewing out continuous streams of disturbingly provoking dogma that promise dire consequences.

Letterform Archive‘s Strikethrough exhibition is running now until Spring 2023, enabling viewers to understand the role of type as polemical language. The exhibited materials can be seen through many different formal perspectives that address the potential power of type and lettering in telegraphing content.

Munro, the book’s author and exhibition curator, has injected levels of historical scholarship to Strikethrough‘s narrative. He is co-creator of the first BIPOC-centered design history course, and brings significant rare materials to this study. In addition to the informative texts, sidebars highlighting significant art and design activists add dimension to what could easily have evolved into a purely pictorial archive (which it is not).

The organizing principle is also distinctive. Contextualization is the linchpin. There is a notable emphasis on Black resistance, and other key themes include education, equity, diversity, violence, gender, sexuality and public health.

For those who can visit Letterform Archive, the firsthand experience is invaluable—but if you’re unable to attend in person, you should savor every page and share this book with others.

Chip Thomas, Police Lie, 2016, digital print, Flagstaff, AZ
Emory Douglas, front and back covers of The Black Panther, offset, approximately 17 × 11 1/2 inches (43 × 29.5 cm), Oakland, CA
George Maciunas, U.S.A. Surpasses All the Genocide Records!, 1966, offset, New York
Sara E. Benjamin, untitled poster for a Black Lives Matter protest, 2014
Unknown designer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Danny Lyon (photographer), NOW, 1963, offset, 22 × 14 inches (56 × 35.5 cm), Atlanta. Courtesy of Magnum Photos
Wes Wilson, Are We Next?, 1965, San Francisco
Favianna Rodriguez, I’m a Slut, 2012, digital print, Oakland, CA
Faith Ringgold, Women Free Angela, 1971, screenprint. New York. Courtesy of ACA Chicago