The Daily Heller: Tré Seals Makes Book on Spike Lee’s Life and Films

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Tré Seals, founder and principal designer of the Washington D.C. foundry Vocal Type, is making his book design debut with SPIKE, a visual record of Spike Lee’s life and career—an iconic book for a cultural icon. Publishing on Nov. 10 by Chronicle Chroma, it is the first career-spanning monograph for the filmmaker.

Lee opened his archive to provide an inside look at his work and creative process. Taking readers film by film—from his first feature, She’s Gotta Have It, through this year’s doc, NYC Epicenters 9/11→2021½—it is a film fan’s delight, generously filled with hundreds of stills and never-before-seen personal photographs.

Seals created several custom fonts for the book, and many of his fonts at large are inspired by protest movements throughout history. He will be releasing a version of the font used on the chapter titles, which he says, “will more closely resemble Radio Raheem’s rings.”

I asked Deals to talk about the book, the typefaces and the bookmaking experience.

Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing

This is quite an impressive piece of work. How did you get the gig?
It came about back in September of 2019 when I received this email about designing a few custom fonts for the book. But it turned out to be a lot more than that.

All images from SPIKE by Spike Lee, published by Chronicle Chroma

It is an intimate book about Spike Lee’s accomplishments and so must represent his persona. How and why did you decide to use the typefaces you used as Spike’s typographic character?
There are a total of five custom fonts found within the book. First, there’s the VTC Spike Display, which only appears on the title pages of each chapter. It was inspired by what I believe are the most iconic pieces of jewelry in cinematic history. The first of which are the LOVE and HATE rings of Radio Raheem in Do The Right Thing. The second has to be the MARS chain from She’s Gotta Have It. These three pieces of jewelry laid the foundation for the headline font. From there, I began examining the typography of Spike’s past movie posters. For example, posters for movies such as School DazeGet On The BusMiracle At St. Anna, and BlacKkKlansman played a considerable role in constructing certain characters. However, the end result was inspired by Spike’s online shop’s angular font already in use. This particular font had no curves, and it was a bit sporty but still felt refined. It just felt like Spike to me. Once I applied this effect to the headline font, the remaining fonts came together from there.

Then, there’s VTC Spike Headline, a heavily condensed version of the primary headline font. Unfortunately, we only had space to use this on the spine of the book.

Then there’s the text face, VTC Spike Text, which is a modified version of my recently released VTC Du Bois. The same goes for the italics.

Lastly, there’s VTC Spike Tag. This font appears solely in the introduction and on the back cover of the book. It is based on the italics but with the energy of a graffiti tag.

How much input did Spike have on the design?
Spike actually loved just about everything. The only changes he really wanted involved color changes and image placement.

The book has a spritely cinematic pacing. What was your process for making this happen?
Early on, I decided to use a black background for 99% of the pages in the book. This was so that as you’re flipping through, you feel like you’re sitting in a movie theater. We only used white backgrounds to highlight photos with burned edges. 

Do you feel your design does his work justice, or is there something you’d have wanted to add?
I believe the book captures Spike’s career and essence without overwhelming viewers. The only thing I would have wanted to add was a chapter showcasing all of the murals that people have created of or were inspired by Spike Lee. Whether portraits of him or Radio Raheem–inspired portraits of George Floyd, I feel like that chapter would show just how global Spike’s impact really is.

Did you admire his work more after being so closely involved?
I was already an admirer of his films before working on the book. However, I never realized how much he has accomplished over the years. Whether it be TV shows and commercials, iconic music videos, documentaries, Spike has done it all. 

I presume Spike Lee is pleased. Are you?
As long as Spike is happy, I’m happy.