• Steven Heller

Duodenum in a Vise?

“How do you symbolize spasm?” asked David J. Herzbrun in the January – February 1958 issue of Print magazine. “A knotted rope? A clenched fist? A duodenum in a vise?” Then he noted, “It had all been done before.” So began a fascinating photo-essay that traced the development of one of Herb Lubalin’s most typographically iconic ad campaigns, for Bentyl, an antispasmodic made by the Wm. S. Merrell Co. The so-called “Slinky” series  employed the Slinky toy as the perfect representation of a stomach spasm.


Herb Lubalin’s most typographically iconic ad campaigns, for Bentyl

The new idea started when “Herb Lubalin, executive art director of Sudler & Hennessy’s design organization, spotted a sinuous coil of wire writhing in a toy shop window.” It was called a Slinky — but to him it said spasm.


Herb Lubalin’s most typographically iconic ad campaigns, for Bentyl
Herb Lubalin’s most typographically iconic ad campaigns, for Bentyl6

Herb Lubalin’s most typographically iconic ad campaigns, for Bentyl

Kudos to Print for documenting this, long before Spasm became a textbook example of Lubalin’s “talking type.” The process doesn’t change the work’s intelligence. But when an “historic” designed artifact is removed from its original context it usually becomes just a pretty picture or clever idea. Memorable work does not happen in a vacuum. Spasm is one of those familiar typographic masterpieces that was, in fact, the result of collaborative teamwork in writing and art, triggered by a spark of a simple kid’s toy — and the designer who knew what to do with it.


Herb Lubalin’s most typographically iconic ad campaigns, for Bentyl
Herb Lubalin’s most typographically iconic ad campaigns, for BentylHerb Lubalin’s most typographically iconic ad campaigns, for Bentyl
Herb Lubalin’s most typographically iconic ad campaigns, for Bentyl
Herb Lubalin’s most typographically iconic ad campaigns, for Bentyl
spasm 2

#DailyHeller #HerbLubalin #Spasm #StevenHeller

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