Episode 546 – Rian Hughes

Virtual Memories Show 546:
Rian Hughes

“The word ‘graphic’ means explicit, and graphic design at its best has that straightforward, punchy, explicit aspect to it. That’s the kind of bold design that appeals to me.”

Writer, graphic designer, typographer, illustrator, comics writer/artist, and photographer Rian Hughes rejoins the show to celebrate the US release of his fantastic novel, The Black Locomotive (Pan Macmillan). We talk about how he wanted to follow up 2020’s XX with something more plot-driven & less philosophical and wound up celebrating his love affair with London while getting in touch with his inner JG Ballard. We get into his integration of prose, typography, and graphic design in the new book, what he’s learned about writing (and the new novel he’s working on), the nature of font-design (and the real difference between sans-serif & serif fonts), and what he thinks about AI image-generation and its impact on creative fields (and what it says about popular tastes). We also discuss Rayguns & Rocketships, the recent book of his collection of vintage science fiction book cover art, the collector impulse and how to short-circuit it, the fun of writing the song for a fictional club of train aficionados & having his sister set it to music (and then hearing it remixed by Scott Hoffman), his fear of accidentally kicking off a flamewar among stream-train enthusiasts, and a LOT more. Give it a listen! And go read The Black Locomotive!

(And go listen to our 2020 conversation!)

“I think AI represents one of those moments where so many industries will pivot, and I’m excited by that. But I’m also aware that a lot of industries will change beyond recognition.”

“It just sings on the page when you get it right, when the font is speaking in a voice that you envision the character having, when the layout is emphasizing the cadence of that voice.”

“Sans serif fonts are primarily exercises in geometry: circles, squares, lines. It’s not pure geometry, because you have to optically correct for elegance. Serifs have a rich cultural heritage. They come from the tools that we used to write: a quill pen or a chisel or the like. Embedded in serif fonts are an enormous number of historical spandrels, weird things that have become acceptable in the design of serif font, but if you trace back their origins, they may be there because of the way a quill pen might flick up at the end of a stroke. They’re formalized byproducts of the tools we once used.”

“I’ve been using Midjourney to generate imagery for my new novel. What astonishes me is how specific I can be in the imagery that I create, and that specificity is describable in 30 words, maybe less.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Rian Hughes is a graphic designer, illustrator, comic artist, writer and type designer who has worked extensively for the British and American advertising, music and comic book industries. He has written and drawn comics for 2000AD and Batman: Black and White, and designed logos for The Avengers, The X-Men, Superman, record label Hedkandi, MTV and James Bond. He has edited books on midcentury lifestyle illustration and custom typography, and written on semiotics, culture, and collecting vintage science fiction pulps and paperbacks. He is the author of the novels XX and The Black Locomotive.

Follow Rian on Twitter and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Rian by somebody, maybe him. It’s on my instagram.

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