The Daily Heller: Norman Conquest on Lettrism and Constrained Design

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Black Scat Books proprietor Derek Pell (aka Doktor Bey, aka Norman Conquest) once published a popular series of satirical books filled with illustrated texts by a fictional scholar—including Doktor Bey’s Bedside Bedbug Book (1978), Doktor Bey’s Handbook of Strange Sex (1978), Doktor Bey’s Book of Brats (1979) and Doktor Bey’s Book of the Dead (1981). I recently was reacquainted with my well-paged stash of these dryly absurdist volumes.

Pell is the editor-in-chief of Zoom Street Magazine. He has authored more than 30 books, many of which he designed and illustrated, in addition to the Doktor Bey series, such as Bewildering Beasties, Assassination Rhapsody, Lost in Translation, and The Little Red Book of Adobe LiveMotion, along with several collections of his work. In 1989, he founded the international anti-censorship art collective Beuyscouts of Amerika. Just yesterday, he premiered his latest production, TYPO: Journal of Lettrism, Surrealist Semantics & Constrained Design. Just what I’ve been waiting for. Today he tells us about this latest treat in the typopictorial universe.

Why did you start Typo?
I was hungry for a journal that would jiggle the brain and excite the eye—that was unpredictable, would move between past and present as smoothly as Wodehouse moves Jeeves around. A journal that would surprise me, as well as the reader. It’s a slightly absurdist vision aimed at design and semantics, with strains of eroticism and pataphysics. (By the way, the second issue includes an essay by Alfred Jarry on the English language.) 

You call this a Journal of Lettrism, Surrealist Semantics and Constrained Design. Where do you fit into these categories?
I dove in … do I fit? That’s your call. It’s all constrained … the odd size of Typo … images sans color, etc.  

Who is your ideal reader?
A person who loves wordplay, fonts, literary constraints and eroticism.   

What are the most consequential features in this first issue?
I’m reluctant to pick favorites. 

Your marquee writer, Norman Conquest, is you. Are there other pseudonyms that you work under?
I’ve been working as NC for many years (I founded an anti-censorship art collective in NYC in the late 1980s—“Beuyscouts of Amerika.”) I occasionally try on a new pseudonym (the way one tries on a pair of shoes), but I don’t reveal it when it fits.

What is Asmeric poetry?
I hope you meant Asemic poetry, otherwise there’s a big, unintentional typo in the issue. I’m self-uneducated, so this question should be answered by Michael Betancourt (not a pseudonym), who has a Ph.D., and produced the example of Asemic poetry in the issue. He creates his poetry from typography and creates disordered artforms. I think his lines rhyme, in the same manner that history rhymes. That’s the best I can do.

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