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Shady Characters

Shady Characters

Keith Houston is, no question, an interesting character. As he puts it:

By day I write medical visualisation software, but by night I cycle, play bass and write about punctuation.

An interesting, and varied, mix of preoccupations, no doubt. Shady Characters is the result of one of these preoccupations: Mr Houston’s interest in the stories behind the different ‘marks of punctuation’, a world all but invisible to the untrained and unobservant eye. As he writes in the excellent (and bibliographically sound) ‘Introduction to Shady Characters’:

Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — a friend recommended a book to me. The book was An Essay on Typography, written in 1931 by Eric Gill, one of England’s most famous modern typographers.

Although it was both diminutive in size and short on actual instruction, [it] was a joy to read, full of philosophical asides and painstakingly hand-cut illustrations. Most of all, though, my interest was piqued by the unusual character resembling a reversed capital ‘P’ – ‘¶’ – which peppered the text at apparently random intervals.

As the otherwise comprehensive Typographic Desk Reference (TDR) explained in a disappointingly perfunctory manner, this character was called the ‘pilcrow’ and once upon a time it had been used to separate paragraphs…

Here Houston’s quest began. His interest, piqued by the lack of answers offered by the otherwise exhaustive TDR, was aroused. The result, by way of his pilcrow research is a forensic investigation into the birth of punctuation - taking in the ancient Greeks, Charles the Great … and England’s greatest 20th century typographer - a quest at once both typographical and historical. Or, more accurately, history seen through a typographic lens.

With the promise of future characters to whet our appetite - not least the ampersand and the hash - and a host of, “typographic raconteurs hiding in plain sight,” we’d encourage you to follow the shady character of Mr Huston as he brings the marginalia of typography; the often overlooked, yet critical, world of punctuation, to light. You won’t be disappointed.

1298325240 · Christopher Murphy · Follow Us on Twitter