Damn Everything but the Circus

When I first came to the special collections exhibit, I spent some time walking around, eyeing what was available, waiting for a book to speak to me. That book, it turned out, happened to be one that not-so-subtlety suggested I “Damn Everything but the Circus”. I think to begin with, the title peaked my interest because it was a bold statement that the made no effort to hide itself, considering the text filled the entire book cover and was written in a neon pink font. Yet, despite this somewhat aggressive statement, the book came off as friendly, due to the contradiction between the meaning of the type and the nature of it. If you were to read the statement “Damn everything but the circus” as you do now, in black font on white paper, you would probably be a bit taken back. But due to the nature of the blocky, wooden, neon pink type, the book seems inviting in a sense, despite its argumentative name. It’s perplexing to explain, but this book is kind of like that guy you know is bad for you, but you can’t help but be intrigued by anyway. So quickly after seeing the cover of the book, I found myself flipping through it—for I was intrigued as to why the author would be so opposed to everything but the circus. As I began looking through the book, the first thing I noticed was that, while the cover of the book was simple (due to its implementation of only two colors and blocked type) the rest of the book was not. From just looking at the cover, one may argue that it didn’t necessarily reflect the nature of a circus, due to its simplicity, but once you opened the book, and began seeing the layering of handwritten type, images, colors, and letter pressed type that was occurring on each page, you began getting the impression of a circus, in the sense that everything is so intriguing that you don’t know where to look. In my opinion, the book cover does mirror a circus tent, because though the tent in and of itself isn’t too exciting, the experience inside is, and it’s only once you get inside that you experience the intrigue of the circus, much like this book.

What I found the most intriguing about this book though was the technique used to layer all of the elements. On some pages, when handwritten text crossed over a section of letter blocked text, it would change colors. For example, if the handwritten text was originally black, it would turn white as it crossed over a block of letter pressed black type. Additionally, a lot of the drawings played on transparency, so they would take on the colors of the shapes and letters they passed over, creating really intriguing imagery that forced you to either look at the drawing, or the color blockings within it. Along with this, the book played with texture well, creating a variety of textures across its spreads. One way this was done was by playing with the imagery. Some images appeared in their full shade range, but others only appeared in 100% black or 100% white, creating this intriguing linocut printing texture. Another way the book played with texture was through the treatment of the type, due to the fact that the book was letter pressed with wooden type.

I believe this book is part of the special collections exhibit because it helps refine our knowledge of history. “Damn Everything but the Circus” was produced and published in 1970, during the time of the Vietnam War (Kerr 58). Corita Kent, who designed the book, was an anti-war activist, and “during the student protests of the ‘60s and ‘70s, liked to repeat the slogan ‘Damn everything but the circus’” (Kerr 58). When she designed the book, it was in resistance to the Vietnam War, and she filled the book with “poetry, literary quotes, and messages of deeper social concern” (Kennard). By doing so, she designed a book that marked “a significant period of social unrest in our country,” which is why I believe it is part of the special collections today (Kennard). One of the reasons it may be valued is due to the fact that it was designed by a female graphic designer. As mentioned in our lectures, there is not much history recorded on female graphic designers, so the fact that this book and its author are known is important as it helps us build a richer history of female graphic designers. Additionally, Kent was “continually engaged in a range of social justice issues” and she used her art and design as a method of activism (“Corita”). She was known to create artwork for antiwar organizations, and through this, she appropriated and transformed the “medium of advertising”, claiming billboards “often seen as commercialistic eyesores,” and using them “as a medium for both art and protest” (“Corita”).

Regarding general ‘History’, Kent helped “establish silkscreen as a fine art medium and had a tremendous influence on many designers…with her playful use of typography” (Kennard). “Damn Everything but the Circus” also mirrored pop art (which was popular during the 1960s) due to its use of colorful layouts and expressive artwork. Delving deeper into her impact on pop art, Kent “had been experimenting with the silkscreen printing process when she saw an…exhibition of Warhol’s work.” (Barnett). This exhibit taught her about the “powerful imagery in pop culture that came out of advertising” and greatly inspired her own work in advertising. Recently, her work was featured in a pop art exhibition alongside Andy Warhol’s (Clooney). And much like Lissitzky, Kent pulled from poets when creating her book. All of this combined resulted in the creation of a book that is viewed today as an “important work in the development of modern book design (Kennard).




Barnett, David C. “A Nun Inspired By Warhol: The Forgotten Pop Art Of Sister Corita Kent.” NPR, 8 Jan. 2015. Accessed 8 Feb. 2018.

Clooney, Francis X. “Seeing Corita Kent at Harvard.” America Magazine, 24 Oct. 2015. Accessed 8 Feb. 2018.

“Corita Kent: Footnotes and Headlines.” Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, 2015. Accessed 8 Feb. 2018.

Kennard, Jennifer. “Damn Everything but the Book.” Letterology, 12 Mar. 2011. Accessed 8 Feb. 2018.

Kerr, Hugh T. The Simple Gospel: Reflections on Christian Faith. Westminster John Knox Press, 1991, p. 58. Accessed 8 Feb. 2018.