Damn, Everything but the Circus

When exploring the jungles of the Special Collections visit, I could not help but be drawn to Corita Kent’s Damn, Everything but the Circus. By the looks of the cover with its bold lettering and title and the use of fluorescent colors, I knew that this was going to be an interesting book. The design is rather playful even though the title is bold. The fact that Kent does use stencil, neon pink letters instead of a simple serif causes it to have a completely different mood and tone. It would be even more confronting and even in a way add more curiosity and wariness as to what might be beyond the front cover. 

The cover of Damn, Everything but the Circus.

The physical nature was not to be overlooked either. I was actually surprised to discover that this book was large, thin, and light. For some reason I was expecting more of a hefty book similar to the others that were showcased in the special collections. The binding and style of the book is the same as how they are made today with a simple hardback with thick paper. The way this book was made gives it a child-like feel if it were not for the bold title. However, the size and rather simple cover of the book does nothing to prepare the reader for the resonating content on the inside.

Opening the book, I was already entranced, especially since the black and white circular design is somewhat hypnotic. As I continue to flip through pages I am immediately struck with the huge, bold stencil letters. Due to the silkscreen printing process the ink did not fully translate, but rather than this taking away from the design, it actually adds more meaning. The eroded feel speaks distress and age, but the colors juxtapose them and instead screams urgency and new. Throughout the book, these letters spell out the alphabet leaving one letter per every other page, however, one page has the ‘O’ coming after ‘G’ which left ‘P’ to follow ‘N.’  This was also interesting because it was the only spread that took up both sides of the book rather than its usual poem on the left and print on the right. 

The very first thing the reader sees when opening the book is this hypnotic design. It also appears on the very last page before closing the book.


This is the page in which the ‘G’ and ‘O’ are side by side rather than in alphabetical order.

These huge letters were not the only things on the pages. They are overlapped with designs that relate to the poem on the left. What is interesting is that the poem is also handwritten into the design which makes it seem more personal. I was very fond of the layout and the contrast of text to printed design. While the designs are loud and in your face, the text is clean and straightforward. It was interesting though because the blocks of text were placed in all directions. It reminds the reader that there is an object in his or her hands when they are forced to turn the book each way to read everything. Sometimes we get submerged so deep that we forget about reality. This book is mesmerizing like that and if it were not for the constant reminder when one must either tilt their head or the book, they would get lost in it as well.

This is an example of the text to image contrast that this book has.

It is obvious why this book is important enough to be collected whether it be by the Special Collections or even by bibliophiles. This book has so many qualities that are important. For one, the design is very well done. It being produced in 1970 during the pop art era of the ‘60s and ‘70s makes it especially important. Kent got her inspiration from Andy Warhol but some say that she had a “lasting impact on pop art” as she pushed the limit of the possibilities of screen printing (Barnett). Her designs are very unique with the layering of images and text. 

Corita Kent overlaps various designs related to the letter as well as the part of the poem she uses.

Kent also sends messages about social injustices through her designs and challenges the views of society. Because of the radical designer, this book is pertinent to today as it was when it was published. Kent was an advocate for political and social justices and spoke the issues of these things in her time. However, we still find ourselves in this protest as these issues are persistent today, and there have been many more controversial illustrations and designs since then. Damn, Everything but the Circus is in this way timeless and continues to make a statement. 

Even though Kent was an influential artist and designer, there are not many records of her. Design Week says, “Very few graphic designers are also practising nuns. Even fewer are controversial nuns, who have broken away from religious obedience to protest about war, civil rights and racism” (Dawood). Kent exercised her rights as a nun but there came the time when she had to choose between the church or continuing to protest so she gave up her religious duties to fight for social justice. Along with this, Kent was also a woman and we all know how the women in history are rarely, if ever, mentioned. This alone brings value to the book.

Today, we can easily see why this book is so significant but it is difficult to find anything on both Corita Kent and her book. Her previous works are more about religion and less like Damn, Everything but the Circus. Because religion is controversial, her other works appear more prodominitaly than this one. There are not many mentions of this book in other books. But it is a gem in design history nonetheless.



Barnett, David C. “A Nun Inspired By Warhol: The Forgotten Pop Art Of Sister Corita Kent.” 

NPR, NPR, 8 Jan. 2015, www.npr.org/2015/01/08/375856633/a-nun-inspired-by-warhol-the-forgotten-pop-art-of-sister-corita-kent.

Dawood, Sarah. “Corita Kent: the Nun Graphic Designer Who Created ‘Radical’ Protest Art.” 

Design Week, 16 May 2018,