by Herman Melville Moby-Dick is a story told in 212,507 words. These words, considered among the most classic in the history of literature, are important. But just as important as “Call Me Ishmael” is the period that follows. Without punctuation, the first two lines of the book would read something like this:
Are we supposed to call him Ishmael a few years ago, no matter how long? Hard to say, don’t you think? As we said before, punctuation adds structure and intent to a piece of text. Some 45,000 punctuation marks are as much a part of Melville’s voice as the words of Moby-Dick themselves. As a graphic design element, glyphs also stand on their own.
Nicholas Rougeux is a designer and artist from Chicago who decided to see what it would look like if all words were removed from classic pieces of literature. The result is Between the Words, a series of posters that celebrate the dots, dashes, and quotation marks sprinkled throughout iconic works of literature. Rougeux began making his swirling designs by extracting text from Project Gutenberg’s nine books. From there, he used software called RegExr to strip the text of words, line breaks, spaces, and numbers, leaving only lines of shapes and symbols that he would later turn into a vortex of typographic confetti.
Each poster is a visual snapshot of the author’s use of punctuation. Commas and quotes seem to be the most common glyphs, followed by a handful of dashes (Melville loves them!), exclamation points, and the occasional parenthesis. It’s slightly reminiscent of All The World’s a Page, a project by a German design studio that cleverly crammed every word from classic books onto a single 70×100 centimeter poster. Rougeux’s visualization is, inevitably, more minimalistic, but it achieves the same goal of translating the unseen structure of literature into something that is not only graphically beautiful, but also illuminating.