Review: The Shakespeare Flickbook – A visually intriguing gift from the late graphic designer Abram Games for the bard’s 454th birthday

© Philip Sayer

In 1975 Abram Games, one of Britain’s greatest graphic designers, was commissioned to make a Centenary Appeal poster for the Royal Shakespeare Company. His brilliant solution was to become known beyond the British Isles: the face of Shakespeare built up from the titles of all the plays as they appear in the First Folio.

The poster has been seen all over the world, but Abram Games intended much more. After his death, his daughter Naomi discovered a mock-up he had made of a flickbook. As the reader flicked the pages, Games planned to make Shakespeare’s face gradually appear.

At last Games’s original project is coming to life as the Shakespeare Flickbook is published today – the playwright’s 454th birthday. All 37 plays are included, in the order they’re printed in the First Folio of 1623, ending with Pericles, Prince of Tyre, added to the collection of the Third Folio of 1664.

Games has a play on each page, starting with The Tempest and ending with the full portrait completed with Pericles, Prince of Tyre. As you flick through, you’ll find the name of the play on the left-hand page, the date it’s thought to have been written and Games’s chosen quote from it; while on the right-hand page the portrait gradually builds with the addition of each new play title subtly filling in another detail. It is diverting fun looking for the new addition on every turn.

At the end Games also includes every work on which Shakespeare is thought to have collaborated, each with a tantalising quote chosen by Games and the names of the playwright’s supposed collaborators. And finally, each of Shakespeare’s poems gets a page, plus another for the sonnets. For these last 12 double-page spreads, the portrait remains complete, but diminishes gradually in size. It’s all extraordinarily ingenious and demonstrates Games’s obvious love for his subject, not to mention a comprehensive knowledge, used in a unique and intriguing fashion. At a neat 15 x 10.5 cm, this little book would make an original and beguiling gift for any lover of Shakespeare.

In addition are several objects with design specifications, including an umbrella, a set of tea mugs, a jigsaw and some glassware – which Game’s daughter uncovered in a document headed Shakespeare Title-Portrait Project.

The book’s publication date – Monday 23 April – will coincide with the launch of a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign to produce the additional artefacts, as originally intended by Games.

By Judi Herman

The Shakespeare Flickbook: Comedies, Histories and Tragedies of William Shakespeare by Abram Games, published by Pallas Athene on 23 April, £8.99. www.pallasathene.co.uk

More on Games:
Abram Games was a first-generation Londoner, born Abraham Gamse in Whitechapel, 1914. He designed some of the most
 memorable images of the 20th century, 
which featured on public information posters, advertisements, book jackets and stamps. In 1942 he was made the official War Poster Artist and later worked for London Transport, the Financial Times and Guinness, amongst many others. Most famously, he designed the symbol for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Games was awarded an OBE for Services to Graphic Design and appointed Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) by the Royal Society of Art. He died in 1996 in London.

Read more about Games in an article by his daughter Naomi in the October 2017 issue of Jewish Renaissance or visit www.abramgames.com.