Seen by many as one of the most important filmmakers in America today, Spike Lee has released a career-spanning look back at his work, from She’s Gotta Have It to Da 5 Bloods. Part reflection, part portrait of a unique creative, it provides insight into the man and his process that has never been seen before.
Encapsulating the expansive career of a man like Lee is not an easy feat. With involvement in over 35 films, 7 documentaries, more than 15 TV series and pilots, dozens of music videos, and even a Broadway show dedicated to Mike Tyson, Lee is known for his bold and uncompromising approach to controversial subject matter. Credited as one of the first filmmakers to realistically portray the issues at the heart of inner-city life in the late 20th century, his work is not only prolific but also regarded as important political and social commentary. Films like Do The Right Thing have been cited as important cultural touchstones by figures like Barack Obama.
Spike approaches its subject in a manner influenced by Lee’s approach to storytelling and artistic sensibilities. It is a visual celebration of his life and career to date. The book is packed with hundreds of film stills, on-set photographs by his frequent photographer (and brother) David Lee, personal photographs, and quotes. “This book revisits all da werk I’ve put in to build my body of work,” Lee writes in the Introduction. “Film is a visual art form and that sense of my storytelling has been somewhat overlooked. Why now, after all these years? Folks be forgetting.”
Powerful Visual Storytelling
In addition to being a treasure trove for any fan of Lee’s, one of the book’s most striking aspect is its use of visual storytelling. Graphic designer Tré Seals created an array of custom fonts for the book. Transcending the stale biography format, Spike uses colour, unique typography and an overall cinematic aesthetic to capture Lee’s personality. Seals is best known for his type foundry Vocal Type, where he is inspired by the fonts used during the civil rights protests of the 50s and 60s and attempts to preserve these typefaces for future generations. This background makes him a logical choice to helm the visual style of Spike.
Seals is making his debut as a book designer for Spike. Harnessing his talents as a font-maker and drawing inspiration from Lee’s own work – in particular the iconic “Love/Hate” brass knuckles worn by Radio Raheem in Do The Right Thing – Seals imbues the words in the book with a sense of style that is uniquely tied to its subject. In total, Seals created five custom fonts for the book, including an angular one inspired by the type on the New York Knicks jersey (Lee is famous for his near-religious attendance of Knicks home games over the past 28 years).
“A Visual Book of All My Joints”
When you open the book, the inside cover is filled with images from Spike’s Instagram account. “People get an idea of who he is on a personal level,” says Seals. Then, about 99% of the background is black, “so it feels like you’re in a movie.” Each chapter title is awash in one background color that hints to the general color of the movie: Army green for the epic war film Miracle at St Anna; dirty blue for Inside Man, a thriller centered around a bank heist on Wall Street. This rich color palette translates into a striking rainbow on the contents page. “Spike is such a colorful person, I wanted the contents page to feel as vibrant and exciting,” Seals says.
Lee participated in the curation of the book, which covers not just his feature films, but his work as a documentarian, his music videos, and even his famous Air Jordan commercials with Michael Jordan. A comprehensive career retrospective that is elevated by a powerful design aesthetic, Spike is a must-have for any Lee fan.
Spike is available now from bookstores and online.