Jenn Manley Lee


Dicebox's Phantom Alphabet

I know some folks have noticed that the lettering on various background elements tends not to be the Latin alphabet, but a made up alphabet which I call ALS:

As you see, it's an alphabet created in direct correlation to the English/Latin alphabet--a phantom alphabet. The reason I call it ALS is because it is in large part the phantom alphabet created by Amy L. Sacks for a comic she abandoned over a decade ago. Alas. I liked it, the way you could see the essence of the origin letter in the alphabet, and since I needed a phantom alphabet for Dicebox I happily adopted and adapted hers. With permission, of course.

Here's Amy's final version of the alphabet from her sketch book:

I altered some of the letters: the F, J, M, N, W and to a lesser degree the L, R, T, V and Y. The alterations I made were mostly in order to simplify the character in question, though sometimes it was to add consistency or difference. This I did after reading Adrian Frutiger's theory of reduced hand movements as being a main cause of the evolution of the Latin Alphabet, both in how the capitals changed and the creation of a lowercase. And it was either in Frutiger's Sign and Symbols: their design and meaning or Writing Systems of the World by Akira Nakanishi that I read the additional theory that the most successful alphabets, those truly known and used by the common populace have characters that require no more than three or four lifts of the pen. Amy had a gorgeous, almost calligraphic number system that broke that rule big time and was less intuitive to me, so I created my own number system.

Why did I need a phantom alphabet? Well, I didn't want it to be assumed that the dominant language is english in Dicebox, In fact I don't imagine that the common language everyone is speaking is strictly English. I think of it more it as a creole with an English/Spanish base, with healthy additions of Dutch, Japanese and Ukraine among others.

But I suck at language beyond English and so didn't feel comfortable to fool around with other languages or alphabets. Besides, I wanted to do something that could technically be interpreted by the average reader of English. I have included English words in the background and do plan to tap the linguists among from my friends and family for Japanese, Chinese, Russian, etc. But the main thrust will still be ALS spelling out English words.

Here's the first clear use of ALS seen in the background of Chapter 1:

It reads "Transient Skin." There are uses before this, but they are obscured or half nonsense.

In order to try to give it a living use feel, I have created different fonts of ALS absed on early 20th century typefaces, like Bastion:

Here's a side by side look at some type I used in a background flyer set in English and then ALS in the Bastion Style:

Here you start to see the another aspect that really appealed to me about Amy's alphabet, the dipthong rule:

Vowels are indicated by two dots, and when combined into a dipthong they share these two dots. Adds variety without extra clutter.

I will Include ALS in the Explication page soon, after I settle on what ALS stands for in the Dicebox universe, as well as articulate how I figure it came into use--basically utilizing the long travel of the main colonization fleet as a time of restructuring and new culture conceptualizing. (Yes, this where "peh" comes from.)