Local Talent: John Langdon

The Da Vinci Code hopscotches all over Europe, with its main characters fleeing an albino hit man as they search for the Holy Grail. But the book also has an important connection to Philly. In the mid-’90s, novelist Dan Brown was busy planning his first thriller, Angels & Demons, when he phoned local artist John Langdon, an inventor of ambigrams—words crafted to read both right-side-up and upside-down—after Brown’s father, a former Exeter Academy teacher, told him about Langdon’s intricate designs. At Brown’s request, Langdon created the Angels & Demons cover art as well as five ambigrams, designs that became crucial elements of the story. Impressed, Brown named the book’s hero “Robert Langdon.”

This month, the movie treatment of The Da Vinci Code—the second of Brown’s books featuring the Langdon character—opens in theaters. But while Robert’s life is full of adventures (see: albino, fleeing, above), John, 60, is content to promote his ambi-gram book, Wordplay, and teach typography at Drexel’s College of Media Arts and Design, where he can indulge his passion for helping students refine their creativity. “To me,” he says, “it’s all about helping them see that there’s much more to everything than what’s evident on the surface.”