Non-Fiction – Simon Garfield: On the Map (Penguin, 2013)

For physical maps have been a vital part of our world since we first began finding our way to food and shelter on the African plains as hunter-gatherers. Indeed, Richard Dawkins speculates that the very first maps came about when a tracker, accustomed to following trails, laid out a map in the dust; and a recent finding by Spanish archeologists identified a map of sorts scratched on a stone by cave dwellers around fourteen thousand years ago. Dawkins goes on to speculate as to whether the creation of maps – with their concepts of scale and space – may have even kick-started the expansion and development of the human brain.
In other words, maps hold a clue to what makes us human.

I loved Garfield’s book about typography, fonts, and printing, Just My Type; as I came to the end of the book I read slower and slower, trying to stretch it out, not wanting it to end.

Now he’s done the same thing for maps. And again, he’s a master story-teller crafting non-fiction.

Let me, as I often do for non-fiction, start by explaining what this book is not. It is not a book of maps. You will not learn how to make maps, or, except at the most general level, how maps are made; it’s not a technical book. It is not an academic study of cartographical history. Instead, Garfield takes much the same approach with maps as he did with fonts: it’s a string of highly entertaining anecdotes grouped into thematic chapters, arranged more or less chronologically; a sort of collection of stories about the history of maps and mapmakers, and the effect they’ve had on the world. Each story is absolutely charming. And while it overall shows the evolution of cartography and the increasing uses for maps as the world became more complicated, each chapter is more or less standalone; feel free to skip over the ancient Greeks if they bore.

I enjoyed it thoroughly, though not with quite as much slavish devotion as Just My Type. I think there’s an inherent reason for this: color, and size. While fonts are almost always completely reproducible in black and white on a standard book-sized page, maps rarely work under those conditions. It’s a book that’s greatly improved by reading it with a computer nearby. But, even with that unavoidable limitation, it’s an excellent read.

I have a thing for maps. Not “good” ones; not the historic ones you find in this book. No, I’m more of a map slut. I have a truly gaudy gold foil version of the 1630 world map by Henricus Hondius, in a wood and linen frame, no less; it was love at first sight and I’ve dragged it all over New England for the past 25 years. Or the oddball world map, long lost, showing the world divided between “Christian, Mohammedan, Heathen,” which always struck me as saying more about the mapmaker and the world he lived in than the geographical distribution of religious preference. I even have a Map of the Universe (at least, from the Northern Hemisphere), though it’s partly hidden behind one of my bookshelves at the moment.

So I was primed for this book, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Some of my favorite sections:

Chapter 2: The Men Who Sold the World: In 1988, the Very Reverend Peter Haynes, Dean of Hereford Cathedral, nearly auctioned off “the most important and most celebrated medieval map in any form” to the highest bidder in order to pay for a new roof.

Pocket Map: Here Be Dragons: Contrary to all those stories we’ve heard about Medieval and early Renaissnce sailors relying on maps with warnings, “Here be Dragons” marking unknown seas, those words never appeared on any historical map. The words “hic sunt dracones” do appear on the 12-cm Hunt-Lenox Globe from 1505. They appear over what would be present-day China, not over the ocean. And it might refer to Dagronians, a cannibal tribe described by Marco Polo.

Pocket Map – J. M. Barrie Fails to Fold Pocket Map: Before he wrote Peter Pan, Barrie wrote a scathing article about the evils of maps that, once opened, cannot be refolded, the folly of buying such a pocket map regardless of the assurances and demonstrations of the bookshop clerk, and helpful hints on what to do after you have indeed purchased a map and find yourself with an uncooperative pile of paper: “Don’t speak to the map… Don’t deceive yourself into thinking you have done it…. Don’t blame your wife.”


Chapter 7 – What’s the good of Mercator? I was particularly happy to see the discussion of Mercator’s distortion in the service of navigation, and the alternate Gall-Peters Projection, included a lengthy reference to the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality segment from The West Wing, which is just as hilarious now as it was when first broadcast in 2001.

If you’re more academically inclined, you’ll find lots of solid historical information about who made what map (Manhattan, Antarctica, Australia) when and why, and it’s all told in just as interesting a fashion as the more humorous anecdotes. Those more entertainment-oriented will fnd chapters on maps in literature (from Treasure Island to Harry Potter), movies (Casablanca was the first major movie to use a map, and of course we all remember the Indiana Jones series) , and the creation of specialty maps like guidebooks and maps to movie star homes.

I never realized until I read “Pocket map – The Biggest Map of All: Beck’s London Tube” how difficult it is to map a subway system. I spent 20 years in Boston, and the Beck map looked very much like what I was familiar with. Turns out it was quite a milestone in 1933, and was the first time a subway map was genuinely useable; the secret was in sacrificing scale and precision for clarity. Since then, the style has been used (and parodied) many times: Simon Patterson’s Great Bear of actors, philosophers, saints, and other “stars” (from the constellation of the Great Bear, see?); the map attributed to “Journalist F” of the Daily Mail including “obsessions and fears of Middle England” such as ear cancer, Nigella Lawson, and speed daters; and, tying back in to Garfield’s original book, the Typographic Tube Map by Eiichi Kono. And, as Garfield used the Periodic Table of Typefaces for endpapers before, now he uses Mark Ovenden’s Urban Rail Systems map, in the London Tube Map style, as endpapers here, showing the railways of the entire world as a single transportation system.

There’s much more, of course; I could use five posts, like I did with Just My Type, talking about all the chapters: the “ghost map” that stopped a cholera epidemic; Churchill’s map room; the map created from Marco Polo’s travel diaries, which hangs, incongruously, in “a dimly lit corridor above a Venetian stairwell.” The “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands” map, with Christ embracing the world, literally, in the religious allegory typical of medieval maps.

But you’d be better off to get the book and read it – leisurely. Linger over the lives and times, and enjoy the stories Garfield tells. He’s very good at it.

Non-Fiction – Simon Garfield: Just My Type: a book about fonts – Part 5 (final)

After 560 years of moveable type, why is our job not yet done? Why is the world still full of serious people trying to find great names for different new alphabets?….Because the world and its contents are continually changing. We need to express ourselves in new ways.

I’ve put it off as long as I could: sadly, we have reached the final chapter.

Chapter 22: Just My Type

What does your favorite font say about you? This is what Lexmark thought in 2001:

Don’t use Courier unless you want to look like a nerd. It’s a favorite for librarians and data entry companies.
Alternativesly, if you see yourself as a sex kitten, go for a soft and curvy font like Shelley.
People who use Sans Serif fonts like Univers tend to value their safety and anonymity.
Comic Sans, conversely, is the font for self-confessed attention-seekers because it allows for more expression of character.

It seems “big round O’s” seem friendly, and, as you’d expect, more rectangular letters appear technical. Italicized Humana Serif Light is the font for a love letter; a Dear John letter could be gentle in Verdana, or more absolute in Courier. But all that’s from 2001; now we have Pentagram’s online therapist who will determine What Type Are You? I turned out to be Archer Hairline, which, I’ll admit, is appealing, but is far too light for everyday use.

Fonts are fun, and font designers know it; look at all the games and sites we’ve come across so far – and don’t forget Max Kerning (kerning is the art of spacing; once you design a letter, you have to decide how much space goes between them). Apple has TypeDrawing, and MS-Word has had WordArt for decades now – for that matter, remember ASCII-art?. Or you can play Cheese or Font online. Look how much time is taken picking out business cards and wedding invitations; and if you’ve ever tried to create a flyer on your computer, you know how much fun you can have – and how much time you can waste – er, spend.

Type is emotional. Way back on page 2, when I saw Chicago, the Apple font, it brought me right back to the mid-80s when I encountered my first Apple. I couldn’t have reconstructed the font from memory, but seeing it, yes, I remember exactly where the computer was, what I did on it (a calendar was my primary project), and I remember Ivy Seligman (name changed to protect the innocent) accusing me of deleting files since I was the only one in the office capable of accomplishing such an advanced feat. Remembering the Superior Cub printing press brought back all sorts of memories of my brother.

Type matters. I recently came across (thanks to Paul Debraski at IJustReadAboutThat) a remarkable short fiction piece by Jonathan Safran Foer titled “About the Typefaces Not Used in This Edition.” As Paul says, “it works as meditation on what a book is, what words are and how we will ultimately read or experience books in the future.” That’s what type is for, after all – to affect, one way or another, the aesthetic experience of reading.

When I started this blog, I added a little at a time. One of the last things I played with was adding a feature font through TypeKit. Several free options were offered, and I ended up with what you’re reading now, FertigoPro from ExLjbris. I spent about two weeks, several hours a day, trying to figure out how to incorporate this; the directions were less than helpful. A few months later, WordPress sent out a directive that they were changing their system, and panic is the only word to describe what I felt. I’d actually like to change this font – while it’s lovely, in practice it’s too small, it’s not that readable, I don’t like the “1,” and the italics aren’t easily distinguished – but I never could figure out how, and now, from what I understand, if I change anything I will have to pay at least $30 a year for the service. While that’s not exorbitant, I’m pretty rigid about not paying for stuff on the Internet since it can get out of hand very quickly. I’ll probably relent one of these days.

I suppose there are people who think this is all foolishness, this font business – that Times New Roman is good enough for anything, and if not there’s always Arial. I choose to believe those people are rare. I prefer to hang with people like Karen Kavett, who has an entire series of videos on YouTube about typography. Or with John Boardley, whose I Love Typography site is full of delights – or with Simon Garfield (who was kind enough to answer an emailed question immediately), who was inspired to write a book about fonts, and who provides plenty of further reading therein.

Did I mention I love this book?

Non-Fiction – Simon Garfield: Just My Type: a book about fonts – Part 4

Paul Felton's #1 Type Heresy

Paul Felton’s #1 Type Heresy

We’re done with sagging now; it’s all party from here on out.

Chapter 18: Breaking the Rules
In most human enterprises, there’s a conflict between craft and creativity, between minding the rules and pushing the envelope. In most things, the mantra is: you have to know the rules to know when and how to break them. That’s where progress comes from, after all. Paul Felton crystallizes how this phenomenon affects the typographical world with his twin-book, The Ten Commandments of Typography (“Thou shalt not apply more than three typefaces in a document”) which flips over to reveal Type Heresy, a graphic rendition of how to break the rules by the Fallen Angel of Typography, including the image above as Heresy #1. Another book I just have to get.

fontbreak: The Interrobang
The combination question mark and exclamation point, proposed in the 60s by ad exec Martin Spekter, was offered on a few IBM and Remington typewriters, and exists in Wingdings but it never caught on. Garfield speculates: do people just like typing all those symbols to emphasize astonishment!?!?!?! It does feel satisfying somehow, even if you edit them out later. He speculates on punctuation’s resistance to change.

Chapter 19: The Serif of Liverpool
If you’re a fan of “popular” music (or just cover art) this chapter alone is worth the price of the book. And it could keep you busy for hours, looking for yourself to find Bootle, the font, complete with dropped “T”m modelled after the logo used by the early Beatles. Maybe you’d prefer Floydian, the scrawl from The Wall. Or I Blame Coco, derived from Coco Sumner’s handwriting as used on her album of that name. Songs have been sung about fonts: “Boring Arial Layout” by The Grace Notes seems to contain only the lyric “That’s me, I’m so famous!” “German Bold Italic” by Japanese singer Towa Tei and Australian Kylie Minogue doesn’t really make sense (“I am a typeface…I can compliment you well Especially in red Extremely in Green…I fit like a glove”) but I think it’s just supposed to be strange, which is fine. I’m reading a book about fonts, for god’s sake, I’m down with strange.
Returning the focus to type, we learn about the work of Peter Saville (New Order, as well as Kate Moss and Dior). For a grand finale, the creator of the Rolling Stone masthead (as well as Doobie Brothers album covers and former Hallmark card font designer) Jim Parkinson gets his nod.

Fontbreak: Vendome
Because: “Sometimes you just need a type that says Pleasure, possibly in French.”

Chapter 20: Fox, Gloves
Someone actually shot a video of a quick brown fox jumping over a lazy dog, but that phrase has become passé as a font display. Others with all letters of the alphabet, such as “Quick wafting zephyrs vex bold Jim” and “Zany Eskimo craves fixed job with quilting party” never achieved widespread use. Besides, they’re all too long when new fonts are released every day. The current rage is “Handgloves” or “Hamburgerfont” – there is a method to this, since some letters better show the differences between fonts than others. But FontShop has a better idea: for email updates, why not choose a word that fits the use of the font? Alas, their online site uses “Handgloves” but I do wish I could find the best example of all, if most cynical: the words “Removes unwanted hair” demonstrating the Chernobyl font.

Chapter 21: The Worst Fonts in the World
See this video: Trajan is the Movie Font. That doesn’t make it a bad font – it’s lovely – just overused. The idea of “worst font” could include many things – the inane, like Comic Sans, or the gross, like Grassy, “a type with hair” (let it be noted it won Linotype’s design contest in 1999). But Garfield has his own definitive list:
#8: Ecofont, the well-meaning, ink-saving font. It’s not so much a font as a process that puts holes in Arial, Verdana, et al. “and prints them as if they had been attacked by moths.” It is, however, available free.
#7: Souvenir, “A sort of Saturday Night Fever typeface wearing tight white flared pants” says Mark Batty (whose ITC owns the font) of the font that graced the BeeGees albums (and Playboy) in the 70s. Peter Guy of the Folio Society is blunt: “A souvenir of every ghastly mistake ever made in type design gathered together – with a few never thought of before.” I’m not sure why – I think it’s pretty. I’ve always said I have no eye for art.
#6: Gill Sans Light Shadowed. “…it will soon induce headaches.” I agree.
#5: Brush Script.I think everyone with Word has tried to use this at one time or another, but it never really works. I regret to say that my beloved city library uses this as a headline for event promotions. Garfield’s complaint is that it’s phony. All printing is imitating handwriting, so what? I just think it’s too squat. Here’s the pay dirt, though: you can get a font of your own handwriting, or anyone’s handwriting for that matter, at fontifier.com, for $9 (you do need a scanner).
#4: Papyrus, another ok but seriously overused font. But you can fight back: website Papyrus Watch “sets out to document and expose the overuse of the Papyrus font.” [tiny whisper: I happen to like it, and I don’t see anything Egyptian about it, other than that’s how it’s used by fifth graders writing reports. But it’s so cool that fifth graders are using computers – and fonts! – says one who thought the Flair felttip was innovative technology]
#3: Neuland Inline “says Africa in the way Papyrus says Egypt.” Meaning, it says “stereotype.” Again, I don’t see anything particularly African about it (I’m not even sure what an African font would look like; Africa is a big, diverse place), other than its now-permanent association with The Lion King.
#2: Ransom Note: This isn’t so much a font as a category; many similar fonts use the torn-out-of-a-magazine-and-pasted-together style: “the names are often better than the type.” Very true: my personal favorite is Got Heroin?
#1: And the Worst Font in the World (if you ever saw either of Keith Olbermann’s news shows, you’d hear the echo in your head): the 2012 Olympic Font known as 2012 Headline. The logo is bad enough – “some detected Lisa Simpson having sex, others a swastika” – but the font “is based on jaggedness and crudeness, not usually considered attributes where sport is concerned.” And of course, there’s that stereotypical thing again,the nod to Greece, “the sort of lettering you will find at London kebob shops and restaurants called Dionysus.”

My own font faux pas: About a decade ago, one of my more interesting if less frequent work duties was the writing and pre-production of a client newsletter. One month I did some work on it at home, and emailed the result to the office, where my boss intercepted it. Somehow, his computer changed the headline font to a hideous thing (I thought it was called Dancin’ but no, it was much worse, more like Party Mush). I didn’t even bother to explain that it was Century Schoolbook (or some such thing, maybe Garamond or Georgia or Calisto or Perpetua, I’m fond of serifs, though Verdana has its moments) when it left my home computer. From then on I used what I knew worked across platforms. It may be boring, but it doesn’t make a fool of me.

My personal Microsoft Word (circa 2000) least favorite list? Blackladder ITC and Gigi. Most of the scripts, really (except Lucida Calligraphy, which I sometimes use in condensed form for my name on stationery header). And the goofy things like Curlz and Jokerman, though they might have some use, in extremely small quantities, in some applications.

I’m saving the last chapter for next week. I’m having such a good time, I don’t want this to be over. For those of you wondering if I’ve lost my mind – long ago, but this phase is almost over.

Non-Fiction – Simon Garfield: Just My Type: a book about fonts – Part 3

Art by Tom Gabor

Art by Tom Gabor

Just like people, many books sag in the middle. That isn’t to say the group of chapters here is boring; I was still fascinated. But in some of them, there is less of a “fun” factor, and readers who aren’t generally interested in printing and typography might wonder where the magic has gone. Don’t worry – it comes back, in spades. But there’s still interesting stuff to discover here.

As an incentive – just today I got “I Shot the Serif (but I did not shoot the san serif)” game (unrelated to the image above, which is also fun; you can it, or variations, on a t-shirt) in my feed from the NYT’s newly named “Page-Turner” blog.

And now back to our scheduled book:

Chapter 6: The Ampersand’s Final Twist
Caslon, then Garamond, created what many consider to be the finest examples of ampersands, the typographical character even the most staid designers get a little wild with. You can get Caslon’s on a t-shirt (oh, how I want one). In 2010, the Society of Typographic Aficionados released “Coming Together“, a digital font of over 400 different ampersands to raise money for victims of the Haitian earthquake. They did something similar with Japanese characters in 2011 for the Japanese tsunami relief. Typographic Aficionados care.

Chapter 7: Baskerville is Dead (Long Live Baskerville)

…it has one one attribute that makes it infallibly recognizable and timelessly stunning – the upper-case Q. This has a tail extending well beyond its body width…The lower-case g is also a classic with its curled ear and its lower blowl left unclosed, as if all the ink was being saved for that Q.

In spite of Benjamin Franklin’s support, Baskerville never enjoyed much success during his life. But all things come to those who wait: his font was one of the five initially available on the iPad. And it’s a beautiful Q.

Font Break: Mrs Eaves & Mr Eaves
Baskerville may have missed out during his lifetime because of social disapproval: his wife came to him first as a housekeeper after her husband abandoned her and her five children. When things turned romantic, they couldn’t marry until the absent husband died. In honor of this sad and romantic tale, Zuzana Licko used the name Mrs Eaves for her 1996 update of Baskerville. And Australian artist Gemma O’Brien took the name Mrs Eaves for her “Write Here, Write Now” video project to support creation of open-graffiti zones as places of self-expression.

Chapter 8: Tunnel Visions
Even if you live in a city with a subway system, you may never consider that thought went into the signs used. First was the London Underground. During WWI, Edward Johnston – friend of Evelyn Waugh, teacher to Edward Gill – created the first modern sans and the first created for random public(as opposed to academic) use.

In the lower case the key letter was the o, whose counter (the internal white space) he created equal to twice its stem width, thus giving it “ideal mass-and-clearance.” His most distinctive letter was the lower-case i, which had an upturned boot…. The most beautiful was the i, on which Johnston placed a diamond-shaped dot that still brings a smile today.

But that was 1916, and of course things change. In 1979 Eiichi Kono was brought in to update the Underground font: “when he came to present his work for the first time he displayed his vaious New Johnston fonts with just one word: ‘Underglound.'” Now there’s a man with a misch sense of humor.

Chapter 9: What is it about the Swiss?
It’s the title character in a movie and the sole subject of a book. Type designer Cyril Highsmith tried to avoid it for one New York day and couldn’t travel, eat, shop, or get dressed, without great difficulty. Bloomingdales, Jeep, Gap, American Airlines, Panasonic, North Face, Toyota, Nestle, Verizon – and countless other companies – stake their corporate images on it. Only on the French Metro has it failed.
Oh, Helvetica:

…it’s Swiss heritage laying a backdrop of impartiality, neutrality and freshness….The font also manages to convey honesty and trust…a friendly homeliness….designed with some wit, and certainly with the human hand….the inner white shapes serve as a form guide to the black around them, an aspect that one designer called ‘a locked-in rightness”.…..[the lowercase] a has a slightly pregnant teardrop belly and a tail… the t a nd j have square dots….[The capital] G has both a horizontal and vertical bar at a right angle, Q has a short straight angled cross-line like a cigarette in an ashtray, and R has a little kicker for its right leg.

But Helvetica is not just one font: it is a typeface family, Helvetica Neue by Linotype, and contains over 50 fonts from Ultra-Light Italic to Black Condensed Oblique. How is the amateur to tell? The most telling distinction seems to be “horizontally cut finals” particularly on the c and s. It’s the sort of thing I never noticed before, but will always see from now on.
This feature also applies to Univers by Swiss-born Adrian Frutiger, which marked a new era: “the point when the design of type moved from something performed primarily with the eye through the hand, to something that resulted from science….Men in labcoats and clipboards were now defining our alphabet – a long way from ‘gutenberg, Caslon, or Baskerville.” It’s such an interesting point, I’ll resist trying to imagine men in clipboards.

Fontbreak: Frutiger
Though the successor to Univers (a little more relaxed, less mathematical, with some quirks that are simply pleasing to the eye) is the focus, it’s really an excuse to discuss use of fonts on sports jerseys around the world – an issue that most likely has never crossed anyone’s mind before, except the people who decide what players will wear. Germans use something like Serpentine, the French Optima, and those crazy Argentines go Bauhaus. Don’t you just love it?

Chapter 10: Road Akzidenz
This chapter would have been a lot more interesting if I knew more about English roadways, though it does end in New York City. The takeaway for me: only Germans would design a font named Grotesk Akzidenz for road signs.

Chapter 11: DIY
My cheeks hurt from smiling when I got to the end of this chapter. I remember the toy printing press my brother and I used to churn out a newspaper. “Just the mention of it may send a grown man to Ebay” – or a grown woman, who’ll find a Superior Cub for $9.00. And Letraset – oh, the agonies, one letter would get stuck halfway down the stem and break off, or something would be crooked. I’ve never had the eye for lettering: spacing matters.

Chapter 12: What the Font?
So you want a reference book of fonts listed alphabetically by name? Try 1953 Encyclopedia of Typefaces (the next chapter will bring in Fontshop’s more recent Fontbook). Say, though, you want to identify a font, maybe the lowercase “g” on the cover of the Encyclopedia – Rookledge’s Classic International Typefinder might be more helpful, listing fonts by characteristics such as a sloping e-bar. Or you can go digital and try WhatTheFont, an iPhone app. The author found that highly unreliable, and turned to the MyFonts.com Forum which was far more helpful (odd, since MyFonts makes the iPhone app; but in a forum, you have all kinds of crazy people with nothing better to do than flaunt their arcane knowledge; that’s how Dan Rather got fired, IIRC).
Would it surprise you to find out I spent a couple of days fooling around with this stuff, trying to identify fonts on everything from prescription bottles to clothing tags? Hey, I don’t laugh at your hobbies (I found Identifont to be very helpful)! And now maybe you understand why I’ve been discussing fewer short stories lately. And by the way, Eyehawk at the MyFonts forum had an answer for Garfield: the “g” on the cover of the 1953 Encyclopedia within minutes: “Font identified as ACaslon Pro-Regular. Case marked solved.” I love geeks of all stripes.

Chapter 13: Can a Font Be German, or Jewish?
Erik Spiekermann, co-founder of FontShop, is an authority on type. He’d have to be, since his FontBook contains 100,000 fonts, including things that will never show up on a PC, like Stoned, Elliott’s Blue Eyeshadow, and Monster Droppings. And he has his own interpretation of a little-known facet of the Third Reich. Up until 1941, roman type was in the same category as modern art and music: degenerate. Only gothic script would do. Then there was a change, as gothic type was labeled Jewish; now roman type was required. Spiekermann’s explanation? The elaborate blackletter script was barely legible outside Germany. And the Reich was running out of typeface; French and Dutch foundries didn’t have much, since they hardly used it. But what I’ll take away from this chapter (besides Monster Droppings) is the 1933 arrest of Paul Renner, designer of Futura, for being “too sympathetic towards roman types” in his college lectures. But he did have the last word: in the next Fontbreak, we discover Futura was used for the plaque left on the moon in July, 1969 by Appollo 11.

Chapter 14: American Scottish
American type didn’t start until 1790 with Binny & Ronaldson, two gents of Scottish descent who broke away from the previous English monopoly on type used here (the Declaration of Independence, for example, was printed in Caslon) with Monticello. But the “most enduring” American font is Franklin Gothic, named after Benjamin Franklin: “Things ‘All-American’ have a habit of using Franklin Gothic to press their case, be it the titles on the Rocky films or the block capitals on Lady Gaga’s album The Fame Monster.'” I find these examples of All-American-ness hilarious. Frederick Goudy was our premier type designer: “one of those rare things – a prolific type designer with a penchant for the jazz life.” So prolific, his fonts were used by William Barrett to create “My Type of People” – a series of graphic representations of various people made up entirely of Goudy-created typographic characters.

Fontbreak: Moderns, Egyptians and Fat Faces
As technology developed in the eighteenth century, the Moderns emerged: fonts with more extremes of thick and thin strokes, and more delicate serifs, such as Bodini. Then fonts went in the opposite direction, with Fat Face and Egyptians.

Chapter 15: Gotham is Go
In 2000, Tobias Frere-Jones of Hoefler and Frere-Jones designed a new typeface for GQ, based on the sign over the entrance of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. In 2004, it was used for the cornerstone of the in-progress Freedom Towers at Ground Zero. Is it coincidence the Obama campaign decided to use it in 2008? Maybe – they started with Gill Sans, but found more variations with Gotham. For the record, the McCain campaign used Optima, the same font as used on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. And oh, by the way, Sarah Palin adopted Gotham for SarahPac. Politics, and fonts, make strange bedfellows.

And finally there is the ultimate tribute, that point when you know your typeface has really joined the pantheon of the greats. This is the point where people decide not to pay for it.

Chapter 16: Pirates and Clones
It ain’t easy being a type designer. The simplest typeface can consist of 600 characters – the alphabet, plus numerals, punctuation, accents, and special characters, in multiple varieties (bold and italic at the very least) and a comprehensive one far more. Obviously this is easier in the digital age than it was when each character was punchcut and molded, then produced in metal or wood, but it’s still an investment. Max Miedinger designed Helvetica, one of the most used fonts in the world, was “virtually penniless” at the time of his death because the company, Stempel, got the royalties, while he was paid a fee for services rendered back in the day. And piracy isn’t only about movies. Microsoft’s Arial is regarded by type designers as a ripoff of Helvetica – a situation played for humor in this CollegeHumor video, “FontFight“); though it looks different, it fits the same grid and was designed to be swapped in for the more expensive-to-license font. Lawsuits have historically been unsuccessful; just ask Hermann Zapf, creator of Zapf Dingbats (subject of another hilarious CollegeHumor video, Font Conference) who pushed for greater protection as early as 1974. And piracy isn’t always done with malice: the French agency conducting an anti-piracy campaign released their materials in what turned out to be a pirated font.

Chapter 17: The Clamour from the Past
Sue Shaw oversees the Type Archive in London, a collection of typeface from the past from 1500 to the dawn of the digital age:

…all the 23,000 drawers of metal punches and matrices, hundreds of fonts in every size, all the flat-bed presses, all 600,000 copper letter patterns. All the keyboards and casting machines setting hot metal type, all the woodletter type collections and machines from the DeLilttle company in York, all the steel history from Sheffield, all the hundredweights of artefacts that made the great libraries of the world. This is where it ended up when computers arrived. All quiet now….
The names of other fonts may be found elsewhere in the archive in the bound records of Stephenson Blake, Britain’s oldest and longest surviving typefounder in Sheffield and London – or it was until it shut for good in 2004 and sold the Sheffield site to be made into flats. In its heyday,which covered 1830 to 1970, it swallowed up the punches and matrices of the vast majority of British typefoundries, streching back to John Day in the sixteenth century, and encompassing hallowed designs and equipment….. Stephenson Blake manufactured typefaces for the world, and the names are regal, distant, and grand…They even had a precursor of Comic Sans: Ribbonface Typewriter, created in 1894.

Ozymandias springs to mind: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, this storage awaits you, some day.
And where is this treasury of type, printing machinery, and historical documentation housed? In a stone fortress with a marble façade? A modern glass and steel tower? No, it’s in an abandoned horse hospital.
The chapter also covers the rise of Monotype and Linotype, from automated typesetting to digital composition. There’s a palpable sense of history in the description of White Books, who publish only eight classic titles but treat each one with care; and the disappearance of the font notation from the title page of most modern books. That’s what charmed me most about Pear Noir!, you know: a little blurb about the Garamond type they used in issue 4 (where Zin was featured). And Rabbit Catastrophe, which not only names the type but hand-makes their journals. These may not be the most august literary journals around, but they are doing things worth doing.

Fontbreak: Sabon
It’s the font used for the main chapters of the book (not the Fontbreaks), and is considered one of the most readable book fonts.

And next time, things start getting a little wacky again…as if Monster Droppings and those College Humor videos aren’t wacky enough.

Non-Fiction – Simon Garfield: Just My Type: a book about fonts – Part 2

Beatrice Warde's manifesto

Beatrice Warde’s manifesto

And we pick up where we left off in Part 1, right after Chapter 2: Let’s be a little more serious (don’t worry, just a little, and just for a while), starting with a Fontbreak:

Fontbreak: Gill Sans
In the mid-1920s, Eric Gill painted a sign for a bookstore with what evolved into one of the most common typefaces in Britain, used by the Church of England, the BBC, and Penguin Books. In 1989 Fiona MacCarthy published a biography of the designer, which may give you pause the next time you see this “most British of types….spare, proper, and reservedly proud” – he kept a detailed diary which included the notation, “Continued experiments with dog… and discovered that a dog will join with a man.” Oh, and then there’s the incest and pedophilia… Yes, the guy was a pervert of the lowest order. Maybe that’s why the penguins waddle, y’think? It creates an interesting question for organizations like the BBC and Westminster Cathedral, both of whom use Gill Sans: Is it censorship (and artistic treason, not to mention economic hardship) to replace the work of a pedophile, or common sense?

Chapter 3: Legibility vs Readability
Is the perfect font a crystal goblet – transparent so the wine is the star – or a golden chalice, to be admired on its own? Opinions differ. Beatrice Warde, publicist for the Monotype corporation in the 20s and 30s, and, lord help her, “friend (and sometimes lover) of Eric Gill” wrote the eloquent essay The Crystal Goblet, stating the case for her point of view. The sign above (it’s not the same version as printed in the book) was her Credo, and was found in most printing offices of the time (and is well-known enough to be parodied and adapted to the printing press of today). Kind of makes you want to salute when you walk past Kinkos, doesn’t it?
As I understand it, readability is legibility in practice, and in volume. A bold all-caps stylized headline can be legible from across the room, but would be a poor choice for a paragraph. While I was able to prove the “dot test” to my satisfaction – the dots of the “i” in New Times Roman and other serif fonts is indeed slightly shifted to the left – I’m dubious about the “stem test” – the stem of the “t” is thicker at the bottom to keep it from falling over (visually, of course). Unless they mean that extra couple of pixels which curve more quickly on the left side, resulting in an extremely brief increased thickness.

Font Break: Albertus
First a fairly thorough description (“…combining Roman values with individual flair….The large rounded letters are complemented by the narrow horizontal E, F, L, and T, which are even more effective when doubled. The S has a smaller counter at the bottom than at the top, which can make it appear upside-down”) with examples, and history (Berthold Wolpe created it in 1932 for use on bronze memorial tablets), the punch line comes in the explanation of why it (with some small modifications) was used for the signs in the old TV show The Prisoner (which I was just barely old enough to appreciate on first run): it was “visually stunning” and “perfectly suited to the unnerving psychological landscape” but above all else – for use on late-1960s televisions – it was highly legible. A clone of the variation (the dots of the “i” removed, and some minor changes to other letters) is available; and a restaurant in France has deliberately recreated the look, emphasizing the Celtic elements, to mimic The Village. That’s the power of a well-chosen font: it evokes a forty-year-old tv series that only ran for seventeen episodes, and it makes a French chef want to appear Celtic.

Chapter 4: Can a Font Make Me Popular?
Matthew Carter, creator of Verdana and Tahoma, has trouble at movies:

…so often when Carter sees films he notices niggly things wrong with type. How could a story set in Peru in the nineteenth century possibly have a sign on a restaurant door that had been composed in Univers from 1957? How could the film Ed Wood, set in the 1950s, use Chicago, a font from the 1980s, as the sign at the entrance of a studio? And how did the props team of a movie set at the start of the Second World War get the idea that it would be okay to print a document in Snell Roundhand Bold, when Carter, watching in the muliplex, would recognize the face as something he himself created in 1972?

Designer Mark Simonson devotes a section of his website to such faux pas.

Font Break: Futura vs Verdana
The consumer backlash when Ikea switched fonts was so dramatic – and unprecidented – it even made the Business section of Time.

Chapter 5: The Hands of Unlettered Men
The post-Guttenburg proliferation of type in the late 15th century, from the da Spira brothers in Venice, epicenter of the printing explosion, to William Caxton in England.

Font Break: Doves

Doves type is most easily recognized by its ample space between letters, a y that descends without a curl, a ligature connecting c and t, and the bottom bowl of its g set at an angle, giving it a sense of motion, .like a helicopter tilting at take-off.

The type that was drowned – creator and owner Thomas Cobden-Sanderson threw it in the Thames in 1916 to keep it from passing to his former Doves Press partner upon his death. Too bad – the Doves Press Bible is beautiful, with a drop-cap for the ages.

Join us next time for the Ampersand Chronicles and the tale of a Superior Cub…

Non-Fiction – Simon Garfield: Just My Type: a book about fonts – Part 1

Periodic Table of Elements by Cameron Wilde/SquidSpot

Periodic Table of Elements by Cameron Wilde/SquidSpot

I love this book. How can you not love a book with the Periodic Table of Typefaces on the endpapers?

I love it so much (and I’m not quite done with it yet), I’m going to stretch it out over a series of posts, so I can include all the things I loved. Sure, I know I have a problem with editing, but this book, even if you don’t care about fonts or typography, there’s probably going to be something in it that appeals to you. Like one of the greatest April Fool’s Day hoaxes ever perpetrated on Great Britain. Or the quandary Westminster Abbey was in when it was discovered the designer of the signage at the Stations of the Cross was an incestuous pedophile (among other things). Or the games people play with fonts. Or the story of the font that was drowned to keep it out of the wrong hands. I don’t want to leave anything out.

It’s arranged in a rather stream-of-consciousness style rather than chronologically or by sections and subsections. Most of the 22 chapters – they’re fairly short, maybe six to eight pages each – end with some kind of lead-in to the next. They’re separated by Fontbreaks, two- or three-page spotlights on a specific font.

You won’t learn much about type design or page layout here; for that, you need a different kind of book. If you’re a total type novice, a two minute browse of any site explaining typeface terms – bowls, stems, descenders and counters – might be helpful in a few places. But it’s not essential; most of it’s pretty intuitive, and plenty of illustrations are included. In fact, the Introduction is mostly a fifteen-page graphic essay of how type is used in everything from TV show logos to the New York Times classifieds to iPhones.

It’s a wonderfully entertaining book, informative, readable, and fun – particularly when read at your computer, with the book in one hand and your mouse in the other. I spent nearly an hour on some chapters, just checking out what’s mentioned. I’ve included links to some of the most fun stuff; the book provides an appendix of online resources.

Introduction: Love Letters

Typefaces are now 560 years old. So when a Brit called Matthew Carter constructed Verdana and Georgia for the digital age in the 1990s, what could he possibly have been doing to an A and a B that had never been done before? And how did an American friend of his make the typeface Gotham, which eased Barack Obama into the presidency? And what exactly makes a font presidential or American, or British, French, German, Swiss, or Jewish? These are arcane mysteries, and it is the job of this book to get to the heart of them.

Chapter 1: We Don’t Serve Your Type
The introduction ends with a warning:

But we should begin with a cautionary tale, a story of what happens when a typeface gets out of control.

You know what’s coming, don’t you? Comic Sans, developed by Vincent Connare, originally designed to accompany Microsoft Bob, a dog-icon that would serve as a Help function on Office. The idea was to make computers, and Microsoft Bob in particular, less threatening to first-time users. But the font proved too big, so it was never incorporated; Bob wasn’t a hit, and was discontinued (replaced, I suppose, by Paper Clip Man, whom I despise with a passion unaccounted for by reason). Since it was there, Comic Sans was included in the supplementary fonts package for Windows 95. It’s now the most hated font in the world. The first six or ten sites you’ll find if you google “Comic Sans” will be anti-CS groups and websites. In my travels I’ve noticed some literary journals (like Plain Spoke and Puritan) specifically forbid it; the Futures SF column of Nature also forbids it on a guidelines page in a font that looks very much like CS, lending an ironic tone to the whole thing. A friend of mine used CS for her personal emails – purple, no less – and it suited her. But, like a hoodie, it could lead to trouble.

Chapter 2: Capital Offenses
In 2007, Vicki Walker, New Zealand insurance worker, was fired for causing “disharmony in the workplace” by sending an email in upper case (plus red and bold sections); her later wrongful termination lawsuit was successful. The chapter blends into history: Guttenberg, and the origins of moveable type; Upper Case referred to the box in which capitals were stored.

But that’s all preface to the main event: On April 1, 1977, the UK’s Guardian ran a seven-page supplement touting the newly discovered vacation spot, the islands of The Republic of San Seriffe, complete with map of the two major islands of Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse, with feature stories on the lovely beaches of Gill Sands and the charming port of Clarendon, and a profile of President Maria-Jesu Pica (helpfully archived online by the newspaper). This was, of course, before everyone had a PC on his or her desk with those font names in a drop-down menu at the top; no one knew from serifs. Travel agents, swamped with requests to book passage to this unknown paradise, could find no Bodoni Airport, no Garamondo Inlet. It ranks as one of the best April Fool’s Day hoaxes in modern history.

See why I love this book?

More to come…