Blue Pencil no. 17Just My Type: Addendum no. 2

In my published review of Just My Type for Imprint I mentioned some of the larger themes percolating beneath the surface of the book. One that I forgot is the notion that typefaces should look like typefaces. This is similar to Eric Gill’s declaration that “Letters are not pictures or representations.” (An Essay on Typography, p. 23) Gill was offended by letters that tried to look like things (such as letters made of tree branches, viz. the back cover of Pet Sounds). Similarly there are typographers and designers who, for generations, have complained that some typefaces are not “real” typefaces because they look like handwriting or handlettering. For them Caslon is type but Snell Roundhand is not. I think this attitude lies beneath the contempt Garfield describes for Comic Sans and Papyrus as well as his own dislike of Brush Script, Neuland, ransom note fonts and Gill Sans Light Shadowed (which ironically fits Gill’s definition of letters trying to represent things).

The problem with this attitude is that it is outdated. When type was metal attempts to mimic handwriting tended to fail because the technology, despite all of the 19th century wizardry of angled bodies and winged bodies, was inadequate to the task. But this all changed with the dematerialization of type in the phototype era. And the proliferation of OpenType fonts with “smart” features such as contextual alternates has made the distinction between “real” type and “fake” type moot. Papyrus with its roughened edges is as much type as Adobe Garamond is.