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I've talked about this before, but I just had to finish reading Fred Smeijers Counterpunch: Making Type in the Sixteenth Century, Designing Typefaces Now, and it made me angry, so I'm going to rant:

I would argue that there is a type of man in the print/book trades who I'm just gonna call a Typebro. It's not just that the context and practice of books are genderless and so read masculine, but the emphasis on a print culture that historically valorizes masculinity through craft practices and ignores women practitioners, even goes a step further in pornographically alienating them; for examples see the American Type Foundry How to Make Love to Your Type flyer and this essay on Sexism and Fonts. This context underlines everything to the point of active erasure. Now, in my experience, practice in bookmaking actually shows this in rather stark relief, so I was struck by how Smeijers uses practice to make some historical arguments that vary from useful to unbelievably problematic.

Most of the book discusses recovering sixteenth century punch-cutting practices by experimenting with a few different processes, including cutting and digging, and comparing them to historical passages in Moxon and Fournier. Which is all well and good, except that Smeijers as a contemporary typographer thinks a lot about the design of letters, and somehow totally misses out on early typography's connections to manuscript culture. So for instance there's a part where he talks about how the ~amazing~ thing about 16th c. punchcutters is that they had "no models" drawn for their letterforms.

Just. Dude. NO. It is incredibly well-documented how the various early types were drawn from common scribal-hands in black letter, Roman, and Italic fonts. He also supposes that, of some surviving types, the cause for multiple versions of a single character comes from the punchcutter's love of design and aesthetic, and how much "fun" he must have had designing. DUDE, scribal practices include multiple letterforms for each character, ANY BASIC PALEOGRAPHY MANUAL WILL TELL YOU THIS. Even in a basic English secretary hand you will have anywhere from 4-10 different forms for a single letter, all of which were equally acceptable. A lot of this survives in the ligatures for the long s, the double f (ff) and the f in combination with other letters (such as fi, ffi, fl, and ffl); part of this is because of the kerns and how when set together the individual letters when put in these configurations could get damaged, but also how visually we are used to them. There are also the scribal practices of deleting letters and supplying a subscript to indicate these deletions, you see that in early books too before that disappears. Typebro mentions this not at all, nor is there any reference to the concurrent print and manuscript cultures that flourished through the 18th c. Because to him, print is its own special unicorn, devoid of all other contexts.


( 1 comment — Add your .02 )
Jul. 18th, 2016 01:34 am (UTC)
This is a magnificent and educational rant!
( 1 comment — Add your .02 )

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