We are fonts | Babelia

We are fonts | Babelia

The typography or "art of printing" is the suit with which we wear the words. Each season has its own tastes and usually finds its own more elegant and accurate than that of its parents and grandparents, and that is why it changes every bit of patronage, fabrics, colors (the Spanish Court of the Austrias imposed the black, as it is known, in the European nobles, and the Court of Parma did the same with the Bodonians throughout Europe). Sometimes it is just a matter of fashion (bell-bottoms or shirt collars), but others go beyond fashion and have played an important role in the transformation of society and in the conquest of freedom (miniskirt, bikini).

Only to see a hat we know what time, social class or even ideology belongs to the person who wears it (tubular, bicorne, cap): "The red ones did not wear a hat" was the famous slogan with which a headgear celebrated the entrance of the Franco troops in Madrid, trying to make up for three years of losses. Tschichold and his friends from the Bauhaus felt that the classless society, for which they fought, deserved an alphabet without capitals: all proletarians working for meaning (the State). The first thing that Hitler did when he came to power was, of course, to postpone and avoid the letter Futura and others like it, for leftists, at the same time that he initiated the persecution of the bauhaustas, many of them Jews, and reestablish as official letter of the Third Reich the Gothic, which in Germany had been hegemonic well into the twentieth century. For those who are not used to reading in it, it is a devilish letter. It may even have been for many Germans, and modern editors have ruined it. But Hitler paid "for there was more sin": at the beginning of the invasion of Poland that started the Second World War and the consequent expansion towards the north, south and east of Europe, he was forced to substitute in the road signs and printed the Gothic letter, impenetrable to the allies of the Reich, for … a version of the letter Futura (one of dry stick, much clearer and more functional), justifying the change in that the Gothic was a letter … Jewish!

"In a different edition, books say something different," wrote the poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, the first of the Spanish authors who cared and really dealt with these typographical issues. Because he believed that typography should make something of the pathos of the written. If we grant that what moves us about art and literature is the feeling that is given to us in one and another, we must treat typography as another feeling. The word love it does not say the same thing written in Gothic, English or psychedelic letters (the latter is still very much appreciated in the labels of nightclubs and hostess bars). It is very difficult today in the Basque Country (also in Iparralde) to enter a tavern whose label is not composed in that kind of Basque lyrics so common in that territory (they are called this way, and always in capital letters, overwhelming): they seem cut with a ax (not necessarily the one that appears in the anagram of ETA, which incidentally also used that racial typography in its letters of extortion and communiqués). And the same happens with many grills and restaurants throughout Spain whose samples are composed in gothic, dissuasive (at least for me), because they seem to suggest that the lambs that will serve us have been roasted since the Middle Ages.

It means that typography has had and has a major importance in the development of society, through communication and propaganda, and in human knowledge. Sometimes the comprehension or readability of a text depends solely on the eye of the letter (and that makes the Helvetica more versatile than the Future, both being of dry wood: the little one moves away from the o). The small details determine, then, the text and the message, as insignificant as it may seem to a layman, and François Mitterrand did not win a presidential election until his image consultants convinced him to shorten his fangs, which gave him a disturbing resemblance with Dracula.

With the advent of personal computers in our lives, and for the first time in the history of human writing, we have all become typographers, just like smartphones They have made us amateur photographers. And since we installed a printer in our houses, we have at hand, at any time of day and night, a small printing press, a digital minerva, we would say, the dream of all the libelistas for five centuries. In just 20 years and in less time than I have to tell you, we have access to incalculable bibliographical resources, and the lessons that until now took years to pass from teachers to apprentices, are given to us with a single click. Without the slightest problem of storage, our computers keep more types of letters that chibaletes could contain the best printing. I mean that every time we open a document on our screen and write something on it, the word love, for example, we are making typographers, as that character of Molière spoke in prose without knowing it. The logical thing, then, would be that we take typography seriously, because you may unknowingly say or suggest something different from what you want to say, just because you are not aware of how you are saying it.

Cover of 'Tam tam', by Tomás Borrás, illustrated by Garrán in 1931.enlarge photo
Cover of 'Tam tam', by Tomás Borrás, illustrated by Garrán in 1931.

Typography is a simple and subtle science, made up of proportions, letter bodies, box size and page blanks. You learn, like most of the trades, watching and copying. You have to know how to look and how to copy. JRJ was annoyed that Jorge Guillén and the poets of the 27 were robbed at the Aguirre printing house, where his prodigious one-person magazines were printed, and they used the same types that he had personally sought, found and paid for out of pocket. It said: "Go a little further to steal." Surely it is what the creators of the Beauty Salon will have thought when they see how their logo (very corny, by the way) is the same one with which we can publicize the Republic.

It can and should be copied, of course. JRJ did it too, from the Whistler print and the English Elzevirian typesetters. He said d'Ors that plagiarism is only allowed if it is followed by murder. I wanted to say that only if the plagiarism is as good as the original or surpasses it, it stops being plagiarism, which leads us to another of its aphorisms, which should appear in the housing of printers and computers: everything that does not it's tradition is plagiarism.

In 1957 it was published Typographical moment, a selection of commercial letterheads, the work of a typographer unknown to me, José García Almagro. A jewel, a masterpiece of our modest typography. It is at the height of Ámster and Giralt-Miracle, two of the best Spanish typographers of the twentieth century. And yet, it is an original book half-heartedly, because some of the models, as he declares, have taken them from abroad "to serve as a comparison". Your own have nothing to envy any of the outsiders. "It could have introduced a greater variety in the models with more different types," he confesses in a very brief note, "but I did not think it convenient to estimate that with a few typefaces – the normals in a small press – and a little bit of imagination can be achieved infinity of models. And I will add a fact of the greatest importance: the whole work is printed in a plate minerva " [la más pequeña y rudimentaria].

The teaching of García Almagro is that of any good pedagogue: neither great means nor great boasts are necessary to compose a book or design a logo. In computers usually come by default a centon of typographic families, each with its versailles, small and small, round and italics, bold and thin. The first thing that should be done is to throw most of them to the wastebasket and keep a dozen. Enough. Typographical outrages are often the consequence of both the ignorance of tradition and the overabundance of means. How to choose the ones that will stay and those that will leave is an art. Certainly not by name. They are deceptive, like those of wines. Only those who know nothing about wines choose it because of the beauty or ugliness of the label or the name given to it by the winemakers, often the worse the more sonorous (Alcor de los Templarios, Categoría, and so on). Let's say that two or three would suffice for texts (Minion, Sabon, a well-chosen Garamond, for example), two or three for headlines (Helvetica, Univers, Gill Sans), an English (Kuenstler), a Norman (Poster Bodoni) … In typography, as in so many things, less is more and more is less.

Each era takes refuge in special fonts, which he makes his own. The types used during Romanticism were tiny. They suggest that reading was the domain of intimacy, as well as the fear of a dehumanizing modernity. Those of the Golden Age confirm something that is still valid: the books that have changed our lives, such as the Quixote, They are usually badly printed, they are ugly and can be bought for one euro at a kiosk. And the eighteenth century, the golden age of typography, the opposite: very well done, but most of the books that were written then there is no one who can read them. And how is the typography of this time, ours, the one that we would like to use? That one for which they will recognize us in 100 years, as soon as they open one of the books that we print now?

Today it is composed more and better, but also more and worse: everything coexists in the same showcase

The profusion of models and the ease with which new technologies disseminate them make impossible here a summary of what is being done around the world. It is composed and edited more and better than ever, but also more and worse. The real typographical moment It is this, the one we are living. Convive excellence with the execrable, the exemplary and the abject often share with indifference the same showcase, kiosk or table of novelties. In any corner of the planet we can find excellent typographers, but since books, newspapers, magazines have entered the market as a consumer good, they are governed by the same rules as many other products, included. The image, so important in our time, often threatens to devour the word, and strip it. Sometimes, great paradox, with the help of typography. Perhaps the reproach that can be done to much of contemporary typography is this: infected by the image, does not try to dress the words, but to replace them by types and spectacular bodies, in cinemascope. Of course the thing started with futurism and dada ("words in freedom" no longer meant anything, they were pure appearance, prey to it). The consequence is terrible: the newspapers, reduced to headlines, are not read, they are seen, and the books are not seen, they look at each other and they watch, all shielded from editing much more than we can read, which would lead us to Another of the great aphorisms of JRJ: "To read a lot, buy little". But this is another chapter.


This is how a book is made. Enric Jardí. Arpa, 2019. 204 pages. 22.90 euros.

He is my type Simon Garfield. Translation by Miguel Marqués Taurus, March 2019. 376 pages. 23.90 euros.


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