Monday, September 29, 2008

Dada Writing and Comic Books

Some comic books employ a couple of techniques to help readers better understand and imagine certain characters.
The most basic approach is colored text boxes. Comic panels can become cluttered very easily, especially when multiple characters are speaking or thinking. A good example of this is Deadpool, whose low, gravelly voice is illustrated by yellow speech bubbles.
Jeph Loeb's Batman: The Long Halloween is a terrific example of narrative text for voices.
The Mad Hatter speaks with letters capitalized to signify enunciation, much like what some Dadaists were trying to do. This helps make him creepier and less human.

Solomon Grundy is a walking tank, but can only remember the lyrics to the rhyme "Solomon Grundy." His speech is much bolder and savage, to reflect his nature.

Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth takes narrative text to the extreme with the Joker. Speaking entirely in bloody, smeared letters, the Joker's texts reflect the violent psychopath that he is. Also note how Batman speaks in black speech bubbles to help illustrate his dark nature.

- cOLin

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wash U Trip

Seeing items in person is always much more interesting than a 3 inch picture of one in a book, and the trip to Wash U's campus was no exception. From an original page from Gutenberg's bible to recent experiments in folding and book setup, the entire trip was memorable. I believe my favorites were the early bibles with the elaborate illustrations. The fact that they had highlighted letters rather than paragraph breaks was interesting. The Morris bible was a whole lot easier to read in person, as the elaborate decorations and letters really make for a tough read in a small picture.

Also, Wash U needs to invest in a few gargoyles for the campus.

- Colin

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Victorian Age and Steampunk

Hidden within the dark depths of the moldering cesspool known as the Internet is an underground art style known as Steampunk. From movies to graphic novels to simple decoration, this style is based around the mechanical and unique look of the Victorian Age.

This style is characterized by large and complicated fonts with old-fashioned color schemes. The best example I can think of is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels (not that God-awful movie, mind you), which starred numerous literary heroes and villains from that particular time period. They even mimicked the look and feel of advertising and illustrations, with ads for cure-all medicines and ornate contraptions designed to eliminate “Page-Turner’s Peril.”

Interestingly, one cover mimicked the Japanese look that became popular during that Era.

There are many artists and metalsmiths who modify modern day items to look Victorian, such as this laptop.

While some deem the entire era of having overly complicated designs with horrible stretching crimes done to typefaces, I’ve always enjoyed the look of this style.

Personally, I think (and know) that simple designs follow this era. Stuff that’s easier to read at a glance.

- Sir Colin

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Victorian era and Industrial Revolution were unique times, so I might have believed that art, advertisements, and designs should have reflected the progression and innovations of the Industrial Revolution.  Even so, I would not have supported a break with tradition. After all, older ideas inspire these new ones. Maybe a harmony between man and machine could be reached...

Another problem: large, special fonts can easily grab one’s attention, but if everything is emphasized, nothing is.

I would have also encouraged more simplicity, but with meaning, rather than clutter (something I’m prone to, so I understand completely.) 

Kids, kittens, puppies, and pansies are great, but it would be nice if this idealism could be balanced with realism.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Victorian Age Design

The Victorian age was an important area in the history of graphic design. I specifically want take a look at Victorian posters, or flyers, which focused on advertising a certain product or event. Even if you doesn't particularly care for the design choices of the time, it is still interesting to look back and see what these designers were doing. 

The three images above show some common characteristics of Victorian design. 

  • The use of many different fonts
  • A busy picture plane
  • An even page layout
  • Bold, or loud type
The use of many different fonts can be confusing to the viewer. Some fonts strike us as serious, or stern, while others are easy and clean. Using these different kinds of fonts together can create an uneven tone or message. 

Another common approach to the design of these posters was to cram in a lot of information in a tiny area. This can cause the design to seem cluttered. 

Bold text, along with large font sizes were used often to get the attention of the reader. 

- Jason

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Bit on Fonts and Subliminal Politics...

Words are meant to communicate. That’s why they were invented. But sometimes, they tell more than what is just written. Fonts say a lot about the writer and the message. They direct readers on how to think, but also what to feel: Trust? Fear? Respect and admiration? I’d better not question you if I’d like to keep my head?

Aware of this fact, many political leaders take advantage of it. Politics is probably the most interesting subject when observing reasons for font applications.

For hundreds of years, medieval churches kept power with nearly illegible fonts. Followers had nothing available to read, and therefore nothing to question.

Adolf Hitler’s passionate use of Blackletter was mainly to encourage German pride, as people often unconsciously associate specific fonts with a certain place, person, or time in history. (A Roman font, or one associated with Greece, might imply similarity to the innovative people who lived there, and their ideas that have been lauded for millennia. This is obviously a very effective tool… Who wouldn’t want to be positively compared to that?) Hitler's buddy Goebbels had a fondness for Roman fonts, using them at the 1936 Olympics (Superiority complex, much?)

Recently, Presidential candidate Barack Obama appears to have adopted “Gotham” as the official font for his campaign. It’s bold, fresh, and well suited for his message of “Change.” To a viewer (political leaning aside,) he seems genuine and true to his message.  McCain, in contrast, employs "Optima," displaying sincerity, wisdom, and a belief in the tried-and-true methods. 

This particular entry is written in a simple Verdana. I am obviously attempting to look smart and sophisticated to you readers.

Politicians are all about looking back to the glory days of years past, or forward to a bright new era. It’s strange how fonts can evoke those emotions so easily.



Sunday, September 7, 2008

Old English Today

Typefaces never really meant much to me, at work or at school. For projects it was usually a matter of scrolling down the typeface choices until I came across something that worked or at least didn’t make my eyes melt out of my face a lá Raiders of the Lost Ark. At work we only have about 40 typefaces for the customer to choose from, so a lot of typefaces that they want become merged into one. Helvetica = Block 2. Bodoni, Garamond, Century = Times New Roman. There are not a whole lot of choices, and it has trained my brain to immediately figure out:
1) What font could be substituted
Or, failing that:
2) How hard would to be for me to forge it

There are some things I have noticed over the years I’ve worked there, such as that the younger customers tend to prefer fonts like Cooper, Impact, Ireland, Old English, and (shudder) Curlz. Cooper and Impact I can understand; as they are very popular fonts for shirts due to their easy-to-read designs. However, Ireland and Old English are very difficult to read sometimes, especially on a shirt thirty feet away. I believe those particular fonts are chosen because they “look cool” and not because of their readability.

I believe the reason why Old English is such a popular font is a result of brand name companies using it on their merchandise and advertisements, such as the shirt above.

The extremely popular video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas utilized Old English font to give the logo a more West Coast/Los Angeles feel.

The point I am trying laboriously to get to is that the typeface Old English is still alive and well today among today’s youth. From hats to shirts to wristbands, it seems like every teenager these days wants the words in Old English.

(FYI: Old English is a pain in the butt to embroider on hats)

Old English evolved from the font Blackletter, which came about during the Middle Ages when books were still expensive handwritten commodities. Letters became tall and very ornate, which subsequently made them harder to read. Since the vast majority of the population was illiterate anyway, this didn’t affect much.

Blackletter was a very confined typeface, and a lot of the letters tend to look the same, requiring the viewer to read very carefully.

Over the centuries the engraved, elegant style of Blackletter and the Middle Ages evolved into what is commonly referred to as Old English.

- Colin

Garamond: History and Purpose in Design

The Garamond typeface has a long history of being very rich and useful in design. Claude Garamond (1480-1561) was a type designer in his day, and he's credited for creating the Garamond typeface which is in the style of old style serif typefaces. 

Claude was commissioned to create the typeface for a French King by the name of Francis I in the 1540's. The type was originally used in books by Robert Estienne. This new typeface soon influenced type from Western Europe to France. To this day the type face is still used often and there have been many different variations such as Apple Garamond, Adobe Garamond Pro, Granjon, Garamond BE, and ITC Garamond, etc...

Below are examples of some of the different variations:

As you can see, the type is very clean, which is why it is mostly used in designs that need a simple and professional look. There's nothing particularly flashy about the typeface, but it gets the job done. I would consider it to be a very strong font that serves a specific purpose and is extremely useful in various design projects.  

One of the reasons why the typeface is so clean and precise is because of the time period it was created in. Garamond is very much a renaissance creation. It was a humanistic time where perfect proportional relationships were everything. It is easy to see this idea, or relationship, in the Garamond typeface.  This is the main reason behind its clean, sharp look. Also, Garamond replaced the Gothic styled text of the time which was difficult to read. 

- Jason