Published on November 13th, 2007
A good friend of mine recently bought me a first edition of Wicked by Gregory Maguire. Several times now, I have curled up with it, but cannot seem to make it past page 14. Unfortunately, the font they chose for the body copy keeps distracting me from the story.
I often run into this. Walking down the street I will find myself pondering the font choice on a sign or billboard. Sometimes I will see a font on TV and remember a time when I used the same font in a design. This often diverts me from the real purpose of the message.
The particular font used in Wicked is so unique that I found myself distracted by the shapes — especially the lowercase “e” which features a sloping bar and an extra little nub. The font’s x-height is short with tall ascenders and descenders. The dot on the “i” looks like calligraphy. The caps seem large compared to the lowercase and the serif on the bottom bar of the capital “E” seemed a little bizarre to me. Here is an excerpt for you:
While surfing the Internet, I came across an article about Humanist Type Faces. It included an example of Centaur. I took one glance at that and immediately wondered if it was the same font used in Wicked. It was very close, but not quite right. The capital “E” and “R” are definitely different. However, there is no doubt in my mind the unknown font belongs to the Humanist category.
I ran and got one of my typography books and read about the font style. Here are a few things to look for when identifying the style:
- Sloping bar on the lowercase “e”
- Heavy weight to the font
- Poor contrast between the thick and thin strokes
- A wide set in the capitals
- Oblique, steeply sloped, heavy serifs
- Oblique stress
- Small x-height
- Long descenders
Here is a diagram I made for you:
Humanist is the first font style developed after Blackletter (think Old English). Due to the early development and the lack of knowledge about readability at the time, Humanist fonts are not as readable as Old Style faces like Garamond, Goudy, Palatino or Times New Roman which were not developed until later. The Complete Typographer by Christopher Perfect and Jeremy Austen had this to say about it:
Shortly after Gutenberg’s invention of movable type in 1455, the first group of roman types, called Humanist, appeared in Italy during the 1460s and 1470s. […] The term “Humanist” derives from the 15th-century Italian humanistic handwriting on which these types were closely modeled. […]
Humanist designs are not frequently used today for continuous text setting. Their heavy weight, wide set, and obtrusively large capitals considerably impair their legibility. In addition, the strong calligraphic influence make the letter shapes too irregular for continuous text reading. However, they are used extensively in advertisements and for small amounts of brochure copy.
Whew! At least now, I feel justified in letting this font distract from getting into the story. Unfortunately, I went through my entire font library searching for the actual font, but I do not seem to have it. Maybe you know the name of it. If so, please let me know what it is.
Now that I’ve written this post, maybe I’ll finally be able to read this book.