sparked your desire to create your first original typeface?
RPK: My first type was designed for my Masters thesis project at UB for which
I enlisted the help of my colleague Mike Want. I needed to have a novelty typeface
based on Marcel Duchamp's handwriting, and you just can't run out to ITC and
being said, I know that your career as a book artist preceded
the Duchamp font. How much influence have the titans of the
typography - from Aldus Manutius to Hermann Zapf - had upon
you in the design of subsequent typefaces?
RPK: Quite honestly, even though I was doing book arts I was pretty much ignorant
of the traditions. I was making books on my own terms, not really studying
the history of the book. Now, in looking back and finding that the book arts
are so closely related to type design, it just seemed to be a natural progression.
would you characterize The Full Fonty," P22's entire collection?
What purpose do the fonts serve?
RPK: Well, it's interesting. I look at them - our fonts - as
historical revivals. But in the strict discipline of type design,
they aren't really. I'd say something
like redoing Janson is a historical revival. Whereas we take historical letter
forms and create font sets. Most of the historical letterforms we have recreated
could not have been resurrected except with present technology [the Mac and
its complement of software]. The Cezanne handwriting typeface is probably the
most successful in this regard. It subverts the computer look, based as it
is on 19th-century handwriting. Basically, these typefaces are digital interpretations
of 100-year-old designs. Someday I'll design a typeface, but these are things
that would otherwise be lost. To the vast majority of the public, these things
never existed. Why work under the pretense of inventing something new when
there are so many great works waiting to be rediscovered; yet for "originality's" sake,
someone comes up with a grunge type or takes an existing font and blurs it
with Photoshop filters then labels it a font - it's ridiculous.
are people in the industry who say that there are just too
RPK: That was what I myself believed back when we made the Duchamp font. There
was no intention to market the thing for that exact reason. It was an experiment
and it was not meant...let me put it this way: the way it looks is only defined
by mechanically arbitrary processes. This is its defining characteristic. There
is a conceptual reason behind the Duchamp font which has nothing to do with
the way it looks. For people to call it a beautiful font to me is still kind
of funny, but I have seen it used well. And I guess that goes to show that
the [graphic] designer has at least - if not more - opportunity to make a type
look good than does the creator of the font. Because, as we all well know,
even a good typeface can be used badly.
fonts have been used by nationally prominent designers and
in prestigious publications. Which publications, what prominent
Prominent designers: Gail Anderson, Fred Woodward, Rolling Stone.
They've done great work with our fonts. Kerig Pope, art director
for Playboy, has taken an interest in our fonts and has consistently
used them in every issue for the past few years...or so I've heard.
RPK: Locally, let's see...Art Voice, Alling & Cory, Just Pasta, Alleyway Theatre,
George Johnson, UB Publications... Most recently, Starbucks Coffee. They were
using the Duchamp font, now they use Cezanne. It seems that of the people who
use our fonts we have a great number of "repeat customers," which is interesting
because I think each design is unique, for its own sake, yet these clients
see a similar appeal throughout the "line."
understand that Rod McKuen is a big fan of P22, that he has
sent you fan mail. What's that all about?
RPK: Rod McKuen is a huge fan of P22. He has his own record
label and used our Daddy-O font on one of his "lounge revival" records
and gave us a credit. He has since ordered all of our fonts;
and other record labels have used our
fonts - Geffen, Virgin, and Vanguard come to mind. Oh, and of course, the
P22 label uses them.
else have your fonts shown up?
RPK: The New York Times did an article on the Arts and Crafts
movement and used our Arts & Crafts font in the headline and
- this is unheard of for the New York Times - they gave us
a credit line.
did the London Underground font come about?
RPK: With London Transport. They approached us about a project
and I broached the subject of the "sacrosanct" Edward Johnston
types. I knew nobody else would attempt to do it because London
Transport is so notoriously protective of these
types. But I presented the idea in a way that made sense to them...that didn't
conflict with their interests. My interest in actually seeking to do it came
from an issue of a rather amazing journal of the book arts called the Matrix.
One of the articles was printed in a set of the smallest known wood type
of the Johnston Underground and it referred to a book called
which was published by the London Transport Museum. I managed to borrow a
copy from them - it's the best source for actual printed impressions
of wood type.
Otherwise, I would have had to work from photo reproductions or go to London
and find old train stations I could do tracings from.