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FONTMASTERS! No, really, like typefaces and stuff. CATCH THE FEVER!

FONTMASTERS!
YES! It is a real thing.
I speculated a couple of weeks ago, having taken note of this event on the CAM calendar.

Fonts and typefaces (there's a difference, but we'll get to that later) fascinate me as the standardized visual representation of language, letter by letter. Once when I was about 7, I asked my teacher what the little things at the ends of letters were called (answer: serifs). She had no idea what I was talking about, and, not for the first time in my childhood, I felt terribly alone.

Turns out though that there are other people FAR more obsessed by fonts/typefaces than I. I worked in the art department of the publishing division of  a nefarious and slave-driving rapacious multinational corporation. I got to attend cover-art meetings wherein full-on arguments with raised voices developed between some artists in the art department, editors and production peeps about a book cover's proposed typeface seeming "argumentative," "sentimental" or "too mass-market."

There have even been movies about it. Here's a clip from Helvetica, a 2007 documentary that I've watched probably 5 times, enraptured every time*, because that's how I roll.




Heady stuff, no?

So.

The mission statement for Fontmasters is:

Fontmasters is dedicated to establishing personal gain through font education in an ethical approach at the highest level.

(See my ironic use of the dreaded Comic Sans there? Nyuk nyuk!)

This  mission statement makes Fontmasters seem like serious business, but also or alternately possibly a satire on serious business. I e-mailed organizer-mastermind Mary Cantu, and Ben Judson, listed on the CAM calendar as a "presenter" for this inaugural meeting.

Hi Ben and Mary--
For both of you, answer however'd you'd like, whichever questions, all or some or make up your own.
What the hell is this thing?
A dinner/reception discussing fonts as they relate to ethics?
Is that a euphemism for something?
 ...what is Fontmasters?
Is it a pre-existing club or is this-all somewhat satirical? Like a visual Toastmasters...?
Is this an inaugural event for Fontmasters? Also, why "Fontmasters" and not "Typefacemasters?"
what is the significance of the Chinese restaurant as locus?
(Note: the Fontmasters meeting was held at a Chinese buffet.)

Mary wrote back thusly:

Fontmasters was established this year (by myself and Cruz Ortiz) to
critically look at how we interact with fonts and how they affect us.
Fonts are a language in and of themselves and we look forward to this
exploration. After several conversations with colleagues and friends,
we realized there was a need to create an organization that tackles
issues related to fonts. This will be our first general meeting and we
hope to attract anyone interested in font education. We'll have guest
speakers (like Ben Judson) present on different aspects of fonts and
opportunities for community involvement. We already have someone
interested in creating their own font! Ultimately, directions the
organization takes are determined by the interests of its members.
China Harbor? I think we wanted to find a place with lots of variety
and has a dynamic atmosphere.

(Note: I put her in Times New Roman, designed in 1931 by Stanley Morison as an improvement typeface for The London Times)

Then Ben weighed in , too, including to this question:

A dinner/reception discussing fonts as they relate to ethics?
Is that a euphemism for something?

(I will put Ben's response in Georgia, the serif-ed version of Verdana, which is Microsoft's typeface)

Good question. I'm taking it to be pretty straightforward. It might be tempting to think that designers, especially font and graphic designers, are all surface and don't see an ethical dimension to their work, but the opposite is quite often the case. The writings I've encountered by font designers discussing their craft are surprisingly heavy on the moral implications of the field -- the "legibility wars" of the 1990s were full of self-important ethical crusading. If you go back and look at Emigre magazine, or peruse Design Observer, you'll find a shocking number of manifestos and high-minded essays on power structures, blah blah blah. I'll probably talk more about this at the event, but it's no accident that John Baskerville's typefaces were all over American Revolution-era pamphlets, and this fact was not lost on the rather boring designers hired by Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Is it a pre-existing club or is this-all somewhat satirical? LIke a visual Toastmasters...?

I don't know what Toastmasters is, but I think you're setting up a false dichotomy here. I'm trying to think of a word to coin, something that combines serious and satirical, but I can't quite get it. Seritirical? Saterious? You're a good writer, help me out here.

Is this an inaugural event for Fontmasters? Also, why "Fontmasters" and not "Typefacemasters?"

I think it is an inaugural event. "Typefacemasters" has too many syllables.

what is the significance of the Chinese restaurant as locus?

Not everything has a significance. I guess I could make the case that the Chinese language is the most typographically interesting language ever, but more likely this is some sort of sick joke Cruz is playing on everyone. The first review I could find of the restaurant on the internet includes the words "the worst Chinese food on [sic] this world," in that order.

This is *not* boring, you guys.
Do you understand?
NOT BORING.

So here's a view of the Chinese buffet in whose banquet room the General Assembly for the Fontmasters Club of the Greater San Antonio Area took place just last night.




The food at this place was not, in fact, so great. The sauteed string beans weren't bad. The buffet, in addition to mushy lo mein and neon-red General Tso's chicken, also offered mac n' cheese, various puddings, canned corn, and menudo (?).

After some introductions, Cruz Ortiz was the first presenter, describing how he gathers inspiration for the distinctive, rough-hewn text in his own art from both commercial and handmade typefaces in his Eastside neighborhood.






And here's Ben Judson, whose presentation addressed typeface history (specifically Baskerville, whose founder was kinda scandalous!)






The quality of these videos are not so hot, and I recommend listening to them on headphones with the volume up.

I enjoyed the meeting very much. Cruz's neo-folkloric, borderline-anthropological, highly personal approach to text was a good complement to Ben Judson's more formal, historical and politically-aware one.

The next meeting will be at some restaurant on May 28. I will let y'all know when it's coming up. You're going to totally geek out (you know who you are). And yes, you are totally welcome to join. You may even think of a topic you'd like to present at a future meeting!

Friend Fontmasters on Facebook.

Also: I totally got the lowdown on serifs. Turns out, they resulted from the marks made by chisels in stone-carving, evolving most particularly through grave monuments, which aren't done by chisel at all anymore, but with some sort of water-blasting contraption.


* "Really? I found it kind of dry." --Mary Cantu.

Posted by sarah fisch on 3/31/2010 6:16:22 PM
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