Letter M with a twist

Topy's picture

I'm wondering is there a serif (old style, transitional, modern) typeface ever conceived where the first stroke of the letter "M" would be thick? And of course, where the design would look good and legible, not just weird. Traditionally the M is, as far as i know, always constructed with thin stroke first, followed by thick one, then thin again, etc.

Queneau's picture

I think this 'tradition' comes from baroque type design, as seen in typefaces like bodoni. These typefaces are based on geometry and drawing. Before that, the letters where based on the writing with a broad nipped pen. This means that both the 1st and the 4th stroke om the M have equal width.

That typeces which break your aforementioned tradition look weird to your eyes is in my view purely because we are not used to seeing them, not because they are illogical or counterintintuitive. That said: type design is a notoriously conservative discipline, so there might not be too many typefaces around that break these unwritten rules.

greetings Jeffrey
infraordinaire

J Weltin's picture

From the writing direction M’s first stroke is thinner by nature.

Topy's picture

Thanks for the replies. I understand this is something that we are all used to. Thats why I'm asking if any typeface has been able to successfully break the rules.

J Weltin's picture

I am sure there is, but most likely not in a text face.

Topy's picture

Fair enough, text face might be too much to ask. I'm interested to hear other serif display types as well. I've searched trough a pile and can't find a single one so far.

J Weltin's picture

It is more likely in script faces such as ›Adagio‹ or ›Rebecca‹ because of the different stroke angle.

nina's picture

"From the writing direction M’s first stroke is thinner by nature."
Well it's nice that we can overcome that "nature". :-)

There are a few low-contrast fonts that have thick "outer" and thinner "inner" strokes on the "M"; some Emigre fonts come to mind, like Fairplex, Triplex Serif, Vista Slab, or Cholla Slab. I've linked to the bold cuts because the contrast scheme is easier to see in them – it's not very strong, but the pattern is there.
BTW, sometimes (but not always) these same fonts also have a nontraditional contrast scheme on the "N" (with the diagonal being lighter than the stems).

FWIW, for sans look at Bell Gothic/Centennial.

J Weltin's picture

The latter examples are more due to visual compromises (especially in Bolds) rather than being conceptual by having a thick stroke first, i would say.

nina's picture

Actually, I suspect they're due to an inherently different design stance – one that adheres less slavishly to chirographic principles. I don't think it's a coincidence they're all Emigre fonts.

J Weltin's picture

It’s not a design feature of Emigre fonts. This principle is inherent in a lot of much older typefaces, before Emigre was even born.
Also, the bold weights of Officina Serif use this optical balance.

Fontgrube's picture

Actually the question is whether we should at all count in these slabserif faces that don't have a really visible variety in stroke widths anyway. The question was "thick", not "not thin" :-)

Andreas

nina's picture

Huh? The question (as I understood it) was for contrast patterns in "M"s. The *degree* of contrast, and the pattern that's employed, are two related-but-separate things in my book. But really, we should leave the question of what should count and what shouldn't to the original poster.

Topy's picture

I'm glad too see my question evoked some good conversation. The typefaces I'm looking for are indeed HI-contrast serifs, but where the first stroke is a thick one. The Emigre fonts mentioned are interesting, but the difference in contrast is too small to what I had in mind. Slab-serifs can actually get away with this quite easily, but where the contrast is higher, the convention is much harder to break.

Queneau's picture

So basically you want this: (mirrored Bodoni) Right?

greetings Jeffrey
infraordinaire

Topy's picture

That's right! I'd like to know if it's ever been done without looking like, well, mirrored.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Not thick-thin-thick-thin, because that looks pretty awful. Thick-thin-thin-thick I have seen around, mostly in the vernacular though.

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I’ve been experimenting with this. A southpaw typeface. Haven’t gotten around to an M yet, as I’m really struggeling with a lot of the basic shapes.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

There’s also Caslon Italian, but it’s modeled after a different idea: Reversing everything, instead of reversing the pen angle as I am. It’s not available though.

riccard0's picture

Rather than reversing the strokes inside each letter, I envision a display typeface that simply throw away the overrated concept of colour evenness and plays with contrast between different characters.


(please don't stare too much at my sketch, it could hurt your sensible typophilic eyes, it was hastily done just to better explain the concept, thank you ;-)

microspective's picture

If it's of any consolation, look at the M in the title of this thread. At the time of posting, it's set in Biscotti, this week's Typophile Featured Face. I realize it's a script, rather than a didone or serif, but the stroke weight distribution is similar to what you're asking about.

I hope you get to see it before they change the featured face!

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Btw, the first stroke in M is thin because it’s an upstroke.

hrant's picture

Jürgen, there's nothing natural about putting the hand
above the eye. And not just the hand, but the right hand,
holding a very particular marking tool no less!

It's high time for us to start making "M"s that have thick
strokes on the outsides and thins on the insides. In a text font.

hhp

typerror's picture

A few corrections:

@ Jeffrey
The first and third stroke are the same weight (thin), second and fourth stroke (heavy), assuming they are done with a chisel edge pen.

@ Frode
The first stroke is a downward stroke as are the second and fourth. The third could be, but you rarely see practitioners do it that way. At least calligraphers.

Michael

Topy's picture

frode, your experiments look exactly what i mean. To me at least, letters don't look mirrored or awkward. I guess single letters would look weird, but as a part of the word they blend right in.

nina's picture

Riccardo, that's interesting stuff. Got any more?

Frode Bo Helland's picture

@ Michael
I’m not sure what you are refering to? I always write my M’s starting with an upstroke. Likewise, U and V ends with an upstroke, A start with one, and N both start and end with one. In the diagonals, there’s also the angle of the pen playing in. Isn’t this the classical serif model?

@ Topy
If just need a few letters, you can always drop me a mail.

Queneau's picture

@ Typerror
Oops, there's me thinking I knew something... Sorry about that, I guess I have to refresh my calligraphy ;)

greetings Jeffrey
infraordinaire

J Weltin's picture

Hrant,
don’t be so picky about my phrasing: i meant it is the traditional writing model that we practice that way since the Roman Capitalis Monumentalis. What’s wrong about it? If your M is wide enough you can cope with the four thin/thick/thin/thick strokes quite well. If it’s narrower there is nothing to prevent you from not following this writing model. I think however that a consistent writing direction should be coherent. So, basically it could go all the other way round, like in Frode’s post. But it has to look and feel right.
I might try that in a future design.

hrant's picture

> What’s wrong about it?

At the very least, it's arbitrary, hence anti-design. But actually, as I explained in my Mexico City talk (and over the past few years online) it's outright harmful* too: when you "paint" the black you cannot give the white the attention it needs (even if you really honestly want to). And reading relies on notan (the black-white harmony) not the black only. My old review of Legato might help explain this - the last one here:
http://typographica.org/000969.php

* I'm talking about text[y] faces.

hhp

nina's picture

Speaking of Legato: Look at how rationalized Evert Bloemsma made the contrast pattern in FF Balance (his first published font!). I don't think that's a coincidence (or just "optical compensation")…

J Weltin's picture

You’re right, Nina. This was a concept of Bloemsma. Hence the name ›Balance‹. He also put more stress/stroke weight on the horizontals. Which can be seen at the lowercase.

J Weltin's picture

For those of you still interested:
I found this lettering here in Munich of Franz Mayer, Architectural Glass and Mosaic.
(sorry for the bad quality of the pictures, but weather was too bad to stay there long)

Gary Lonergan's picture

I wish I had taken photos of the signs I have seen down the years where the sign maker has reversed the A and M and sometimes placed the S upside down.

I find this lettering to have enormous charm whether it would work in the a typeface is another matter.

J Weltin's picture

If i get a chance to interview the owner, i’ll put some more information. Mind you: the workers doing mosaics are used to do their artwork mirror-inverted …

Nick Shinn's picture

In Artefact (1999), I used reversed stroke contrast as one means of deconstructing traditional chirographically-informed typography.
The "M" does indeed have "backward" stress.
IMO the type is perfectly legible en masse, despite its gnarliness.
It looks weird, weirder now than when released, I would hazard, because general taste today is more conservative than during the experimental fervor of the New Typography that accompanied the digital revolution--although by 1999 that was on the way out.

microspective's picture

I recently noticed that on the side of some of the Lindenmeyr Munroe (paper company) tractor trailers around here (CT, USA) that the M is backward. Their official logo does not have it like this.

I had seen one zoom by the other day, and I thought I was imagining things. I recalled this thread and wondered if I was overthinking majuscule Ms. But last night I came up behind one on the highway. I was slightly disappointed* to see it displayed correctly on the back. As I passed the semi, I took a look at the side. There it was: a five-foot high backwards M.

* Not because I think it should be backwards. More because I was so sure that it was backwards for that fleeting moment (no pun intended) it drove by me the first time...

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