I am hooked on Blackletter!!

zeno333's picture

Someone stop me or get me to a Blackletter Anonymous meeting! I should have been a Monk in the Middle Ages.....

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hrant's picture

It even has a secret power:
http://themicrofoundry.com/ss_fraktur1.html

hhp

zeno333's picture

I think if Blackletter was required in the US, school test scores wold go up LOL

Nick Cooke's picture

Sadly, Fraktur has since degenerated into mere decorative use, in spite of a startling advantage: it is inherently more readable than our conventional Roman script.

...Maybe to your eyes Hrant, I find it quite difficult to read. It depends what you're used to I suppose.

hrant's picture

Not to my eyes either, not without some exposure*, and not with most blackletter fonts. But I believe that with the right font and just a small amount of exposure, reading would in fact be easier for anybody.

* Although familiarity isn't at all the only factor.

Of course ideally you don't want to rely on a coincidental historical style, you want to reform the alphabet itself. Well, maybe not you specifically :-) but I certainly think in those terms.

hhp

Té Rowan's picture

Humboldtfraktur (e.g. Dieter Steffmann's cut). It's closer to antiqua than most.

PublishingMojo's picture

I can't read Fraktur without thinking of those signs that audio geeks used to hang on their custom-built stereo systems, the ones that were printed to look like WWII-era German handbills, and said something like this:
Achtung! Das Machinenwerk ist nicht fur Gefingerpoken und Mittengrabben by das Dummkopfen. Ist easy Snappenspringen und Blowenfusen mit Poppencorken und Spitzensparken. Das rubbernecken Touristen keepen das Hands in das Pockets und watchen der Blinkenlights.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

nice.. is that your type design, zeno?

John Hudson's picture

Zeno, your taste in blackletter, at least as so far indicated in your posts here, seems solidly confined to Victorian display types. I suppose these have a particular charm of their own, and certainly evoke particular periods and styles of typography very well, but I wonder how deeply you have explored other and older branches of the blackletter family tree? There are, for example, whole styles of blackletter that were developed for continuous text and that more fully integrate straight and round forms, making for less stiffness.

And then there is this, which not many people have seen: the fraktur symbol glyphs from my Brill types, which I commissioned Karsten Luecke to design. This is not a fully functioning fraktur font, as the glyphs are encoded as math alphanumerics and spaced as symbols for use with roman text in apparatus critici, but I think it is a very fine design that I hope Karsten will complete and release as stand-alone fonts. It harmonises extremely well with the Brill roman, on account of mirroring the swelled stroke constuction, which is unusual in blackletter types although found in 18th Century German scribal exemplars.

hrant's picture

It's a great classical blackletter (which is what I'm sure it needed to be, so kudos to Karsten) but it's not readable in the 21st century.

hhp

Maxim Zhukov's picture

It’s a great classical blackletter <…> but it’s not readable in the 21st century.

Not readable… to whom? It is sure readable to me, and I am not German. In his Über Schönheit von Schrift und Druck. Erfahrungen aus fünfzigjähriger Arbeit (Frankfurt a.M.: Georg Schauer Verlag, 1949) Karl Klingspor makes a fairly convincing case for the superiority of Fraktursatz over Antiqua-Typographie. Incidentally, look how very readable the text of the book is. And speaking of the current designs. Is Burgundica easy enough for you?

hrant's picture

It used to be readable to many people (certainly all Germans) but these days many of the individual letters aren't even legible, probably even to most Germans. I'm talking about laymen or course, not people who study historical letterforms.

Burgundica: Mystical and beautiful. Not readable.

Two recent blackletters that I believe one could set running text in today:
- Fraktoer by Hans Heitmann (bottom part of http://themicrofoundry.com/image/s_fraktur2.gif)
- Eskapade by Alisa Nowak (http://www.type-together.com/Eskapade%20Fraktur)

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Hrant, you seem in danger of arguing against yourself, since what readers find legible 'these days' is a matter of familiarity, and if not necessarily of reading best what they read most, of reading well what they have learned to read. In my experience, learning to recognise the letters of a particular style in a writing system that you already know is one of the easiest of things. I don't think this is any kind of professional advantage that a 'layman' lacks, but is rather a core human ability that we have harnessed to the purpose of reading for a very, very long time. True illegibility is only found when there is no consistency within the style.

oldnick's picture

John,

So, is this style consistent or not?

http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/nicksfonts/tulpe-fraktur-nf/

It's a lot more idiosyncratic than the blackletter text used in a page from a missal—printed in Venice in 1520, triple-matted and occupying a place of honor on my home office wall—but also pretty rigid in its own inimitable stylistic way…

hrant's picture

John, it's certainly possible to learn variant (and even totally new) structures - as you imply I'm a big fan of that sort of thing. However it has to be done subtly/gradually and with intent - you can't throw a classical blackletter at a general readership and say "deal with it". The good news is that the real value of blackletter doesn't depend on a handful of archaic structures.

True illegibility is only found when there is no consistency within the style.

To me that's unreadability. In the terminology I use (which is pretty widespread) illegibility arises when an individual symbol is closer to some familiar character than it is to what it's supposed to be (or so far from the intended character that it's hopeless). For example the "A" and "S" in Brill will be confused for "U" and "G" respectively; probably not by people for whom the font was designed, but people in general. This idea is of course not my invention - it's presented quite explicitly in Bain & Shaw's "Blackletter: Type and National Identity".

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Hrant: In the terminology I use (which is pretty widespread) illegibility arises when an individual symbol is closer to some familiar character than it is to what it's supposed to be (or so far from the intended character that it's hopeless)

Confusability -- when one letter is easily mistaken for another -- is only one form of illegibility, and I doubt if many people would consider it the most obvious. The other form of illegibility is simply inability to identify the signs at all, and my point is that this occurs if the forms are inconsistent within a style such that the style cannot be learned. As long as letterforms are consistent, it is remarkably easy to learn to read a new style of writing or typography within a familiar script system; this is even the case where the system itself permits of what I would call consistent variation, e.g. Arabic. People do this to one degree or another all the time, often without even realising that they are learning something new (and notoriously, sometimes without even being conscious of the differences, as in the case of people who'd never noticed 'the little feet').

...you can't throw a classical blackletter at a general readership and say "deal with it"

I think this is a matter of will rather than ability. It isn't that general readers couldn't easily figure out the identities of the letters and become proficient in reading the style in short order, but that their reading experience had been shaped by a fairly narrow set of styles and they are not used to being asked to learn new things in the sphere of reading, so are likely to be unwilling to try. But in the area of text typography, I think this is almost as true for the kind of new blackletter you promote as for any of the traditional styles. If you set a book or a magazine in Fraktoer, the likelihood of a general readership accepting it, buying it and reading it seems to me about the same as if you set it in the Brill fraktur. This has nothing to do with readability, but only with convention and perceived effort.

John Hudson's picture

Nick, thanks for the Tulpe Fraktur link. Yes, it is consistent in the sense I meant, i.e. the form of each occurrence of a letter is easily identifiable.

It's a display type, of course, and exhibits all sorts of things that are inconsistent with fraktur-proper, which is a particular historical text style of blackletter characterised by certain normative constructions and consistent variations. But that isn't the sense in which I used the term 'consistent' in my exchange with Hrant.

I like it.

hrant's picture

The other form of illegibility is simply inability to identify the signs at all

Which I referred to with "or so far from the intended character that it's hopeless".

This might not apply for example to the "S" in Brill, but it remains that most people would think it's a "G". Does context help? Sure. Does it always resolve the problem? Of course not.

If you set a book or a magazine in Fraktoer, the likelihood of a general readership accepting it, buying it and reading it seems to me about the same as if you set it in the Brill fraktur.

Accepting/buying it, possibly... unless they read some of it first, because: there's no way a font with unfamiliar structures (not the same thing as style) can be as efficient - some people will stop reading, and of those who do go through the trouble some will not appreciate having to make the extra effort (consciously or unconsciously). Fortunately as you wrote that's not what Brill's blackletter is for.

hhp

studio-k's picture

None of the above is designed to allieviate your addiction zeno. If anything, it's likely to aggravate it. As a half way measure to recovery I offer you my modern take on Blackletter - Charta - which may help wean you off the full strength German original!

washishu's picture

Ok. Just to throw the proverbial spanner in the works. Although black letter would not be my favourite script, I can see the attraction in black letter as a pen-written script, but black letter as a typeface is always a failure for me.

Look at Gutenburg's black letter and there is clear evidence of it's pen-written origins. Having practised and studied calligraphy a little, I was always taught that, in black letter, the vertical spaces between the strokes should be visually equal to the strokes themselves; it is this basic vertical rhythm that gives it its name and its strength, its very blackness in fact.

I have yet to see (could be famous last words here I fear, but that's ok) a typeface that demonstrates this rhythm and pattern successfully. The fraktur example above almost gets there in the bold variant, but still, like all the rest, just fails for me; sorry John.

My absolute pet-hate in this area is the (usually) home-made signs, tee-shirts etc. using black letter, all caps. I feel I want to grab the offending person by the collar and shout in their face "What's the matter with you? Can't you see it just doesn't work? Can't you see it's just UGLY?" But I don't because many of them are bikers and a lot bigger than me so I just let cowardice be the better part of valour.

Is there a black letter typeface that is true to the scripts origins?

hrant's picture

Even more than roman, blackletter generally suffers from staying too close to its scriptorial origins.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Look at Gutenburg's black letter and there is clear evidence of it's pen-written origins. Having practised and studied calligraphy a little, I was always taught that, in black letter, the vertical spaces between the strokes should be visually equal to the strokes themselves; it is this basic vertical rhythm that gives it its name and its strength, its very blackness in fact.

This is typical of the textura style, but not of fraktur or other later blackletter styles that involve rounded forms and greater variation in letter width. It should also be noted that the term 'blackletter' does not always imply blackness or heaviness, only that the styles in this category are related in their develoment to styles such as textura and rotunda in which blackness was a feature. There are numerous remarkably light fraktur styles, in both written and engraved exemplars as well as type.

Té Rowan's picture

@PublishingMojo – Look up blinkenlights in the Hacker's Dictionary for more blinkenlichter.

@hrant – Actually, you can throw fraktur at the peeps and tell them to deal with it. 'Course, they'll more likely go into a Rama-wail than actually task brain cells with dealing with it...

Barney_Kool's picture

This font gets me hard, can I get a copy of it?

hrant's picture

Is it free?

hhp

quadibloc's picture

I thought that was very odd too, but when I read carefully what was said on the web page that Hrant points to, it is that Blackletter is potentially more legible due to the different letterforms, not that actual faces are.

So one could take the letter shapes, and clothe them in something less visually distracting, like a rotunda.

hrant's picture

Yes, I see blackletter mostly as an "enabling precedent" (because many people need that sort of crutch to be able to swallow writing system reform) to liberate the lowercase from the x-height region.

hhp

quadibloc's picture

Thinking about this, as it seems to me that bouma plays less of a role for Latin-alphabet readers than others, due to the high legibility of their letterforms, perhaps the soul of the Carolingian alphabet would be better captured... by a font which used Trajanus for its upper case and American Uncial for its lower case, or something like that.

While that would, properly enough, cause howls of outrage and disgust from lovers of type, given the success of faces like Corona with what should be, one might think, an ugly and disfiguring x-height (and then there's Antique Olive) it might not be an obstacle to efficient reading.

donshottype's picture

I just came across this old thread when it was revived yesterday.
Here are a few observations on aspects not raised in the discussion.
Fraktur -- the most common typeface for books printed in blackletter before WWII -- was incomprehensible to me when I started to learn it in 1990. Most of the lowercase was understandable although a few letters like _k_ and _x_ were a challenge. However much of the uppercase was impossible. It took months before I could confidently tell the difference between letters like _V_ and _B_. As for the circularized _K_ and broken backed _H_... I have no doubt that my experience is typical of the few people who have attempted to learn how to read Fraktur in recent decades.
For over a century type designers have reformulated blackletter to make it legible without a special course of instruction. Some of the best efforts were done before WW I, notably by people like Behrens & Koch.
The expressiveness of blackletter is a strong motivation for continued attempts to bridge the legibility gap.
I do notice a resurgence of blackletter in the most unexpected places. For many years non-German readers accepted blackletter in the context of religious texts. Then came rock music, particularly the heavy metal genre. Bikers. Tatoo aficionados. Today blackletter simplified Old English is the signature of a Los Angeles street scene clothing created by a Latino company _Born + Raised_. Blackletter as the means of protest against the Man. Go figure!
Don

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