10 May 2012

Judging a Magazine by its Cover

I had a most delightful reunion with an old friend last weekend, when the Times Magazine debuted a new face to its family of typography, those extant fonts exclusive to the Times for their subtle finessing by the great British type designer and MacArthur Foundation Fellow Matthew Carter, who was commissioned to refine this face for the pleasure of the Old Gray Lady, just as he has the numerous others deployed in their pages.

I saw this old pal first on the cover, where, to my sheer joy, I recognized its jovial entry, always there to add a pronounced sense of mirth to the proceedings. I first met this chum in the middle 1970s, when CBS used it for a good deal of their advertising (much of it in the Times), the kind that  all the TV networks once ran daily, back when they were still the dominant fare in home entertainment.

It's my sincere pleasure to introduce you to ITC Kabel Ultra, the chubby variant and Good Time Charlie, shall we say, in a family of lithe and leggy types with august Nouveau and Deco origins, dating to 1927, when the great designer, Rudolf Koch, introduced this typeface, while still in the employ of the Klingspor Foundry, in Nuremberg, then one of the great centers of printing.

If you aren't the kind who appreciates underlined words disrupting your read, those  seemingly tacit requests to jump to another page, allow me, please, to identify ITC Kabel Ultra for you, directing you to the white headline in the center of the cover above, from which I've added this enlarged snippet below:

OK, let's! But first, let's question why the Times would have seen fit to match the byline of Adam Davidson, sheathed in Mr Carter's version of Stymie (known as a slab font for its utility as a headline type) with this jovial debutante? Their tandem heft alone is not why Stymie seems to live up to its name. No, I'm not sight-challenged, I can see the serifs of Stymie that are meant to complement what ITC Kabel Ultra hasn't got; but these fonts simply don't work together, each wrangling for the supremacy of the marquee, their corpulent audacity a boxing match between heavyweights. Which renders for us something of an ironic metaphor here, given the opportunity the Times had to pair ITC Kabel Ultra with the more appropriate face, the one used in the prop newspaper headline: Hoefler & Frere-Jones's elegantly versatile Knockout, seen on the cover in its No. 67 Full Bantamweight version, and enlarged below:

This disparity in weight would have trumped the convention of pairing serifs with sans-serifs, especially since a reduced point size for Knockout would have stood out. Not so, alas, the stocky Stymie. But, of course, the really smart solution would have been to pair ITC Kabel with one of its cousins; in fact, the slimmer ITC Kabel Demi, known to many as the face of L'eggs Pantyhose (see below), would have done the trick nicely.But this was not to be. The debutante's cotillion was, yes!, stymied.

Now lest you think such a festive reunion would have left me deflated after Stymie's officious interference, a most glorious rekindling, something of a post-cotillion after-party, was awaiting me on the Contents page. There, ITC Kabel Ultra went into full gear, doing what it does best: serving as a display font for a run-on of letters and sentences, spacing tight, kerning tighter, just as CBS once engaged it, when to highlight the strength of their comedies, they ran a full-page ad in the Times, that simply read:

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha...well, you get the picture.

[Many thanks to Mr Stephen Coles, editor and typographer, living in Oakland and Berlin, for assisting me in identifying ITC Kabel. He publishes Typographica.orgFontsInUse.com, and MidCenturyModernist.com. You can learn more about him at StephenColes.org]