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Jim Parkinson on his grotesques

Jim Parkinson (Parkinson Type Design) explains the gradual development of his grotesque typefaces, from the custom headline font Newsweek No. 9 to Banner, Antique Condensed (Font Bureau), ITC Roswell and finally, Balboa and Balboa Plus. In his own words:

Balboa took its sweet time evolving. In 1985, Roger Black was at Newsweek magazine in New York. He was going to do a total redesign of the magazine, Roger had me redesign the logo, and help him fashion a headline font for the magazine. Roger wanted the font to be based on Stephenson Blake's Grotesque No. 9. But he wanted it heavier, way heavier. There was one crazy afternoon during the development of that font when Roger and I were at drawing tables in my tiny Art Room. My office has always been called The Art Room, and it was always the extra bedroom in whatever house I was living in. I was at one drawing table furiously drawing bolder letters, and, as fast as I could draw them, Roger, at the other drawing table, was rubber cementing the comp letters into dummy headlines. Each time he finished a headline, he would look over at me and bark, Bolder. BOLDER. I can still hear him today, Bolder. BOLDER. Eventually we found the right weight and made Newsweek No. 9. I drew it in pen and ink. It was digitized by some company in New Jersey. That was my introduction to the Grotesque letterforms.

About a dozen years later, I found myself working at the San Francisco Chronicle, trying to make digital fonts for the paper. The Executive Editor was a crusty old dude. He had fond memories of the 1950s when San Francisco had a half dozen dailies, all competing to attract readers. Back then, the old editor had had dozens of rack cards printed to scream for attention from atop newspaper racks in the city. The cards were butt-ugly, badly typeset, free of any trace of design, and unintentionally comical.

Still, the old fellow had deep affection for his rack cards and saved them as souvenirs. When he became aware there was a guy in the building designing digital type, he decided the strange wood type from the rack cards would be the Chronicle's first digital font.

The type on the rack cards was old woodtype. The letter weights were so uneven that I am sure characters from other fonts had been mixed in. I turned to an old ATF typeface called Condensed Title Gothic No. 11 to use as my model. I called the result Banner. It was a bomb proof headline gothic. No frills.

By the early 1990s I was working my favorite parts of the Grotesque into other typefaces. I like the endings of the round strokes and I worked them into Antique Condensed No. 2. The thing that I found distracting about the Grotesques was the flat-tire shape of the round characters. Droopy. Finally I combined the character shapes of Banner with the Grotesque details I used in Antique Condensed to make ITC Roswell. And ITC Roswell begat Balboa.

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Jim Parkinson on his grotesques
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Luc Devroye ⦿ School of Computer Science ⦿ McGill University Montreal, Canada H3A 2K6 ⦿ lucdevroye@gmail.com ⦿ http://luc.devroye.org ⦿ http://luc.devroye.org/fonts.html