General ArtMarketingSkepticism

My Name Is Kernan and I Am A Font Snob . . .

Well, it’s Atheist week again, and that means it’s time for me to go all honeybadger-with-a-nasty-cobra every time I see that dreadful, wispy, red atheist A where my friends and compatriots faces used to be. Now, just as there’s nothing quite so tedious as a person who corrects ones grammar unbidden, I’m sure that the sight of me losing my shit over the Crime Against Typography known as Zapfino is equally odious, but lose my shit I shall.

I mean really, Zapfino for atheism? Really? This sad, flaccid font is just one thin rung above Papyrus on the ladder down to typographic hell. You can actually smell the sulfur when you look upon it. Now, these decorative fonts have their place, and while they frequently grace the wedding invitations of Mafia Don’s daughters (in genuine gold foil emboss), they’re most frequently spied on the covers of books about channeling Lemurian warriors or tomes touting the benefits of a good bee pollen and dead sea clay colon cleanse.

Trust me. I know of what I speak. I was once the art director for a New Age dog and pony show back in the 90s. Papyrus was rampant and everyone wanted to use it, but even in my tragically woo-addled state, I refused, knowing full-well it was a hokey, hot mess (unless you were doing a documentary on Ramases II, and even then, meh). I’m not sure when Zapfino first reared its flimsy ascenders, but it quickly displaced Papyrus as the go to “spiritual” or “klassy” font for people who frankly just didn’t know any better but really should have.

So that brings us up to last year when I began my abortive attempt to shame the atheist community into some sense of style by introducing a bold, graphic, negative space version of the A in the font du jour, Gotham (ultra). Oddly enough, it never really took off even though everyone who followed my blog loved it. Both of them. Okay, and one of them’s my mom, but that doesn’t diminish my choice of font in any way.

But really, one could use just about any of Hoefler Frere-Jones awesome fonts and it would be just dandy with me. For me, Gotham has presence, balance and strength. All the qualities I want for a modern day scarlet letter that boldly proclaims the atheist credo of “no gods, no masters!”

“But, Gotham is all over the place now” you protest. Well, this is true. It rose to prominence as the Obama font and now you can go into any Rite Aid and even in that design-challenged retail landscape, you’ll find that all the posters in the pharmacy are in Gotham (oh, and they all look totally elegant and modern). This stardom won’t last forever, mind you. Tastes will change, but Gotham is a classic, and classics can always be relied on. There’s the clean efficiency of Helvetica. The machine age elegance of Futura or Lubelin. The stoic grace of Garamond and the simple honesty of Century Schoolbook. Any of these fonts could have been used instead of the diaphanous and floppy Zapfino to far greater effect. So I offer once again my favorite A for use by our intrepid band of heathens. None other than Amy Davis Roth herself has adopted it in ceramic form to great effect (inducing yet another one of my skeptic community Sally Field moments).

But don’t take my taste for gospel Mad Artists, try your hand at it! Cast-off that nasty Zapfino and find a strong, strapping A and adopt it as your own scarlet letter. It can be captial or lower case, roman or italic. Have fun. Be intrepid. I say keep the red though, it’ll lend consitency and I think it’s vibrant, bold and suits the intended sentiment.

Well, I feel better now. Less honeybadger-with-a-nasty-cobra and more Maru-in-a-too-small-box. And I know, honeybadger doesn’t give a shit, but I do.

Kernan Coleman

Kernan is Creative Director at Ranch7 Creative in northern California. A former resident of Wooville (located on the Axis of Me-ville), he is not just an old dog that has learned a spiffy new trick or two, he’s also an avid skeptic and general all around booster of critical-thinking and science who just loves to write about himself in the third person. He firmly rejects the notion that just because you are, let’s say, an utterly innumerate creative type, that you have nothing to contribute to promotion science and reason. Employing his Sooper Seekrit™ powers of art and snark have made him, well, not exactly terrifying to the powers of ignorance, but a certainly a vexing irritant at the very least. Buried in a variety of projects at present, look for his posts here when he comes up for air in the next week or so.

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  1. I think the choice of font was done for purely practical, not esthetic reasons. Nor was it every meant to be constraining; it was just meant to kick start the evolution of the meme. Which it has; I have seen innumerable versions.

    The font is irrelevant; the color is crucial. Without it the symbolic meaning is greatly diminished. So,
    people could use any recognizable A done in red, and the message would get across. This is part of
    the strength of the idea.

    You might be interested in the prehistory of this; check out the Pharyngula archives at
    Several possibilities are offered. The comments will seem endless, but if you eventually skip to #279, you will see my original suggestion to make it a scarlet A in reference to Hawthorne.

  2. I love this variation. I think that the original meme has gathered enough speed to be at a point where we as artists can modify it and the message remains. I have created some new necklaces with this variation and have gone so far as to change the color scheme entirely. An evolution of a design with mutation. We shall have to wait and see what the selective pressures of the marketplace will have upon the design but so far the response has been positive..

  3. Very glad someone else thinks the same way I do about that Zapfino A.

    While reading this, I was about to suggest Futura, but then I see that you’re already there. I’ve got others in mind, but that’ll do it for now.

  4. A little off topic, but something that came up while I was messing around with ideas for the logo contest.

    Are there licensing requirements when using fonts in logos? There are plenty of fonts out there that are pretty much ubiquitous … but it’s still a case of using someone else’s work. What’s the norm?

  5. Janet, I agree, the options are endless. That was my point in writing this. That, and figuring how to get honeybadger in there somewhere. I love me some honeybadger.

    You’d have to check your license agreement with the fonts you purchased. Most fonts don’t have such restrictions, but HF-J does have limitations for web use.

    Clair, you are clearly a man of refined tastes . . . since they agree with mine 🙂

    Krelnik, you rock in most every way.

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