Fonts of information

Their mission statement reads, “Fontmasters is dedicated to establishing personal gain through font education in an ethical approach at the highest level.” I had no idea what this meant, but after attending the first meeting back in April, wherein artists Cruz Ortiz and Ben Judson served up PowerPoint presentations in a Chinese restaurant — Ortiz’s comprised photos of the Eastside signage that inspires his text-heavy art, while Ben Judson detailed the history of the Baskerville typeface — I was hooked `see “FONTMASTERS! No, really, like typefaces and stuff. CATCH THE FEVER!” CurBlog, March 31`.

Seeing as how Fontmasters (kinda like Toastmasters, but different) is an open-to-the-public club with monthly meetings at various area restaurants, I figured I’d send writer Jerid Morris to a meeting. Mainly to see how somebody not immediately scornful of Comic Sans and who presumably hasn’t watched the documentary Helvetica three (OK, four) times would react to this combination of dinner, gabbing, and hardcore typeface investigation. Here is his report. — Sarah Fisch

Whether we realize it or not, we all have typographical likes and dislikes. The one universal — and uniquely human — symptom of our taste is that there’s no accounting for it. We like what we like, and maybe we don’t exactly know why. But there are those who do know, and choose to stand as the vanguards of font ideology. These are the disproportionately enthusiastic men and women who have one way or another found themselves in intimate love with all things typographical: “fontmasters,” if you will.

Fontmasters is also a local Facebook group and monthly meeting — held in July at Grady’s BBQ, which thankfully serves beer in addition to ribs — headed by local artists and font impresarios Mary Cantu and Cruz Ortiz. The two act as emcees for the meeting’s proceedings, which included an introductory session where everyone present stated his or her name and favorite font. Interestingly, there was a well-represented pro-serif faction that may, at some point in the future, cause political division within the young group. Many attendees also revealed their “gateway” fonts. Algerian and Wide Latin evoked shudders from their confessors, while mentions of Helvetica and Engravers MT engendered appreciative nods from the audience.

Cantu and Ortiz also act as the umpires of each meeting’s competitive group quiz game, WTF? (What the Font?). Incidentally, “Waterloo” is a cheese, apparently, and not a font. My team got that question wrong, and I regret the failure emerged largely from my (perhaps overly insistent) say-so.

But things changed during the game’s final round. High drama. The teams were knotted up 12-12, and it was time for the final question: “What was the name of the font in this week’s online ‘Name That Font’ contest?” Quizzical murmurs condensated in the room, dripped off the gingham tablecloths, and pooled on the floor at my feet like so much barbecue sauce. Cantu and Ortiz wore kung-fu master “We have stumped you, young padawans” smirks. Gratuitous mixture of Eastern and intergalactic martial-arts nomenclature notwithstanding, I was the only one with the answer, and I knew it. As my group determined a wager, Final Jeopardy style, of up to five points on the final answer, I insisted that my teammates listen to me. They were understandably uneasy, my beer-fueled adamance earlier in the game still fresh in their minds. But I persisted, and they relented: I was correct, and we won the game. Several rounds of derogatory font-related name-calling commenced between the victors and the vanquished. I may or may not have called someone near the back of the room a “Comic Sans apologist.”

(Other acceptable insults would have included insisting that someone present was on the advisory committee responsible for the selection of a Papyrus derivative as the title font for James Cameron’s Avatar or — perhaps equally derogatory — “Wingding.”)

In addition to quiz time, there was a craft period during which we attempted to write our names using cut bamboo and ink. Overall, the congregation was a rather healthy mix of the converted (defined here as those abnormally devoted to fonts and font culture) and normies (such as this writer). There was one fellow present who looked like he had only barely succeeded in tearing himself away from his World of Warcraft terminal. But when he stroked his wizard beard and spoke enthusiastically about his love of typography, he immediately fit in. There were one or two people in attendance whom I suspected may have only come for the party favors, consisting largely of lollipops and Slinkies. But the group was unanimously participatory, and after the pro-serif faction was satisfactorily neutralized, the meeting had a lighthearted and convivial atmosphere.

If something beyond sheer fun-having has to be gleaned from the experience, it might be the attention paid to the art of presentation: A word carries its importance in its arrangement of letters, but the way it is showcased frames an automatic context for the message. The word “fuck” may mean one very specific thing, but it looks playful and lighthearted in a nice rope font. •

The next Fontmasters general meeting is TBD. Check their Facebook page at Or e-mail [email protected] for more info.


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