Thursday, December 27, 2012

Helvetica Sans Pretense

It's that time of year again, when Portland parents toss their unfortunate children into the remains of a 1985 Chevy Nova at 7AM and risk the lives of everyone within a 50 mile radius to be able to skid around the curves of drive thru lanes up and down Meridian Street.

Oddly enough, despite my track record of complaining about this every year as though it will change anything, I am not here to discuss the importance of not slamming into a school bus at 500 miles per hour in a beaten up Oldsmobile Bravada with a car full of illegitimate children in a freak snow storm.

I am here to announce some things about my writing. I can hear all your boners sprouting. Writing is such an exciting topic for non-writers, I know. Bear with me, because I promise this will be worth reading.

I have news. Since Antioch is finished now, save for editing, I have begun trying to decide on a typeface to use, as it currently rests in whatever the default is on whatever computer I happen to use (I have 4, because I am an asshole).

Now before you all crucify me for perceived future mistakes, I will let you know that Helvetica is one of my top choices, but in order to use it I will have to pay Adobe $30. Of course, this is not a bad price compared to another font I was looking at until I saw the price tag: $500 for a set of 4 font sets.

Oh, no. Now that I've revealed that I plan to pay for the ability to use a font that is literally everywhere, I expect to hear things like “Why don't you torrent it?” Or even better, from Mac owners: “My computer comes with it. Doesn't yours?” I suppose I could use someone's mac to put Antioch into PDF format, yes. I suppose I could also torrent it. First of all, though, I want to own the right to use whatever font I choose for whatever purpose I see fit without the possibility of legal action being smashed up my ass. Also, alternatives to Helvetica are either also paid (Nimbus Sans, $20), or so rough on screen that they aren't totally viable (Helios). Secondly, free versions of Helvetica are often some other font, lacking that clever little retro capital R that everyone adores.

That being said, I have also considered that clever Helvetica imposter known as Arial.

I said it, and I have no regrets.

ARIAL, you bitches. ARIAL.

Hark, I hear the small sounds of protest beginning.

Do you hear that? It's the sound of lensless glasses melting in the heat of self-important rage. It's the sound of a billion cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon upending from the force of the anger and chaos I just unleashed by saying that hated font's name. Starbucks and Joanne's just burst into ironic flames. Suddenly, Goodwill stores across the nation are flooded with acid wash jeans!


Somewhere, a Toyota Prius is weeping. Somewhere, IKEA and Whole Foods have been converted to Wal-mart and Save-A-Lot. Somewhere, the only place one can get iced coffee is a McDonald's filled with screaming demon children. It's a horrible place where “Mocha” and “latte” are never the same drink, and “large” is a real size.

Oh, the humanity!

We'll all be overrun by the bad parts of the 1980s and 1990s. Full House and Matlock will be on every channel, and we'll all wake up to find that we've been sporting mullets for years.

All because I used Arial.

A bit dramatic, sure, but that's the culture we live in.

I may do it just to watch the world destroy itself, humanity withering to little more than nomadic tribes warring and murdering over the last MacBook on Earth, scrambling for black rimmed glasses and hording typewriters in the corners of ruined hotel rooms.

We all think we're writers, don't we? I certainly think I am.

The truth is, the more people flip out about what font a writer publishes in, the more ridiculous the whole affair becomes. I mean, there are some obvious no-nos. Publishing a research paper in Comic Sans, for instance. Using Brush Script for a road sign.

I have seen some silly slanderfests over the use of Arial as opposed to Helvetica. While the more educated of us may consider Arialists to be “amateurish” and “careless” in their font choices, I ask them to bear this in mind: the font is secondary to the story, providing it isn't something distracting and annoying. Arial is only distracting to people who buy their food at Whole Foods and their clothes at Goodwill. The general public will not know the difference.

Granted, I may end up choosing Helvetica because it is one of the most readable fonts, and can be easily used for large print text because of this, but Arial is equally suited for this, and it's technically free. No licenses to buy in order to use Arial.

One can fuss about fonts used, or one can write a story that transcends fonts. Some people can do both, but most people just criticize other people's font choices.

I suppose that's the condition of my generation, and the next generation that is starting to emerge in our shit-filled wake: that form is much more important that function. It's evident in the sheer number of horrifically written fiction being sold, even by big publishing houses. (Our generation is also the one that made using an apostrophe and an “s” to make something plural the norm, which throws me into a similar homocidal PBR rage every time I see it on a billboard or on TV. Bad grammar is bad grammar, no matter how accepted it is.)

Fellow indie authors, we need to put down our god damned messenger bags and write something that can dispell this image, because I'm afraid that I'm decades away from writing anything life-altering. I have readers, sure, and I've actually enjoyed a lot of success when compared to the lame, weak amount of marketing I've actually done, but some of us are just dellusional, writing bullshit that no one will ever relate to or be moved by just so we can slam it into a respectable font.

We are the generation of pretty fonts, and they aren't even ours. Our parents and grandparents made them. We've made some interesting mutations, but we've neglected to do the one thing that previous generations DID do, which is to write something groundbreaking. We need to write something that will be anthologized for decades after our death.

The font should be just as transparent as the writing style. Readers don't ordinarily pick up a book to admire the font or be awed by a clever passage or two, they want substance. They want to be entertained and educated.

This isn't necessarily a dig at typographers, because typography is the foundation of writing. Typographic art also happens to be my favorite kind of art, and I plan to have a house filled with it one day. I am targeting the hordes of unmotivated, overeducated fools who think that making a pretty font based on Helvetica makes one a writer.

The definition of writer is clearly different depending on the person. I think we've lost sight of what the focus ought to be if you call yourself a writer. The focus, as I see it, is expression first. Second, to make reading the norm again, and to make it accessible to everyone. The focus next is to trim the fat. Make every word do something. Nothing turns modern readers off more than 7 pages of no action. I suppose this can be attributed to the culture of TV saturation, but that's all the more reason to press on and adapt. Great art can be created with words, if you only get the dildo of pretense out of your ass. Slapping a bullshit book into a cool font does not make it a better book. It makes it a d├ęcor piece. It makes it a bookshelf filler. Typefaces, as they apply to fiction, are wallpaper. Wallpapering a poorly designed house does not make it a better house.

Be it by the label of typographer, writer, painter, mixed media, architect or anything else relating to art, there is nothing more offensive than someone who goes by the title of “artist” but produces no art, they merely criticize the art of others. I'm not saying that non-artists aren't welcome critics and a resource of valuable feedback, but to pretend to be one of us just so your blows will hit harder is social suicide, and if and when the current hipster culture is replaced by whatever is next, you will be obsolete.

So, when the world ends because I put a piece of writing into Arial or Helvetica, don't be sad. I will have created something that will outlive me in one form or another. That's what actually matters.