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ScreenFonts: December 2018

A lot happens with a little in the posters for A Simple Favor, Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., Assassination Nation, White Boy Rick, Monsters and Men, Call Her Ganda, Hale County This Morning, This Evening, and Hal. It’s all about space.

It was only after I finalized my selection of posters that I perceived an overarching theme for this episode of ScreenFonts: space. Not space as in the final frontier, but space as in so-called negative space—a purposeful emptiness. By virtually removing parts of the canvas to simulate dimensionality, leaving large swaths of it blank to direct the attention of the viewer to a specific section of the key art, using an empty area to set type, or suggesting an emotional or physical absence, the judicious use of white space provides context, adds drama, and can turn a decent design into a powerful poster.

A Simple Favor

LA’s theatrical one-sheet for A Simple Favor
© 2018 Lionsgate. Key art by LA.

LA came up with a smart concept for A Simple Favor. They created the impression that triangular holes have been cut out of the poster, making classily clad stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively look like they’re standing in a diorama. The cane in Lively’s hand appears both in front of the canvas and inside one of the holes, reinforcing the spatial illusion. I like how the simple black dress and white pinstripe suit against the ice-cream pink and blue-green backgrounds give off a retro vibe without being too on the nose.

Futura’s sharp A, M, and V resonate with the pointy triangles. Paul Renner’s classic is so grossly overused that I feel compelled to suggest some alternatives. Like the recently added Oskar One, BF Bonn, Telefon, Mostra Nuova, and Eagle all have crisp capitals with sharp corners.

LA’s theatrical one-sheet for A Simple Favor
© 2018 Lionsgate. Key art by LA and David Ra.

Among the copious marketing collateral LA created for Paul Feig’s crime comedy, art director David Ra’s bold use of shape and color stands out. Polygons in vibrant hues suggest glass shards or a broken mirror, revealing parts of the mystery. Even though it’s a mid-nineties design, Dogma Bold gives the kaleidoscopic key art a sixties feel.

LA’s theatrical one-sheet for A Simple Favor
© 2018 Lionsgate. Key art by LA and Ana Cristina Galvez.

In this second poster using Dogma, Ana Cristina Galvez constructed a question mark out of the bright shapes, like stained-glass windows against an empty canvas. The striking form deftly visualizes the concept of asking “a simple favor.”

LA’s Blue Note-inspired one-sheet for A Simple Favor
© 2018 Lionsgate. Key art by LA.

The next two alternate posters riff on Reid Miles’ groundbreaking album-sleeve design for Blue Note Records in the sixties. The vertical bands are reminiscent of his iconic designs for Horace Parlan Quintet’s Speaking My Piece and Freddie Hubbard’s Hub-tones. I commend the art director for referencing these designs without plagiarizing Miles’ original artwork, something that occurs, alas, too frequently when designers claim to “pay homage” to well-known precursors.

The typography is a bit lackluster, though. The wood-type-inspired compact sans serif in the white version fits the design, but the centered text bears little relation to the vertical bars and drags the layout to a standstill.

LA’s Blue Note-inspired one-sheet for A Simple Favor
© 2018 Lionsgate. Key art by LA.

The more appropriate asymmetrical composition in the black version is contradicted by the use of ITC Avant Garde Gothic, a classic seventies typeface. When mining the Blue Note spirit, use stylistically correct types like ITC Franklin, Belizio, Benton Sans, the boldest weights of Escrow, the narrowest widths of Titling Gothic, or classics like Big Caslon and Big Moore.

LA’s teaser sheet for A Simple Favor
© 2018 Lionsgate. Key art by LA.

The martini glass Henry Golding sips from in the previous key art, a recurring element in various other posters, takes center stage in LA’s minimal teaser. The artwork is reduced to a stylized shape in fluorescent pink at the bottom of an otherwise empty canvas, with all type set in ITC Garamond and the movie title huddled in an olive. I’ve never been a fan of this squishy, malleable interpretation of the Garamond model; I infinitely prefer the calligraphic softness of typefaces like Dolly Pro and Kopius, or the unexpected roundness of Eldorado Micro.

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.

Theatrical one-sheet for Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.
© 2018 Abramorama.

The theatrical one-sheet for Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.—the music documentary about the British-born Sri Lankan rapper and artist M.I.A.—somewhat lazily translates her rebellious nature as stencil graffiti in electric yellow, green, and black. By adding bridges that connect the counters of the As to the outside of the letters, Myriad looks like it was part of the stencil, too. Axia Stencil’s rationalized, technical forms would have been a better match for M.I.A.’s art; Nitti Mostro Stencil Rough’s bold, rugged features would have accentuated the graffiti effect.

Theatrical one-sheet for Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.
© 2018 Abramorama.

M.I.A.’s portrait, overlaid in black on a solid green background, only takes up half of this skilled alternate poster. On the empty half, three airborne elements reference major stages in the artist’s life. The military helicopter at the top recounts her youth in Sri Lanka as Mathangi Arulpragasamthe, the daughter of a Tamil activist, who was forced into hiding from the Sri Lankan army. A commercial plane brought the eleven-year-old back to the UK as a refugee, where she went by Maya. Paper planes is the title of M.I.A.’s biggest hit, which brought her international acclaim.

The three names are set in Andalé Mono, a monospaced sans designed for terminal emulation and software-developmemt environments. This makes sense: M.I.A. is a musician for the digital age who uses electronic instruments and incorporates computer graphics into her art. Besides being useful for coding, monospaced typefaces evince an industrial aesthetic. While the robust Input Mono was developed with programming in mind, Dispatch Mono and Interstate Mono put a techy twist on their classic proportional counterparts. Nitti applies a fixed-width system to the grotesque model, and Sauna Mono Pro turns the casual calligraphic semi-serif into a surprising typewriter face.

Assassination Nation

LA’s theatrical one-sheet for Assassination Nation
© 2018 Neon. Key art by LA.
LA’s theatrical one-sheet for Assassination Nation
© 2018 Neon. Key art by LA.

Assassination Nation tells the story of four girls who must fight to survive—sometimes literally—in the chaos following a vicious data hack that lays bare the secrets of the oh-so-American town of Salem, Massachusetts. LA used negative space to create powerful images. In the red poster, the red vinyl coats make the four young women blend into the background; in the off-white one, the jackets create a connection with the red letters. The almost monochromatic color scheme with big, compact type makes for highly stylized key art.

LA’s theatrical one-sheet for Assassination Nation
© 2018 Neon. Key art by LA.

Paradoxically, by reducing the image to a sliver at the top, the viewer’s gaze is irresistibly sucked toward the defiant Suki Waterhouse, pretend-licking a trail of dark-red blood on the floor. This poster demonstrates how an effective use of empty space can make a potent statement.

The Type Network library contains quite a few compact sans serifs in the same vein. Scout Condensed Black has squarer top and bottom curves, Rhode Semi Bold Condensed is blockier, while the sides in Benton Sans Extra Condensed Black’s round letters are rounder. Personally, I think Armada Compressed’s persistent vertical rhythm, which calls to mind the stripes in the American flag, would have created a fitting conceptual link to the film’s title.

White Boy Rick

Manheim’s theatrical one-sheet for White Boy Rick
© 2018 Columbia Pictures. Key art by Manheim.

Manheim created this excellent theatrical one-sheet for White Boy Rick, based on the true story of teenager Richard Wershe Jr., who became an undercover informant for the FBI during the 1980s. Wershe was ultimately arrested for drug-trafficking and sentenced to life in prison. Neue Haas Grotesk feels perfectly at home in this poster, historically and stylistically. The fetishized eighties face is set densely, flush left, in the empty darkness that makes up two thirds of the canvas. The modernist design makes great use of its restricted palette of black, white, and red, tucking the film title inside a larger block of text. The quotation marks are not only correctly used—White Boy Rick was Wershe Jr.’s nickname—but they are also expertly set: hanging them outside the margin optically preserves the left alignment.

Alternate poster for White Boy Rick
© 2018 Columbia Pictures. Key art by Bond.

Bond cooked up a different modernist recipe with similar visual ingredients. The gang is all attitude, posing confidently in the lower half of the poster. Because all of the text in the empty upper half is set as a narrow column, aligned flush left against the median, the eye is guided downward to a graffito that crowns Wershe as the king of the Detroit underworld.

Monsters and Men

InSync Plus’ theatrical one-sheet for Monsters and Men
© 2018 Neon. Key art by InSync Plus.

For Monsters and Men, about the aftermath of a police killing of a black man, InSync Plus also left half of the poster open. Instead of slicing the poster in two horizontally, the police officer’s head and arm, extending into the space of the text block at bottom right, create a diagonal division. Artificially coloring the actor stack—an alternative to the floating-heads trope—turns it into a cohesive visual element, its warm hues simmering against the pristine, sand-colored background.

Even though it has the requisite room, the film title set in DIN Engschrift doesn’t occupy the full width of the poster. Instead, it’s tastefully positioned to align with the police officer’s face on the left and with the right-aligned text block at the bottom to the right. If you like techy sans serifs, consider DINosaur, Clicker, or Input Sans.

Call Her Ganda

Main theatrical one-sheet for Call Her Ganda
© 2018 Breaking Glass Pictures.

The documentary Call Her Ganda, about Jennifer Laude, a trans Filipina who was brutally murdered by a US Marine, provides an interesting case study in how a poster can be approached from opposite viewpoints. The main theatrical one-sheet focuses on Laude’s presence, with a vivid close-up that fills the entire canvas. The image supports the documentary’s underlying premise: this trans woman must not be forgotten. Call her by her chosen name. Acknowledge her identity and the life that was violently taken away from her.

Theatrical one-sheet for Call Her Ganda
© 2018 Breaking Glass Pictures.

Conversely, this alternate take uses Laude’s absence as the impetus for the design. It shows the three women who pursue justice in her name: an activist attorney, a trans journalist, and Laude’s mother. The empty top half lights up in fragile colors, symbolizing a sense of hope and the feeling of loss that motivates their activism.

Airy tracked-out capitals lend the title a solemn but urgent atmosphere. The contrasted sans made me think of Vinter and IvyMode. The Ivy Foundry’s latest release offers an exciting selection of capital ligatures designers can use to create out-of-the box logos and sophisticated editorial lock-ups.

Hale County This Morning, This Evening

Theatrical one-sheet for Hale County This Morning, This Evening
© 2018 Cinema Guild. Key art by Mark Ripper.

Composed of intimate, carefree moments of people in a community, Hale County This Morning, This Evening is a meditation on the historic American South, celebrating the beauty of life and highlighting the consequences of the social construction of race. Mark Ripper’s poetic poster translates the documentary’s impressionistic style into a gorgeous, dreamlike image. With the children in the photograph having their backs turned toward the viewer and the top two thirds of the poster occupied by empty sky, an abstract halo at the bottom becomes the focal point. The ball of soft light is emotion materialized, a gentle longing for the horizon, where the sun sets under a watchful crescent moon.

The typography is to die for. The left-aligned text, slightly off-center, forms a delicate imaginary line plunging into the setting sun. The movie title—six ethereal lines whispering at dusk—is beyond color; the letters have become light itself, with ever-so-subtle nuances mirroring the sun and the halo. A surprising alternative to Avenir (Adrian Frutiger’s answer to Futura) would have been Elido, which adds refined details to this type style. Apres also would have worked well here.

Hal

Midnight Marauder’s theatrical one-sheet for Hal
© 2018 Oscilloscope. Key art by Midnight Marauder.

Midnight Marauder’s key art for Hal, the documentary about Oscar-winning director Hal Ashby, whose uncompromising nature prevented him from rising to blockbuster stardom, is like a master class in white space. The daring composition positions Ashby all the way down in the bottom left corner, gazing at his signature resting on the small print at the opposite side. All type is set in Souvenir, a quintessential seventies face, and every typographic element is carefully considered. The credits cuddle against Ashby’s deck chair, the director’s name fits snugly between the H and l in Ashby’s signature, and the tagline at the top right is the exact width of said signature. It’s all in the details.

The orange circles forming a halo around Ashley’s head beautifully break up the grayscale image with warmth and wit. I asked Midnight Marauder if they had a special meaning or if they just looked good. He told me that it was a little bit of both: “They looked pretty nice once I dropped them into the design, but they are also a nod to the T-shirt the filmmakers had made for the crowdfunding campaign. It brings up that seventies happiness I experienced when watching some of Hal Ashby’s films.”

I’m glad I wasn’t plagued by fear of the blank page—or more precisely the empty text field in the CMS—and managed to serve up another episode of ScreenFonts for your enjoyment. And there’s more—come back for The Leftovers in a few days.

Bald Condensed, né Yves Peters, is a Belgian-based rock drummer known for his astute observations on the impact of letterforms in the contemporary culture-sphere. A prolific writer on typography, he has a singular knack for identifying the most obscure typefaces known to humankind.