Typography South of the Border
An interesting and educational book has come out, Mexican Blackletter, by Cristina Paoli and published by Mark Batty Publisher, New York. The book is an example of life imitating art in the way that many folks in Mexico use the letterform in everything from signage to tattoos - because of the tradition, and not necessarily for any typographical significance. Paoli's book delves into an area of culture and type that many of us don't know about or realize its significance and meaning.
The book has many photographs from the streets of Mexico City showing examples of Mexican blackletter in all of its uses. The book states that the reason for the popularity of this letterform in Mexico is because of its tradition or historical reference as well as its religious affiliation. Others use it just because they "like it", "it's different", or "elegant".
In Mexico City and elsewhere that has Mexican presence, signs or posters made with blackletter undoubtedly add more depth and enhancement to the message, whether the sign-maker intends this or not. Blackletter is not even formally taught in Mexico City schools, but its art and use is handed down through generations of the culture. Some of the lettering comes from trained hands - some not - but that doesn't seem to be an issue. No design critiques here, this is real life.
Mexican Blackletter breaks down the letterform into categories - from Standard and Dropshadow, to Extended, Condensed and Ornamental - and has numerous examples of each in use. It's great to see examples of blackletter in shop signs and tattooed bodies - side-by-side.
Toward the end of the book, Paoli lost me in the X-Rays section. The author uses each character of the Spanish language and layers them on top of one another, depending on the frequency of each letter's use in the language. The result is many pages of what basically consists of an art project. Interesting, but this could have been excluded from the book.
Overall, I feel Mexican Blackletter should be used as an additional instructional resource in typography classes and presentations - if only to give contemporary examples of how this letterform is widely used in a culture rich with history and tradition. I know most of us have seen Mexican blackletter in latin or Spanish areas of large cities, but, after reading this book, we should have a deeper appreciation and understanding of this life - and art.