Simon Garfield publishes biographies on Albertus, Baskerville and Comic Sans
What began as a book about the type-loving author’s favourite font expanded quickly into a mixed-bag collection, with Comic Sans along for the ride too.
- Liz Gorny
- 13 November 2023
Over a decade since Just My Type – the book that can be found not just on every type designer’s shelf, but probably your aunty’s, uncle’s and dentist’s too – Simon Garfield is back reading about fonts. The author has been diving into the history of Albertus, which was brought to England by Stanley Morison; the man behind Times New Roman, eventually appearing on album covers for The Beach Boys, Nick Cave and “a thousand Faber book jackets”, Simon says; and Baskerville, a type created by a book-design perfectionist “that has endured as the perfect text font for more than 250 years”.
This isn’t just for light reading, it’s all research for a new collection of books from Simon, called ABC of Fonts. Published by W&N – with design by Tom Etherington and art direction by Steve Marking – the mini series explores the stories of Albertus, Baskerville and Comic Sans, fonts which have each enjoyed various levels of stardom and notoriety through their lifetimes.
But with so many successful fonts out there, why these three? It’s not just because they spell out A, B and C when paired together – though, that is a welcome coincidence. “A couple of years ago I told my editor I’d like to write a short book about Albertus, my favourite typeface. She said okay, but only if I write about some others too. By the time our lunch was over we’d hatched the ABC of Fonts, adding Baskerville and Comic Sans to the mix.”
For Simon, the group was solid. Albertus was a “stunning” display typeface that worked on almost everything. Baskerville was a centuries-old beautiful text face that still works today (it’s the typeface for all three of Simon’s new books). Then there’s the younger Comic Sans, which marked people beginning to take notice of type design in the digital age, first for bad reasons, then in a 360 change of heart, good too.
Of course, there were challenges as well. “Capturing and holding the interest of a reader with a subject as esoteric as type is never going to be like writing a crime thriller” – though Simon ensures us there are some dead bodies to be found in “at least two of the books”. Plus there’s tales about obsession, like the intriguing story of John Baskerville, who made Baskerville in Birmingham at the birth of the Enlightenment, and whose body “was never allowed to rest in peace”.
The biggest challenge of all though, was communicating the essential nature of typefaces to our lives. “Why did these types endure? That’s the real story I’m telling.” Following Just My Type, possibly the most compelling typographic story committed to paper, we can’t wait to see how he’s done it.
You can grab a copy of one of the new texts, or all three, here.
Simon Garfield: The ABC of Fonts: Albertus, Baskerville and Comic Sans, designed by Tom Etherington, art directed by Steve Marking (Copyright © Orion Books, 2023)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.