Carolyn Porter designed a new script typeface, “Marcel,” released by P22, named in honor of Marcel Heuzé, a Frenchman who was conscripted into labor during World War II. During the months Heuzé was in servitude in Germany, he wrote letters to his wife and daughters back home in rural France. Heuzé’s letters contain rare first-person testimony of day-to-day survival within a labor camp, along with his personal expressions of love.
These letters — covered in censor marks — found by Porter at a flea market were the original source documents she used to create a script that’s faithful to the intimacy of Marcel Heuzé’s original handwriting. But this is more than a mere typeface, Porter spent over a year searching the story behind the face. I asked about her motivations and the outcome of her quest.
Tell me about your detective work to find Marcel.
It started with a simple question: Who wrote these letters? I had been looking at the original source documents for so long, and I was simply curious to know who was behind them. The letters had been written in French, and I don’t know French, so the first step was to have the letters translated. In a million years I never would have guessed that these letters had been written from a labor camp in Germany. Once I found that out, the next question I asked was: Did he live? In Marcel’s detailed letters, he talks about day-to-day life in camp. I researched more about the conditions at the specific labor camp where he was, and it seemed unlikely anyone could have survived. Little did I know that it would turn into a nearly year-long search to find the answer.
I presume this wasn’t an easy task to start with so little to go on?
In the beginning, I didn’t have much to go on. Initially, I didn’t even know his wife’s name because he only ever called her “my darling.” Ultimately, some of the puzzle pieces came from resources in France, other bits of information came from Germany, yet other answers came from California.
Did you track down some members of the family?
With the help of a genealogy researcher, I established contact with the Heuzé family in 2012. In my very first correspondence with the family, I told them about the font. Little did I know that “font” translated to “police” in French. Some members of the family understood what I was intending to say, but for others, the letter I wrote didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Even for those that understood what I was talking about, the reality of font design was beyond anything they were familiar with. So, no, initially I don’t think they understood what I was doing.
In October 2012, I traveled to Paris and met with multiple generations of the Heuzé family. The meetings were incredible beyond words. I brought my laptop to show them the font, which at that time, was still a work in progress. I believe it helped them understand what I was working on once they could see the font. I was delighted that they immediately had opinions about, and preferences for, specific glyphs. They even had me type out words they wanted to see.
There are elements of the font that absolutely reflect the original handwriting, specifically the swash “M” and the vertical stroke on the lowercase “p.” But, overall, the font is more structured and formal than Marcel’s original handwriting. That wasn’t the original intent; that’s simply how it evolved.
When I was with the family, I expressed my interest in naming the font “Marcel.” Across the board, they told me they would be honored if I did so. Marcel and his wife, Renée, were incredible people. They were deeply loved, and to this day they are still sorely missed.
After I returned home from Paris, I felt compelled to work harder than ever to ensure the font was well crafted. I felt a deep-seated responsibility to do so. I ultimately added specific glyphs — the swash with a heart and a Fleur de Lis, for example — to honor this proud Frenchman and the deep love he had for his wife and family.
How do they feel about the typeface?
I’m still in frequent contact with members of the Heuzé family. They have become very dear to me, and we share a very special connection. They have told me they are proud of this project and are eagerly awaiting its launch. I’m not entirely sure they still understand the intricacies of font design, but I don’t really expect them to.
It even sounds like one member of the family has a project planned using the font. I’m not sure what it is, but I can let you know!
Will the family share in the royalties?
Once contact with the family was established, I sought out legal counsel because I wasn’t sure if there were issues with the design of the font, or if there were any issues that would preclude the release of the font. What I learned is that the shapes of the individual handwritten characters aren’t protected, so there were not any issues with the font. But my lawyer made it very clear that photo reproductions of the original letters, along with the contents of the original letters, are covered by French privacy laws. This meant that I could not show the photos or disclose the contents of the letters without express approval of specific members of the family.
A publisher learned about this story and expressed interest in sharing the story of the search for Marcel, the development of the font, the contents of Marcel’s letters and my visit with the family in Paris. But, I knew that any project of the sort could not proceed without formalizing those approvals. Approvals were recently secured and a book is in the works. As part of the approvals granted by the family, they will share in royalties from the book.
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