Slab Happy: Trilby Reviewed

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Although the sans serif was originally a bastard offspring of the slab serif, the latter has been copying the former for the past 80 years. In the late 1920s and early 1930s the Egyptian slab serif was geometrized (e.g. Memphis and Stymie) to provide a serif companion to Futura and the other newly invented geometric sans serifs. Several decades later Adrian Frutiger refined the slab serif to more closely match neo-grotesque typefaces, specifically his own Univers. The result was Serifa (1967) and Glypha (1977). Then, in 1990 Peter Matthias Noordzij humanized the slab serif with PMN Caecilia, modeling it on Frutiger (the typeface, not the man) and giving it a true italic companion.

Trilby by David Jonathan Ross continues this trend. Just as Roger Excoffon and Evert Bloemsma reversed the weight distribution of grotesques to provide a fresh appearance (and emphasize readability across the tops of lowercase letters) with, respectively, Antique Olive (1962) and FF Balance (1993), Ross has done the same for the Egyptian. In doing so, he has managed to avoid the pitfall of ending up with a French Clarendon (think Playbill or Ponderosa), the typeface that has been pigeon-holed as a symbol of the Old West: the typeface of gunslingers and gamblers, of ranchers and rustlers.

With Trilby, Ross has reined in this renegade style, turning it from a display type to one that can be used for text, especially what he terms “advertising text.” Trilby accomplishes this feat by having slab serifs that are heavier than their stems but not inordinately so. Furthermore, the face’s basic structure echoes that of Frutiger, giving it an open, clear look not usually associated with such designs. Yet, the serifs remain strong enough that a line of text looks like railroad tracks, a feature that helps draw the reader’s eye along the line of text—and looks cool. Trilby’s italic is actually closer to an oblique. The only “italic” letterform is the f with a descender. Ross replaced the traditional italic entry and exit strokes with unidimensional slab serifs (most notable in h, m and n). This allowed him to match the appearance of the roman but without mimicking it.

Trilby is Ross’ first commercially released font. Hats off to him for such an assured and auspicious beginning.

Font: Trilby

Designer: David Jonathan Ross

Foundry: Font Bureau

Styles: Regular, Medium, Bold, and Black with matching italics

Format: OpenType

This review appears in the October issue of Print.

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