The Daily Heller: P22 Polishes Glaser’s Babyteeth & Cleans Kitchen
Milton Glaser (1929–2020) met with P22 Type Foundry in 2019 to initiate the official digital series of typefaces he designed in the 1960s and ’70s. The Glaser fonts including Kitchen—which he designed for The Big Kitchen in the World Trade Center (1981)—Houdini, Babyfat and Babyteeth, are first up. An iconic face, Babyteeth appeared on the classic “Dylan” poster.
“The inspiration for my Babyteeth typeface came from this sign I photographed in Mexico City,” Glaser once explained. “It’s an advertisement for a tailor. The 'E' was drawn as only someone unfamiliar with the alphabet could have conceived. Yet it is completely legible. I tried to invent the rest of the alphabet consistent with this model.” Babyteeth also derived from Italian Futurist types of the 1920s.
To help with the redrawing, Ignacio Serrano, Glaser’s last assistant, took charge. “The most rewarding part of making these typefaces was to have the chance to revisit Milton’s typeface originals, mechanicals, etc., from the old studio,” Serrano told me. “We kept finding old folders filled with cut-outs, re-drawings and whatnot.”
Serrano noted that the most difficult part of the process was adapting the typefaces to modern and more global contexts. Milton never expanded “Houdini or Babyteeth for Scandinavian languages, or Turkish, or even Spanish, to name a few examples. Therefore a lot of work needed to be done in order to make those typefaces available for a wider audience.”
Nonetheless, as one of many celebrations of Glaser’s life, these typefaces are gradually coming back online. I asked Richard Kegler of P22 to talk more about the plans.
How did this project come about?
The idea was suggested quite a while ago by Frank Martinez. I loved the idea and left it to a former partner to get the ball rolling. The ball never rolled. After I bought out full ownership of P22 I decided to go back to some dormant ideas and asked if it might still be possible. The positive response in February 2019 meant that I happily hopped in my car from central New York and drove to NYC to meet with Milton, and we agreed to put things in motion.
It was the only time I drove into the city and back home the same day. Not something I would like to do on a regular basis, but a good proof of concept.
What is your rollout of the typefaces?
We chose Babyteeth as possibly the most iconic of all Glaser faces, but also as the most misrepresented. There are many Babyteeth knockoffs, and so many get the intended proportions and details wrong. Plus the seldom-seen outline versions along with the dot and baroque variants make it a pretty interesting group of fonts to play with.
Kitchen is our second release. As another face that has seen unauthorized versions released, we felt solving the 3D shadow overlap problem was an important issue to tackle. The solution involves having two fonts that stack on top of each other. As long as they are spaced the same, they can have their cast shadows
The next will be Houdini. This is a multi-font family that has not previously been released in a digital form.
How many “new” characters are necessary?
That is a moving target. In the “old days” of digital fonts, the 256 characters included Icelandic characters but few Central European characters. I recall thinking, who will ever use these? But then when visiting Iceland for a type conference, I saw several of our fonts used on signage and realized that including those characters was a good idea. I actual love designing Eths and Thorns for fonts.
Now that OpenType allows for thousands of glyphs, the necessary characters are whatever languages you want to be able to use the fonts. We generally do an extended Latin character set with our releases, which covers most Western and Central European languages. Occasionally we will include Greek and Cyrillic coverage, but there is always knowing when to say when. If there is demand, we can issue new versions with even more coverage.
So we do include things like Euro symbols, section marks, and odds and ends that would never have been part of the Phototype character sets. In the case of Babyteeth, there were alternate versions of some characters, so we include those as well. It is really helpful to see the original art boards from the Glaser studio.
How has the first batch done in the market?
Our release was somewhat low key, and response has been likewise fairly low key. We feel that the Glaser typefaces, like many iconic and historic lettering styles we offer, will have a long-term appeal for aficionados looking to design with these historic forms. Fonts we released 27 years ago still sell on a slow burn, and when people find them, they are appreciative that we try to keep the original flavor intact. We are quite happy that Milton was on board with our approach and that the Studio continues to work with us on seeing the fonts released as Milton would have wished.