A (Sour) Note on the Type

Death Punch: A Ted Iconoclast Adventure has been set in Pretenzi Refurbished, a typeface based on painstaking historical reconstructions of the original Pretenzi Moderne type used in the only three issues published of the London-based avant-garde magazine STAB! (April-June, 1924), which folded because it was unwisely launched in London, Missouri, where the proposed twelve-part series “A Denunciation of the Anti-Symbolists” was met with polite befuddlement.

Although to the untrained eye Pretenzi Refurbished bears a superficial resemblance to Sabon, the two typefaces could not be more different. While Sabon tediously employs the same width in both its italic and Roman forms, Pretenzi Refurbished wittily makes the italic and Roman letters the same width, but does so as an ironic protest against the insatiable demand for variety enshrined by our consumption-maddened culture

Also, the dot on the “i” in Pretenzi Refurbished is a mathematically precise hexagon (get a good magnifying glass). This is my own innovation, as Pretenzi Moderne sort of doesn’t have the courage of its own convictions in the i-dotting department. If square-dotted “i”s are the sort of thing that makes you comfortable, though, feel absolutely free to go find yourself a book typeset in Sabon. Something full of simple declarative sentences and a lack of interest in rocking the boat.

Pretenzi Refurbished is emphatically NOT a “pathetically obvious copy” of Underbyte, as alleged by a recent and cowardly — cowardly! — anonymous letter you might have seen in November’s Type Hype. (Personal to Jerry G.:   You made the same lame pun on “Arial” in your “Kerning Korner” column. EVERYONE TOTALLY KNOWS IT’S YOU.) Underbyte is the philosophical opposite of Pretenzi Refurbished. Pretenzi effaces itself, its graceful forms effortlessly gesturing in the direction of meaning. Underbyte is a seizure-inducing strobe of self-advertisement. Pretenzi is a brisk morning stroll through the park. Underbyte is a hungover walk of shame back from your co-worker’s condo in the asbestos district.

Finally, if you are reading this on one of those electronic devices that encourages you to mess with the size of the type or pick your own font: don’t even think about it. Let me just say that “painstaking” is no exaggeration. My hands are cramped, and I can feel a cluster headache coming on. Typesetting this book was an agonizing labor of meticulous love carried out in the face of braying opposition from a lot of people at the publisher’s offices who you might think had better things to do with their time. It’s a perfect marriage between an allegedly page-turning, high-stakes adventure that takes you from the peak of K2 to the depths of a Uruguayan lithium mine and beyond (so I gather, from the flap copy — too busy with the typeface to finish the manuscript) and an elegant, austere work of typographical artistry.

If you do find that the type makes the words just a little hard to decipher, get yourself a pair of reading glasses. Or, better yet, download a book set in Simpleton Old Style. Between us, I hear that Death Punch isn’t very good, anyway.

Bill Tipper is the Managing Editor of The Barnes & Noble Review.

Illustration by Thea Brine.