Originally published in 8 Faces #2
When European design collective Underware created the blackletter Fakir, they may not have anticipated that the process of bringing this typeface to fruition would have been so arduous a journey. Given the enormous amount of time, effort, patience and perseverance taken to create the typeface, it seemed only fitting to feature this design in more than simply a display catalogue. What was required was something that would be worthy of all the hard work and suffering taken to create Fakir. Arriving at an appropriate solution took more time: another year, in fact. But a solution was finally concluded and the decision was made to create a publication focusing on the subject of voluntary suffering, which seemed entirely appropriate for all the time and effort that went into its creation. For a Gothic typeface such as Fakir, the theme was certainly fitting: harking back to medieval times when the Gothic style of type first originated in the days suffering was a daily theme.
In order to find suitable material for this subject, Underware’s attention soon came to Ruud Linssen; the Catholic Dutch author, poet and journalist. “If there’s anyone who really knows what suffering truly means, it’s him,” says Sami Kortemski of Underware.
Ruud immediately took to the idea, and the decision was soon agreed for him to write a short story on voluntary suffering, and a deadline of completion in approximately two to three months was agreed. However, six months later, no story had materialised. Ruud had in fact become heavily involved in writing an extensive book on the subject, and instead of two months, The Book of War, Mortification, and Lovetook two years to complete. The author ascertained that he had rewritten every sentence of the book at least five times, and that the book had ‘changed his life’, giving him an entirely new perspective on the subject owing to his extensive thought and research on the matter. “Suffering,” he described, “has already been a major theme in my life for many years. But not voluntary suffering. The creation of the book therefore became an example of voluntary suffering in itself.” One could say that it is the essence of Linssen’s voluntary suffering. In light of this, and in true Gothic style, the decision was made to print the book with the blood of the author.
The simple (and somewhat macabre) idea soon turned into a complicated issue of how printing an entire book in human blood could turn into a practical solution. This was no easy feat, and a number of trial and error situations ensued before a solution was found, but the team saw the positive side of it: “Let’s see it this way; production failures are appropriate for a project about voluntary suffering,” said Sami. After tapping Ruud’s blood, the next stage of the process at first appeared to be nearly impossible: to turn blood, which is water-based, into offset ink, which is oil based. After talking to dozens of ink experts, chemists and physicians, the best solution seemed to be to freeze-dry the blood; this was found to be the best way to remove all water from the human blood. The substance left after the lyophilising process is a powder of pure blood. Once the powder was created, it was then relatively easy to turn the powder into an oil-based offset ink.
Fakir is the namesake of the Hindu religious mendicant: one who performs feats of endurance. The vision behind the creation of this blackletter was to design one more suited to modern times: for readers not used to the traditional, elaborately decorative blackletters. “We didn’t go to the library to study old blackletters; instead we started with a clean slate,” described Sami, “To have something powerful, simple, and readable was more important than following the style or construction of historical blackletters.” Prior to any initial sketches, the decision was made to design the typeface to be strong and black with nail-sharp forms without a strict grid. It was vaguely constructed on broad nib textura, with broken, edgy, interrupted strokes: “Try to sit on a nail bed and you’ll know why fakirs like to read just these kind of fonts!” describes Sami.
A fundamental concept for Underware was to have a number of blackletter fonts that work very well together and could be used to set all levels of type in a magazine, proving that a blackletter family can be practical and versatile. Fakir’s family of eleven text and display fonts is just that, covering a range of identities from the fragile and poetic Fakir Italic, to the aggressive graffiti style of Fakir Display Black Small Caps. Sami explains: “Our Fakir fonts are very graphical; they form very compact and strong word images, but they also have an ability to stay readable and legible. We think that’s a rare ability for a blackletter face.”
The journey from Fakir’s initial conception, to printing an entire book in blood to showcase the typeface, tested the patience and tenacity of the team, and was by no means an easy feat; but therein lies a poetic beauty that ties in completely with the subject of the book: voluntary suffering.