IF YOU’RE A SELF-DESCRIBED NERD of both superheroes and fonts, as Matthew Olin is, it’s only a matter of time before you begin melding the two into highly creative mutations. And with his passion for both Gotham and Gotham-Book, Olin is quite the inspired visual alchemist.
Olin showed an early affinity for fonts in grade school, as he tried to match the typography of historic texts. Then, as his boyhood interest grew in Batman and the X-Men, an imagination was primed for what would become, by last year, his MFA Thesis Exhibition.
Olin — a Duluth, Minn.-based designer who works for the marketing/communications firm WestmorelandFlint — has drawn attention this month after posting a gallery of what he calls his “Superhero Typographic Classifications.”
These creations are so elegant and visually playful, Comic Riffs caught up with Olin to ask him about his font of nerd knowledge — and how that illuminates his work.
MICHAEL CAVNA: So Matthew, how did inspiration strike for this artwork? What, in other words, is the origin story of these illustrations?
MATTHEW OLIN: Aside from my childhood dreams of one day becoming a superhero, I found myself sharing my passion for branding and design by trying to relate them to a more universal idea. I realized that our core understanding of a superhero — who he/she is, how he/she acts and what he/she stands for — comes from simply hearing their name or viewing their logo, which is essentially how we interact with brands.
From there, it was just a matter of figuring out how to disseminate those correlations and make them both approachable and understandable.
MC: Can you let us into your creative process? How did you pair the superheroes and fonts, and did you end up editing/rejecting other possibilities?
MO: The superhero type “faces” started out fairly easily. Hoefler & Frere-Jones’s (H&FJ) beautifully designed typeface Gotham was a no-brainer to construct Batman out of due solely to its name. As a typeface, it’s both familiar and assertive — qualities that I also see as part of Batman’s character.
From there, deciding Superman was easy — especially given the Daily Planet and Caslon’s reputation with being used in newspapers — but others such as Script [Spider-Man], Handwriting [The Flash] and Display [X-Men] took more thought and time. What’s really great about Display fonts though is that each display font — for which there are countless ones — can be used for a different X-Man, adding depth to that relationship.
I do know Wonder Woman and Robin were for sure left on the cutting room floor for my thesis show, but that doesn’t mean they won’t appear in the near future.
MC: Can you tell us how you became a big comics fan — and are there any comics artists who particulary inspire or inform you?
MO:My whole thesis exhibition revolved around these design/superhero correlations, which is where a lot of the other work on my site is from. I grew up watching the Batman, X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series more so than reading their related comics, but I am definitely a superhero nerd. I love the work of Frank Miller as a writer, Chip Kidd as an enthusiast and especially Scott McCloud as a foremost authority on comics and writing a narrative.
MC: If you had to create a comic villain out of a font, who/what would it be?
MO: I’ve definitely started on the Joker, and yes, he’s in Comic Sans. I’ll definitely do a series of them, very similar to the current typographic superheroes, but they might be more font specific and less about overall font classifications.
MC: Are there any fonts you especially relish with a Wes Anderson-like devotion?
MO: Do you ever hear that new song that you love and you play it on repeat a thousand times knowing that may get sick of it, but you’ll always want to come back to it? That’s how I am with new and beautiful typefaces. Most recently, I’ve been drooling over H&FJ’s Idlewild, but I really love all of their type families with a similar passion despite many being currently overused within the industry. Process Type Foundry of Minneapolis also produces consistently beautiful typefaces, and I’ve always been a fan of the quirky, and mostly impractical, Émigré collection.
MC: Comics Sans -- for or against? Misfire or misunderstood?
MO: Completely against, but totally misunderstood. This is probably one of the two fonts (Papyrus being the other) that everyone used before it was “taboo” (or rather, before we graduated high school and someone created Facebook hate groups). Do I think it’s overused, misused and its general applications are horrific? Yes. Do I think the same of Papyrus? Yes. But did I use them at one point in time and think they were awesome? Most definitely.
MC: How did you first get geeky about fonts — when was it?
MO: My love for typography actually began in elementary school when I would re-type historic documents in Microsoft Word, trying to match each script face to the actual handwriting on items such as the Gettysburg Address or the United States Constitution. My mom had parchment paper that I was then allowed to print these re-created masterpieces on, which was a huge deal.
MC: Have you ever created a superhero or font that was entirely original — and perhaps is waiting to be discovered?
MO: Directly, I haven’t created any of substantial weight worth pursuing. I did used to hope that my best friend in third grade, Julie, and I would start our own superhero league, though. From what I can remember, our costumes were going to be a midnight purple leotard with bright gold stars all over them and our superpowers involved super gymnastic skills. Cool, huh?
Indirectly, I actually want to continue working on this design/superhero connection quite possibly for the rest of my career, as I think there’s something there. Using Scott McCloud’s teaching of narrative structure as a huge influence, the back wall of my thesis exhibition was filled with 32 illustrations that actually told a designer’s origin story — my secret way of pretending that what I do is actually saving the world. I tried to establish a lot of connections between my career, the elements and principles of my industry, and our understanding of superheroes, and there are even more connections floating around in my head.
However, it’d be great to continue working through these correlations, connecting the dots, and disseminating the information to make it digestible for others to benefit from.