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Walking through my neighborhood, Hatagaya, I get a daily reminder of a dead part of the American typographic and linguistic lexicon that has died in the West, yet is alive and well in Japan. This, dear readers, is the screamer- an oversized, extremely italicized exclamation point.

Popularized in the 1920s and 1930s, screamers were cast separately from standard typefaces, and deployed in newspapers for added visual emphasis- punching up headlines and advertisements alike.

In remembrance of this aspect of typography deceased in Western typography, though very much alive in the Japanese typographic signage vernacular, Néojaponisme and Wordshape offer a set of screamers for our readers free of charge.

In 1926, at the request of Barnhart Brothers & Spindler, the foundry he worked for, American type designer Oswald Bruce Cooper designed a wide selection of screamers that included left-tilted (back-slanted), upright (normal) and right-tilted (italicized) versions. The designer of the wildly popular Cooper Black typeface, Cooper was a much sought-after force in the pre-Bauhaus world of graphic design- a creator of work that was both idiosyncratic and communicative.

The foundry rushed the screamers into production, much to Cooper’s dismay. Cooper was disappointed with the final form of the screamers– they were designed in assorted weights to match the assorted series of typefaces that Cooper had designed, as well as in a variety of other formal options: squared-off, incised, wavy, Tuscan and rounded.

Cooper’s working design methodology was to redraw his projects a number of times in order to refine the formal results. However the screamer project was hastily cut by the head of BB&S’s matrix engraving room in fourteen sizes from the initial sketches. This preemptive final form caused Cooper to fire off a fiery missive stating, “Everything I draw is bum the first half-dozen times I draw it; the trouble with these is that I drew them only once!”

This typeface is the result of researching Cooper’s original drawings and series of engraved proofs for the screamers, as well as the original Screamer type specimen.

Cooper Screamers have never been available before in digital format. Cooper Screamers are part of a larger research and development initiative begun by Ian Lynam in bringing out unreleased digital versions of the typefaces and ornament of Oz Cooper. Accompanying the initiial fonts was the release of the definitive essay on the life and work of Cooper in Idea Magazine #339. Download them here.

December 8, 2010

Ian Lynam is a graphic designer living in Tokyo and the art director of Neojaponisme. His website is located at ianlynam.com. His new book, Parallel Strokes, on the intersection of graffiti and typography is available now.

Team Néojaponisme are a-okay. Thanks for asking.

3 Responses

  1. Leonardo Boiko Says:

    I think I’ve seen these slanted exclamations in doubles (a pair in the same vertical text square-cell). Unicode even includes a double (U+203C, “‼”) for compability with East Asian encodings.

  2. Nemo Says:

    Hey man, recently re-listened to the Martians Go Home shows you posted and really dig them. If you have any more tucked away on old cassettes, please post them if you get the chance. Thanks from a Flipper’s and Cornelius fan.

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