7. A book is an object fixed in time.
A book can tell us about its status in history. If we look through first editions of Moby Dick or Leaves of Grass, we find that they give away information not only about when they were created, but also about the worlds in which they were created, by way of advertisements, bindings, the quality of their paper, and watermarks on that paper. Such components are often not captured by scanning or are flattened out to make them of negligible use. In Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold—his saga about how libraries microfilmed runs of newspapers in the 1950s and 1960s and then discarded them—one of his chief complaints was that the filmers skipped advertising supplements and cartoons: things that had been deemed unimportant.
For 15 years, Frere-Jones and Hoefler seemed charmed. They made typefaces that rendered the stock charts in the Wall Street Journal readable and helped Martha Stewart sell cookbooks. They created an alphabet for the New York Jets, based on the team’s logo. And they saw their lettering chiseled into stone as part of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. Last year, the duo won the AIGA Medal, the profession’s highest award. It seemed to be one of those rare situations whereby two successful soloists had combined to make an even better supergroup. Hoefler was asked if there were any troubles in their working relationship for a video produced for the AIGA in 2013. “We do have a longstanding disagreement over the height of the lower case t,” he said. “That is the only point of contention.”
Not quite. In January, Frere-Jones filed a lawsuit against Hoefler, saying that their company was not actually a partnership, but a long con in which Hoefler had tricked him into signing over the rights to all of his work, cheating Frere-Jones out of his half of the business. “In the most profound treachery and sustained exploitation of friendship, trust and confidence, Hoefler accepted all the benefits provided by Frere-Jones while repeatedly promising Frere-Jones that he would give him the agreed equity, only to refuse to do so when finally demanded,” the complaint charges. Frere-Jones is asking a court to grant him $20 million. Hoefler won’t comment on the suit directly, but the day after it was filed a lawyer for the company issued a brief statement disputing the claims, which, it said, “are false and without legal merit.” (About Gotham’s creation, Hoefler writes in an email: “No one is disputing Tobias’s role in those projects, or my own, for that matter. [Our] typefaces have had a lot of other contributors, as well — everything we do here is a team effort.”) According to the company statement, Frere-Jones was not Hoefler’s partner but a “longtime employee.”
Here is a short film of the two of them, shot not too long ago, and yet during better times.
Font Men is a SXSW 2014 Official Selection in the Film Festival. It is a behind the scenes look at Jonathan Hoefler & Tobias Frere-Jones. Given the recent company split it also feels like a sad obituary of sorts.
You've seen their work. Before their recent split, they collectively ran the most successful and well respected type design studio in the world, creating fonts used by everyone from the Wall Street Journal to the President of the United States.
Font Men, gives a peek behind the curtain into the world of Jonathan and Tobias. Tracking the history of their personal trajectories, sharing the forces that brought them together and giving an exclusive look at the successful empire they built together.