Typography in Pop Culture | Entry 5:
The History & Resurgence of Blackletter
Brief history of blackletter:
Blackletter typefaces have sustained an identity in subcultures across the spectrum. The style of typeface was used for Guthenburg Bible, one of the first printed books. Despite it’s early Christian identity, blackletter has become suggestive of violence and rebellion since then. During the Renaissance, blackletter was referred to as “gothic,” meaning barbaric. With that, it’s connotation changed from elegant script to a signifier of danger. Perhaps it was it’s dramatically contrasting stokes, sharp point, and intense serifs. Blacklettering lost popularity over the centuries in most of the world except for Germany. Solidifying the cruel connotation, Hitler used the blackletter typeface Fraktur during the Nazi regime.
Later in the 20th century, blackletter typefaces have become iconic for many diverse subcultures. In the 1970’s, blackletter was used as a cheap way to personalize sportswear with iron-on letters. Mexico’s use of blackletter dates back to the 1500s yet still thrives today in graffiti and also memorials of Latin cultures. In the 1973, Black Sabbath, considered the first metal band by many, released Sabbath Bloody Sabbath with an album cover featuring blackletters. Blackletter has sustained an aesthetic trend in metal ever since. Blackletter was also a popular trend in street gangs particularly from Los Angeles, perhaps because of the city’s Latin American history.
Also stemming from Los Angeles culture, blackletter style has roots in hip-hop culture. This brings us to it’s modern day use. As hip-hop and sports become increasingly intertwined, blackletter has boomed in popularity, entering today’s mainstream culture. Possibly it’s epiphany was the release of Kanye West’s Life of Pablo merchandize. Kanye created a reputation of paying tribute to old school hip-hop. That, combined with his references to the Columbian figure Pablo Escobar, made blackletter style perfect for Kanye’s brand. Many other streetwear companies also use blackletter such as HUF and Stussy. Blackletter, menacing and mean, attracts the bad-boy mentality of today’s youth.
As you have read, blackletter signifies both cultural crossovers and extremes. The history of blackletter is truly intriguing. Below are some examples of blackletter in use. Check out my article about Cooper Black in use, here.