Monday, 17 September 2012

The Cooper Black comeback

When I was a young chief sub on the Evening Despatch in Darlington, 30 years or so ago, I was nominated for a design award and off I went to a swanky hotel in the Smoke. When I didn't win I collared the judges in the bar and asked why the winner's portfolio was better than mine. "Ahh," one of them said. "We liked your pages, confident use of pictures, good white space, big impact ... but you could have used more modern typography."  "Like what?" I asked. "Look at all the winners they said ... they all used Cooper Black."
We didn't have Cooper Black in our caseroom. Just Century Bold, Times, Bodoni, Garamond, Clarendon and a selection of sans faces including Tempo (the font The Sun still uses today) and Univers. So I could only look on as the newspaper world fell in love with Cooper Black. 

The Sunderland Echo - Cooper Black titlepiece
Everyone from the Liverpool Echo to The Sun decorated their pages with it. The Sunderland Echo even used it for its titlepiece. 

It wasn't just newspapers either. I thought it looked pretty cool on the album cover of the 1971 Doors' album LA Woman but when it was hijacked by TV programmes - Dad's Army, Cheers and Mash included - often in yellow caps, it lost its coolness altogether. 

It was an Old Style serif which seemed to have been drawn by a child. Its O sat at a peculiar angle, the cap A was definitely distorted and the lower case f looked like a deformed chess piece. 

You couldn't use it as a text face (it fills in under around 14pt) and it didn't have a great headline count either. But the newspaper world loved it ... briefly. For some reason, when the computers came along, it disappeared from newspapers almost as quickly as it appeared. It was occasionally used on ironic features about 70s and 80s fashion, but that was it.
Now though, the font is enjoying a bit of a revival ... and I don't just mean easyjet and Garfield making it synonymous with orange.

Modern bands, such as Marina and the Diamonds and The Black Keys, have adopted the font. And tee-shirts declaring a love for Cooper Black are for sale online (although I have never seen anyone wearing one in real life). 

So I was fascinated to receive the brilliant Visual History of Cooper Black (at the top of the page) which Fibers sent me this week. Very smart, stylish and informative. I have long grown out of my blind dislike for Cooper Black. It reminds me of my youth, can have impact on posters and is bold and effective on artwork and tee-shirts. But I still draw the line at using it in newspapers. It was never, ever, really a newsprint font ... despite what those misguided 1980s' design judges believed. 
Thanks to @fibers for the nice graphic.


  1. I worked on the launch of a paper in our group in the late 90s. It only lasted for 10 months before folding. The editor soon left afterwards.
    The publisher put the sole blame for the paper's failure on the editor using Cooper Black as a headline font.
    'Who the f@ck thinks Cooper Black is a good font in this day and age?' was the general stance.

  2. Here is an article about Louis CK's use of Cooper Black.