Hello everyone, I'm looking to read up on the history of so-called 'grunge' typography — either about its heyday in the 80s/90s, or any critiques or analyses. David Carson's books have been a good start, and I've found a couple of short articles online (including: https://www.theawl.com/2012/08/the-rise-and-fall-of-grunge-typography/)
, but I'm wondering if I'm missing anything substantial that's been published in print. Maybe little has been written on it because it's been generally maligned? If anyone knows of anything, I'd really appreciate it!
Distress (“defaced, battered, weathered”) was a general phenomenon, e.g. the European FF Dirty faces (especially Trixie) and Blur.
Very few typefaces could be described as completely grunge (and not just distressed, deconstructed or postmodern). James is on point to focus on grunge typography, rather than grunge fonts.
Also unforgotten is the work of Martin Venezky who worked on SPEAK magazine, where David Carson designed the first issue.
Woefully little was written and published about it, though @Claudio Piccinini did but I don't know where he published it, he may still have his writings from that era on file.
One day you start a revolution; the next day you find that it has become a commodity and you are selling a style. So it was with grunge type, about which I agree with Chris Lozos’s distinctions, though I think they became a bit murky. Here’s the thing: if you made a grunge font and used it just once, you were making a statement, but if you packaged and sold it for everyone to use, you were in the business of marketing visual clichés.
I watched it from the sidelines, bemused by the spectacle. It was as if our recent liberation from paste-up and bad [photo]stats and over- and under-exposed film negatives was not welcome everywhere. Small-town newspaper ads were suddenly all straight and tidy and to some that was an affront. After all, the Macintosh was clearly the wrong tool to use if your intent was to design (again and again) the jacket for “Never Mind the Bollocks.” Sometime in the mid-90s, an accomplished designer colleague of mine (now the head of the graphic design department of a major art school), told me that she missed paste-up, which she thought of as a contemplative place. I couldn’t muster the same sentiment.
The article in The Awl has good things in it, but it’s also got a lot of errors. I especially like the story of the three-day course in Camden, Maine.
This is exactly why I'm interested. The examples of grunge typefaces that flagrantly reference another (flawed, decomposing!) medium are such an interesting break from the perfectionism that type design has historically aimed for.
You can never control how your work is interpreted, and our work has been described as anything from Computer Punk to Swiss, and I’m fine with all of that. But the Grunge label for our work feels particularly uncomfortable to me. And Stephen is right to point out that I’ve definitely never referred to my work as Grunge.
I’m not even sure how to define Grunge as a typographic style except in the most superficial terms. Except for the field of design and music, none of the other arts ever adopted that moniker. There's no grunge architecture or grunge ceramics as far as I know, probably because there’s no underlying theory. That may be the reason why James can’t find much history or substance on the subject.
As far as I know, and I’m not a type historian, but the term Grunge typography originated with Ray Gun, during the heydays of Grunge music. Ray Gun often featured Grunge bands, and the layouts and type were decidedly gritty and distorted, kind of like the music it was covering. At some point, somebody put the two together and decided to refer to these layouts and typefaces in Ray Gun as Grunge typography and Grunge type. It was guilty by association.