March 1997
s m u g
by Leslie Harpold

The Elvis of Fonts

So, I like fonts. Okay, I love fonts. There's something about the artistic beauty and the functionality of the letter form that speaks to my soul, the power to visually stun and communicate a message of both literal and aesthetic proportions is a powerful medium when properly harnessed. I dream of the day when I can say, confidently - okay, enough, I really don't need another font. I am sated. However, as my 54 megabyte font directory tells me, this day could be some time off.

Font Geek, Fontaholic, Font Fiend, the names all mean nothing to me. My love of fonts ranges from the quiet simplicity of Gill Sans to the decadent curves and cadence of Lucida Handwriting. Display fonts, text fonts, I love them all, and even Dingbats have a special place in my heart. I'm about out of the "grunge" font phase, having chosen "crack babies" as my deteriorated typewriter font of choice in that era, but the whole of the techno fonts is overtaking me.

In my never-ending quest for fonts, I came upon one man who would change my life forever.

Type designers have long been unheralded, faceless last names - Bodoni, Goudy, Cooper, Snell, names we can never put faces or personalities with. They are legendary typographers though, and they get their props in design schools worldwide. These, however are postmodern times, and today's font consumer cries out for a fontographer with panache and style, someone to get all girl gooey over because the ascender on the lowercase "h" just has that certain something that makes you feel all tingly.

I am in love with Chank Diesel.

Not the mature kind of romantic love either, sliding nicely into Maslow's hierarchy of love with the whole intellectual and sexual elements neatly lining up to form a balanced and stable paradigm for lasting passion. It goes way deeper than that. I have joined what can only be called the Cult of Chank.

Charles Anderson was a regular guy living in Minneapolis, until he started editing Cake magazine, one of those music rags that aims to keep the kids waist high in pop heroes under the guise of being tragically hip. Okay, fine, I read them all the time, and occasionally write for them when they'll have me. Media made him cooler, and that demanded a handle of epic proportions, and Chank Diesel was born. For Cake, Chank created a slew of foxy fonts, and they were so well received, he teamed up with a partner to form the Exploding Font Company. Guess what? They sell fonts now, so people like you and me can buy a little visual communication technology - right on the internet.

Now, all the fonts are display fonts - if I was forced to read anything resembling large blocks of text in any Chank font I may very well go blind, (albeit in a tizzy of delirious joy) but that's not where the beauty of them lies. I vacillate daily as to which Chank font is my favorite, and the score is affected by both the look of the font as well as the name. At the moment, the latest two Chank Projects are the Presidential Deviancy Fonts set - the first release being Dickwhipped Lincoln with Naked Reagan and Jeffersonofabitch, as well as other cheif of staff tribute fonts soon to follow - and the soon to be undertaken Rock Star Font sets - with Nicole Blackman of the Golden Palominos, Lori Barbero from Babes in Toyland, David Yow from The Jesus Lizard, Nikki Sixx from Motly Crue, Doughty from Soul Coughing, and numerous others signed up to play along, lending their handwriting as a basis for fonts that people like you and me can have for free, I'm assuming in order to forge mash notes from our favorite minstrels.

The moment my feelings took the turn from general amusement at Chank's web pages to bright and shining teenage girl-like fandom came when I was browsing through the fonts he had lovingly and drunkenly crafted to find the pronunciation of the free font Asswipe - "Ah Swee Pay." It combined my love of swearing with the erudite pose of the French language, and I was wholly hooked.

Until then I was just dogging the fonts and reveling at the genius of Chank's "Send Me Ten Dollars" program. If you send Chank a luscious ten dollar bill (I'm guessing this is the money he uses for dime bags of weed and six packs of imported beer or twelve packs of Milwaukee's finest) he'll send you three randomly chosen fancy 30 dollar fonts on a disk or - if you so desire, a hand drawn font on archival acid free paper. If you're not a font or an art collector, I assure you this is value unlike any other.

Chank would like us to believe the whole "traveling font salesman, and a con artist extraordinaire" hype. Don't let the shtick fool you though, the boy knows what he's doing. Having put the fonts to near constant use, I have learned first hand that these fonts don't just seem like the shit, they are the shit. They scale amazingly well, are hip and commercial but retain a sense of creative - and I hate to use this word - whimsy. His work is in the Smithsonian, and has graced things you've all seen like Welch's Strawberry Soda, the Cartoon Network's Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Prince's Emancipation album cover, and Ocean Spray's television commercial's with Bernadette Peters.

According to a recent Chank update, he's also got an offer to create a new phonetic alphabet - which sounds innocuous enough until you consider the fact that there is currently exactly one universally accepted phonetic alphabet display font out there - around for about 50 years - and he's been commissioned to make another official version. Chank will be affecting linguist and English majors and flash card makers anywhere the English language gets written phonetically, and I assure you that's huge.

All that fancy pants stuff aside, the reason I love Chank is because I'm buying more than just fonts, I'm buying personality, hipness, and pop culture, not to mention the power to admire the letter form in all it's glory. I willingly succumb to the persona of Chank as Kiefer Sutherland look alike, flaky, drunk, hyperactive fontographer to the stars, knowing full well, the man is a gifted artist and craftsman, well aware of how to turn on my eyes with foxy letter forms and touch that place in my all girl heart that feels a little tingly about slightly unstable boys.

Here's ten dollars, Chank.


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