November 17, 2003

The Cheshire Dave Interview

Behind the Typeface Interview

Behind the Typeface may be old news, but there hasn’t been an interview on the making of the video, so I thought I’d do an email interview with Cheshire Dave, the writer/director of this cult favourite.

How did the idea of making this “Behind the typeface” clip come to you?
I wanted to do something special to commemorate the first birthday of the journal. I also wanted to do something that would draw more attention to Mastication. Ernie Hsiung, a blogger whose site I’ve frequented for a long time would put together these intricate web-games on his site featuring live players, involving what appeared to be a massive amount of work both programming the games and managing them while they were happening. I was impressed that he would do something so involved to entertain his readers. I was also impressed by the things Ze Frank was doing on his site � extremely inventive projects. So I tried to think of something I could do that would be entertaining like that, still hewing to my goal with the journal of doing in-depth pieces.

At first I thought about doing some sort of web-game about typefaces, but around that time I read an essay Matt Haughey had written about the development of Blogger in a “Behind the Music” sort of way. Sometime after that, in the middle of the night, the idea of doing a similar parody � but about a typeface � popped into my head, and I couldn’t fall asleep that night, I was so excited about it.

Why Cooper Black? What were some other typefaces considered? Wouldn’t someone like Helvetica or the maligned Comic Sans have a more interesting story?
Actually, the movie was originally going to be about Hobo, just because I thought it was such a ridiculous typeface. But I was telling my then-housemate about it, and she suggested Cooper Black. She used to work in a T-shirt shop as a teenager and used to have to put on custom shirts.

When I started looking into Cooper Black’s history, I realized that he really did have a story that fit perfectly into the “Behind the Music” mold. So Hobo, who, it turned out, wasn’t a 1960s or 70s creation but was actually a contemporary of Cooper Black’s, got moved into a supporting role.

Helvetica certainly has been influential, and I may consider it in the future. Comic Sans, on the other hand, is slated to play a virus in a different movie I have in mind. It’s not maligned, it’s malignant.

After seeing your clip, I noticed some similar stuff on Keith Tam’s website and Armin’s Speak Up about the same typeface. What’s the story there? Is there some kind of revival going on?
It amazed me to learn how many Oz Cooper fans there are out there. Oz Cooper is a revered figure, and Cooper Black, I think, is considered a typeface that has suffered terrible abuse. There are a number of people who want to redeem Cooper Black.

Keith’s presentation looks like scans from Barnhart Brothers & Spindler’s initial marketing of the Cooper Oldstyle family, mixed with narration from a critical essay I haven’t seen. Kent Lew was nice enough to send me a couple of scans from the same marketing piece, which I used in the revision of my movie.

Armin’s movie is beautiful and bizarre. I like the way he thinks.

Did Cooper ever fall in love?
He had a brief fling with Korinna in the heady days of the 1970s, but she was obviously too young for him, and that kind of thing doesn’t usually last. She was a hottie, though.

How much money / time did you spend on making the movie and what sort of equipment did you use? Anything interesting happened during production?
I spent about three months working on it, for a total of maybe 100 hours or so. I didn’t keep very good track of my time, as usual. It didn’t cost anything to make, but it cost me hundreds of dollars in bandwidth. Luckily, I had some donations that covered about a quarter of my costs, and even more fortunately, Veer stepped in and took over the hosting, bless their hearts. They’ve got an exclusive on my next movie, when I get a chance to make it.

I basically made the movie on my G3 Powerbook, using Flash 5, Illustrator, Photoshop, and SoundEdit 16. I used a standard Mac microphone, the kind that used to come with Macs in the early 90s when Apple was toying with speech commands. I finished constructing the movie on a G4 tower, which was better at crunching such a big Flash movie.

As for interesting things during production:
Sarah, my girlfriend (who is now my fiancee), had just finished law school at that time and had access to a legal database and was able to find the court cases referenced in the movie. That was a great help in adding weight to the movie. Primary sources rock.

It was also helpful to find a big Cooper Black fan pretty much right in my backyard. For a presentation he was putting together, Mike Kohnke had driven around snapping pictures of Cooper Black in action, which is where a lot of the images in the movie come from.

I had originally planned on doing all the voices myself, but I quickly found out that I didn’t have the chops for it. So I recruited friends who are actors in the theater company I’m part of, as well as Sarah and an old friend of mine. I had to learn quickly how to be a director.

Tell us about your next movie(s).
I don’t want to give away too much at this point, but it’s going to be a noir-supernatural thriller, and after viewing it no one’s video store experience will ever be the same.

And I do have an idea for another “Behind the Typeface,” featuring a typeface that had a good run in the 80s and 90s but was just recently forced into retirement. But that’s way down the road, though, I think.

Posted by Karen at November 17, 2003 12:06 AM in typography

Great stuff. Congrats on the first Snog Blog exclusive interview.

Posted by: jimmy at November 17, 2003 01:23 AM

Thank you for the interview, Karen. I know I wasn’t the only one who wanted to know more about Chesh’s work on the flashie. For more on the subject, here are some related Cooper articles at Typographica.

Posted by: Stephen Coles at November 17, 2003 10:18 PM

Great stuff, Karen and Chesh!

BTW, Souvernir is maligned as well, in fact much more than Cooper Black - but boy does it deserve it.


Posted by: Hrant at November 18, 2003 01:32 AM

Thanks very much for the interview, Karen — this was fun. I should clarify, though — of the future movies on my to-do list, the noir supernatural thriller is a different one than the next “BTT,” which will most likely come after the thriller.

Posted by: Cheshire at November 18, 2003 08:16 AM

I was gonna say, the credit is all Chesh’s. I only came up with the questions and he gave all these brilliant and funny answers. Don’t you just love the quote about Comic Sans?

Posted by: Karen at November 18, 2003 09:22 AM


Posted by: Karen at December 1, 2003 10:54 PM

Chank’s take on Cooper � Rosemary

Posted by: Karen at December 12, 2003 05:13 PM

Et maintenant, il y a Cooker Black, un hommage bien sur. C’est un projet par les �tudiants de Jean Fran�ois Porchez a ENSAD.

Posted by: Karen at July 8, 2004 11:06 AM
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