Towards an open layout:
A letter to Volodya Yefimov

New York, 15 Septem­ber 1995. The text of this let­ter has been pub­lished twice. The first time—in Mo­scow for the cata­logue of the 1997 ex­hib­i­tion “Para­Type from A to Z”, then, in 1997, the au­thor trans­lated it in­to Eng­lish (To­wards an open lay­out: A let­ter to Volodya Ye­fimov) for the first is­sue of the ATypI’s journ­al Type. This is not a piece of doc­u­ment­ary evid­en­ce found in the archives. The let­ter genre, of course, al­lows us to ima­gine in great­er de­tail the com­plete ab­surdity sur­round­ing ty­po­graphy (and not only ty­po­graphy) in the So­viet peri­od, and com­pare this in­sight with what fol­lowed it—the present day. The let­ter’s re­cip­i­ent, Vladi­mir Ye­fimov, passed away two years ago, leav­ing us all be­hind with our un­asked ques­tions.

23 February 2014


Maxim Zhukov

his let­ter was writ­ten many years ago. It so happened that for quite a while I have been liv­ing far away from Mo­scow. And yet, I have been keep­ing a close watch on the on-go­ing de­vel­op­ments, and, to the ex­tent pos­sible, as­sist­ing in those, which I find in­ter­est­ing and prom­ising. The ad­dress­ee of this let­ter, Vladi­mir “Volodya” Ye­fimov, I knew, and was friends with, for a very long time. After I left we kept in touch, by way of more or less reg­u­lar cor­res­pond­en­ce. Our paths of­ten crossed, in Rus­sia and world­wide. We had a num­ber of joint design ven­tures. In ad­di­tion to the pro­found mu­tu­al amity what drew us to­geth­er was an al­most ident­ic­al out­look on the pri­or­it­ies that ex­ist in the de­vel­op­ment of Cyril­lic ty­po­graphy.

Volodya died two years ago. In his passing, I lost a kindred spir­it, and a true friend. I know that many people who knew him share the pain of this loss. As a pro­fes­sion­al—an ex­pert, a schol­ar, and a ment­or—Volodya has left a deep im­print in the his­tory of Rus­si­an type design. He died a pre­ma­ture death, but he has man­aged to do so much. I con­sider Vladi­mir Ye­fimov the cent­ral, fo­cal fig­ure in the pro­cess of re­viv­ing the nearly lost tra­di­tions of Rus­si­an ty­po­graphy, which com­menced in the late 1980s. My let­ter to him, which fol­lows, re­flects the spir­it of en­thu­si­asm and ex­cite­ment we felt back then. For us those years were not “the rauc­ous 1990s” but a time of hopes and great ex­pect­a­tions. We have seen that the fu­ture has come to pass—in our own life­time.

Max­im Zhukov and Vladi­mir Ye­fimov. Brit­ish High­er School of Art and Design. Mo­scow, 2009.

New York, 15 Septem­ber 1995

Dear Volodya:

Re­mem­ber, last fall, when you came here, I told you that—for quite awhile, on and off—I am writ­ing you a let­ter. A lengthy mono­logue mes­sage, a kind of broodella. Some­how I feel. I need it.

And I need it prob­ably, to fig­ure out what it is that we’ve been do­ing all these years. To put it bet­ter, it’s cer­tainly you do­ing it; as to my­self, I am rather in­to a “con-” thing: con­coct­ing, con­nect­ing, con­sult­ing; some­times con­dol­ing, con­cili­at­ing; try­ing to—con-trib­ute. We know each oth­er for a long time; and we work to­geth­er since forever. With time, though, our co­op­er­a­tion be­came of spe­cial sig­ni­fic­ance for me. And the nos­tal­gia is not all that there is to it.

All of a sud­den, after all these years, a feel­ing de­ve­loped that our stuff—ty­po­graphy —mat­ters. And a sense of be­long­ing to the pro­cess of re­viv­al of the by­gone tra­di­tions of Rus­si­an cul­ture (one thought by­gone for good) is some­what sooth­ing the pain of the new. It just so happened that in our, rather murky, times ty­po­graphy has be­come—at least for my­self—a sign of hope, a blink of light in the end of a tun­nel.

Yes, ty­po­graphy cer­tainly be­longs with cul­ture. But not ex­clus­ively. Be­ing part of the art (or the trade) of print­ing, it auto­mat­ic­ally falls in­to the sphere of at­ten­tion of the powers that be. And in the case of Rus­sia (and not just So­viet Rus­sia)—of a most in­tent one. And of con­trol.

Let’s re­call. In the not so dis­tant past the book artists, gung-ho on the “in­teg­ral whole” of the book lay­out, had to deal with the en­tire chain of the less­er bosses of ty­po­graphy: copy pre­parers, design ed­it­ors, text ed­it­ors, with the staff and the man­age­ment of pro­duc­tion de­part­ments. And the most ob­nox­ious ones, known as diza­yn­ery (let them burn in hell), used to hang around print­ing houses. They were pussy­foot­ing com­pos­it­ors, click­ers, strip­pers, the dark­room per­son­nel, re­touch­ers, fore­men, the shop, unit and shift man­agers, and, again, the dis­patch­ers and the man­agers of pro­duc­tion de­part­ments. The print de­sign­er was quite safely in­su­lated from type, fenced off from it by mul­tiple rows of ram­parts, ditches, barbed wire and stakes. For fair­ness, there was no high voltage en­gaged; no sen­try-manned watchtowers were there (though check­points with “non-af­fil­i­ated”  se­cur­ity guards were).

Cov­er let­ter­ing, by Bor­is Titov. Russky risovan­iy knizn­iy shrift sov­et­skikh khudozh­nikov [“Rus­si­an Hand-ettered Book Type by So­viet Artists” (sic)]. Mo­scow: Iskusstvo,1950.

But when you and I de­cided to in­volve ourselves in ty­po­graphy, it was all taken quite firmly, and the prac­tice of our diza­yn (or bet­ter, “art of the book”) was to ty­po­graphy what mas­turb­a­tion is to the real thing. This is not to say that hand-let­ter­ing emu­lat­ing dis­play ty­po­graphy was a So­viet in­ven­tion; however, nowhere else was that tech­nique ex­plored with such pas­sion and pathos of self-as­ser­tion as in our land. And re­mem­ber our “pho­to­type cases” for paste-up let­ter­ing! We in­dulged in that thing with such a pride. As if there were a kind of mis­sion to it.

MOSKH (Mo­scow Chapter of the Artists So­ci­ety) and Gos­ko­m­izdat (State Com­mit­tee for Pub­lish­ing) were twist­ing ON­SH’s (Type Design De­part­ment of the Print­ing Re­search In­sti­tu­te) hands, try­ing to have its bar­ren venter in­sem­in­ated by “the mas­ters of the book”, vet­er­ans of MOSKH, while ON­SH had its own pride and a ter­min­al im­mu­nity to the ideas of out­siders—both do­mest­ic and (even more so, God for­bid) for­eign. Though at the same time that feigned in­dif­fer­en­ce to the “trends” and ideas fois­ted on from out­side nicely co­ex­is­ted with quietly peep­ing at the sparse tra­mont­ane spe­ci­mens. Again, like those old used “girly” magazines…

I still re­mem­ber the re­buff that Kur­batov and I were met with by com­rades √ and ‡ (‡ is still alive) when in 1964 (thirty-something years ago, damn it!) we were ap­ply­ing for pre-gradu­ation in­tern­ships at ON­SH. We were hop­ing to bring to the “right con­di­tion” our pro­ject, an am­a­teur­ish Cyril­lic ver­sion of Hel­vet­ica Me­di­um (known to us back then as Neue Haas Grotesk) which we saw back then as the type of our times. “This is a West­ern typeface of the ad­vert­ising kind”, we were rep­rim­an­ded, “It is ab­so­lutely un­suit­able in our con­di­tions. It won’t catch on here”. That opin­ion, rather pre­dict­able, man­aged to delay the de­vel­op­ment of a Hel­vet­ica Cyril­lic for a good two dec­ades here. (I mean your Prag­mat­ica, an­oth­er bour­geois face of the ad­vert­ising kind, and it also be­stowed on us a whole heaps of vari­ous Cyril­lic Hel­vet­ic­as, all de­signed abroad—of which none truly suited us…) The same can be said about Univers, Bask­erville, Times, etc.

Though, if you re­mem­ber, Mono­type, Lino­type, Com­pu­graph­ic—they all have been try­ing to reach out for us. They’ve been writ­ing, they’ve been ask­ing. Me too, I was writ­ing, so­li­cit­ing, in­sist­ing, bust­ling… All of no avail. When com­rade Ω was try­ing to pre­vent my send­ing an entry to a Le­tra­set com­pet­i­tion he yelled he did not want to lose his job at Gos­ko­m­izdat be­cause of me. And how about our own gen­er­a­tion? I still re­mem­ber with amazement how I tried to couple § (he was man­aging ON­SH at that time) with some for­eign com­pany – which one I don’t re­mem­ber – and that was already in the 1980s! Just like Go­gol’s Podkoles­in, § res­is­ted – phys­ic­ally. I was drag­ging him by his sleeve, and he was jib­bing, skid­ding on the slip­pery li­no­leum.

Max­im Zhukov. Me­an­der. An ex­plor­at­ory design: an ex­per­i­ment in sys­tem­at­ising struc­tur­al typeface form­ing prin­ciples. In­di­an ink on pa­per. 1972.

Cyril­lic Goth­ic, by An­dre Giirtler and Chris­ti­an Men­gelt. Com­pu­graph­ic, 1974.

Let’s re­mem­ber them all, our dear dad­dies, our pat­rons and be­ne­fact­ors ­ all those bosses of So­viet ty­po­graphy: √, #, ¤, ‡, §, ∞… What a gal­lery! And it ap­pears that every one of them, taken sep­ar­ately, is a nor­mal hu­man be­ing, and that noth­ing hu­man is ali­en to him. But as a whole—they are the very em­bod­i­ment… And like all and everything with us—it’s like no one is there to blame. That’s how it is.

And now, old chap, after all these years (the best years of our lives, by the way!), to use Gorbachev’s fa­vour­ite môt, Prot­sess poshol (“the pro­cess has fi­nally taken off”). I have a feel­ing that only now, when I in in my fifties, I have fi­nally got­ten, or I am get­ting, my hands on the tools of the trade—the most ba­sic and rather un­soph­ist­ic­ated ones. The tools for the work I used to do with my “bare hands” all my life. As if all these years (or even dec­ades, oh my!) I was im­it­at­ing the trum­pet-play­ing by blow­ing in my fist (al­most like Dizzi, no kid­ding!), and now, by the dusk of my days, I’ve been made a gift of a trum­pet ­– no, of a boy scout bugle… “Go play to your heart’s con­tent”. And the thirty years of sim­u­lat­ing ty­po­graphy now look like a total waste. But from an­oth­er point of view, tell me, did we really have a choice? Maybe. Do­ing il­lus­tra­tion, paint­ing, and sim­il­ar self-suf­fi­cient méti­ers. Though those had their own pit­falls, too: réal­isme vs. form­al­isme, the the­ory of rep­res­ent­a­tion, the truth of life vs. the truth of art (all cat­egor­ies of the so­cial­ist real­ist aes­thet­ics).

By force of the cir­cum­stances which marked the main part of our lives, our “ty­po­graphy” was up­rooted from the glob­al con­text. That in its turn, led to a very spe­cial shift in pri­or­it­ies in print design, to a fet­ish­iz­a­tion of hand-let­ter­ing, and to a de­mo­tion of ty­po­graphy to the ju­ni­or league of “the art of the book”. It was con­signed to the sphere of tech­nic­al edit­ing, “So­vi­et­speak for copy pre­par­a­tion. A rather silly term, but lo­gic­al: cen­sor­ship—lit­er­ary, visu­al and ty­po­graph­ic—was not at the bot­tom of the ed­it­or’s (lit­er­ary, art, tech­nic­al) job de­scrip­tion.

Moreover, if a de­sign­er re­sor­ted to ty­po­graph­ic me­dia in build­ing a book (a most nat­ur­al choice), he was in­crim­in­ated as a form­al­ist and ac­cused of the vain­glori­ous am­bi­tion of “play­ing an en­gin­eer”. Mean­while, the art of the book was stead­ily be­com­ing a show­case genre, an art for the art’s sake. Crit­ics, in con­cert with the Artists So­ci­ety, with a straight face, as­ser­ted the primacy of a sexy-look­ing comp, hand­craf­ted with the hard-to-get Talens gou­ache and the hand­made French torchon pa­per. In gen­er­al, they pro­claimed the su­pr­em­acy of the lay­out over the prin­ted product it­self, and some­times most com­pel­lingly. Re­fer­ring to the sac­ros­anct 1920s and Rus­si­an Av­ant Garde was the fa­vour­ite meth­od. The real­iz­a­tion of design in print used to be bit­terly dis­ap­point­ing, and that was con­sidered nor­mal and ac­cept­able in the art com­mu­nity. The suc­cess of the de­sign­er was judged by in­ten­tions rather than deeds. The same ap­proach ap­plied to in­dus­tri­al design, ar­chi­tec­ture, etc. Re­mem­ber Mayakovsky’s fam­ous line “I love our designs’ grandeur”. The de­vel­op­ment of book design, as well as oth­er design arts, was frozen in time, hal­ted at a stage which was the start­ing point in the world design his­tory of the 20th cen­tury. It pro­longed the ex­ist­en­ce of a sort of dec­or­at­ive han­di­craft, as a re­mote province of the so­cial­ist real­ist fine arts.

At the same time the pro­cess which turned book design in­to a self-serving vo­ca­tion was some­how play­ing to the artists’ pride. This pro­cess ex­ploited, and partly soothed, their frus­tra­tion as pro­fes­sion­als, but it sub­sti­tu­ted false val­ues for the true goals of the design trade. Rav­ing over the tech­nic­al mas­tery of the comp’s handi­work while sa­vour­ing the ori­gin­al­ity and wit of the concept it­self was ex­changed for the joy of watch­ing the concept turn­ing in­to a product. Thus, whole dec­ades have passed.

While the mas­ters of the So­viet book were killing each oth­er in ar­guing what was of more rel­ev­ance to The Book—“the in­teg­rity” or “the im­age”, the au­thor­it­ies, most quietly and surely, were tight­en­ing their grip over all the tech­nic­al me­dia that our for­eign col­leagues were routinely us­ing in their work. They had the real, com­mer­cial jobs, and not fic­ti­tious “so­cial or­ders”. Their pro­jects stemmed from the ac­tu­al needs of so­ci­ety and not from the sub­ject plans of the pub­lish­ers, or the ex­hib­it sched­ules of the Artists So­ci­ety, all cleared by the Gos­ko­m­izdat and the Com­mun­ist Party Cent­ral Com­mit­tee of the Com­mun­ist Party. The equip­ment was tightly con­trolled—pho­to­copi­ers, dark­room gear, pho­to­let­ter­ing and strike-on ma­chines, even the type­writers, whose keys were pur­pose­fully van­dal­ised (marked) and put on re­cord as “per the es­tab­lished pro­ced­ure”, The typeface spe­ci­mens ex­is­ted “for of­fice use only”, and to look at them in a design stu­dio, or at home (good God, no!), one had to beg and whine for them real hard.

Re­mem­ber, at one point bring­ing in com­puters from abroad was de­clared il­leg­al, and later they al­lowed it but es­tab­lished such an ex­or­bit­ant fee that nobody would even think about it… There also was a mo­ment of in­spir­a­tion when im­port­ing com­puters was de­clared okay but, guess what, without print­ers! That was when the new tech­no­logy proved really con­fus­ing: how on Earth would one mark the type?! À la guerre comme à la guerre though (even if that guerre hap­pens to be froide); the situ­ation be­came quite ri­dicu­lous: on “their” side selling PCs with the stra­tegic­ally im­port­ant 286 and 386 chips to the Evil Em­pire was for­bid­den by the ever vi­gil­ant COCOM, and with us im­port­ing them was also against the law!

The new times shattered the green­house of the so­cial­ist art, and the lives of many mas­ters of the “in­dustry of dreams”, some­times top-notch pro­fes­sion­als, went down with it. The gov­ern­ment stopped fod­der­ing them and sub­sid­iz­ing their dis­cus­sions of “the in­teg­rity” and “the im­age”. Sud­denly, all found them­selves left to their own devices. It looked like “the most-read na­tion in the world” stopped read­ing at once. It gave up sub­scrib­ing to peri­od­ic­als and buy­ing books. The print­ing trade star­ted look­ing for its own ways to sur­vive. As to the free word, it found its rostrum and its mouth­piece in a per­son­al com­puter. Thus, it jus­ti­fied the worst sus­pi­cions of the old ré­gime, which man­aged, for many dec­ades, to con­tain and/or to neut­ral­ise the de­vel­op­ment of in­form­a­tion me­dia—short­wave and FM broad­cast­ing, sa­tel­lite TV, cord­less phone com­mu­nic­a­tions, pho­to­copy­ing, and all such. I saw some stud­ies, quite fun­da­ment­al, on “how the PC did in com­mun­ism”… It is sig­ni­fic­ant that the needs of com­pu­ter­ised text pro­cess­ing kicked off the ty­po­graph­ic re­viv­al in Rus­sia. In the USSR, the gov­ern­ment-owned graph­ic arts had no real need for new typefaces (just like the So­viet trade needed no ad­vert­ising, and mer­chand­ise needed no product design nor pack­aging). Volodya! What a great feel­ing it must be to know that your work is wanted not for “log­ging out the quarterly job as­sign­ment”, but for… the so­ci­ety!

So, Para­Graph set the word of glas­nost in type, or more pre­cisely, in com­puter fonts, and this is quite re­mark­able. No less re­mark­able is the story of the very ori­gin, de­vel­op­ment and suc­cess of Para­Graph, foun­ded by a group of en­ter­pris­ing pro­gram­mers, who led all those who were able-bod­ied away from the desert of the So­viet R&D; sys­tem. And from the busi­ness stand­point, against the back­ground of the un­couth Rus­si­an cap­it­al­ism, Para­Graph looks, at least from a de­tached point of view, like a kind of “First Mod­el Team of Cap­it­al­ist La­bour”. It makes its money the old-fash­ioned way—it earns it through hon­est, pro­duct­ive, skilled la­bour. Its pro­duc­tion is good qual­ity, and most use­ful. It ad­heres to the in­ter­na­tion­al copy­right laws, and it en­joys great au­thor­ity in the in­dustry—both at home (now, that is most in­cred­ible) and abroad (the lat­ter is what I hap­pen to know best, and firsthand). Now, isn’t it all in­cred­ible, un­der the cir­cum­stances?!

The ex­pan­sion of in­ter­na­tion­al com­mu­nic­a­tions is the sign of our times. Its scale, its speed and vari­ety stun the ima­gin­a­tion. Glob­al­iz­a­tion of in­form­a­tion ex­change presents more and more chal­lenges to com­mu­nic­a­tion design. It re­vises its visu­al fea­tures and its vocab­u­lary. One of the new­est dir­ec­tions of its de­vel­op­ment is ex­plor­ing the ex­ten­ded set of ty­po­graph­ic char­ac­ters for trans­mit­ting and re­ceiv­ing of text mes­sages. The num­ber has grown from 256 to 652 for Win­dows 95. And then there is the mat­ter of ap­ply­ing the 16-bit en­cod­ing to char­ac­ters of vari­ous writ­ing sys­tems (Uni­code).

In this tech­no­lo­gic­al con­text graph­ic con­ver­gence of dif­fer­ent sys­tems of writ­ing is in­ev­it­able. It presents the only prac­tic­al solu­tion to design­ing “su­per­fonts” con­tain­ing char­ac­ters of sev­er­al writ­ing sys­tems in the same set. It so happened that Rus­si­an de­sign­ers proved to be ready for such job a lot bet­ter than their for­eign col­leagues most of whom ha­bitu­ally con­sidered the design of non-Lat­ins as something exot­ic.

Lazursky Ro­man, a design in­spired by the Ro­man mo­nu­ment­al let­ter­ing and the print­ing types of It­ali­an Renais­sance. N I I Po­li­graph­mash, 1957-62.

Co­or­din­ated typeface design for mul­tiple scripts (most of­ten for Lat­in and Cyril­lic) was con­sidered routine at the Type Design De­part­ment (ON­SH) of the NIIPo­li­grafmash (Print­ing Re­search In­sti­tu­te), the alma ma­ter of all seni­or de­sign­ers of Para­Graph. NIIPo­li­grafmash provided for ty­po­graph­ic com­pos­i­tion in all lan­guages of the enorm­ous USSR, where five scripts were in daily use (Cyril­lic, Lat­in, Ar­meni­an, Geor­gi­an and Hebrew). An ex­tens­ive pro­gramme of Ar­ab­ic and In­di­an typeface design was the pride and glory of ON­SH.

It is quite re­veal­ing that the every­day prac­tice of the ON­SH de­sign­ers was very much at vari­ance with their slo­gans pro­claim­ing So­viet type’s na­tion­al ex­clus­iv­ity and class dis­tinc­tion. I re­call the late √’s Je­suit­ic­al homily: “You see, young man, in Rus­si­an the ‘o’ sounds dif­fer­ently from the French, and there­fore it shall have a dis­tinct­ive let­ter shape, dif­fer­ent from the French one”; and Hel­vet­ica, “the West­ern typeface of the ad­vert­ising kind” (© ‡, 1964)?

O brood of vi­pers! The most pop­u­lar So­viet types were all none oth­er than Cyril­lic ex­ten­sions of well-known West­ern faces: Lit­er­at­urnaya = Latein­isch (Ro­mana), Aka­de­micheskaya = Sor­bonne (Chel­ten­ham), Shkolnaya = Cen­tury School­book, Zhurn­al­naya = Ex­cel­si­or, etc. Ban­nikova Ro­man, an ON­SH ori­gin­al which en­joyed a well-de­served pop­ular­ity with the So­viet pub­lish­ing com­mu­nity, was prob­ably the only achieve­ment in Cyril­lic ty­po­graphy in­spired by the “anti-cos­mo­pol­ite” cam­paign of the late 1940s with its na­tion­al her­it­age hype. Iron­ic­ally, Peter the Great’s civil type, the his­tor­ic­al mod­el of Ban­nikova Ro­man, had been fash­ioned after the Dutch ro­mans of the 17th cen­tury.

Para­Graph’s co­op­er­a­tion with ITC, In­ter­na­tion­al Typeface Cor­por­a­tion, is sym­bol­ic of an open ac­know­ledge­ment of rel­ev­ance of the West­ern tra­di­tion—as well as a re­cog­ni­tion of our ty­po­graphy be­ing part of the glob­al de­vel­op­ment. In a few years we have man­aged to come up with a size­able pack­age of very good typeface designs, at the level of in­ter­na­tion­al stand­ar­ds. It is great that this work keeps go­ing on full speed. Feels like it served a good mod­el for work­ing with oth­er for­eign part­ners, and provided Para­Graph with a re­li­able bridge­head for ex­pand­ing its pres­en­ce in the world ty­po­graph­ic mar­ket­place.

In re­cent years we have been work­ing hard de­vel­op­ing Cyril­lic “ex­ten­sions” to many pop­u­lar Lat­in-based typefaces. This work proved pre­re­quis­ite to the whole ef­fort of re­viv­ing Rus­si­an ty­po­graphy. A num­ber of op­tim­ist­ic con­clu­sions can be driv­en from this ex­per­i­en­ce: (1) our de­sign­ers have a good po­ten­tial for a full-scale part­ner­ship on equal terms with for­eign col­leagues—fol­low­ing all “rules of the game” that ex­ist for that mat­ter in the civ­il­ised world; (2) we are cer­tainly able to un­der­stand, to ap­pre­ci­ate, and to fathom the ori­gin­al design concept of a typeface cre­ated for a dif­fer­ent (non-Cyril­lic) al­pha­bet; and (3) we are cap­able of ap­ply­ing that concept to our nat­ive Cyril­lic—while ob­serving every con­ven­tion and rule that ex­ist in Rus­si­an ty­po­graphy.

The “con­ven­tion and rule” thing cer­tainly de­serves an as­ter­isk. Cyril­lic ty­po­graphy is much young­er than its Lat­in sis­ter (or cous­in?). Its let­ter­forms are not set as firmly, as those of its West­ern coun­ter­part: “al­tern­at­ives ex­ist”. The same is true for oth­er young­er ty­po­graph­ic­al scripts, like Ar­ab­ic, Hebrew, In­di­an, etc. That is why there is no, or very little, agree­ment among de­sign­ers do­ing non-Lat­ins, on what are the “cor­rect” shapes of such and such char­ac­ters.

It takes time for a tra­di­tion to form. Ty­po­graphy has to have a chance for a free, nat­ur­al de­vel­op­ment. It takes a couple of cen­tur­ies. Cyril­lic nev­er had such a chance. His­tory shows that like “a poor girl” it “can be in­terfered with by just about any­one” (re­mem­ber Bern­ard Shaw?). Even its con­cep­tion was not quite nat­ur­al, but rather in a test tube. It was in­ven­ted. Then Peter Alexeyevich (the Great) had it, most gra­ciously, made over in a Dutch fash­ion. And, later, it was re­vised and re­formed count­less times—both by our people, and by the strangers.

In So­viet times, with the “type as­sets” put on spe­cial re­gister by the KGB, the de­vel­op­ment of ty­po­graphy had been cut short. Like sex, ty­po­graphy had no place in USSR… At the same time, with the spread of hand-let­ter­ing the book de­sign­ers de­ve­loped a unique, ex­quis­ite “feel­ing of com­mand” of type, and draw­ing it be­came an in­tim­ate in­stru­ment of self-as­ser­tion. In the ab­sence of a true school, in the un­nat­ur­al cir­cum­stances of sim­u­lat­ing ty­po­graphy with im­pro­vised means, type graph­ics be­came a racetrack of artist­ic am­bi­tions, unique for its fer­vour and jeal­ousy. The heat of that com­pet­i­tion is still hanging in the air.

Ni­hil­ism and ir­rev­er­en­ce to tra­di­tion, to our own her­it­age, so typ­ic­al for Rus­si­an men­tal­ity, have reached cata­stroph­ic pro­por­tions in the 20th cen­tury. Re­call the line from a pop­u­lar song of the 1930’s, “In our dar­ings we’re al­ways right!” It was only nat­ur­al that in our art which used to live and die by the ri­gid rules set up from on high, every­one was look­ing for an op­por­tun­ity to feel not like a slave (or a hired la­bour­er) but like someone in charge, or even bet­ter, like a dic­tat­or. Boss­ing around let­ter­forms was a good way to make up for one’s frus­tra­tions. Who of those draw­ing let­ters did not feel like a mini-Peter the Great, fit for judging, re­vis­ing, cor­rect­ing and im­prov­ing the Cyril­lic? Pathet­ic … Today this whim, a fruit of an­oth­er whim (and ig­nor­ance) has got­ten a power­ful tech­no­lo­gic­al base—com­puter pro­grams for font design and edit­ing. In the hot little hands of an en­thu­si­ast they provide for quick gen­er­a­tion of design mon­sters in un­lim­ited quant­it­ies.

It is com­fort­ing to see that Para­Graph man­ages to stick to a cer­tain style—con­ser­vat­ive and ob­ject­ive—in the design treat­ment of Cyril­lic let­ter­forms, the style con­sist­ent with the in­ter­rup­ted tra­di­tion of the lead­ing prerevolu­tion­ary foundries. In gen­er­al, this policy of suc­ces­sion is es­pe­cially dear to me in our stormy times. Equally touch­ing is the fact that you guys do not re­nounce your his­tor­ic­al link with NIIPo­li­grafmash, from whose ar­id depths, like the Jews from the Egyp­tian slavery, all lead­ing de­sign­ers of Para­Graph had come.

Volodya, in all hon­esty, I can hardly ima­gine what it takes to Para­Graph to stay on the chosen course. No less puzz­ling is how you man­age to com­bine the com­mer­cial and the mis­sion­ary—in the un­stable and un­pre­dict­able cir­cum­stances of the post-So­viet eco­nom­ic hab­it­at. One thing I know for sure: Para­Graph was chosen to be­come one of the pi­on­eers of the break­ing up of fal­low lands of Rus­si­an cul­ture. Its mer­its in this call­ing are ex­cep­tion­al. In­deed they are. Hal­le­lu­jah.

Vladi­mir Efimov. Scrip­tura Rus­sica. Para­Graph, Mo­scow, 1996. The first mod­ern Rus­si­an typeface de­signed for type­set­ting the Bible, com­mis­sioned by the Rus­si­an Bible So­ci­ety.

Come to think about it. Today, all Rus­si­an busi­ness speaks Eng­lish. It is its lin­gua franca. There is more Lat­in script in the streets of Mo­scow these days than in Kiev or Minsk “un­der the Ger­mans” dur­ing WWII. And in­deed, it would be a shame to for­get about our very own, un­bor­rowed graph­ic­al leg­acy, of which the ex­plor­a­tion could con­sti­tu­te a sig­ni­fic­ant con­tri­bu­tion to the world treas­ury of ty­po­graph­ic art. Of course, there is more to it than the pre-Pet­rine Cyril­lics like vyaz’, ustav, etc. The re­formed (ro­man­ised) Rus­si­an type of 18th-19th cen­tur­ies was marked by an of­ten­times quite charm­ing je ne sais quoi (a sort of Rushi­an ek­sent), worth both re­search and cre­at­ive ex­plor­a­tion.

Oh yes. Looks like fate leaves you no time to rest (not even to take a nap) on your laurels. It’s that our life, both past and/or new, is in fact still guided by the same for­mu­lae: “wait­ing and catch­ing up”. And it is not that in former times we’ve only been wait­ing; rather we’ve been run­ning—in sacks, without mak­ing much head­way. And now we are in­to catch­ing up (and not as much with the rest of the world, as with ourselves: we’d have been that much far off, if not for…). Feels like we are mak­ing it. And I am just think­ing to my­self, would we ever get to live and work not in an ac­cel­er­ated or “strictly en­forced” but in or­din­ary, reg­u­lar mode? Have we at last reached that bench­mark from which the nor­mal pace starts off? Would there be enough strength. Enough faith, hope and love. Looks however like you’ve got plenty of those. Brod­sky put it so very well:

But as long as for­give­ness
and print en­dure, we’re alive.

Hug­ging you all guys.


History Yefimov Zhukov