Rougon, a typeface for a series of twenty novels

The reason to develop this typeface was given by a good friend, Martine France Delfos. She is a scientist and writes books on a wide variety of topics such as psychological, bio-psychological, medical, art and children’s books. She was raised bilingual, Dutch and French and one of her favorite authors is Émile Zola, especially the series of twenty novels about the Rougon-Macquart family. At a certain point she decided to translate the twenty novels from French to Dutch.

Since I designed her books graphically, she asked if I also wanted to design the covers of this series. Because my ideas for a design almost always come from looking for a suitable font for the subject and content, I first started looking for a suitable letter. I wanted it to be a typeface that matched the period in which Zola’s books were written and published, the period between 1870 and 1893. That is, the late nineteenth century.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find a suitable digital design, but I did find a suitable typeface in a type specimen published by ‘Fonderie Deberny et Cie’ from Paris around 1907 (image 1).
In my opinion this was the typeface that reflected the content and style as well as the period of the novels that Emile Zola had written. On the page that I found in the type specimen, there was a lower case ‘g’ whose design had a special appeal and had exactly the appearance that I was looking for for these translations (image 2).

 

 

The existing letters from the page of the type specimen were scanned at high resolution and as a proof some letters were drawn. I liked these first few letters and met my expectations for the typography on the covers of the translated series of books by Émile Zola. Since this letter also had no name in the type specimen, ‘Rougon’ seemed most appropriate in this case. That was the beginning and the birth of this new digital letter, exclusively for use on the covers of this series of books.
Unfortunatly only a few characters were available so the most of them need to be distracted. One point of attention was the staggering of the capital letters; in the picture these are a lot lower on the baseline than the lower case letters. I started with the title of the first part to see if the design would really match the atmosphere and content of the books (image 3). The liveliness, the not always clear lines and sometimes unwanted twists, but also the less straightforward appearance of the letter emphasized to me the fighting spirit, intrigues and developments that were going on in the Rougon-Macquart family.

The capitals in the type specimen are a lot bigger and heavier than the lowercase. That was something I didn’t want. In addition, I wanted to have everything aligned at the baseline to avoid too much leading with a multi-line title. This meant that the capitals had to be made smaller, but that the weight had to remain in proportion to the lowercase. The first title contained a capital ‘H’, but I didn’t think it was clear enough as ‘H’. A number of versions of this character have been designed in order to find the right design (image 4).

Matters that needed a solution were, among other things, how to deal with the ends of, for example, the lowercase. How round do they get, or do they stay sharp? Ultimately it was decided to leave the ends with an extension on them sharp, as can be seen in the lowercase letter ‘a’ (image 5). The ends that have a dent in the middle, as shown in the lowercase letter ‘n’, are rounded (image 6).

 

In a publication by a French author, translated by a French literary expert and in a typeface based on a French type specimen, I think the French lily as a symbol should not be missing. Wikipedia provides the following definition of this symbol:

The fleur de lis (also spelled fleur-de-lys or ‘French lily’) is a stylized lily and has been used in the heraldry, where it is mainly associated with France. In the teaching of the emblemata, the lily is a symbol of the Virgin Mary, of purity and virginity. The lily is used in many coats of arms and coats of arms of cities, provinces and societies.

Image 7 show a number of different versions of this symbol that can be used if necessary.

As an extra addition, stylized figures of Zola and the French Marianne have been made (image 8).

The development of the typeface ‘Rougon’ is a process that is not yet finished; many characters still need to be designed, but the titles for the first three volumes are ready. More information (only in Dutch) about this project can be found here.