Tomorrow Tuesday: “Avant Garde,” The Mag, The Font

I gotta keep this week’s Tomorrow Tuesday short, but wanted to share a bit about Avant Garde, the font Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase designed for Avant Garde, the future-thinking culture magazine Ralph Ginzburg edited from years 1968-1971.

Typographical historian Steven Heller shares Ginzburg’s thoughts on the font’s creation, which was a halting experience:


“He came up with two beautiful logos, but they were all wrong for the publication I had in mind.” One was based on the typeface used on the old original Coca-Cola bottles, another on Hebrew letters. “[Lubalin] kept associating the magazine with the nihilistic avant-garde school of art of the early 20th Century,” Ginzburg adds, “but this magazine had nothing to do with that.” Instead it was for intellectuals who might also possess a sense of humor. “Herb and I had always been on the same creative frequency. The concept of Avant Garde was the lone exception. He just couldn’t get it. And though he normally produced designs for me instantaneously, no matter how complex or challenging the job, two weeks elapsed and he still didn’t have a clue.”

Exasperated, Ginzburg had [wife] Shoshana visit Lubalin at his studio to explain the concept of the magazine to him one last time. “I asked him to picture a very modern, clean European airport (or the TWA terminal), with signs in stark black and white,” Shoshana recalls, “Then I told him to imagine a jet taking off the runway into the future. I used my hand to describe an upward diagonal of the plane climbing skyward. He had me do that several times. I explained that the logos he had offered us for this project, so far, could have been on any magazine but that Avant Garde (adventuring into unknown territory) by its very name was something nobody had seen before. We needed something singular and entirely new.”

Ginzburg continues, “The next morning, driving to work from his home in Woodmere [New York] he pulled over to the side of the road and phoned me (the first time he ever did that). ‘Ralph, I’ve got it. You’ll see.’ And the rest is design history.”

Though Avant Garde the magazine only around for a brief moment, its boundary-pushing content — features on the word “fuck”; pictures of — gasp — bare breasts; political critiques — left an indelible mark on late 60s/early 70s America, and beyond. Here you can find the magazine’s complete archives.

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