A few typeface designs have appeared lately that stand in vigorous opposition to the multitude of stark neo-Victorian seriffed and sans serif types that have flooded the market in recent years. They are recognizable by their rapid-fire frequency of tapering shapes, are rooted in a lively angular calligraphic foundation, and dance like a rough-hewn revue of handcut glyphs across the page.
Khajag Apelian’s Arek is one of the more successful of these new designs and is quite an achievement, made all the more remarkable by having come from a student project. Like Underware’s Auto Italic 3 and Erin McLaughlin’s Katari (also an exceptional student effort), this kind of typeface requires great care to maintain an even distribution of its wedges, flags, and pinched counters, and to effect a balance and harmony between letterforms throughout the family. Arek’s angularity is softer than the aforementioned designs, but doesn’t spare on lending the same textured vibrancy to texts. The design also takes on weight very well; the Extrabolds are enormously fun to look at.
When I first saw Arek, I spent a lot of time looking through the individual shapes — much more than usual. There’s so much going on in every letter, and while this trait would usually be the kiss of death for any typeface, display or text, Apelian succeeds admirably in bringing it all together into a truly useful design. It’s vivacious and playful in large sizes, and also full-proportioned, open, and effortlessly readable in text sizes, adding an undercurrent of frenetic energy to the flow of body copy. — MJ
What makes Arek stand out for me is not its calligraphic essence, and certainly not its use of quaint handwritten structures in the Italic (rosily termed “cursive” in the literature), which are in truth much more quixotic than in most any Latin text font. What makes Arek valuable is that — with no tangible precedent — it somehow succeeds in adding a missing voice to Armenian typography while delivering a high level of polish. This is very difficult to pull off, especially for a student. Apelian clearly has “the eye” and his KABK instructors surely played a role in quickly maturing his technical prowess. The Armenian edition of Yerevan magazine (while it lasted) would have lacked its youthful yet competent voice had it used anything besides Arek. And this voice, though I personally would have trouble living with for long, is a welcome breath of cultural fresh air.
With the addition of a Latin, this instrument projects to new lands with an amplified urgency: it melodiously announces that a multi-script typeface need have neither a servile non-Latin component, nor a Latin that’s either swiped or a generic afterthought. This makes Arek a gift not just to Armenian culture, but to world culture. — HHP
Mark Jamra is a type designer and professor of graphic design at Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine. He has designed and produced typefaces for over 30 years, and runs TypeCulture, a digital type foundry and educational resource. He is also a partner of JamraPatel, a type design studio specializing in non-Latin typefaces.
Hrant Papazian is an Armenian native of Lebanon; his perspective on written communication was formed at the crossroads of three competing visual cultures. He now lives in Los Angeles. A recipient of type design awards from Critique magazine, Granshan and Creative Review, Hrant has delivered numerous presentations at international typographic conferences from Boston to Bangkok.