You can’t judge a typeface by its letters.
Some typefaces are deliberately neutral and set up a treat, other neutral types are really flat on the page or screen. The opposite also applies: really stylish types are often too quirky when set, their hallmark letters jumping out of the page at the reader. Sometimes a typeface’s strong characteristics bring just the right amount of sparkle to a block of set text. Goudy and Dwiggins were masters of this, as are Storm and Sowersby.
Add to the list Peter Biľak’s Greta. To be honest, when I first saw samples of the type I was not bowled over. This first experience with the type was the kind of A-Z Hamburgenfons showing which does no favours for any face. I had judged Greta by its letters, and it was not until I saw the type as the text face in “Dwell” magazine that I came to see its brilliance. The text was clear and eminently legible with just enough sparkly quirkiness to make the text sing.
The most obvious success of Peter Biľak’s new Greta Text face is that it is extremely legible at small sizes, even with ascenders that are generous for a newspaper type. This was its first requirement, as it was intended for newspaper text in Czech, with its plethora of diacritics. Beyond this, Greta Text manages to have a new, distinctive voice without having any characters that stick out as odd or awkward. The whole is beautifully coherent and balanced. Finally, Greta manages to look fresh without looking either austere or slick. I particularly appreciate this, as today a lot of otherwise polished and successful new faces today lack warmth.
I wish I could tell you exactly how Biľak has accomplished all this, but I don’t know, which is what fascinates me about this new font — it achieves its mastery subtly.
I admit I don’t like the look of the much higher contrast companion Greta Display nearly as much, but that is more a matter of personal taste. Overall, an outstanding achievement.
William Berkson is a philosopher and type designer. His revival Williams Caslon is available from Font Bureau.