Mexica fonts specimen

Typeface Review


Reviewed by Reed Reibstein on December 22, 2020

With Mexica, Gabriel Martínez Meave sought to create an ideal complement to Nahuatl, the indigenous language of the Aztecs spoken by about 1.5 million people today. Nahuatl was written before the Spanish conquest — with drawn symbols likely standing for both words and sounds — but the Spanish introduced the Latin script for it.

Meave was influenced by Nahuatl’s predom­inance of letters with diagonal strokes — x, y, and z in early spelling systems, k and w in modern ones — and minimal use of letters with bowls (b, d). Meave infuses his typeface with unsubtle linearity: breaking bowls, joining stems to curves at 45º, and turning the arcs of an f’s hook and a g’s ear into angles and wedges.

Reading text in English, the overall effect is rough—no Crystal Goblet, but not unpleasant, either. Nahuatl in Mexica is comparatively calmer, its sharpness less evident. As a non-native reader, I can’t perceive the full impact myself. But Meave’s aim, not just to salute Nahuatl but to design a better tool for it, is evident and commendable.

Mexica is original, but I sense typographic touchstones. Its broken forms evoke Preissig Antikva. Yet where Preissig seems to fracture or stretch every stroke, Meave is restrained, keeping curves where they align with the calligraphic rhythm.

Mexica also recalls Zapf’s Palatino. They both have a stable stance and, perhaps contrary to Mexica’s first impression, a serene tone — chiseled letterforms controlled by a deft calligraphic hand. This puts Mexica midway in Meave’s portfolio: neither as ebullient as his Arcana, Darka, and Lagarto (and others currently unavailable, such as Aztlan), nor as streamlined as Rondana or Presidencia. Yet these faces all share Mexica’s duality — merging the Eurocentrism of type history with Mexico’s rich visual legacy.

A note: I was disappointed that when Mexica was rereleased in 2019, it wasn’t produced with standard OpenType features. Small caps are in a separate font, alongside the lining figures. I’d love to see Mexica’s font production reach the same heights as its drawing.

Reed Reibstein is product design manager at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he focuses on design and user research for and its mobile apps.

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