The first time I set eyes on the Banco typeface in a Letraset book while at high school, I was transfixed. I spent hours (pre-Mac days) carefully tracing, rubbing, cutting, pasting and rearranging the letters into my own compositions – whether it be fliers, posters or tape covers. There was something about the dynamic letterforms that struck a chord with me, but it was only years later that I discovered the creator of this and his many other wonderful typefaces, Roger Excoffon.
French graphic designer and typographer Excoffon’s best known faces are Mistral and Antique Olive, but he is also credited with the design of Chambord, Choc, Diane, Calypso and, of course, Banco.
Designed as a caps-only display face for the Fonderie Olive foundry in 1951, Banco possesses a daring flair and dynamism that threw out the type design rulebook of the time and became widely used on a variety of jobbing printing. Over the years it has become widely associated with reggae music due to its use on Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Natty Dread album sleeve and was also used in setting the now famous skateboard magazine Thrasher’s masthead.
What I find so interesting are the over-defined serifs on the ‘S’ and ‘C’, the bizarre ‘slits’ on the ‘T’ and ‘E’ and the harsh, sloping cuts that feature on every character. It almost feels as if it shouldn’t work, but does.
One graphic designer who shares my admiration for Excoffon’s work is Gareth Bayliss, who uses Banco in many of his creations, including his t-shirt range Traveller.
‘Excoffon fonts are, for me, the ultimate in considered penmanship and brushwork, they are calligraphy as much as they are display type,’ says Bayliss. ‘Beautiful, confident and never clumsy, they pose a confidence of character, shape and line that many strive to achieve in hand rendered type, but perhaps never will.’
In 2000, the ITC font foundry released a light weight of Banco, designed in partnership with Phill Grimshaw, which also incorporated a lowercase set of characters absent from the original design, giving it a new lease of life. This for me was an indication that I was far from alone in my admiration.
One hundred years since Excoffon’s birth in September 1910, his work still continues to inspire me.