Soon after the invention of upright roman type, an interloper entered the arena—italic. Rather than displacing roman, it wound its way into our typographic culture, becoming an essential part of languages that use the Latin script. Our written communication depends on it, yet in all the books that have been written about type design there are often only a handful of pages about this essential style. This talk will explore the roles italic plays in our typographic culture: as a language feature, a typographic element, a historical marker, a design object, and a business product. These roles have shaped the design of italic and inspired innovation and creativity. But they have also often forced italic into a subservient position. What is the essence of italic? Has that identity survived its use as a secondary complement to roman? Is it possible that this servitude has given italic the freedom to flourish? This is the story of how italic established itself as part of our typographic language, was transformed as it was relegated to secondary roles, and yet remains a strong and essential part of typeface design.
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