The Gangster Sandwich

Imagine going into a deli and seeing “Gangster Sandwich” on the menu. You ask the person behind the counter, “What is the Gangster Sandwich?” They tell you, “Oh, it’s a pastrami on rye.”

The end. That’s what’s on the sandwich.

“What makes it ‘Gangster,’ exactly?” you ask.

“Well, Gangsters eat sandwiches, don’t they?” the counter worker proposes.

And you shrug your shoulders and order a corned beef on marble rye instead, which has no name to speak of.

This is…a weird interaction. But it’s plausible. Sometimes people name an item something strange just to get your attention but what you get for that attention isn’t anything about which to get excited.

And that’s what’s happening with “Gangster Grotesk.”

An unattributed quote: “Either you’re somebody, or you ain’t nobody.”
Gangster Grotesk at work.

Gangster Grotesk does not stand out as a particularly “Gangster” typeface. I acknowledge, of course, that I am not a “Gangster,” nor am I a “Gangsta.” I am a middle-class white man who drives a Toyota Highlander. If there are any true G’s reading this who would like to weigh in on the authenticity of this font as it relates to the Gangst[a|er] lifestyle, feel free to contact me (but I won’t hold my breath; real G’s move in silence, like “lasagna”).

The pitch for this typeface, from its creator:

A typeface that celebrates the beauty of contrast in typography and in people . Because everyone has a lil gangster in them.

Um. Okay.

To be honest, I don’t hate this typeface. I really like it! It’s not just re-heated Helvetica, which is great. The slanted terminals add a little something to a font you might mistake for Avenir or Gotham or Roboto. I like the varied weights and the symbols and alternates are well done (I’m in love with the alternate “Q”). I like the typeface and I could see myself using it. But the name just turns me off right from the jump. Why?

I believe it’s the same “sandwich” issue. The word “Gangster” was just slapped on at the last minute. It claims that it is “Nodding to its historical roots in the 1920s”…but is it really? I can’t picture this in a 20s-era printed work, and none of their examples or use cases suggest that at all. It’s the La Croix of fonts: the flavor is more of a suggestion.

Maybe the creators were worried that a typeface like this would be lost in a sea of similar faces and “Gangster” helps give it the edge. I can’t speak for them, but I’d be willing to hear what drove the choice. Was this done with 1920s gangsters in mind from the very beginning? Or was someone watching The Untouchables and one thing lead to another?

Now, if you need me, I’ll be doing what REAL Gangsters do…updating my weekly status reports for my project manager.

(Hat tip to Sidebar.io, a wonderful aggregator of awesome design stuff, updated daily.)