Cooper Black

Name: New Kansas

Designer: Miles Newlyn, Riccardo Olocco, and Leo Philp

Foundry: Newlyn

Release Date: February 14, 2020

Back Story: Whoever you are, and whether you realize it or not, you will have seen the iconic, fun, distinctively chipper Cooper Black font. It’s graced the album sleeve for Freak Out by Frank Zappa’s The Mothers of Invention, and has been used in the Garfield comics, the posters for soft-porno fave Emmanuelle, and more recently, as a key typeface on Liana Jegers and Clay Hickson’s brilliant publication The Smudge.

It’s long been a staple for album covers and movie titles, and has also been splashed across pretty much everything—“jewelry, airlines, and a range of shops from doughnuts to salons to tire repair, and everything in between,” as the man behind New Kansas, a bravely undertaken rework of the font, Miles Newlyn, puts it. To celebrate the centennial of Cooper Black, he decided to refresh it for the first time in its 100 year history this Valentine’s Day. What could be more romantic than a new font, huh? 

Cooper Black as shown on one of its many applications over the last century

The original Cooper Black was designed by Oswald Cooper in 1920, and as one of the world’s most famous and most used typefaces since, Newlyn was surprised that “Cooper’s bulbous, oval serifs had not been modernized,” he says. This led to him reworking the font in a few subtle ways to make it more compatible with modern font technology, and showcase the Cooper family better across other weights than the ubiquitous Cooper Black. This isn’t the first time Newlyn has been directly inspired by Cooper Black: in 1993 he released an elliptical serifed blackletter font called Ferox, drawing on Cooper’s lettering. “Since then, I’ve spent a fair bit of my career designing type with rounded or soft terminals,” says Newlyn, adding that the Tate font family is probably the best known of these from his studio.

“I’m motivated by typeforms that have powerful foundations in pop culture, and Cooper Black is the most loved of all,” Newlyn adds. “It never looks bad. For that reason, its available in signage and custom print shops everywhere. Its thoroughly embedded in the collective psyche, and so its happy, fun, and comforting spirit always reassures.”

“I could have done a very authentic revival of Cooper Black, but I didnt because theres not a lot of value in that, its widespread use is proof that it’s not broken.”

But if it’s so well loved, as indeed it is, why tinker with it? Mainly, to update this “neglected relic” to align it with modern font technology and create a restored, fully fledged type family that enables its wider use. “There has been very little professional reappraisal of Cooper as a font family, and even less in that elliptical serif style,” says Newlyn. I could have done a very authentic revival of the original, but I didnt because theres not a lot of value in that—its widespread use is proof that it’s not broken. I redesigned it because, like anything thats a hundred years old, theres something archaic about it. I wanted to see it without that.”

New Kansas by Newlyn

The other reason was that the Cooper family more broadly is always far outshone by its Black variant. The light weights lack the warmth because they were made for book text and so are narrow and have different details,” says Newlyn. “New Kansas was designed as a display face, good for 14pt and above. Thus we were able to instill the spirit of the Black weight throughout the family.”

A comparison of Cooper and New Kansas

Why’s it called New Kansas? Oswald Cooper was raised a midwesterner in Coffeyville, Kansas, on the edge of the former “Wild West.” Newlyn says the most important connection was that “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Americas best-loved homegrown fairytale was set in Kansas. Seemed right.”

What are its distinguishing characteristics? The aim of New Kansas was to be a fresh take on the familiar, approachable Cooper family that has a similarly work hard, play hard adaptability but with greater consistency than the original, whose lighter weights had become “dated,” in Newlyn’s opinion. 

“The New Kansas font family takes the idea of this populist, brash, and colorful typeface to a new level,” he adds. “Its distinct personality is visible throughout the weights… Its one of the very few elliptical serif designs and there arent many similar fonts. Its fairly easy to tell it from Cooper Black because the serifs on the ‘p’ and ‘q’ are horizontal. Also, the ‘e’ has a teardrop shaped counter whereas Coopers is semicircular.”

New Kansas by Newlyn

What should I use it for? “Absolutely everything, just like Cooper Black,” advises Newlyn. New Kansas has seven weights (Thin, Light, Regular, Medium, Semibold, Bold, and Black), which were designed primarily with headlines in mind, but can also now hold their own in body copy. Again, like the original, New Kansas makes for a fun branding font thanks to its cheeky curves yet everyman matter-of-factness. It’s a font that seems very comfortable in its own skin, and across any application you care to choose for it.

What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? As a very comfortable, confident and adaptable workhorse font, it works with pretty much anything. Newlyn suggests it “pairs well with fonts based on simple everyday handwriting,” such as Hoefler&Co.’s Inkwell, Cortado Script by Jesse Ragan and Ben Kiel, or FS Sammy from Fontsmith. “We also have New Kansas Text in development, which is a little narrower, more widely spaced, and more robust, for those smaller sizes,” Newlyn adds.

New Kansas by Newlyn