The Dark Shadows Font Project

My name is Victoria Winters…

For almost five years those were the words which greeted me when I got home from school at 4:30 and sat down infront of the small black and white television in our kitchen to watch with wonder as the convoluted gothic narrative of the cursed inhabitants of Collinswood unfolded half-hour by half-hour in Dark Shadows. This constant exposure to the world of gothic horror as a middle-schooler clearly had a profound effect on me, turning my thoughts to dark and mystical themes, an interest reflected in many of my font design choices, which explains our Horror Fonts and Art collections.

All Dark Shadows fans harbor a secret hope that some day the series will somehow return to the air. It did have a brief primetime revival with a new cast in the 1990s and there was a failed attempt to revive it in 2004. Hopes for a successful return seemed dashed when producer, writer and director Dan Curtis died in 2006. Now, surprisingly, hope has resurfaced in the form of a new Dark Shadows movie based on Curtis’ original scripts, produced and directed by Tim Burton and likely starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins.

The new Dark Shadows movie is still in that gray area that exists in Hollywood where movies are optioned and even have a script, but are still a long way from getting cast and produced. It seems like a natural project for Burton to take on, and given his age he may have had much the same childhood experience with the series that I did. But there is a lot that can go wrong between starting a project like this and actually getting it to the screen. Right now all we can do is hope optimistically that sometime next year work will start on the film for release in 2011. Everything else is just rumors in fan magazines and websites.

Now, as some readers may be aware, a few of my font designs have been used for other Tim Burton movies. Goodfellow was the title font for A Nightmare Before Christmas, Buccaneer was used for the credits in Corpse Bride and in a weird, roundabout way our Beynkales font became the official Corpse Bride font when they discovered that the custom title lettering which was based on our Tuscarora font was not a complete set so they commissioned us to design an new font based on the movie titles for use on the DVD cases and promotional materials. Through all of this, communicating with Tim Burton and his staff has always been problematical. Burton himself is reclusive and the process through which he gets graphic design work done is an utter mystery. When they used Buccaneer I even went through an elaborate stalker-like campaign to try to get them to update to a newer and better version of the font to no avail.

However, with two years to prepare and plan out a campaign I think I might be able to get Burton to actually pay attention and work with us in advance to get just the right font for the Dark Shadows movie. That’s what the Dark Shadows Font Project is all about.

The idea is that I will start to design an original font with input from our customers and fans of the TV series and chronicle the process as I do the work, with the hope that this will attract some attention and perhaps get input and direct participation from Burton or his design staff. It’s worth a try and even if it doesn’t work, it’s going to be fun to try and something new and interesting to promote on the website.

The starting point for the project is the original title font from the first four years of the series which is visible in the first video clip to the right. The second video clip shows the alternate titles from the final season of the series. The third video shows the titles from the 1991 primetime series which is an updated variant of the original title style. The fourth video shows the titles from the spinoff movie House of Dark Shadows. All of these titles will to some degree inform the final design, especially the initial D and S characters from the original.

My first inclination is to follow the idea of the original titles where the initial letters are in a gothic style and the other letters are in more of a text style, possibly drawn from the style of the House of Dark Shadows movie titles. It also occurs to me that because a part of the story is set in the 1790s drawing on colonial typeface design makes a lot of sense, so it seems logical to move towards more of a woodcut look for both the initial capitals and the main text letters. I’m also thinking about borrowing some ideas from the original lettering in the titles of Burton’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow to give the font a rougher and more edgy look. And before you even ask, I do hate the titles from the last season of the series and don’t plan to incorporate them in the design. The idea would be to pull all of these inspirations together into an original font which draws on the tradition while being original and new at the same time. It should be a font which people look at and immediately think of Dark Shadows but if anything even more of an embodiment of the gothic atmosphere of the series.

This is where the project starts. Look for updates and the first sample character drawings soon.


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