If the cast of classic Nickolodeon cartoon AAH! Real Monsters got together with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s colorful characters and had 26 letter-shaped babies, they might look like designer Chris Yoo’s new “Monster Alphabet.”
There’s a goat-horned X, a sickly worm of an L, and a fanged W with googly eyes. The beastly font was Yoo’s Senior Thesis project at MICA, in Baltimore, created in a class taught by Bruce Willen and Nolen Strals of design studio Post Typography, who moonlighted for years as two-thirds of “graphicdesigncore” band Double Dagger.
“I think Chris’s loose and energetic drawing style fits the ‘imperfect’ letterforms really well,” Nolen Strals, Yoo’s professor at MICA, says. “By imperfect, I’m not saying the letters are bad, but this is not Helvetica–these are monsters, and so they’re intentionally a little ‘off.'”
The drooling beast-letters evolved as Yoo doodled in a sketchbook while studying Lettering & Type, a book published by Post Typography, and soon those letters became the basis for a children’s book jacket. “Bruce and Nolen gave me the best advice: to consistently look at my work as if it wasn’t mine,” Yoo tells Co.Design. Their idea encourages artists to embrace a detached, objective perspective.
In addition to Basquiat, Yoo cites artistic influences that include Tim Burton, Hayao Miyazaki, and Marc Chagall. But his main influence is less famous: “The first ‘artist’ that I was inspired by was my father,” Yoo says. His father isn’t an artist by trade–he’s a semiconductor engineer. But “since I was a toddler, we would draw together,” Yoo says. When their family moved from Korea to the States, 8-year-old Yoo had some trouble learning English, which is when his love of lettering was born. “He bought a composition notebook and drew all sorts of things and would write out the nouns and verbs in Korean and English,” Yoo explains.
And now Yoo, in turn, is helping kids learn to read by using his gift for illustration.