The Story of Megahertz
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Once upon a time, I created a typeface. I called it Megahertz.
One of my goals as a young graphic designer was to create my own typeface. In 1997, I drew the first characters that would become Megahertz. I expanded the set into a 4 font typeface. Surprisingly, others bought it and used it.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion and respect for great typography and type design. My design school education predates digital typography, boutique digital type foundries, and the designer as typesetter. Back then, we studied type by drawing it with pencils and brushes. If professional designers needed type, they marked up a typed manuscript and sent it out to a type house to be returned as galleys for physical paste-up. That tactile relationship with type inspired a love for the timeless beauty of Garamond, the elegant precision of Bodoni, and the controlled simplicity of Helvetica.
My typeface Megahertz has none of those qualities.
Megahertz began as an attempted logo for my business partnership Two Headed Monster. We were a design and editing company—hence, a two-headed monster. The logo design was an attempt to capture the spirit of Sino-Japanese kanji letterforms. Two Headed Monster as a company name always evoked Kaiju—Japanese monsters and monster movies. It didn’t hurt that we distributed hundreds of two-headed toys throughout Hollywood in the 90s.
That Two Headed Monster logo was abandoned. Still, I was intrigued by the geometric forms of the letters I’d created, first in pencil, and later in Adobe Illustrator. So, I kept building the rest of the capital letterforms. The design developed into an extended font with a thick outline stroke. The letters were designed to overlap. For certain letter combinations, ligatures were created. For instance, the G would connect to a version of an A or E, or the T would connect with a Z.
I had originally named the typeface Reactor; then I realized there was already a Reactor typeface family. My typeface needed a name that would take advantage of the ligatures and evoked something of the late 90s zeitgeist. It was a time of an explosion in the capability of desktop computing. These advances made a small, successful company like Two Headed Monster possible. Escalating computing power brought with it obsession for speed of the CPU, or processor, as the benchmark measure of these advances. Back then, speeds were presented in measures of megahertz.
Megahertz was a name that expressed a kind of neo-futurist modernity, and a wink at speed and obsession. Plus, it illustrated those ligatures. Megahertz in its form, seemed evocative of 90s rave culture and techno music (two things I hadn’t the time nor inclination to explore).
While the 26 capital letterforms, numerals, basic punctuation and symbols were being created, I developed a workable facility for Fontographer from Macromedia. Fontographer allowed me to turn those vector shapes, created in Adobe Illustrator, into a workable font file. My friend and creative cattle prod Orrin Zucker challenged me to add lowercase letters to the Megahertz character set. I did as Orrin instructed.
Megahertz found a retail home with Carlos Segura’s T26 foundry in 1998. I respected Carlos as a designer, and for what he was doing with T26. It was a great collection of original designers and provocative typography. And they had some great swag, too. Carlos and Sun, his wife and partner, would represent Megahertz for the next two decades.
As a graphic designer who works in entertainment and technology marketing, I’d become somewhat inured to seeing my work in public. Earlier in my career, I was the lead designer for CBS Television on-air promotion. My animated title designs and promos were on national television almost every night. Yet, seeing Megahertz in the real world was quite a unique experience. I had spent months creating Megahertz, but it was other designers who were using my creation. It was a recurring surprise to see the new ways Megahertz was used.
When Jay Z’s clothing line Rocawear debuted in 1999, their logo was built with Megahertz, though they altered the forms. I still think Mr Carter and his partner Damon Dash, owe me a little scratch for the assist. Something mid-seven figures feels about right.
In 2001, Kevin Smith released Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. It featured a huge cast including Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, George Carlin, Will Ferrell, and Star Wars alums Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. It also featured Jon Stewart as a news anchor (predating his Daily Show tenure). Megahertz was the typeface of choice for Jon Stewart’s news program Update News Now.
Genndy Tartakovsky created the animated Star Wars: Clone Wars “micro-series” for Cartoon Network (2003). Megahertz was used for the Clone Wars logo that appeared in the series and all merchandise. This was particularly rewarding for me—I’m a fan of Star Wars (IV-VI) and the ligatures in Megahertz were partly inspired by the Star Wars logo.
Mike Judge’s classic (and prophetic) Idiocracy was released in 2006. Graphic designer Ellen Lampl selected Megahertz as one of her go-to fonts. Omnibro is 100% Megahertz. Ellen Lampl stated that she was looking for type that shouted. She was making fun of fonts like Megahertz. I definitely appreciate the critique and the humor in that.
In 2012, Sony Pictures delivered their second cinematic incarnation of Marvel’s (Stan Lee’s and John Romita’s) Spider-Man. Megahertz was used for the key art and on a massive amount of licensed products forThe Amazing Spider-Man.
There have been many other uses: logos for Flexfit baseball caps, an MP3 company RioPort, and a backpack maker Spire. Megahertz was used for graphics on Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. It also showed up on gum packaging in Canada, electric bikes, a white-boy-rap-metal band logo whose Megahertz logo stickers were once used as pasties on their stripper groupies (I have NSFW pictures to prove it), lots of toy packaging, and many print ads.
Graphic designers, type designers, and typographers would categorize Megahertz as a display font. That classification separates it from utilitarian text fonts. Display fonts are typically used for advertising headlines, billboards, title graphics for entertainment, and logos. Megahertz checks all those boxes. It even showed up in the card game Imaginiff. I hadn’t known of this particular use until I played the game with friends.
Megahertz aside, I humbly admit that I’m not a type designer. Real type designers have a well-earned knowledge and understanding of all that goes into making them a cohesive collection of glyphs. I created Megahertz to check off an item on my graphic designer bucket list. Megahertz will never appear on anyone’s list of great typefaces—nor should it. Still, I’m proud of my frankenfont and how designers have adopted it for interesting and impactful applications.
Megahertz is a blip in the realm of pop culture; it was an element of a number of successful brands. It’s something that I created that will outlive my time in graphic design. Here’s hoping that’s decades from now.
You can purchase Megahertz here on the XK9 site.
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