Shuggie Bain – Flourish Typeface

Midway through the year, I was invited to collaborate with Cobolt Collective and fellow student Ellie Bainbridge to create a unique typeface celebrating the paperback launch of ‘Shuggie Bain’ (by Douglas Stuart), a brutal, visceral tale of poverty, addiction, and growing up queer in 1980’s Glasgow.

One of the most ubiquitous typefaces of the era was ‘Compacta’. It can be found everywhere across 80’s Glasgow, from the merchandise window in the Barrowlands to Anti-Poll Tax demonstrations in the East End. It presents itself as a ‘masculine’, geometric form, rigidly structured, threatening even. There was a relationship we wanted to explore there, it felt like it keenly mirrored the contextual gender politics that Shuggie—who is described as ‘no right’ by those around him—was living through. ‘What use is a soft boy in a hard world?’ One character asks. We wanted the typeface to reflect the break that Shuggie’s masculinity represents from the older, more toxic models of his selfish, absentee father, and how against all odds Shuggie manages to ‘flourish’ in a restrictive, disadvantaged and openly hostile environment.

A real turning point in the design process was the description of the ‘happy confident loops’ in his mothers’ signature. Agnes’ imprint is all across Shuggie, it’s where many of his defining qualities stem from, most importantly his pride and his determination to survive and succeed. It made perfect sense to introduce some of my own mother’s proud ‘flourishes’ into Compacta’s forms.

These letters are joyous acts of rebellion against their harsh, unforgiving roots; even as the bullies taunt him at his window, Shuggie still dances in his living room: ‘[…]

Shuggie Bain Mural

Shot during production.

'What use is a soft boy in a hard world?'

Image credit: Glasgow Family Archive
'You'll not remember the city, you were too wee, but there's dancing, all kinds of dancing'