The text of this book is set in Gunta Liebe, which is a type family developed in 1957 by German typeface designer Stefan Wagner. Gunta Liebe was initially designed in an attempt to streamline visibility and to impress Austrian architect Gunta Miedinger (née Muller), who worked at the Bauhaus school at the same time as Wagner. The two met for the first time at an office Christmas party and shared an enthusiastic conversation about their mutual fondness of the shape, construction and handling of the beetle. The interaction left the type designer quite smitten with the young architect. Miedinger (née Muller) later said that she “thought we were talking about the popular car at first,” but soon “realized that [Wagner] was actually referring to those really gross bugs. I told him that I had to use the toilet and left the party altogether. He was way too excited about bugs.”
Inspired, Wagner decided to change the font’s name from Abssichwalz — named after the late grandmother who raised him — to Gunta Liebe. Wagner believed that dedicating a completed typeface to his new crush would be the grandest romantic gesture possible. In a journal entry from 1958, Wagner wrote he had “told Mother and Father about sweet Gunta, but frustratingly, they only feigned interest.” Mother and Father were the names of Wagner’s two favorite cats, whose faces he would later have tattooed onto his inner thighs.
In February of 1959, Miedinger (née Muller) met and fell in love with Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger, developer of what is now known as Helvetica. When the news of their relationship reached Wagner, he reportedly felt a “betrayal that quickly escalated into madness” and “basically stopped interacting with his friends and colleagues.” Wagner’s family never heard from him again, which he would later blame on his decision to put Johnny America — his other cat — in charge of his day-to-day correspondence.
Wagner spent the next 18 years obsessively focused on the completion of Gunta Liebe, going through 402 iterations of the typeface. One colleague remembered him as “a very focused man,” recalling the sheer will that Wagner displayed as he “traveled around the city, collecting any printed material that used Helvetica,” which Wagner then “ate for sustenance and also in the hopes that it would ‘take away some of Helvetica’s evil power.’ Sometimes it was hundreds of pamphlets, or an entire shelf of books, or even the awning from a butcher’s shop! But he never complained or hesitated — he just consumed.” Wagner’s desire to perfect Gunta Liebe and win back Miedinger’s (née Muller) affection prevented him from working on or delivering any other project for the Bauhaus. Stefan Wagner was officially terminated from his position in 1966, after taking an extended medical leave caused by an almost lethal number of paper cuts in his mouth, esophagus and stomach.
For nine years, Wagner lived in a constant state of fatigue — likely due to his subpar living conditions (abandoned beef rendering plant) and poor diet (expired tins of meat seasoned with rolling tobacco). In the long effort to finish Gunta Liebe, Wagner tried many strange experimental techniques. He would lock himself in a cold cellar for weeks, depriving his body of food, clean water and sunlight in a ritual that he believed would give him the motivation to finally complete the type family. Instead it gave the designer a severe case of toxic shock syndrome, which caused a series of hallucinations that he called “visions.”
Wagner wrote about his most inspiring vision, recalling “a giant cat coming to me with Miedinger in her mouth.” The giant cat then proceeded to “throw that villain into the air, catching him and swallowing him in one gulp,” and the vision ends with the giant cat “[pulling] out Max’s skeleton whole, still connected, and presenting it to me as a gift.” In the subsequent journal entries, Wagner mostly writes about visions in which he is making “glorious” music by “playing on [Miedinger’s] skeleton ribcage like a xylophone” and “creating beautiful piano pieces by pressing down on Max’s huge, crooked teeth like piano keys.”
Wagner contracted pneumonia in 1974 and lived with the condition for 11 months before finally succumbing to being hit by a small furniture truck and then immediately having his head run over by a slightly larger furniture truck. His body was cremated and — as instructed in his will — his ashes were scattered across a thick paste, mixed thoroughly, and smeared across the Bauhaus campus.
The Miedingers were married for 52 years, passing away from natural causes at the exact same time, peacefully and in each other’s arms after more than five decades of a loving and entirely conflict-free marriage. The financial success of Helvetica afforded the couple the luxury of building a guard tower and moat around their home after a series of mysterious events that resulted in Miedinger (née Muller) waking up with her toenails clipped and several inches of hair missing.
In 1988, the final iteration of Gunta Liebe was discovered inside a chest full of preserved beetles that were dressed in miniature women’s clothes and wearing crude wigs made out of human hair. The book containing the completed version of Gunta Liebe was found wrapped neatly in a parcel addressed to Miedinger (née Muller), never mailed. The other 401 iterations of Gunta Liebe and the majority of Stefan Wagner’s journals were reportedly incinerated by accident shortly after the director of the Bauhaus found a sandy paste in his coffee.
Wagner was survived by his three cats, whose inbred descendants are the sole beneficiaries of any and all proceeds made from Gunta Liebe.
The secondary type is Futura Bold.