Sunday, September 30, 2007

Apa Nostalgia...

Paul Chadwick (of CONCRETE the comic book and MATRIX THE ONLINE GAME renown) gave a power-point presentation of his work during our talk at the VidFest in Vancouver last Monday, and it brought back memories of our time in Apa-Five, a fan group I organized when I was (*gulp*) 15. Apa stands for amateur press association, and that's pretty much covers it. Like-minded folks would write and publish their own small magazines every month or two, and a Central Mailer would collate them all into one nice book and send the package to all the members. Paul described it as an early, postal based version of the internet, and that's pretty much right. These magazines would comment on current events, offer reviews, and (here's the internet part) comment on other people's comments.

By odd coincidence some early issues of Apa-Five went up for sale on eBay a couple weeks ago, and I picked up a random issue. (I still have my copies, but they are buried in a complex that makes the warehouse at the end of CITIZEN KANE look like a Rubbermaid tool shed). It brought back a lot of memories, most specifically the difficulty involved in printing our little mags back in those pre-computer, pre-laser printer days. The cover of this particular issue (#38, December 1974) is a photo-offset Frank Miller drawing, but photo-copying wasn't that accessible and way too expensive for most members, so the magazines themselves were mostly a wonderful mish-mash of ditto printing/spirit duplication (a crude, chemical process that involved typing onto "ditto masters," attaching those to a roller that transferred purple ink to paper) and mimeograph.

Mimeo was process that involved typing on a blue-wax stencil and literally punching holes through the wax. (Reading this old copy of Apa-Five, I had forgotten that mimeo stencils came in quanities called "quires", 24 to a pack.) You would lay this stencil over a roller barrel filled with a tar-like black ink, which would be squeezed through the stencil holes and onto your paper. This process was an artform unto itself. If you made a mistake on the stencil, you corrected it by smearing a pungent correction fluid (we called it "corflu") over the wax and trying to retype your sentence. Suffice to say, the one thing you learned with both of these processes was how to write on the fly without making a lot of mistakes.

My father picked up a used mimeograph from his office (for $25) and that became my main printing press. I must have cranked out thousands of pages of material on that thing, though "printing day" was often accompanied by much cursing and cleaning and dealing with paper jams. Even the selection of the brand of paper was important, since too thin would allow the ink to soak right through to the other side. I finally settled on an incredibly absorbant type of stock called Fibertone that literally released puffs of paper dust as it went through the mimeo. Fibertone came in all colors and even there, some colors went through the machine better than others. After much trial and error, I settled on green and goldenrod...

In time, I actually got fancier and bought myself a used "thermo-fax", which wasn't a fax machine as we know it today but was a crude, heat-sensitive early copying process. The copying part wasn't so hot (the paper was orange, as I recall, and faded very quickly) but you could buy special heat-sensitive mimeo stencils that would allow you to "burn" images and print them with your high-tech tar machine. There were also all sorts of special mimeo graphics tools designed to help you draw directly on the stencils. Mimeography was an entire industry, supported mostly by the Gestetner company.

Anyway... I still belong to one apa, and I self-publish a small magazine every few months, and I suppose this is where I would say that I miss the old school mimeo process, but actually, I don't. It was awful. Nowadays I can print full color, text-justified small run material for pennies, and that's just fine with me. But it's fun to look back...


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