Editor’s Letter: February 2010

Posted inIn Print

[Ed. note: This article originally appears as an introduction to the February 2010 issue, celebrating the 70th anniversary of Print.]

“Printing has been my heart throb since 1886 when, with the help of a partner my age, I began picking up type from the sweeping outside the back doors of the town’s two printing places and when a stickful of ‘burjoyce’ was collected, started a newspaper printed on a little wooden galley with a planer.” A reader named Charles Allen, from Dallas, told this story in Print in a 1953 letter to the editor. Resourceful joy, exacting technique: These have been the consistent signatures of Print’s creators, subjects, and readers for 70 years.

I’ve spent the past few months in rapt communion with the archives, reveling in the early issues’ velvety paper stock and constantly redrawn logotypes, the bottomless well of subject matter, the cover designs’ resistance to or expression of the zeitgeist. (The anxiety that machines would replace the beauty of work done by an individual hand was a cover trope for years.) I knew that artists as superb and varied as Henri Matisse, Edward Gorey, Paula Scher, Jean-Jacques Sempé, and Chris Ware had drawn or designed Print covers. I also knew the magazine had been visionary in its understanding of the vital role of design to urban planning, as well as in its early appreciations of comics and graffiti.

But what affected me the most during this immersion in Print’s past was my sense of fellowship with our predecessors, a smaller number of people than you might think for a magazine of 70. I’ve discovered that this is not a group that has been easily daunted. In a climate that threatens to end magazines in printed form, we may think we face challenges, but our World War II counterparts overcame paper rations and the draft to (barely) get out each issue. I’ve also been pleased to see that the magazine’s readers have responded passionately, sometimes emotionally, to every change in the magazine—type, cover design, layout, contributors—as early as the second number.

What persists through 70 years of Print, amid the rowdiest of columns, the most radical of shake-ups, the most uncertain of economies, is a striking tone of graciousness and dignity. It is a proud and confident profession, this “segment of problem-solving known as graphic design,” as Martin Fox described it in his 30th-anniversary editor’s letter. Before it had a glamorous veneer, commercial art was an unglitzy guild requiring tolerance for long hours of meticulous and physically demanding work.

Perhaps we can be forgiven for finding that same quality in Print’s makers. After all, each of them—working late in offices in, over the years, Connecticut, Vermont, and New York—belongs to a group begun by former printer’s apprentice William Edwin Rudge, who was so keen on making a journal devoted to fine-press printing that he manufactured it himself. Those loyal to Print share Rudge’s eye for artful precision and his drive to find practitioners who make good-enough techniques into transcendent new forms, as well as his fascination with the larger world that design reflects and into which it must fit.

For all its 70 years, Print has looked to the past to celebrate the best visual forms in human history. Even in 1948, Rudge could write, “Print has covered a wide range of subjects from postage stamps to wallpaper, university presses to ‘comic’ magazines, army maps to newspaper layout, watermark forgeries to department store advertising.” It has also always looked forward. In 1970, Fox knew, “It is equally evident, from today’s vantage point, that the designer’s involvement with film and the electronic media is no passing fad but will continue to grow.” We hope you will see this issue not solely as a pat on our own back for sticking around as long as The Wizard of Oz, but as a true toast to the enduring value of print design—past, present, and future.