08 August 2008

[design, printing] Lauren's Adventures In Letterpress


These days, when someone talkes about movable type, they think blog platform.

Historically, it wasn't too long ago, maybe within the last 30 years, when movable type was the way things were printed. Linotypes still ruled, hot metal type was composed and formed into plates, and everyone knew Etaion Shrdlu's name.

Before that layout didn't even involve QuarkXPress or Ventura Publisher; it also involved hand-assembling bits of metal called sorts (that's the technical term for the invidual bits of type) pulled from a type case. The capitals (or what I like to call majuscules) were pulled from the upper case, and the small letters (minuscules) from the lower case ... which is also why we call them that.

This was the glorious thing that is letterpress. And there are places where you can learn it. I don't know any such places right now, but Creative Curio's Lauren did, and she posted three wonderfully illustrated articles that give you some idea of what that's like.

This will appeal to anyone who is DIY minded, and probably 'zinesters, but it should appeal to anyone who's interested in anything. Letterpress is just that cool.

Take it away Lauren:

  1. In Part One, Lauren shows us around the print shop and shows what she's going to be using to print letterpress greeting cards, and introduces us to some terms of the artifice, such as Califnornia job case, pied, slug, leading, and 2-em quad.

  2. In Part Two, we go to press, and she shows us about how she's restoring a Vandercook SP15 press. Messy, but compelling.

  3. In Part Three she wraps up the classroom experience, updates us on the progess of the Vandercook restoration, and announces a contest where you can win some of those mad cool cards she did (but the deadline is the 10th, so if you're reading this, go on over and enter.

At one time, in the printing world, a Mac was a rubber overcoat. But it was adventurous too.

And here's a bonus hotlinked from Wikpedia: This is what a Linotype keyboard looked like. Clicky to embiggen.

Linotype keyboard hotlinked from Wikipedia
For credits and license info follow this link.

The minuscules were there on the left, the majuscules on the right. Notice how the first two columns in the letterform sections ... which were arranged in order of the most used to least used letters ... were etaoin shrdlu and ETAOIN SHRDLU. The Linotype cast whole lines 'o' type (lore is that's how it got its name when it was first demoed by the inventor) at once. So, if the compositor screwed up, they'd run the finger down the first row and the second row and any line that contained etaoin shrdlu would be thusly discarded back into the molten metal.

Of course, (also hotlinked from Wikipedia) occasionally some of them got thru:

hotlinked from wikipedia

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LaurenMarie - Creative Curio said...

Aw, thanks Samuel!!

BTW, just finished Ringworld and Ringworld Engineers on audiobook. They were... weird. The first one didn't really seem to have much of a plot. The second was more interesting and adventuresome but there was way too much with the erm, rashathra. The vampires were a little over-the-top, too. I had a hard time keeping track of what the newest goal of Wu was, too. He seemed to keep changing what he was after! I think there were some gaps in the recording.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

You're welcome, LM. The whole letterpress thing is quite fascinating, and not only excites me in and of itself but makes me value electronic layout all the more.

Congratulations on tackling Ringworld and The Ringworld Engineers. They're big stories and if you're sampling Niven, a bit like starting out in the deep end of the Known Space pool. My first Known Space novel was A Gift From Earth, and it got under my skin so solidly I had to explore the whole future history ... and with organ transplantation a theme, to say it 'got under my skin' is quite ironc, no?

Anyway, Ringworld had an interesting history. In a collection of essays and short stories in which Niven treated megastructures such as the so-called Dyson spheres, which wags in SF call "Big Dumb Objects", as constructions toward which civilization might evolve. Ringworld was kind of envisioned as a middle way between the technological here and the extreme of the Dyson construct: it just requires the mass of Jupiter, make it a million miles across, walls on the side to keep the air from spilling away, and spin it. Voila! More space than the human race would ever need.

Of course, once he came up with it, I suppose it was only a matter of time before he had to succumb to the temptation of having an adventure there to show it off. So the things that happen and the characters, who would dominate any other narrative, kind of hang off the story as dear decorations: All the characters are just so dear in their way, from the bored dissolution of Louis Wu to the genetic luck of Teela to the behavior of Speaker-to-Animals to Nessus. It's to Niven's credit as an author that despite the obvious drawback of stretching these small characters (who in a story of any other human scale would individually be very huge) across this huge canvas the story still works.

In a way, Ringworld kind of puts the coda for me on the Known World series. With a Ringworld to shelter humanity from the coming (albeit 10,000 years out) wave of deadly radiation from the Galactic Core, and the Puppeteers quittling the Galaxy, the sequels don't really expand the universe at all ... just continue interesting stories.

That's not to say that Ringworld is merely an excuse to show off Niven's Big Dumb Object, or "merely" anything. Niven has always been a brilliant writer, and I don't think any lesser talent could make it work at all.

The Ringworld Engineers could hardly be other but more adventurous; the foundation of the world had been laid out and real human-scale adventure could begin. The rishathra? Yeah, I found it edgy too, and in the end, a little too prevalent. What is it about SF authors that there's very little sex, until there's a lot, then there's too much? I don't know either.

It was about that time that the Louis Wu character began to irritate me. Too rich, too old, too beautiful, too dearly bored.

I can see I need to reread me some Niven. it's been too long!

I'd recommend you read some of his short story collections and earlier Known Space stories, written from when he was still a rising star. There was an energy and a passion to them, and the way he made each different world so charmingly odd won me over.

For a time I imagined I might compose a future history, inspired by that work. I still may write something at one time or another.

LaurenMarie - Creative Curio said...

Wow, I sure flipped a switch in you! hehe

I'll try those Known Space short stories you mention, maybe they will be easier to digest.

Yeah, the rishathra didn't bother me until the end when Wu was doing it like every 20 minutes (since I was listening to it) and Niven started discribing it in more and more detail.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Yah, you got me on there. You always remember your first, and Niven was the first author I watched for new releases of.

Might be time to reread them. When I think of them, I always remember what it was like to first really fall into a book.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Yah, you got me on there. You always remember your first, and Niven was the first author I watched for new releases of.

Might be time to reread them. When I think of them, I always remember what it was like to first really fall into a book.