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A to Z Recovery

From: American Book Review
Volume 34, Number 3, March/April 2013
p. 7 | 10.1353/abr.2013.0034

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Johanna Drucker produced her book From A to Z in 1977 at the West Coast Print Center in Oakland. A tour-de-force of typopoesis—as she calls her simultaneous method of writing and letterpress printing—the original version was letterpress printed in a limited edition of ninety-six. From A to Z combines the material of poetry—language, type, and printing—with a commentary on the milieu from which this particular book arose. As Johanna explained the concept of the book—“This book was not written as much as it was composed—in the stick, on the page, from sorts and leftovers in an elaborate scrabbled game of social critique and parodic play. The task was simple, the parameters defined: I wanted to use the type in forty-some drawers of type once and only once and make a text that made sense. The book is in every sense a total work, completely integrated. Every element carries meaning and adds information about the characters, their work, status, gossiping exchanges, attitudes or activities.”

In the summer of 2012, I asked Johanna if we could produce a facsimile version of From A to Z to coincide with her exhibition Druckwerks: 1972–2012: 40 Years of Books and Projects (2012) scheduled for the fall at the Center for Book and Paper Arts (CBPA) where I work. She agreed, and we got to work—we being Claire Sammons, Jenna Rodriguez, and myself. Claire and Jenna are graduate students in the Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts M.F.A. Program at Columbia College Chicago (where CBPA is located). The two are also Print Production Fellows learning how to produce printed matter using offset printing technology by receiving hands-on experience in design, pre-press, and press work under my supervision. Claire also writes reviews of books received in JABThe Journal of Artists’ Books which is our main production task. Together, Claire and Jenna wrote an essay-length review of Transitions-Rochester 20102012 in JAB31, 2012. At CBPA, we have all the equipment necessary for printing, including an imagesetter to make film, an exposure unit to make plates, and a state-of-the-art one color Heidelberg GTO offset press. Re-printing From A to Z seemed like a perfect project for Jenna and Claire to test the printing abilities.

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Jenna Rodriguez and Claire Sammons printing Johanna Drucker’s From A to Z on the Heidelberg GTO offset press at the Center for Book and Paper, Columbia College Chicago

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Jenna Rodriguez and Claire Sammons examine a test print of Johanna Drucker’s From A to Z

We started the work by downloading high resolution files of From A to Z from ABsonline. (By the way, anyone can download files of all the pages of many, many artists’ books from this website, which was the brainchild of Johanna.) Jenna, with her excellent Photoshop skills, cleaned up the files page by page. In fact, the space around each letterform in the text-heavy sixty-five page book had to be carefully cleaned, removing any unwanted artifacts from the original letterpress printing. Johanna used kraft paper in the original From A to Z (her choice of paper being a comment toward the overly precious fine press sensibility), but this rather dark paper lowered the contrast between the type and the paper, making the task of cleaning even more difficult. At the beginning of preparing the digital files for print, the process took about an hour for each page. Subsequently, Jenna found Photoshop tools that helped speed things up, but still, this part of recovering From A to Z took about forty hours.

However, before proceeding with cleaning up all the pages, we made a test file in various Photoshop modes (grayscale, hi-res bitmap) to find out which method gave the smoothest and clearest type. After printing the test on French’s kraft paper (see photo of Jenna and Claire examining the type during the test printing on the Heidelberg GTO press), we sent Johanna a sheet in order for her to decide which rendition of the type was best.

Printing on a high-speed rotary offset...

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