by Art Chantry ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
this is an old full-page ad i clipped form the february 6, 1970, issue of the los angeles free press – that erstwhile counter culture weekly of the 60′s in LA. on the back side of this page is an ad announcing that the entire “chicago 7″ group of conspirators (along with attorneys kunstler and weinglass – and minus bobby seale) were going to appear at the ucla pauley pavilion. quaint, huh? this is The Doors just as they were getting old and fat and collapsing. morrison would be dead about a year later.
one thing i want to point out is that this is what “graphic design” (as it was and still referred to) actually LOOKED like back then. when you went to a print shop or hired a local design shop to produce an ad for you (or dang near anything else) this is what you got. it’s the quintiessentual “graphic design look” of the period approximately 1965-1975. we all think that period was all psychedelic drawings or photographic mastepieces or some of that incredible 1970′s illustration work, right? well, no. when you ordered up cheap level 101 graphic design (that you paid for by the hour) this is what you got: press type, maybe a little compugraphic type, a photostat and “plug-your-artwork-in-here” pre-fab layout. loveley stuff, eh? yet, this now looks so ‘retro’ and old school to us that we actually think it looks pretty good. most of us right now don’t have the technology on hand to do this sort of thing at all. it’s now hard to do.
now that this look is quaint and retro and difficult to do with contemprorary technology, it’s become hip and cool. i mean to say, if this ad was a poster, a collector would pay hundreds of dollars for it and frame it up and hang it in their office or hallway as a prize possession. never mind that it looks like a million other things from the same era. (tomorrow i’ll talk a little more about this odd period style and show more examples of where it took people)
this sort of phenomena always makes my head expand. i see things like this and i want to take this look and style and primitive thinking and turn it on it’s head. i want to take this crappy work and represent it to the world in a wrong-headed context that actually changes what it was originally trying to do. i want to use this old familiar and safely antique look and make it into a weapon to make you think differently about something (go to this show, buy this product, vote for this candidate). i am a graphic designer. and i’m also a classic post-modernist (as i every single graphic designer on earth doing any sort of graphic design today.) it’s just the way it is. like water is wet and the sky is blue (at least right now as i look out the window.)
about 20 years ago, i had a client who had this cheezy business of ‘rock star calendars’. basically, nobody would buy calendars like these to actually use as calendars. they were in reality monthly “rock star posters” – with a useless little calendar grid stuck in the page someplace. i did ‘calendars’ for big shot bands like stryper, cinderella, david lee roth. i did beastie boys and run dmc. i did movie tie-ins like madonna’s ‘desperately seeking susan’. best of all, i did a couple of ‘elvira’ calendars (she’s so cool.) i got paid a few hundred dollars a pop and i would crank these things out one after the other and made somewhere around minimum wage. “anythign for a buck” back then.
but, i also did ‘nostalgia rock’ calendars, too – led zeppelin, linda mccartney’s rock star photos, and the doors. that was when the doors had one of their periodic revivals and were actually high on the charts with a greatest hits package. old dead jim morrison was even on the cover of rolling stone magazine with the headline, “he’s back, he’s hot and he’s dead.” great stuff, eh? so, i was put to work designing a calendar using a weird collection of odd photos licensed from this source and that source. no continuity at all. worst of all, they didn’t have reproducible logo art to give me to use. they said, “just pull it off a record cover.” as any graphic designer will tell you – easier said than done.
i dug through my record collection and could not find a clean b&w copy of the doors logo to use – at least one that hadn’t been reproduced so many times that it looked like mush. blow that up to a calendar cover size and it looked like total crap – even by MY standards!
so, i decided to just re-draw the thing by hand. being an old school graphic designer, drawing things like typefaces and logos is nothing. i can actually use pens and tools and do a great clean job of it. people even pay me to do that sort of thing all the time. so, i set about re-drawing the original doors logo. i soon learned a few interesting things.
for starters, the original typeface design was strictly a period decorative crap face. so, i couldn’t find a decent copy of it anywhere to work fro
8211; and i even COLLECTED old type books (this was all before the internet). i threw a bad copy on my p[hotostat camera (taken from a full color record cover) and blew it up about 500% on my stat camera – dots and dirt and all. then i began to use my ruling pens and my exacto knife to clean it up (you could slice and peel the plastic coated surface of a photostat). i’m as good a hand with a production knife as i am with a 6-ought rapidograph pen.
when i got to re-drawing the two “O’s” (curves are always the toughest part), i discovered a little something about the original doors logo. it was rubbed down with presstype (or lettraset or whatever brand you want to use). i’m talkign about transfer lettering that you would buy sheets for about $10 a pop and use a burin to literally rub off the letters into place. it was cheap and fast and clean. very popular before them computers wiped the biz out. the way i could tell this was done in cheapo presstype is that the two interior angles inside the “O’s” were not exact mirror image – like you would get with a machine made or early computer (compugraphic) type source. basically, it was rubbed down crooked! they didn’t even rest on the same baseline, either. crummy crummy work.
so,when i re-drew that logo, i fixed the problem that had been sitting there insde the bad production work for decades without notice. the typogrpahy i placed on my calendar was perfectly clean and geometrically aligned. in other words, i overhauled that thing. it look GOOD!.
then a funny thing happened. because the etsate of jim morrison and the doors had control of all approval on this project, my artwork went back into their hands – even though they didn’t commission it or pay for it. no big deal – especially back then. you usually lost track of the original artwork the moment it hit the print shop. it usually went into the trash immediately after use. but, after that point, whenever The Doors logo was used in any new context – THEY USED MY ARTWORK! i could spot the perfect balance and baseline in the the two “O’s” at a glance. i began to see that thing used on doors crap for a couple of decades. i stopped looking. by all rights, every time that thing got used, technically – if you could find a court who knew anything about copyrights and trademarking, i should have received a few pennies even time it got reproduced. frankly, if i had, i could have retired.
i’m able to repeat similar stories from throughout my entire career – particularly if it involevs a major corporation, it’s impossible to not lose EVERYTHING in the process – it was designed to exploit your art. hell, it was the MUSIC biz. go talk to little richard or johnnie johnson or even the beatles. trying to protect your rights as an artist if a big fooking mess. sure, you could argue it was their logo, therefore they could do what they wanted with it (and they did quite effectively). but, they were using my actual drawing to pull it from. shouldn’t that be worth something considering how much swag and merch was being moved with MY ARTWORK on it? in actual effect, i “DID” the doors logo in use right now.
but, i only use this as an example. i really don’t care about this stuff any more.
AC:when you look closely at this ad, you’ll see where the newspaper sliced off the bottom and “dropped” it down to the bottom edge of the ad space. they alway said that to avoid a big blank spot at the bottom of the page. the advertiser never cared (even though, like this one. it was often pasted in crooked – in two halves). the promoters would think they’re getting a good deal when that happened. they’d send in a wrong size ad (usually from another newspaper with a different size ad space to sell) and YOU, the newspaper layout guy or ad salesman, just had to deal with it. the client advertising the show probably thought they got a pretty good deal because they only paid for the space of the ad they sent in. that big blank space in the middle of the ‘design”? they just saw that as free money. ‘art’ has nothing to do with these decisions….
…i once was hired by reprise to do a record for a local grunge band. the band loved the idea they were on the old ‘rat pack’ label (it was started by sinatra to release his buddies) and that reprise also had the kinks and jimi hendrix among others in their historical roster. so, the band wanted to use the “old” historical reprise label and logo on their LP – just to look cool. i asked the label for the old logo. nobody there knew what i was talking about! so, i explain it to them. nobody who worked there had an idea of their own history. the idea that it was was sinatra’s ‘rat pack’ label and they had hendrix and the kinks? they were total stunned to hear that. so, i had to RE-DRAW their logo from scratch and then RE-BUILD their label; art as well. they still use that re-working i did to this day. i imagine they still have no idea who recorded on their label any more than they realize i re-created their corporate logo (totally for free, too). when you work with corporations, you quickly find out that everybody you work with is stupid (and afraid.)…
this sort of thing isn’t limited to the “big boys”, either. i’ve had more problems with the ‘little guys’ than the big boys – simply because i’ve worked with far more little guys than big boys. the truth is that nobody understands or respects what we do. if you don’t protect yourself mercilessly UP FRONT, you have no protection at all. so it goes.