instant litter

by Art Chantry ( )

i spent the bulk of 1984 putting together my book, “instant litter: concert posters from seattle punk culture.” i attempted to document through posters the seattle punk scene from it’s primordial ooze early days (the early 1970′s) to it’s dismal fadeout in 1983-4. once i put together the timeline of the period covered, it was easy to see that seattle punk was completely over and done. all the clubs kept getting closed, the all-ages venues were gone, the police and (especially) the fire marshall kept shutting down individual shows. even the city council attempted to ban punk posters entirely. most of the early bands had either broken up, moved away, gone ‘new wave’, or just plain overdosed and died. in late 1984, up around the seattle u-district, a poster popped up on telephone poles that said in big bold type “seattle scene found dead.” i used that poster on the last page of my book. i thought it made a fine tombstone.

---AC:also, it's quite possible that 'here today' wasn't a band, but actually the name of the venue where they were playing. so many places opened up for a single show and then closed forever back then. i don't recall if this was one such place or not.

the book was released in 1985 (real comet press, no longer in print) to rave and nostalgic reviews. the book release party at Free Mars was like the final reunion party for all the old punk rockers in seattle. it was a hoot and a great event. but, really sad. everybody said goodbye and went on their separate ways into adulthood and middle class existence. lynda barry even kissed me. so did upchuck!

i pulled this poster off a wall near my waterfront/pioneer square studio about a month after my book was released. i wish i had found it even a few months earlier, because it was so refreshing. the naivete of a punk show called “big teen beat ’85″ was such an upbeat and snazzy feeling to it. it was like all the kids decided to “put on a show to save the local malt shop.” the bands (Fred, Baby Jesus Hitler, Storm, Here Today, and Steve) were all unknown to me (except ‘fred’ – i’d heard of fred.) it was so “not negative”, that i dismissed it as ‘just a buncha dumb uncool kids playing out a tired fantasy created by their esteemed elders’. little did i know that among these bands were combos like Green River and Malfunction and Shadow and Pure Joy and Sound Garden all those dorky little bands that went on to spawn the hyper-famous ‘grunge’ scene five years later. live and learn, eh?

i think this little poster is such a great transitional type design, as well. prior to the mid-80′s, punk posters were all scrawled out using just about every technique imaginable. type was the most difficult part, because nobody had access to a $10,000 typesetting machine. nobody even had money for telephones. so, these “community meeting announcements” (aka ‘punk posters’) were the only reliable source of information. so, without electronic or pre-digital typesetting, what did you use if you had no money? well – ANYTHING. label makers, stencils, handwriting, drawn letters, paper cut-outs, potato stamps, finger paint, spray paint, typewriters, ANYTHING.

the results of those early posters were an intentional mess – ‘anti-graphics’. those early posters (like that Lewd poster i wrote about yesterday) was supposed to be a slap in the face of everything pop culture represented in the mid-70′s – professionalism, beauty, elegance, sophistication, expensive production, musicianship, artistry, coke. punk was a spit in the eye of all that. the posters were intended to actually SCARE AWAY those disco people and mainstream rockers and folks of taste and breeding. they were INTENTIONALLY UGLY! if you put a picture of a dead baby on your posters, them ‘family values creeps” will NOT show up at your show. but, all the punks who got the joke, showed up in droves. so simple and direct. it worked so brilliantly.

so, on early punk posters, the graphics were INTENDED to look like an ugly mess. 99% of them were slapped together by completely amateur “never did a poster before and i’ll never do one again” punk fans. if a poster got too ‘professional’ or ‘designerly’ the bands were accused of being a big SELL-OUT to the mainstream and punks stopped gong to the shows. a nice looking punk poster was poison.

most of my early punk poster efforts were soundly rejected by the punks as being old-fogey ‘graphic design’. i usually got only one shot at doing a poster for a band, because after that effort, they’d never hire me again. my stuff was considered too GOOD. it didn’t look right. it’s funny that now, all those old punk posters of mine are considered arty collectibles. man, that’s so completely ‘uncool.”

by the time this little poster popped up, there had already been two generations of punkers in seattle. by this point, most of the kids doing punk had lost track of it’s origins and were just doing ‘kid stuff’ to have some fun. when they did a poster, it was total ‘grade school arts & crafts” hour. they really WANTED their little adverts to be sort of neat and groovy and actually say something direct and attractive to their pals. every thing about this “big teen beat ’85″ poster reeks of earnestness and effort and naive sincerity. ain’t it cute?

this was also the time that computers were JUST starting to enter the design market in seattle. because microsoft and aldus (and later adobe and amazon) were all based up here in seattle, the co

er nerds and the programers went after the seattle graphic designers as a place to test and try out out their programs. the result of this was the seattle graphic design scene was one of the very earliest areas to adopt the computer as a design tool. basically, all those ‘one size fits all’ design programs we all use today were beta-tested in seattle design circles. everybody had a mac right away (well, not me. too expensive. i resisted like mad.)

this little poster also sort of represents the final gasp (the death rattle) of presstype (aka -’lettraset’, etc. those rub-down transfer lettering sheets we used to buy to do so much quickie graphic design stuff.) the system was cheap and available and very easy to use – anybody could rub down the stuff. maybe not very well, but you could read the results, right? this poster is obviously using presstype letters for most of the text. it’s crooked and broken just like you’d expect (this is pretty much STILL near impossible to ape on a computer.) even back then, it was totally ‘out-of-it’, too. presstype was all being tossed out because computer type were so nifty and easy and cheap (if you had the computer and the program – which all the graphic designers did). this was also the initial period of time when all the smart typesetting shops started to sell-off or closed down.

the people who actually pasted together this poster likely pulled nearly exhausted sheets of presstype out of a garbage dumpster (maybe outside of a design studio) and decided to use it because it was what they had. you can actually see where they ran out of letters and had to use caps or switch typefaces entirely.

their final act of naive genius was to cut-out the large type out of the white paper they were using and then past it down on a black background. whether they rubbed down that presstype before or after they cut out the big letters is open to debate (i see arguments going in both directions.) either way, this is a brilliant and almost perfect little piece of typography. it’s fun, it’s hopping, it’s hip and it’s KOOL. it represents so beautifully what was actually changing in the popular culture of that period of time in seattle.

this little poster is a harbinger of what was to come.

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