Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Mimeograph Memories

My interest in self-publishing originated in church. No, seriously.

My Dad was a Lutheran pastor -- he's retired now -- and when I was a kid the most interesting part of his job to me was that weekly ritual known as The Bulletin. A good chunk of Thursday and Friday of every week was spent assembling the church bulletin and the weekly newsletter. Sometimes, I would get to watch him do it.

He would type out the "dummy" on this huge typewriter with a weird type font, (large and small caps instead of upper and lower case). This was back in the '70s, remember, before the advent of home computers or before even photocopiers were common. The "dummy" was kind of a dry run, allowing him to work out the layout and the formatting kinks. At the end of each line, he would type out null symbols ("/s") to fill out the end.

Once the "dummy" was complete, he'd load up the long, blue mimeograph stencils into the typewriter and switch off the ribbon. He'd re-type the "dummy" on the stencil, adding spaces in-between the words on each line for each "/" on that line, so that both sides of the column would be justified. Yeah, the computer does that automatically these days, but as a kid that impressed the heck out of me.

Then he'd to the interesting stuff. He'd cut out holes in the stencils and patch in pre-cut clip art that he'd order from a church supply company. To glue the art in place, he'd use this weird-smelling blue fluid that he also used to make corrections in the stencil. For headlines and the newsletter's masthead, he'd use these heavy, transparent plastic lettering guides and a pointed metal stylus.

Most of the newsletter was composed of church events and announcements and a brief meditation from The Pastor, but Dad also included another feature, a whimsical column he called "From the Mouse House", written by his alter ego "Churchy la Mouse." The character's name was borrowed from "Churchy la Femme", a character from Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo, and inspired by the "archy and mehitabel" pieces by Don Marquis.

When I was in high school, and starting to seriously draw cartoons, he had me do a comic strip featuring Churchy la Mouse. I'd draw a half dozen strips on a large sheet of paper and then he'd take it to an office supply store to have a mimeograph stencil cut of the whole page that he could cut apart and use in the newsletter.

But most of all, I remember as a kid spending Saturday afternoons watching him crank out the bulletin and the newsletter on the church's mimeograph machine; the grimy black ink, running the test pages, the clunk-clunk as the drum rolled and chucked out each new sheet. Then Mom, or later when we were older, my brother and I would fold the bulletins on the custom folding-board Dad had constructed out of a thin lap board and a couple pieces of wood.

It was useful experience when I started printing my own mini-comics much later. In fact, one of the first things I bought when I was out living on my own was a saddle stapler.

But that, as the man said, is another story.