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Explaining Quantum Whatever: now

2011 September 1

Now, as in now, the very end of August 2011, as I write this and make a record of this very moment for eternity. As I wait for Quantum Whatever: The Broken Circle to get back from the printer. As I look back on six months (or in a sense, 12 years) of work, possibly for one last time.

In summary, reviving this project of myself-as-once-was, 11 years after finishing my last work on it and going on with life, was gratifyingly fun and easy. Per an earlier post, it was indeed “nice to be reminded how far I have come as a designer and creative.” As a college student, even in my last year, putting together a publication like this involved a lot of slow effort and feeling-my-way-along. Whereas now, at 33, it was (mostly) a breeze. That’s nice to be reminded of.

It was also nice that so many things worked so well, and in many cases better, from a technical perspective. “Back in the day,” I built Quantum Whatever with Adobe Pagemaker 6.5 on a G3 Macintosh running OS 8. Having dragged around most of my files ever since, though, Adobe InDesign CS4 running in Mac OS X 10.6 on an Intel iMac was able to open up the old files with remarkably few issues. Which seems like the kind of thing that advancing technology should do, just as a matter of course, but which in practical experience is more of a pleasant surprise.

But, here, I can hand it to Adobe for keeping their own legacy file formats accessible. Many linked files were broken, after converting into InDesign, and I’m sure that text re-flowed, but as I mainly just needed the old files as a template these things didn’t even inconvenience me really. Having cracked open a dusty old Pagemaker file, then, I began to seriously consider what I was going to keep from the old QW and what things I would reconsider, even in a nostalgic undertaking.

One of the first things I decided to change, a decision I’ve regretted for years and frowned at every time I’ve opened up an old copy of QW, was the choice of Caslon 224 for body copy. I don’t know what motivated me to choose this typeface, but it was an awfully poor selection for a somewhat lo-fi xeroxed publication. Too many letters had fine, hairline strokes which often vanished in the copier when QW was printed.

Sample letters in Caslon 224, and Sabon

Old and new

I considered a variety of new typefaces, including Adobe Caslon, but eventually settled on Sabon. This was an old friend, familiar to me from a lot of my work at Drake University, and it seemed to look good from a reading distance while having letterforms resembling those of Caslon but without the hairline strokes. In some letters, there isn’t much difference, but as seen above Caslon 224 sometimes makes lines extremely thin where Sabon maintains a bit more weight.

So, Caslon 224 out, Sabon in. Otherwise I kept most of the type styles, including my own custom lettering. Related to this, I actually spent some time debating what to do with the table of contents, which traditionally listed things organized by content-type, e.g. poetry, artwork, fiction, etc. As there only ended up being two contributors to this issue, however, I eventually decided to just divide the ToC into two main sections, headed “Matt” and “Danielle” rather than repeat our names a dozen times each. This required at least one or two new letters for the “QWB” lettering I’d used in the table of contents, but fortunately the letters were all sufficiently modular that this wasn’t much of a brain-teaser.

If any part of this whole exercise was a brain-teaser, it was deciding how to organize the issue. Back when, the QW editorial board would review student submissions and, I think, basically divide things into yes, no and maybe piles; I would then start placing yes items into my layout and dip into the maybes if space remained. I don’t recall how I decided where to place things within the page order.

This time, I mulled it over for a while and finally just created a thumbnail version of the whole thing, around which I could move actual placed images as well as markers for text pieces. This proved quite useful, although it was still a matter of pushing and pulling, swapping out one text piece for a longer or shorter one, rearranging things, etc., until I finally achieved both a balance and a reading “flow” that I liked. Again, I don’t recall giving any thought to this on earlier issues, but this was really important to me this time; I didn’t want items of completely different tone to be just randomly mixed together. Instead I really worked to come up with what seemed like a thoughtful order of presentation, from front to back. (Hopefully it will show.)

The “weeding-out” process, by contrast, was mostly much simpler. I mainly focused on getting a fairly “even” balance between Danielle’s material and my own. I set out planning a 40-page document, as was the case with most past issues of QW. I included all seven of Danielle’s poems and, since these were each just one page in length, I also assigned nine pages to her photography. This gave her 16 items on 16 pages, out of 38 pages total (subtracting the introduction and table of contents).

I ended up including 13 items of my own, with only five photographs; my other works were mostly multiple pages in length so I had more space but fewer items, and this seemed pretty fair.

Especially since (aside from the fact that I provided most of the labor and all of the funding for this publication) I also reserved all four color pages for Danielle’s photography. The 40 interior pages of the 2011 QW are made up of 10 sheets of legal-sized paper; after seeing Danielle’s amazing photos I decided to go all-in and spec the innermost sheet as a full-color section. Which is kind of interesting/amusing to me because this was a new feature in Quantum Whatever, for me, but not in a larger sense. I have two issues produced after I graduated, and in one of them those crazy kids included a page or two of color photography in the middle. Under the circumstances I decided that I might as well fold this innovation back into my own new issue.

I also decided to employ full-color for the cover, which was more of an innovation but really less of a splurge; in its original run Quantum Whatever had print runs of several hundred, at least, and for this a two-color offset-printed duotone cover was actually economical compared with full-color (at least, back in 1999). Add a dozen years to desktop-publishing technology, and reduce the print quantity to only 40, however, and duotone printing would have been ridiculous. The only realistic way to have any color on the cover, for this issue, was a color laser printer/copier, which could print a complete range of colors just as easily as two.

So, as with the Classic Mac OS, Pagemaker and Caslon 224, I was quite ready to leave duotone cover artwork in the past. Though I still referenced that past tradition in my cover design:

Outside cover for Quantum Whatever, vol. III issue 1

The cover

This was a little bit old, and a little bit new, then. The design isn’t quite like any of the previous covers, but none of the cover designs I produced was entirely like any of the others. This one probably features the closest connection with the interior graphics, eschewing the simulated sphericality of (the previous volume’s) issues 1 and 3 which I just didn’t feel needed another outing. Instead, obviously, I brought in color, though also obviously I kept color somewhat limited. Even those elements of this cover which aren’t full-color photographs exceed the range of color that would really be possible with duotone printing, but I think the relatively narrow range of hues effectively recalls the general effect of the old duotone covers.

While on the subject of the cover, I should also note that this, like all the old issues’ covers, does not have any “bleed;” there has always been a blank white border on all sides. And I always struggled to figure out the best way of dealing with this. Back on my first issue, I just left a border on all four sides of the front and back cover, and let the white edges alone as a “frame” for the “real” cover art. On my second issue I treated front and back cover as one whole, but otherwise left the frame; I liked the cover artwork on that issue but not the asymmetry of its “bleed” on just one side out of four.

For the third issue of “my” Quantum Whatever, I had the idea to integrate the white edges with the rest of the cover artwork as negative space, and produced (IMHO) a fairly cool effect. So I mostly went with that again, here, though the actual area of printing extends out more, mostly “filling up” the available space while still not making its framed shape quite so obvious as on my first two cover designs.

That’s mostly what I did, kept, changed and in general what I went through to really put this project together as a document. The one last aspect worth mentioning is probably the interior decorative elements.

For a long, long time I just was not sure what I was going to do about these. I knew I would include them, but I just wasn’t sure how I would actually go about making up the specifics, arranging them on the page with text, etc.

They’re just so… random. I had done three issues’ worth, a dozen years ago, but I looked at those old designs and simply drew a blank. “Where did this ever come from,” I asked without being sure of the answer. I just had no confidence that I could pull it off, now, and even considered “recycling” my older graphics.

But in the end, I didn’t want to admit defeat in that way, and at last “Quantum Weekend” rolled around and I pretty much had to come up with some kind of answer, confident or not. So, I just picked out what seemed like an easy page to start with, selected the ellipse tool in InDesign, and started in. And…

Honestly I was amazed. I don’t know if old experience came back to me, or this was just so much easier than I feared it would be, but I pretty much cruised through the whole document in a couple of bursts, and only made minor adjustments to my “cosmic circle” graphics afterward.

Sample page from Quantum Whatever: The Broken Circle

Poem by Danielle Hughson; circle graphics by me

Once I began, it just seemed to make perfect sense. In some cases I very, very vaguely made some kind of super-abstracted reference to the content, but generally I was just trying to achieve balance and movement on a page (or spread) and, thinking about it, this is something I do all the time. Just with a very limited “vocabulary” of circles. In fact, I elected to limit that “vocabulary” a bit more than I probably did way back when, picking out just a few line widths, a couple of gray tints, etc., which I think was valuable both for simplifying the process and lending a bit more consistency to the whole work.

Though, as a final note, I suppose I will mention that there were one or two or three areas in which I was definitely inconsistent. And, y’know what, I’m happy about that. There were always elements of anomaly in every issue of Quantum Whatever, and in a sense this whole single-issue revival is one big anomaly anyway. And, ultimately, for once it’s my project and I can do things how I want and, well, it’s kind of fun and liberating to just plain break a rule once or twice if it’s getting in the way, even if you made the rule in the first place.

This whole thing was fun, though, really, and I can’t wait to share it with people. For now though, it’s getting late as I finish typing this; if anyone has read through this whole long digression you have my most sincere thanks, and I especially hope that you will be sure to request a copy of the finished project. By this point you’ve definitely earned it.

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