The Calico Fish Press was named late one evening in the fall of 1993, just as the first clean printing rolled off the press. "At last," I thought, "No more calico pages, brimming with splatters of ink where there should be none, and vast plains of white space where there should be ink!"
It was a proud moment - a proud moment, I tell you. At that point, inspiration hit me square between the eyes, and I nearly fell over. My press had a name.
A senior in college and editor of the college paper for yet another year, I had enrolled in the Introduction to Typography course taught by Elliot Offner. Our Project: to design, typeset, print, and bind multiple copies of a book.
Oh, how I struggled with the topic for my book that summer: How to aggravate your newspaper editor? Too full of bile, and too linked to the rest of life. My poetry? I was pretty sure that it would make me shudder when I was 25. (I was right). That decision was vindicated almost immediately, when I saw Meredith Mundy's gorgeous book of her own wonderful poetry.
I wanted to do a children's book. It came down to nursery rhymes or an alphabet book. One crazy night, I decided to do both. That meant 26 pages of content, plus the title pages, acknowledgements, and colophon. It ended up being the longest book in the class.
Perhaps it was insane - I was a full time student, a full time newspaper editor, and the typography class took up another 50-60 hours. My sleep levels dropped to 2 hours a night on weeknights.
I was frequently tired, and constantly afraid I'd drop one of the balls I was juggling. At the same time, it was one of the best experiences of my life. My classmates were an amazing group: witty, funny, silly, giddy, and fascinating people to boot.
That typography class was the single most important art class I have ever taken for what it taught me about type, design, and artistic perserverence. My book - An Alphabet of Nursery Rhymes - wasn't the prettiest, the most precise, or the most perfect book printed that semester.
It doesn't matter. It was the process of learning, and of watching my instructors and classmates, and the art of doing that made the difference. I did it all - from the first lead placed to the last stitch sewn. It was an extraordinary experience.
That semester also marked my first attempts to really redesign the paper's layout, and my discovery that there were Mosaic browsers lurking deep in the public folders in the Smith computer lab computers.
My first web bookmarks harken back to that time, when the web was very new ... and very academicly-oriented. I had read about the WWW that summer, and was fascinated by the hype then: the idea that people all around the world could participate in a digital conference of sorts - to take a poem, for example, and Professor X of Denmark would provide comments about the usage of the word "blender" in line 6, linking his comments to that word, and Professor Y could respond and rebut those comments by creating a link to his thoughts.
One of my classmates - a young man from Amherst whose gorgeously precise and crisply printed book featured important quotes from great type designers - and I talked occasionally about digital typography, and how the two disciplines merge and verge. It really got me thinking about the medium and the possibilities and set the stage for my later life.
The dual acts of physical and digital design were an important shaping influence upon me, and affect me to this day. My digital design is sharply influenced by my experience in printing An Alphabet of Nursery Rhymes; I find nothing quite so lovely or affecting as beautifully set type.
1993 also marked the introduction of resident.lunatic/j.hayden pro-ductions (rljhp), an internet-based 'publishing house' (read: e-mail distribution, than gopher, and then, when we were both so busy, a web site) that served as a distribution point for the wit and attempted wit of a small band of friends, ready with a dozen running jokes or a ready insult.
Our tongues-firmly-in-cheek, we collected and compiled the best of the best and presented them to the world. As time went by - I in graduate school, John engrossed in his job at PrimeStar, the mighty wheels of the publishing house ground to a stillness.