Friday, February 01, 2008
Mann and Little Man
As Florizel says, in A Winter’s Tale: “These your unusual weeds to each part of you/Do give a life: no shepherdess, but Flora ...” etc. etc.
In other words, besides all that Mixtec stuff, I’ve also been enjoying the unusual weeds sprouting up in The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora [amazon].
Like the Mixtec stuff, there’s a fine site you can visit. It doesn’t really take a lot of explaining, so I won’t. But here’s a thing. Read the page about The Little Man Press, which he tried to start up in the depths of the Depression.
During the spring of 1938 I happened upon Bob Lowry, or rather, I should say, he happened on me. He came to the [Art] academy [of Cincinnati] looking for an artist to help him establish the Little Man Press. I was intrigued by his verve and the wild look in his eyes. Lowry had been a child prodigy and was enormously talented. We found an immediate rapport, and I became co-founder of The Little Man Press.
We had no money so we decided to sell subscriptions to our nonexistent magazine. We tackled and browbeat everyone we knew and then sold subscriptions on the campus of the University of Cincinnati.
I think $100 is what we paid for an old 8” x 10” Chandler and Price platen treadle press. It was a vintage piece of machinery but capable of excellent work. We also invested in a few fonts of Baskerville type, some ink and paper, and began to publish. We had only enough type to set two pages at a time. It was thus necessary to learn to calculate space very accurately. We were forced to set and print the first and last pages of our booklets, then break up the type and set the second and the next to last page and so on, until we met in the middle.
Lowry wrote many of our items in the basement we called our pressroom and immediately set them in type. I carved wood engravings, woodcuts, and linocuts because we couldn’t afford photoengraving.
That’s some painful print discipline. You can see some of the illustrations online. The book contains a lot more. I love this stuff. And - to get to the punchline: apparently the first issue of Little Man contained “a testimonial letter from Thomas Mann”. A couple months ago I made a post “Thomas Mann, fanboy", musing at my surprise that he was so appreciative of the woodcuts of Masereel. Anyway, it’s interesting to find that he appreciated crazy American DIY ‘zine versions of the same.
I love the story of his son discovering unprinted woodcut blocks (my wife’s doing woodcuts right now, so it’s especially timely for me). It’s interesting to see this and note how influential Flora is on a number of artists and graphic designers working today: Shag most directly. but also folks like Gama-Go and a good chunk of the contemporary indie-rock poster movement.