[Alyson Kuhn] Did you realize that the word rotator is a palindrome, which is to say that it also spells rotator when read from right to left? Well, what I didn’t realize until I stared at the cover is that, thanks to its reversed second R, the magazine’s wordmark is a typographic palindrome as well. Wow! The form and content are beautifully balanced, too.
Rotator reminds me of a paper promotion from the Glory Days. As it happens, it’s printed on “a variety of Mohawk papers — which are arguably our favorites.” The cover is letterpress printed in three colors; the DIY diorama insert is screen printed, with an endearing, nonfunctional perf down its left edge. The 50 inside pages are lusciously offset printed by ColorGraphics. But it’s not a paper promo. It’s a limited-edition (500 copies) homage to anti-suburban life in the Pacific Northwest. We grilled, or maybe gently sautéed, two of the Tacoma, Wash., boosters behind this let’s-make-a-magazine-because-we-want-to project.
What inspired you to do this?
Tom Llewellyn (editorial curator): We had been having an ongoing discussion about the end of print with a bunch of designers and other creatives — writers and so forth — and out of this conversation came the idea that the magazine form has its place. It can do things that web and other online experiences can’t do. We got this group of about a dozen people together — illustrators, designers, photographers, writers — and decided to do this “magazine as art” project to show what a magazine can still do well, to play to the form’s strengths.
And, ultimately, how has it worked, collaboratively speaking?
Lance Kagey (executive producer): It’s probably the most collaborative thing I’ve ever done. In the end, there is not one piece that I could say, “I did this.” There was so much back and forth. Early on, I challenged Chelsey and Chloe Scheffe [senior designers] — a pair of crazy-talented twin designers up here — to develop the grid. They went away and each came back with a totally different idea. And then I swapped them, and asked Chelsey to work on Chloe’s and Chloe to work on Chelsey’s. And then the three of us developed the final grid together.
“Burning the Blueprints of Paradise“: The diorama created by Brian Hutcheson (art curator), with production help by amateur screen printer Tyler Kalberg (music curator), presents Tacoma today and Tacoma as it might have been but never was.
TL: We had started with a group of five of us who were getting together irregularly: “The League of Ordinary Gentlemen,” which was instituted by Brian Hutcheson. Adam Welch [creative director] and Waymond Hampton [designer/web guy] were also part of the original group. We quickly gathered other people that we’d worked with in the past — or people we hadn’t, but wanted to — including some of the region’s best talent.
How did you proceed?
TL: We decided that our focus would be arts, culture and the urban lifestyle along the PNW I-5 corridor, from Portland, Ore., to Vancouver, B.C. This isn’t a Tacoma project, but because many of us are in Tacoma, we had a preference for the industrial, working-class aesthetic — but an appreciation of nature, too.
LK: We wanted a web presence as well. Adam and Waymond, our friends from Hemisphere Design, were up to that particular challenge. But then they took us one step further: If a print magazine can be an art form, then an online magazine can be, too. That’s the standard they held themselves to.
Talk about the cover.
LK: It’s letterpress printed three colors, in my studio. We had lots of debate and actually laid stuff out, rather than designing it on the computer and then building it. We liked the map imagery for a background. All the elements are created from vintage engravings from our collection.
TL: It’s traditional for a magazine cover to hint at the contents, so we did that here as well. The plywood imagery is there because we talk about the history of the 2×4 and the amazing furniture made by Urban Hardwoods. The map is a reference to Frederick Law Olmsted’s original design for the City of Tacoma. And the Christmas Seals are actual old lead cuts from Lance’s collection — that are the same designs as some of the seals in Art Chantry’s piece, which begins: “I bought a little Ziploc baggie at a thrift store for a couple of bucks. It was stuffed to the max with old Christmas Seals. Bingo! Instant collection.”
Art Chantry’s article “Christmas Seals, Sissies and Women: A Century of Design in a Ziploc Bag.” See a swell image of Art’s sheet of 1970 Easter Seals at ROTATOR online.
Did Art write this piece just for Rotator?
LK: No. Art is a Tacoma guy, and he posts design history lessons on Facebook. We asked him if he’d like to edit one of these posts, one that was inspired by looking at little Christmas Seal types of stamps. Well, when I’m looking at Art’s Christmas Seals, I thought, “I recognize some of these” — and started rifling through some old copper engravings and found the same ones as in Art’s article.
TL: We want ROTATOR to do the things a magazine can do that no other medium can — to create moments of tension through a visual storytelling arc … that feeling you can only get by turning an oversized page and discovering what comes next. The experience of turning a giant page becomes both a visually arresting and a resting moment. You can wallow in the beauty of the clean printing and design and big luxurious photographs — which you don’t get that much of anymore. It’s like white space that isn’t white.
So you could play with the pacing and typography?
LK: Yes. We bound the magazine like a portfolio, using binder clips. We want to tempt people to unclip the magazine and consider each spread as a work of art in its own right. You can take it apart and live in it and put it back together. That sensibility also informed the way we approached the design.
TL: One of our guest writers, Dennis Flannigan, is a former copywriter who turned to politics. His article about Tacoma’s love/hate relationship with success is curmudgeonly and lyrical.
“Love/Hate”: Chelsey Scheffe wrote out Dennis Flannigan’s entire article. Happily, you can read it in comfort here.
LK: I loved the words so much, I wanted people to savor them. Wouldn’t it be great to have them seem intimate, like you’re reading a journal? So we had the entire article handwritten. Dennis — who is our former state representative — initially was fairly disappointed, but it grew on him.
Is there a backstory to the illustration? Is it vintage Tacoma skyline?
LK: Exactly. A couple of years ago, Clinton/Hull — a local printer who had been in operation for the last three generations — finally closed their doors. The owner contacted us and told us he had some old Tacoma-centric engravings that he was going to scrap unless we were interested in them. Now we have hundreds of cuts like this — everything from long-forgotten company logos, to professional wrestlers who came through town, to old Coca-Cola advertisements. Such a wealth of visual history. The stamp engravings and map images we used on the back of the ROTATOR cover are also from this haul.
Did you pass through a phase of considering lesser production values — more zine than portfolio?
TL: No. To us, it is an art project. For example, we decided we’d sell a total of four ads — only to folks we know, who know us, whom we admire — and we told them that we would design each ad and that they couldn’t see them until the issue was printed.
LK: We aren’t expecting to make any money on this — it was very much a labor of love. We did try to do it as inexpensively as possible because we are funding it ourselves. But we wanted the size we wanted, and we wanted beautiful Mohawk paper. And, of course, good photography really helps. We got to mix up a bunch of really talented folks. Everyone has let us use their photography as part of this art project.
What’s coming up?
LK: Issue 2! And, yes, copies of Issue 1 are still available but going fast. We have access to serious art and culture talent. Tyler Kalberg is a great videographer and a super-duper connected guy. He invited Josiah Johnson of The Head and The Heart to write an article,”Nine Fine,” for our first issue.
Josiah Johnson’s article takes us on a tour of “songs that make you feel like you don’t know what hit you, which is my favorite kind of first song.”
TL: The theme of the next issue is “versus.” As in digital versus analog, a picture versus a thousand words. One feature we’re doing is web code as poetry. Can you do a digital interaction that is more than straightforward communication? Can you have moments of rest and ridiculous luxury as web design?
Designer Lance Kagey and writer Tom Llewellyn have day jobs at the same company. They co-founded their Beautiful Angle poster project 10 years ago. In spring 2012, they gave a TEDx Tacoma presentation titled “Guerrilla Messaging: A Story of Money, Power and Desire.”