Planning to Print

Planning to Print

I could never be a compositor. I feel like an exaggerating twenty-first century millennial saying that, but the frustration of this task is so overwhelming. That said, I already want to print something else! But, onto the frustration:

At the end of the first composing session, I had finished a line that took me far longer than I care to admit. I was confident, proud to be finished even if a little slow, and ready to slide the type into the galley. I’m ready to shift from compositor’s stick to galley when I notice something strange. I know when setting type it’s supposed to be backwards/upside-down/mirrored/whatever, but this is somehow double backwards. I had managed to create an entire line of type starting from the wrong end of the line. This was the moment I decided composing was not my true calling (maybe I just give up easy).


I can understand how this new world of information creation contributes to the contemporary feeling of overload for those in the printing era. For me, though, going through the motions of setting type felt like such a soothing alternative to my twenty-first century understanding of overload. I can only make tangible a tiny fraction of information in any one moment when using a letterpress, when nearly everything else that spews out of me is at a much faster rate (like this fieldbook entry).

Composing Sympathy

Working with this type has given me a much more tactile understanding of texts I’ve gotten to read from the times of early printing. We got to look at Shakespeare’s First Folio as one of the comparison texts a few weeks ago, and we often reference facsimiles in my Acting Shakespeare class. With new physical experience, I am so much more sympathetic to the compositors for the amount of discrepancies in the text. So much so that I’m now finding it difficult to reconcile the act of printing the text with whatever intentional stylistic choices there are.

I’m playing with a scene from Macbeth right now and so my scene partner and I are dissecting the text, line by line. Every time there’s a capitalized word we dig into what it might mean, and in my head I’m screaming maybe they just ran out of lowercase C’s!!! Take, for instance, this (recreated) text:

But heere, upon this Banke and Schoole of time, Wee’ld jumpe the life to come. But in these Cases…

It’s easy for me to get behind the significance of the extra e’s, because I know exactly what it means to set a letter into type, and I would not want to do a single letter more than necessary. But I don’t know how to count these uppercase letters! Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, because Shakespeare’s been dead hundreds of years and we can pull whatever we want out of his work, but this lab has given me a new framework to approach First Folio texts (and maybe we don’t need to endow everything with deep, heavy significance).

Can’t Get Too Serious

My group selected a quote from The Office for our printing project. We considered plenty of possible source texts, but all were silly or joking (most were memes). The whole process of setting type just felt so serious that we needed to lighten it up with some jokes. This makes me wonder if/how compositors feel about the type they’re setting. Obviously in most situations they wouldn’t get to choose, but setting words in metal and ink feels so weighty, like it gives anything more significance. Perhaps that’s a product of our current word processors that let us delete and rewrite anything immediately, giving anything with more permanence a magnitude to it. But, it made us go with something fun and lighthearted, if only to balance that feeling out.

P.S. In writing this entry, I habitually hit Ctrl+I to italicize some word as I was writing it, and Markdown Edit magically translated that to an asterisk for me! I didn’t know that would happen! In an earlier entry I stated that I really like Markdown for its unobtrusiveness, in that I don’t get bogged down fiddling with style and settings. But