04 June 2012

9 Yearbooks: Paper Dummies to Desktop Publishing

I have always loved published materials. Because most of us in the family grew up voracious readers, there were always books, newspapers and magazines in the house. In the glossy magazines, in particular, I admired the way layout artists combined text and photos to always create something attractive to the eyes.

Naturally, I joined the staffs of both the yearbook and the school paper when I was in high school. In those days, however, the process of laying out particularly for the school paper was a tedious process.

First, we typed our articles in columns of at most thirty characters. This was in the mid-seventies, mind. So when I say ‘type,’ I mean with those arthritis-causing contraptions called typewriters.

The typed articles were sent to the press afterwards for this process called typesetting. This meant that the articles were printed in neat columns as required for newspaper layouting.

When we got our typeset articles back, we did flying edits, cut out the columns literally with scissors and pasted these on newspaper sized blank sheets of papers called ‘dummies.’

So there you are you clueless young people of the computer generation! You have just learned that cut-and-paste was once actually a physical undertaking.

I was with the yearbook staff, too. This was a tad more complicated because we had no more than an on-the-fly seminar about the publishing process. While we naturally had grand ideas about how we wanted our yearbook, we were a little short on the how-to department.

So we ended up doing a minimalist layout and not at all the bells and whistles that we wanted.

In those days, yearbook staffs communicated with the press by leaving instructions on the dummies. For instance, if you wanted to enlarge a picture, you wrote ‘blow up’ with the desired dimensions. All instructions were supposed to be written in jargon that we wished we knew more of.

Years later, among the countless things that I had to do while I was in the employ of the school was the publication of the yearbook. This was a job that I asked for, however.

Having succeeded only modestly with my own yearbook, I wanted to do better with those of others. Besides, I was always interested in publications and wanted to learn more.

I ended up doing nine yearbooks in all. The first was the 1988 yearbook; while the last was the one for 1996. I worked with students, of course; less towards the end as I learned desktop publication.

The initial year, however, was pretty much the same as how we did things back when I was still in high school: working with dummy sheets and literal cutting and pasting.

By the early nineties, I was prepared to experiment with how the yearbook was to be done. It sounds so primitive now; but laying out using a DOS-based software called NewsMaster running on an XT computer seemed so cutting edge compared to working with scissors, paper and paste. And NewsMaster was not even meant to be used for laying out yearbooks…

I am amused just thinking of those 5-inch floppy discs that I used to save my files on. They were so delicate one had to be ever so careful in handling them. Although, if it was particularly hot and humid, you could fan yourself with one…

By the time that I published my last yearbook in 1996, I had gone really hi-tech by using PageMaker, the favoured state-of-the-art desktop publication software of the day. How I ended up doing so was a story in itself.

The thing about laying out with NewsMaster was that I still had to turn over the pictures to the press along with the printouts of the lay outs. Now, anyone who has done school publications knows that there is no such thing as a perfect press.

On the contrary, working with presses – at least from my experience – could be the most ulcer-causing job in the world. Their frequent inability to meet deadlines, first of all, used to be a perpetual headache. Ditto their inability to follow instructions, which could come to the point when the blueprints became like tennis balls tossed between me and the press with alarming frequency.

The biggest headache of all was when they lost stuff that I knew that I had sent them; and they had the utter gall and cheek to tell me that I did not. The final straw was when this press lost not one, not a few but ALL the pictures that I sent for publication in 1991. They lost the printed layouts as well.

There was a messy suit filed against the press; but the most annoying thing for me was having to redo the layout by myself with so few pictures left from the former hundreds to work with. This was all the motivation that I needed to learn desktop publication software.

By 1993, I bought myself a computer as well as a tutorial on Windows 3.1. Two years later, I upgraded to a Windows 95 PC and bought a book to learn PageMaker. I would do anything to not be at the mercy of irresponsible presses.

The 1995 yearbook was the first that I sent to the press in its entirety as a collection of files instead of paper dummies and printed pictures. Not only did the entire process become reduced in terms of time; I also knew that whatever errors in the yearbook were mine instead of something that the press was too lazy to fix.

Above all, it brought a liberating feeling to know that even if the press screwed up, I still had all the original pictures and layouts in print and as digital files inside my hard drive. It was a simple matter if needed be to recopy the files to a portable disc.

Although I eventually gave up publishing yearbooks, I continued to be involved in publications especially as I was building up the school’s new marketing department, of which I was in charge.

In fact, I always felt that it was a natural progression for me to eventually learn how to publish on the web, at the time a relatively new and exciting new medium. But that is another story altogether...

[For the record, and to put the matter to rest, the ‘Black Stallion’ motif of the 1992 yearbook was something I tried to pattern after a DLSU yearbook that I saw which I thought looked particularly sophisticated and elegant and which I wanted to do as well for the Class of 1992. Its release with so many pictures still missing was against my will and control.]








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