1975: A New Career in Publishing

by Alden Cole on February 26, 2015 · 0 comments

“I am not a man but a clown in trousers.” – George Balanchine (1904-1983)

1975.byPaulMorse#2PRecap: from my arrival in NYC in August 1968 until February of 1974, my life centered around Seventh Avenue, first as fashion designer, then as free-lance fashion illustrator. In the fall of 1973 I painted my first oil paintings, convincing myself that this was my ‘true’ artistic calling, thus creating a conflict between what I considered “Fine Art” and fashion illustration which I grew to consider ‘hack’ work. This eventually prompted me to destroy my fashion illustration portfolio, thereby forcing me to seek employment in some other field. In early February 1974 I serendipitously found myself at the door to Weiser’s Bookstore – that famous occult emporium on Broadway in Greenwich Village – where they were looking for an invoice typist, a skill learned in high school, thank you Mrs. Robbins. I’m a testimony to the benefits of typing that panagram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” over and over and over again…

1975.byPaulMorse#1WPHow well I remember my interview with Louise, Weiser’s office manager: “What’s your sun sign? Can you type? When can you start?” – just an oral interview with a brief written application as a mere formality – no references necessary – plus an introduction to Don Weiser, who gave me the okay. The next day I started a twelve-year association and apprenticeship, working for Samuel Weiser Inc. – a bookstore-cum-publisher specializing in Esoterica, the Occult, and Oriental Philosophies. The company had recently expanded from being just a bookstore to include the publication of copyright-free books in the public domain, as well as providing distribution for a variety of other small publishers specializing in similar subject matter. Convinced that the apocalypse was nigh and the sky was about to fall, I took a four-month break from NYC starting that June to test the adage “You Can’t Go Home Again”. In late summer, after I had been ‘back home’ for a couple months, Don Weiser called me in Maine, inquiring how I was doing, how my experiment in turning back time was going, had I grown tired of being there yet? At the time of his call, I hadn’t seen the light; but within a month I understood that I didn’t belong in Dayton any longer. I discovered the truth of the adage and returned to New York in late October, resuming my enjoyable employment with Weiser’s. Thanks Don for your friendship over the years.

LawofPPWPThe following spring 1975, Jim Wasserman, the office manager who knew of my past as an illustrator, and was an admirer of my evolving work as a painter, came to me one afternoon with an opportunity. Was I interested in designing a book cover? A printed version designed by someone else had just been delivered; company owner Donald had nixed its use on the book that was waiting to be bound. His instruction to Jim was “get a new cover designed fast”. So I became the beneficiary of someone else’s failure to supply the goods, which began a new career for me as a commercial artist, doing graphic design and illustration. This taught me the balancing act between commercial art done for clients with art done for my own enjoyment. Above is the first cover I designed for Weiser’s, The Law of Psychic Phenomenon by Thomson Jay Hudson. A three-color print job, I chose colors about as primary as you can get: Red, Blue & Yellow – and kept the design elements very simple, so I was able to knock it out in a day. I’d had some limited experience as a fashion illustrator dealing with type and typesetters, so the transition into graphic design wasn’t as rocky as it might have been without that past experience.

3EarlyBookcoversWPAt left, three more book covers designed for Weiser’s in early 1975, revealing that I wasn’t one of the more adventurous graphic designers making a living in New York City at the time; nevertheless I was learning a new craft, which made the time exciting for me. In all three cases, I was limited to using two colors of my choosing, which became fairly experimental, since I created print mechanicals using b&w overlays, and had only my imagination to visualize them in color; unlike using today’s graphic arts technologies. Since Weiser’s had no art department, I did the book-cover work at home on my own time, and was paid as a free-lance designer for the work created. As this new career designing book covers grew, I started cutting back on the number of 9-to-5 days I spent sitting at an office desk working as an invoice typist for Weiser’s, to devote more time to graphic design and free-lancing. I made the transition in increments: at first a four-day work-week; then a three-day, followed by a two-day, finally a no-day work-week, that really meant an every-day work-week scrambling for myself. Working full-time as a free-lancer making my own schedule also gave me more time to get into trouble, as I spent inordinate amounts of time looking for love in a bunch of questionable places… but that’s another story, not for this time or medium.

1975.byCliffordRWPPhotographs of myself above taken in Central Park by friend Paul Morse who was last heard from living in LA, dealing with being HIV-positive. The up-close-and-personal photo at left was taken by Clifford Roberts who deceased from AIDS in the 90s. R.I.P. Cliff.

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