Monthly Archives: January 2008

Quark and InDesign: Clash of the Giant Rubber Lizards

pinata 2
The piñata ritual can offer an unsentimental analysis of life.

Once Upon A Time, Like When I Was Getting Into All This

In 1991 Quark was King Bee, the True Faith. Quark was also Old Testament: inscrutable, implacable, and inflexible. The Holy Writ that came with it in The Big Box was unreadable. I had better luck deciphering North Korean Presidium documents back in 1975.

It was the only game in town. Over the years I looked long and hard into Quark’s Dark Heart, and kept hearing Ella Fitzgerald singing “Ev’rything I’ve Got”:

Something beats in his chest,
But it’s just a pump at best.

It would tank. Fonts would corrupt. The monitor would flash the dreaded “#39: Unexpected End of File Encountered”. There went your afternoon.

Saving frequently was essential and habitual. And I got very good at reconstructing lost documents, always under deadline.

Asking arcane questions on various QuarkLists involved a lot of dial-up if you were away from the office. The answers might as well have been recorded on a quipu somewhere. These Lists’ main traffic was “uh… how do I do extra leading on the end of a paragraph?” or colorful in-group flames by a select Kool Kids Klub. So in the end I learned Quark from old-school typographers and endless self-tutoring.

Trying to get answers out of Quark Support was futile. If you worshiped remote gods, or had grown up with an absent parent; this was for you. The other part of that dialectic was that people still had the notion that the Mac was the center of a warm, fuzzy community, and you could just hang out and ask questions. No, Quark made it clear that it was all commerce, all the time. No group hugs from them, only a reach-around.

After a while, enough people got tired of all that. They’d had also gotten past the notion that software companies were Your Friend.

Gathering Evolutionary Developments

Adobe had built its everlasting fortune on the Acrobat PDF platform. PDFs had become integral in government, corporate, and other bureaucratic structures. Illustrator and Photoshop were small slices of the revenue-stream. But here was a chance to crack into the page-layout game.

Sometime in 1998 or so, Adobe inhaled PageMaker, retired it, and then retooled it as InDesign 1.0. Nope—not ready for prime-time. It still had a long way to go. They went back to the drawing board and came up with ID1.5.

The training-wheels were off, and it was free-wheeling, but still wobbly. Further refinements yielded IDCS2, and that’s where it really took off.

Adobe had pulled off a similar evolutionary leap with Illustrator. AI3 was similar to AI88 with a dopey interface and limited features. Freehand held the face cards in that bout, despite its weird twin-file set-up, arcane font-handling and rendering, and other features I’ve mercifully forgotten. But Adobe retooled AI3 into AI5 where the font-handling became cleaner. Freehand’s days were now numbered.

The primary hurdle for InDesign were the service bureaus. They’d just gotten used to the peculiarities of Quark, Illustrator, and Photoshop. They were just not interested in a Freehand-like golem raising hell in their shops. And if they weren’t placated, there was no future for the program.

Adobe cleaned it up.

The Evolving Technology Platform

Without getting into a lot of ur-weenie speak, the infrastructure got larger, faster, and more surefooted.

For instance: in ’91 my IIfx was the Mac Daddy. It had (brace yourself) a 100mb hard drive! 4mb RAM! And when I up bought a 16mb RAM upgrade, it cost $600. Like heroin—it was hand-delivered in a glassine package.

In ten years the hard drives were now in Gigs, the ram was closing on on a gig, processors blew the doors off their predecessors, and the ZipDisk was the new mega-floppy. Memory and hard-drive prices had fallen through the floor.

The new machines could now handle full-resolution high-rez files, whereas in 1992 we did outputs and pasted them onto boards, still with FPO’s. It reminded me of the hybrid ironclad full-sail brigantines with side-wheel paddles.

Finally, the introduction of OS X ditched what hadn’t worked well, eliminated the “march of the inits” on start-up, and stabilized matters considerably.

Quark vs. InDesign: Real World

My job as Mr Pre-Flight at the Workbook gave me a window seat of the changing landscape. I kept track of the files as they came in and traveled through the system.

This was the file breakdown in 2004:*

  1. 350 Quark
  2. 231 Photoshop
  3. 221 InDesign
  4. 156 Illustrator
  5. 2 FreeHand

By 2007 the file numbers* had shifted considerably:

  1. 304 InDesign (v.2-IDCS3)
  2. 254 Photoshop (v.7-CS3)
  3. 134 Quark (v.4, 6 & 7)
  4. 132 Illustrator (AI9-AICS3)

*Does not reflect actual page counts.

Obviously InDesign CS was eating Quark’s lunch.

I used an InDesign proofing doc to flight-check and laser-proof massive files from rep groups, who’d built their pages in Photoshop or Illustrator. It was the simplest way to import multiple formats, check for crossovers, check bleed, DPI, the works.

The Giant Rubber Lizards Do Battle!

OK, this is what you’ve been waiting for. This feature review is completely unscientific, subjective, incomplete, capricious, and arbitrary.

Quark: Plus…

  • QXP has the benefit of better key-commands than IDCS—by virtue of being first and locking them in as intellectual property. I also attribute this to its typographer roots.
  • In-line text boxes anchored to either the baseline or cap height.
  • Consolidated menus, unlike the menus that blight the IDCS experience.
  • Collect for output.

and Minus:

  • Utterly inflexible column guides.
  • Limited image import options: Tif, jpeg, and eps only.
  • No bleed and slug presets. You could specify a wider print area beyond the doc bleed, but that was it.
  • QXP5 had the crappiest PDF driver, ever. If it felt like making them. They fixed it in QXP6, sort of, but was blighted by leisurely output times.
  • QXP7 pdfs are still 2x the size of ones generated thru Distiller. However, generating a PostScript file in Quark was very good. Then Adobe Distiller would take care of the rest. I lay this at the feet of the PDF driver in the Quark software.
  • The lo-rez preview in Quark was unpardonable. That’s why a lot of people who should know better did ads in Illustrator.
  • Standalone Xtensions that had to accompany the file to service bureaus, and be bonded to their software. As much fun as a leech.
  • No pre-flight capacity. But neither did Photoshop or Illustrator, makes that a 3-way tie to the doghouse.
  • No layers in versions 3-6. I haven’t looked at QXP7 recently.

InDesign: Plus…

  • Image import options included PSDs. Of course your processor will grunt processing all those layers too. These habits will become fatal in long-form documents.
  • IDCS has the proprietary Acrobat Distiller engines—big snaps up for that. Cooking off a PDF is a straight shot through the proverbial goose. Very clean, few cut-outs.
  • Hi-rez preview
  • Bleed and slug pre-sets
  • Adjustable column guides
  • Layers

and Minus:

  • The designer “menu-puller” interface. Obviously a pick-up from Photoshop and Illustrator, but these are not page layout programs. I find them fragmentary and scattered.
  • Keyboard commands: Yes, you can hot-rod the menus with QXP commands, but you are again lost when you find yourself at another machine.
  • Do the palettes have to be so freakin’ tiny? Advantage Quark.
  • Preflight feature only checks the presence/absence of an image, not whether it is print-worthy. People, you can do better.
  • The ability to copy and paste EPS files into a layer. In the hands of a lazy operator, bad news. Why? Because it won’t show up in a pre-flight scan, and if you have to modify it you get to find it, replace it, ad nauseum. Hint: make an AI file out of it, then import it.
  • In-line text & picture boxes have a seemingly vague way of floating/drifting in the line they’re pasted in on. This is where Quark’s rigidity can be described as “vertebral”
  • The picture boxes with the 2 aspects: the frame edge and the imported image. A hangover from AI.

That is the promised arbitrary summary of these two tools. Yes, tools—not lifestyles or religious choices.

Drawing Conclusions

The technological landscape has changed completely in the last twenty years. Getting answers is much easier with broadband access. You can download software and whatever else you need 24/7. Buy it this afternoon and get it tomorrow. I like where its at now much better.

I also wouldn’t count Quark out yet. They may pull their heads out of their ass and completely redefine the tool paradigm. In the meantime, learn the tool in front of you, and learn it well. And be ready to jump when the Giant Rubber Lizards Battle for Total World Domination.

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Mike Whitlow’s Bookshop

hammer on anvil
Hammer and anvil at work. Autry Museum, Summer 2004.

Education has been on my mind a lot recently.

Earlier I mentioned that late one night in 1997, I got fed up with being fed up, and that eventually led me to Mike Whitlow’s Bookshop. It took a lot more than a casual “gee, I think I’ll, like, go to night school, and…like, you know, work on my book…?

I had crashed into the side of the professional mountain. Completely. My Dick-n-Jane book was a symphony of tin cans tied to my tail. Every piece screamed AMATEUR BARNEY. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t getting any art direction work. I was getting a lot of horrifed looks.

In desperation I begged an appointment with Adrienne Lowe, one of my Art Center at Night teachers. I showed up early. She took one look at my book and curtly told me to “broom at least half of what’s in there”

As in “throw overboard”.

You cannot imagine my relief. It did suck! What a load off!

I thanked her profusely, left her office, and renewed my professional links with temp agencies. I wanted every shop that had seen that crappy book to completely forget they’d even heard of me. Ever.

Now I had a burning reason to get past that. And a copywriter I knew told me about the Bookshop.

The first Bookshop class I sat in on in late winter 1998 had me hooked within an hour. But I was holding out for additional evidence.

The next week I went to the 1998 International Student Show, hosted by the LA Creative Club. I was floored. The Bookshop took about 40% of the prizes, including Best of Show. Ahead of Art Center, Portfolio Center, VGA, Creative Circus, NYU. All this from a peripatetic night-school operation that met in an agency conference room once a week.

Now I had 2 big hooks in my mouth, and I was swimming for deep water.

From the git-go, writers and art directors were teamed up by assignment. Mike would hand out creative briefs. Typically we’d crunch through three projects in the course of the twelve week term.

The classes were a cross-section of designers, art directors, copywriters, post-college types, character actors, ex-70’s punk musicians, AE’s, some debutantes and poseurs who hadn’t tumbled yet, ex-service post-GI Bill vets, and working production professionals like myself. Everybody in the room was hungry. Everybody wanted to buid a book and get outta whatever dead-end they were in.

It was an intensive flame-off process. Concepts had to stand up to critical scrutiny, and frequently the slings and arrows of your peers. Nothing was sacred. I burned through more crap and dead-wood in my inventory than I imagined. Finally the decent concepts and executions began to emerge.

This also applied to working relationships. Some people didn’t understand that Mike was replicating the agency structure. Have a problem with your partner? The smart choice was to work out any personal beef behind closed doors and get through it. I’m sure people went to Mike over the years with one ache or another. I’m also sure he took notes. Maybe not.

Bottom line: the client doesn’t care about your problems, you are there to solve their problem. Oh.

And so it went for the better part of two years. When I finished in March 2000, I was exhausted. I’d gotten my equivalent of an MFA. More importantly, I had a marketable book. I got that art director job I’d wanted for so long.

That lasted as long as it needed to. I was laid off 10 weeks after 9/11. The ad business was in a tail-spin. I also remember looking out the window and seeing new Escalades on the dealer lot near the office. I thought Detroit had lost its mind. They did, but the blow-back took six years to hit for them.

Its been several years since I was an art director. However the education I got from the Bookshop has proved highly useful in other areas of my work and life. Thanks again. I continue to use it to this day.

You Will Fight The Way You Train

chill

Game face courtesy of Glenn Mitchell, summer 2004.

There’s an anedote I keep coming back to.

I had a prof in design school named Larry Simpson. A real hard-ass. Larry, wherever you are, I hope you are as core as you were back in the day. He told me an important story, which I’ll get to eventually.

The sophomore undergrads typically hated Simpson. Too hard. Not nice. Translated: not indulgent of whatever solipsism was current.

First assignment was given out on a warm September Monday morning. A week later, there were a class of spanked poodles. Everyone’s first efforts had been x-rayed and found completely wanting. I was right in the first rank of the Newly Chastened.

We quickly found out that illustration is a serious business. You rendered it right the first time. White-out was cake-frosting, a scorn magnet. As the class worked through the assignments, it began to lose the flab. People’s work started getting more muscular.

He threw different techniques at us: pencil, markers, color, stipple, pen and ink, the works.

Assignment concepts were a mind-benders. His favorite was Erotica. He showed us some of his stuff—think Helmut Newton with a very sharp 2B pencil. Sultry, icy long-legged, high-heeled vixens in garter belts squatting precariously over sharp pyramids while SS guards restrained snarling Dobermans. The paper was immaculately white, shadows were black, and there were no smudges anywhere.

The class was stunned into a deeper silence than normal. He reminded us that the assignment was full color, and coolly suggested that Hallmark Card soft-focus was for losers. But if you had to…whatever. Class dismissed.

I staggered out thinking “Now what?” What did I directly knew about erotica?

“Isolde burst into the stable, her dark hair disheveled from her sprint. The sudden arrival startled Obelisk, the prize stallion cross-tied in the aisle. Rugbert had his back turned to the doors whilst brushing him down. Isolde’s perfumes wafted across the stallion’s nostrils, and he reared up on his massive hind legs, eyes flashing and trumpeting his surprise. His mane caught in a gust, rippling in the afternoon light, echoed the snorting and trumpeting ringing from the rafters”

Ask a hungry man who’s only read cookbooks to describe eating a roast goose. My experience inventory was slight. This called for flat-out comedy.

So I went home and started a woodblock print on a scrap of 1 x 12 x 13″ softwood board. I lived in a continual construction project as my dad and his wife built their dream house and horse barn. And since I lived at home, that was free, in a manner of speaking.

I sketched out a comic scene: a shaggy satyr, mincing on an Arcadian meadow. In the background was a Greek column, with cypress trees. The satyr had a loopy toothy grin, beefy muscular arms, two limp wrists, and a raging phallus. And directly in front of the raging phallus was a panicked chicken, flapping its wings for dear life, tail-feathers fluttering in the air.

Monday morning all of our work was up on the crit rail. Everybody was awkward and oblique. This was a sore and tender nerve being plucked.

Larry walked in, and began to survey the work. He examined all of the pieces, matted to varying degrees of competence. He stops in front of my piece, studies it and then turns and faces me.

“…This is…obscene!

I’m stunned. Obscene? Him? Me?

“Uh, Larry…you’re the one who’s got naked chicks squatting on pyramids!”

The class guffaws.

“You got the assignment, but you forgot this was to be in full color! I’m dinging a grade level for that!”

Damn. Guess I could’ve hand-tinted it. I got tunnel-vision on that one—not the first or last time. So I got a “B”. And I loved him for it.

Coda

Much later he told me the story I mentioned earlier.

He had a prof at the Art Institute of Chicago. Old-school man in his sixties, VanDyke beard, Mr Punctual. All work was to be on the crit rails by o755. He came in at 0800, locked the door behind him. Woe to you if you were late.

He’d light a cheroot, and silently begin at one end of the class. He’d examine each of the works until he reached the end. Then he’d turn around, and begin to flick the works he didn’t want to look at on the floor. Silently. Then at the end, he’d turn around and begin to critique the ones that were left. And flick cigar ash on the floor.

When Larry finished, I found myself wishing there were about ten more of him in the Department. But I didn’t know why for many years. This bygone prof was cueing his students that art school was also a vocational school. And they were going into a harsh business. He was doing them a favor.

Now What?

I think about that a lot when I go into various shops. Or have a squalling can of worms blow up in my face. There have been times when it all was going to hell and the only thing that saved me was the harsh experience I’d had earlier where I’d learned that I could get it done. It’s an inescapable part of the business. Most of it cannot be taught, only learned. And Larry’s prof was a lonely exception.