Steve Izma [SI] was part of a typographers’ collective, Dumont Press Graphix, incorporated in June 1971. They began production 40 years ago this Friday [from the time this interview took place] with the June 18, 1971, edition of The Chevron, the student newspaper of the University of Waterloo, in Ontario.
Dumont was one of the “parents” of Between the Lines publishing (BTL), and arose largely out of the determination of radical student journalists that it was time to move activist journalism off of campuses and into the community. This idea was often discussed among members of Canadian University Press (CUP), the inter-campus newspaper collective that formed the most significant left-wing communication network in Canada in the late sixties and early seventies. CUP held annual meetings at Christmas, events that reflected the high degree of enthusiasm on the part of student writers for the sharing of critical ideas on a national level.
By 1969, the frustrations of political activism on campus — conflicts with more conservative groups on campus (such as students in engineering programs), stalemates with university administrations who were solidly backed by society's elite, and the mounting evidence they weren’t changing the world — led journalists and activists to look for opportunities outside of the so-called ivory tower of higher education. Producing community alternative newspapers seemed like an obvious next step towards becoming more relevant to those groups most likely to support social change: labour unions, citizens’ groups, those involved with poverty-related issues.
Later on, in 1975, SI and two others from Dumont (Gary Robins and Ken Epps) got an chance to research and reflect on that transitionary period. Financed by a federal government Opportunities for Youth (OFY) grant, they travelled across Canada interviewing people (most of whom they knew from their student journalism days) who had set up community papers. [JM: is that written up anywhere? SI: One book that I know of, Underground Times, written by Ron Verzuh, deals to some extent with this issue of the “underground press” in Canada. I don’t think that much else has been written.] Examining the innovations and strategies used in larger cities like Regina and Vancouver, as well as smaller communities such as the Nelson-Trail area of BC, they heard a lot of familiar stories. These interviews consistently revealed the difficulties people had in meeting the costs of productions of their newspapers, exactly the experience the Waterloo people had when they started producing the newspaper On the Line in neighbouring Kitchener in 1970.
On the Line dealt with community issues, especially political ones, and tried to cover any kind of labour activism in the region. Published every two weeks from the late winter of 1970 until late summer of that year, it engaged many of the political counterculture in the Kitchener-Waterloo area whose raison d'être at the time was essentially to bring about revolutionary change. Most of the participants conceived of this kind of change as peaceful, but their experiences of the physical repression in response to demonstrations against wars made them considerably wary of the forces organized by the status quo. This became particularly evident at the time of the final issue of On the Line, produced specially in response to the Federal gvoernment's declaration of the War Measures Act, and the subsequent arrest of hundreds of activists in Quebec and elsewhere in October 1970. But once this crisis wound down, the staff of On the Line found themselves almost completely burned out. The amount of labour required to produce each issue of the newspaper exhausted people, and one of the most complicated tasks in the process was the typesetting.
Production of On the Line typically went like this: meet to co-operatively decide on reporting assignments, write the copy, and edit it. Various strategies were used for typesetting, but the main one involved taking the typewritten manuscripts to the airport in Toronto by either car or by hitchhiking, finding a co-operative person about to embark on a flight to Montreal, and asking them to take the manuscript package with them. The Kitchener group had arrangements with veterans of the McGill Daily in Montreal who had set up their own typesetting operation. One of them would meet the volunteer courier at the airport and take the manuscripts to be typeset. The person who had delivered the copy to the Toronto airport would meanwhile hitchhike to Montreal in time to proof the typeset copy there. Once corrected, the galleys would be put back on a plane to Toronto. Then page layout and pasteup would begin in Kitchener, with the completed pages taken to a printer in Acton, the most affordable web press operator in the area (about a 40-minute drive from Kitchener). Then they’d distribute the finished paper on Monday. It became clear that what they needed was to get their own typesetting equipment.
After the the cessation of On the Line, a small group formed to raise money from sympathetic academics and to behave like budding entrepreneurs in front of bureaucrats providing loans in banks and federal government offices. By May of 1971, they had bought their own equipment, a Compugraphic phototypesetter, and set up shop in an old button factory in Kitchener. Most of the facilities—paste-up benches, light tables, walls, shelves, darkroom—were constructed by hand. Some equipment was acquired at the auctions of traditional printshops recently bankrupted (a sign of the times).
The major sales effort involved convincing The Chevron staff to give Dumont the contract for their typesetting, which up to that point had been done by a subsidiary of the local newspaper, the K-W Record. This turned out not to be as easy as hoped, even though many of the staff were either expecting to work at Dumont or else were strongly sympathetic to Dumont’s political goals. The editor and a group around him, however, gave very high priorities to quality of design and knew that the Dumont people were amateurs, since only one or two of them had any significant typesetting experience. SI, who was a photographer on staff at The Chevron at the time, remembered very well the tension at this meeting and the difficulty in getting an agreement despite the majority in favour of Dumont.
The Dumont crew produced about six issues of The Chevron during the summer. By September, they also gained the contract for The Cord, the student paper at Waterloo Lutheran University (soon to become Wilfrid Laurier University), and The Spoke from Conestoga College. These two were each published once a week, while The Chevron’s schedule for the main part of the school year was twice weekly, so Dumont was typesetting four papers a week.
That coincided with starting up a food co-op (SI is still involved in the food co-op today) — all part of various strategies, including living communally, to keep their living costs low.
Right from the beginning, Dumont was the kind of place with no bosses: everyone does everything, no division of labour. It was an attempt to follow the “from each according to abilities, to each according to need” approach.
In January 1972, Dumont staff started keeping a logbook, mostly meant to pass on information from shift to shift. Newspapers in particular (and sometimes books, especially if they got behind schedule) operated under tight deadlines, so it was often necessary to work around the clock. This meant scheduling eight-hour shifts to start at different times during the day and the logbook became a crucial means to keep everyone informed of the priorities of various jobs. But apart from pure technical information, a lot of the comments in the logbook were along the lines of “This is what we’re doing wrong,” or “let's trying doing it this way this time,” or more specific complaints like “Why didn’t you do the dishes?”
The political nature of the organization very strongly favoured New Left content. This related to an interesting convergence of the counterculture and the New Left. On campus, especially in the years leading up to about 1969, the people who most clearly identified publicly with the New Left were just “straight” Marxists. They tended toward a fairly academic Marxism, rooted in ideas of political economy. Their lifestyle shared little with the counterculture, but soon the community was developing into a hybrid, overcoming the distinction between the countercultural lifestyle of the hippies with the critical thinking of New Left academic marxism. As SI later realized, even a lot of the old anarchists were pretty conventional in their lifestyle. But by 1968 and definitely by 1969 this hybridization was happening all over.
Another way of describing this evolution on campus in 1968: there was a tension between people who focussed their activist interests narrowly on politics, and those who were breaking out of everything, people who were pushing against not just capitalism as a political economy, but capitalism as a morality.
Working in a co-op reinforced that. There’s a strain of Marxism that suggests you invest in technology so that the technology relieves you of labour time. Capitalists would keep that benefit (arising out of the reduced costs for manual labour) for themselves; now, according to this theme within Marxism, workers were going to keep that technological benefit for themselves.
Everyone else (that is, competing typesetting and printing enterprises) had better access to capital and technology than Dumont did. Essentially, this meant a greater willingness to minimize the cost of labour and use the technology to minimize the skills needed by newly hired labour. Such attitudes result in cashflows and reinvestment policies that made much more sense to bankers and other providers of capital than the idea that a business could be run by workers proud of the fact that they had neither business degrees themselves nor a dependance on managers with such credentials. Most competing businesses probably operated with a much greater debt load than Dumont but also likely had a much greater cashflow per worker than Dumont. But the main practice that likely kept income lower than conventional businesses was the allowance for people to respond to the boredom of work: when a particular task became too monotonous, you took a break, switched to another type of job (e.g., from keyboarding to proofreading or camerwork), or had a meeting to rotate things. This kept the work at a human scale, but it also resulted in a pace of work that produced less income. As a result, wages at Dumont were driven down. Trying to grapple with such dynamics theoretically and strategically also took up a lot of time, but given the current state of the world and the deterioration of working standards, SI considers this to have been time well spent.
Dumont had connections to researchers, people who could get grants to write as well as to produce their research. Some of their early clients included the Canadian Women’s Educational Press (later Women’s Press), and the Development Education Centre (DEC). Dumont started working with Women’s Press probably in early 1972. They developed a close relationship to DEC later: 1974 or 1975. There was also New Hogtown Press: they had an office on the U of T campus, and were composed of a group of labour historians, connected to University of Toronto, who in the early 1970s were graduating and getting academic jobs. One of the progeny of New Hogtown was Labour/Le Travail, a labour history journal edited by Greg Kealey, an early friend of Dumont. This journal, thick with high-quality academic writing (filtered through a standard peer review process), and arriving twice a year, became a major source of income for the collective — but involved a lot of hard work.
In 1973, some people at Dumont started to development strong relationships with the North American (and later, the international) anarchist community. SI had very vague ideas of what anarchism was when some info about a conference on workers’ control arrived in the mail in the early spring of 1973. Someone else at Dumont, one of the more dedicated Marxists, was dismissive of the usefulness of it, but SI went to the conference anyway.
The conference was organized by the Toronto wing of Our Generation, a journal with close ties to the well-known anarchist Murray Bookchin and, later on, with Noam Chomsky. This Toronto group began visiting Dumont to produce their own publications, initially a Toronto edition of Our Generation and then later, after a serious rift within that group, their own publication Leftwards. This group also had a good connection with Detroit-based anarchists at Black and Red and the Fifth Estate newspaper, currently the longest running anarchist newspaper in the world.
Right from its beginning, Dumont had a policy that allowed groups with which they were sympathetic to come in to Dumont after hours and use the typesetting equipment to produce their own publications, reimbursing Dumont for the materials used and sometimes even adding extra if they could afford it. Dumont volunteers would help them out. SI learned a fundamental lesson from this: when you actually share someone else’s labour you make much deeper connections with them then merely attending meetings or political debates with them. This probably has a lot to do with “walking the talk”: when you see the relationship between what people say and how they behave (especially in shared tasks) you get to know them a lot better.
The number of groups that used Dumont “non-commercially” (as we called it) over the years is immense: likely over 100. [We’ll try to compile a list.]
There was quite a substantial radical community in Kitchener-Waterloo. With Dumont located in Kitchener, most people lived nearby, but maintained very close connections to the university. They would occasionally typeset research materials for people on campus.
Kitchener also had the Global Community Centre, an organization somewhat like the DEC, that came out of local Miles for Millions projects. It raised money for activities dealing with a variety of international issues, such as third-world development, the situation of refugees and new immigrants, and also both national and international labour issues. GCC and other local groups like Project Ploughshares had connections to local activist Church groups. This community as a whole produced a lot of material with which Dumont was sympathetic and was produced either commercially or non-commercially at Dumont.
The Waterloo area also had a strong environmental movement, strengthened by a large number of students who went through the University of Waterloo in the Faculty of Environmental Studies (particularly in its Department of Environmental Resources Studies [ERS], originally called Man-Environment Studies). Dumont typeset Alternatives magazine, which came out of ERS, and did a very large amount of work for the Waterloo Public Interest Group, including some co-publications.
Women’s groups also frequently used Dumont’s facilities; in fact, in the last two or so years of Dumont’s commercial existence, Dumont was a women’s collective. As mentioned earlier, the Women’s Press typeset their first book at Dumont, and other women’s publications included Women Healthsharing and Hysteria magazines.
Early editions of the Toronto-based gay publication The Body Politic were produced at Dumont, as were various local gay and lesbian publications, posters, and pamphlets. Dumont also had close connections with Planned Parenthood.
Even political groups with whom the Dumont staff had serious political disagreements, such as Trotskyists, Maoists, and other fringe Marxist-Leninsts groups, did work at Dumont or sent work to the collective. A local Maoist group, the Anti-Imperialist Alliance (AIA), caused considerable consternation around Dumont. The AIA had effectively staged a coup and took over the The Chevron at the University of Waterloo. SI was part of the paper’s staff then and spent a lot of time trying to fight this takeover. But once the domination of the newspaper by a new ideology became a fait accompli, Dumont had no choice but to continue to typeset the paper. The UW Federation of Students, the organization ultimately responsible for the student newspaper and generally a progressive political organization, were also not in favour of the Maoists’ takeover, so tensions remained very high from the summer of 1976 until the Maoists were finally ejected from campus around 1978.
At that time, SI was doing a lot of photographic collage work and posters during his spare time at Dumont, inspired by other anarchists and in particular the group around Black and Red in Detroit. The Black and Red group had their own photo equipment and a large (but ancient) offset press with which they produced some of the most sophisticated anarchist materials in North America. Dumont itself had a large process camera and very good darkroom equipment, along with photographic materials available at wholesale prices. It had also recently acquired a small offset press, a Multigraph 1850, suitable for pamphlets and posters up to 12 by 18 inches in size.
The takeover of The Chevron, which occurred at nearly the same time as the death of Mao Ze Dong, seemed an opportune time for SI to produce a series of posters abut Maoism. He displayed these in the shop knowing the Maoists would see them when they came in to proofread the newspaper. Dumont knew that their contract (officially with the Federation of Students) was not in jeopardy, so other members of staff engaged in similar pranks. Immediately after Mao’s death, Steve did a poster of Mao waving, but cut the waving hand and collaged it in such a way that Mao had his thumb on his nose; then Steve added a caption — something to the effect of “So long, lackies!”
Such teasing could also work its way into the actual typesetting of the newspaper. The Maoists wanted to run an obituary in The Chevron when Mao died — a typical piece of hagiography about the “Great Helmsman.” Charlotte von Bezold, who worked both at Dumont and at the newspaper, copy edited the piece before it left The Chevron offices. Charlotte, a wonderful soul and very independent thinker, was somewhat less unsympathetic to the AIA than her Dumont colleagues, and she probably assumed that the Maoists would come around to a more humanist position if given a little more time. And so she tried to help them out at The Chevron, where she had worked on and off since about 1968, when she was one of only two women studying in the engineering faculty (further proof of her ability to exist in a hostile environment). One of the original Waterloo feminists, it came natural to her to correct usages of “Chairman Mao” to “Chairperson Mao.” The Maoists, most likely grumbling to themselves, changed it back when they reviewed the copy-edited material, and it arrived at Dumont with “Chairperson” stroked out and the original “stetted.” However, the person typesetting it (this is back when all manuscript copy had to be re-keyed onto paper tape in preparation to running it through the phototypesetting machine) changed it back to Chairperson, wanting to see how far it would get this time. As it turned out, likely due to subversive tendencies among staff (all of whom, of course, saw the potential for humour), it went all the way to print. As Maoism was always inherently sectarian, any group publicly claiming allegiance to Mao Ze Dong thought immediately opened itself to counterclaims from other Maoist groups who considered their claims to be much more loyal or more exact. When a Guelph group of Maoists, associated with the newspaper Alive! spotted the impurity in The Chevron, they lost no time denouncing the AIA as revisionist enemies of the working class. Certainly, the working class at Dumont couldn’t have agreed more, although rather than raising their fists to emphasize the point, most of them fell to the floor laughing in satisfaction.
By 1976, the typesetting and political relationships that Dumont had established with the Development Education Centre in Toronto began to produce discussions about setting up a jointly run publishing house. Dumont had by that time developed a fairly sophisticated book production process (including dealing with book printers), and DEC had the skills necessary for researching and writing manuscripts. Earlier in the 1970s, Dumont had published three of their own books under the imprint of DPG Publishing:
It was easy enough to produce books such as these, but very hard to sell them. Dumont looked to the DEC for writing as well as distribution ideas, since DEC had extensive contacts in the labour movement as well as other activist organizations. By late 1977, they had a process in place and named the new entity Between the Lines. The first two books, Imperialism, Nationalism, and Canada and The Big Nickel, came out in the last months of 1977.
In the beginning, BTL’s administrative work mostly took place in the Dumont office, with staff members taking on tasks like distribution and bookkeeping as part of their Dumont shifts. However, conditions at Dumont began to change as typesetting technology evolved into machines that Dumont could not afford. Under conditions where a job typeset at Dumont required a higher percentage of manual labour than it did at competing shops, time available for the administrative work on BTL got more and more squeezed. On top of this, having publishing operations centred in Toronto provided several advantages, especially in working with authors and other publishing organizations that had much in common with BTL. So by 1980 BTL work shifted to the DEC offices, and shortly after the two parent organizations hired people to do full-time work for BTL. The relationship among the three entities persisted until DEC split apart into separate activities (including a bookstore and a film distribution group) and Dumont ceased commercial operations in the spring of 1987.
As a volunteer and sometime contract worker with BTL, SI mostly performed BTL typesetting and financial work in the 1980s, and did not get involved much with editorial decision making. In 1982, SI returned to the Integrated Studies program at the University of Waterloo, hoping to become more efficient with computers and methods of adapting computers to the typesetting process. For two years he worked part time at Dumont, but in September 1984 was offered jobs at both Wilfrid Laurier University Press and Mortice Kern Systems (now MKS). The people who stayed at Dumont decided to close down in the fall of 1986, but called for volunteers to help finish off the production work still in the shop. About seven or eight people, including SI, finished off the outstanding jobs, working part time and evenings, by April 1987. For the next few years the shop operated non-commercially, continuing to do work for political groups as well as for groups like BTL and MKS who paid commercial rates for work done by volunteers; on this basis overhead costs for the shop were covered until about 1990. People who wanted to use the equipment for their own purposes also contributed to overhead.
By the mid-1990s, the remaining equipment (darkroom and printing equipment) was moved into storage. The remaining phototypesetting equipment was dismantled and scrapped, since by that time typesetting had very firmly made the transition to production by personal computer and laser printers.
more: Typesetting Technology