Most magazines begin as a marketing exercise—identify an underserved audience and determine potential revenue from advertising and ancillary activities. The creation of Communication Arts, however, was a solution to a problem unrelated to publishing.
In the mid-1950s, my father, Dick Coyne, and his business partner, Bob Blanchard, were running a successful design ﬁrm on the San Francisco Peninsula that included their own in-house typesetting shop. They also wanted to build a color separation and litho-stripping facility in order to provide better service to their growing list of clients and satisfy their interest in improving reproduction techniques, but there simply wasn’t enough work from the design business to keep such a facility proﬁtable. After numerous discussions, their best idea was to launch a commercial art magazine to pick up the slack.
There certainly was a need. At the time, there wasn’t a true national magazine on the subject, and the ones that were available reproduced work so poorly that they really weren’t worth reading. Dick and Bob’s goal was to showcase quality work from around the country, showing as much in color as possible by using offset lithography to reproduce work originally printed by letterpress, the most common printing method during that time.
One of the biggest obstacles was the lack of accurate screen tints in the four-process colors to match the special inks and colored papers used on letterpress. Dick and Bob’s solution was to create process color screen tints in 10 percent increments and then print master sheets showing all the possible combinations.
“One thing was certain: we couldn’t do the kind of magazine we wanted without the litho prep facility,” Dick said. “And since no other ideas had emerged, it looked like we couldn’t have the prep facility without the magazine, and our curiosity and interest in improving reproduction techniques would be squelched.”
On the assumption that the publication could succeed, Dick and Bob proceeded with their plans. A cameraman and a litho stripper were hired. A horizontal camera with glass screens for separations and halftones was installed. Film processors were not yet available, so all the film had to be developed by hand.
“With that marvelous new toy back there, it was more difficult to concentrate on the design work,” Dick said, “but our litho personnel were busy creating the master screens and film for the color charts.”
Given the concept behind the publication—a trade magazine printed by lithography that’s more dependent on circulation than on advertising—it was essential to build a broad subscription base in a hurry.
“The name assumed a great importance in our thinking—maybe too much importance,” Dick said. “When we were planning the magazine, we changed the name about once a day. At times, three or four people in our design studio could be working on a magazine project, each with a different name. We didn’t want to live with the generic term commercial art, but we weren’t sure we could live without it. We settled on a compromise. Like most compromises, it was never very satisfactory.”
VOLUME 1, NUMBER 1
CA, The Journal of Commercial Art was published in August 1959. It was the ﬁrst magazine in the United States printed by offset lithography. “The name was more popularly received by the art store owners than by many practitioners in our field, who believed commercial art invoked images of somebody in a closet-sized room with a bare light bulb and a green eyeshade,” Dick said.
After a few issues, and Design was added to the title. Two years later, the name was changed to CA Magazine. The Journal of the Communication Arts was added as a subtitle in 1964, and the name was finally changed to Communication Arts in 1969.
“Our initial content included a number of how-to articles, the best I’ve read,” Dick said. “We also tried to balance the editorial with idea and stimulation features.”
Regional art director clubs were also valuable wellsprings of editorial content.
“Art director clubs were very important years ago,” said Jean Coyne, Dick’s wife and current executive editor. “We also had people stationed in various cities who would feed us information about up-and-coming people and who we should keep our eye on.”
Advertising, however, was a disappointment. The ﬁrst issue carried only ten pages. The December 1959 issue carried less than two. In order to increase revenue, Dick and Bob decided to launch an annual competition, whose winners would be published in an Annual in the magazine.
“We were in trouble and needed to do something with impact, something that would get attention,” Dick said. “At that time we asked ourselves if another show was really necessary. But we ﬁgured the ﬁeld could stand another.”
That ﬁrst competition, held in 1960, received more than 5,000 entries for design, advertising, illustration and photography work. A jury of seven creative professionals was invited to select which projects would be included in the Annual. As an added experiment, four parallel juries selected their ﬁrst, second and third choices in each of the categories of work that had been selected by the main jury. One parallel jury consisted of three consumers; another had two corporate presidents, and an executive vice president representing management; the third had three advertising account managers; and the last had an artist, a designer and an art director. The experiment resulted in very little consensus,
and it was never repeated.
“The parallel juries didn’t work at all,” Jean said.
Despite the initial rough start, it quickly became apparent that the competition’s benefit to the magazine would be more than just financial.
“When we launched the ﬁrst competition, we weren’t totally aware of what a wonderful door we had opened,” Dick said. “No research effort could duplicate the awareness this gave us on what is going on everywhere. As a plus, we got to spend a few days with a group of interesting people.”
There were many memorable moments in those early years of judging. For instance, in 1961, the jury was invited to attend a reception at the Art Directors and Artists Club of San Francisco. A chartered bus delivered the jury to the event. But when it was time to leave, several jurors were not to be found. “Dick said, ‘Don’t worry about them; they’ll find their way back to Palo Alto,’” Jean said. “I was a worrier, so I was worried, but everybody showed up to judge the next day.”
The most notable incident occurred in 1962 when CBS creative director Lou Dorfsman accidently drove a rented camper through a covered pedestrian crosswalk at the hotel where the competition was being held, demolishing the walkway’s roof. “We thought the hotel was going to bill us for the damage, putting us out of business,” Jean said. “They never did.”
Despite the added income from competition entry fees, ad pages dropped off and new subscriptions dwindled when the economy fell into a recession in the early 1960s, causing the new business to struggle financially.
“I don’t remember how many times we debated giving up… or wondered if tomorrow was the day that somebody else would make that decision for us,” Dick said. “But we hung on stubbornly… cut the staff, cut our salaries, worked longer hours. Blanchard and I not only wrote and did the layouts, we did most of the litho stripping too. We didn’t bother with paste-ups—we put the magazine together in negative ﬁlm ﬂats, ready to burn plates. Anything to save time and a buck.”
To address the increasing debt, the design studio was sold to the employees, the type shop was spun out as a separate company and the color separation division was eventually sold to the printer. As the economic and physical punishment dragged on, Blanchard left to go into business for himself, but Dick stuck it out, ﬁnally managing to get out of debt in the early 1970s by sheer force of will.
During that decade, circulation grew substantially, as did competition entries. The illustration and photography categories were spun off into their own competition and Annual in 1976. In 1983, the Design and Advertising Annual was split into two Annuals by discipline, as was the Illus-tration and Photography Annual in 1984.
At the end of 1989, Dick arranged for the sale of the magazine to me; my brother, Eric; and my sister, Marti. In 1990, Dick was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and died of a stroke less than three months later. While his death was a terrible blow to all of us, we continue to have a lot of pride in keeping his legacy alive. We’ve also been fortunate that our mother, Jean, who was involved with the business from the beginning, remains actively involved. My daughter, Lauren, and her husband, Dirk, are also on staff. My son, Michael, is a contributing writer. The fact that CA is really a small family business has been one of the keys to its success, as economic decisions are not based on increasing short-term shareholder value, but on providing value to subscribers.
Like the rest of the industry, the next big evolution for CA followed the dawn of interactive media.
At the 1994 Design Annual judging, all nine judges huddled around a computer, viewing the first interactive media entries we’d ever received. It took them 30 minutes to review the projects—all three of them. We still had thousands of print entries to judge within three days and realized the whole system would collapse if we got more interactive entries in the future.
Our solution was to launch a ﬁfth competition, for interactive design, in 1995, publishing our first Interactive Annual that same year.
In 2009, we revamped our publishing model again, cutting our frequency to six issues a year instead of the confusing eight-issue schedule—five Annuals, one for each competition, and three multitopic issues—we had been following since 1984. In 2010, we added our sixth and final competition, for typography. Today, every issue we print contains winning work from one of our six juried competitions—Design, Advertising, Typography, Illustration, Photography and Interactive Media—along with feature profiles and columns.
Our most recent change has been the digitizing of our entire archive of issues. Nancy Lewis, our archivist and my wife, supervised the scanning of more than 70,000 pages of content and processed them for publishing online through electronic publishing platform Issuu. We hope readers will find this a valuable addition to their subscriptions and an important tool in researching the history of visual communications—it certainly has been invaluable in the production of this anniversary issue.
CA is fortunate to have been staffed by such talented team members over the years. I’d like to publicly thank them for all they’ve done to help us grow. I’d also like to thank our numerous contributors who have written for us.
A special thanks to our initial contributing editors—William Condit, Wendell Davenport, Ira Goldblatt, Susan Jackson Keig, Tobias Moss, James Peck, Emile Pirro, Ted Poyser, Harold Quiram and Robert S. Robison—who were our eyes and ears until the competitions helped bring new work to us.
Thanks also to Art Inman, our original printer, whose faith in the magazine and generous credit and ﬁnancial aid carried the magazine through some difficult years and who, up until his death in 2007, served as a member of our board of directors. Also, thanks to our current printer, Schumann Printers, Inc., which shares our vision of quality. Thank you also to our advertisers who believe in us.
Many thanks to our distinguished jurors—all 1,339 of them to date. Not only did these ﬁne people contribute their time and energy for the judging, but they have also been a tremendous help in defining our editorial direction.
Personal thanks have to go to my father, Dick Coyne, whose belief that the magazine was worth doing made it the success it is today. I feel fortunate to continue his personal vision of quality. “This is a good ﬁeld. I’ve never regretted being a part of it,” Dick said. “It offers a unique amount of challenge, excitement and personal satisfaction—also, the opportunity for anyone with adequate talent, who is willing to work hard and always give it their best shot, to achieve a good monetary reward.”
Most importantly, thank you to all of you, our readers, for supporting us with your ideas, advice, subscription dollars and competition entry fees so we can bring you the quality publication you deserve. As all publications continue to struggle with declining advertising revenue and increasing competition for attention, we are grateful for the support you have given us these past 60 years. As Dick once said, “The magazine will be around as long as it can perform enough service to this ﬁeld that you believe it’s worthwhile keeping CA alive.” ca