Loading ...

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.

Lloyd Pierce designed our inaugural
cover, which featured mechanical-
color screen tints and the original
CA logo, designed by Freeman Craw
and closely related to his Craw
Clarendon Condensed.

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.

Dick Coyne (left) and Bob Blanchard (middle). Typographer Jay McKendry (right) with some of the foundry type used to set the first issues of CA.

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.”

Cover of a prepublication tight
comp used to obtain subscriptions
and advertising.

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.”

Cover and two spreads from a sixteen-page prelaunch brochure. The largest use of the brochure was for counter displays in art stores that were selling subscriptions and single copies of CA. Brochures were also mailed to key people in the field to solicit subscriptions and attract submissions of work that might be shown in the magazine.

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.”

The CA Color Guides was a series of books published
in the early 1960s showing the result of overprinting
inks in different combinations of 10 percent
increments. While commercially successful, color
consistency was crucial, requiring Dick to supervise
the entire press run. “That almost killed him because
he had to be on press all the time, watching,” Jean said.
“I think that’s the closest he thought about quitting.”

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.”

Production for the first 30 years before the introduction of desktop publishing. Because most of the work shown in the magazine had been previously printed and could not be cropped, layouts had to be extremely accurate (left). Many featured projects had type or other elements close to the edges, and after a 60 to 75 percent reduction, tolerances became very tight. Artwork was measured, and reductions were calculated on enlarged reduction wheels recalibrated for accuracy (middle).  Full-size layouts were done on precision squared light tables (right) using templates showing the folios and margins. Paste-ups were done on 70 lb. coated printing paper taped right over the layouts. Rules were first inked by hand and corners were scraped using a knife while working under an engraver’s glass for accuracy. The balance of the overdrawn rule was easily opaqued on the negative film. The windows were created with red stripping film and lithographer’s tape. Type proofs were set into position with tape. While not very presentable, these paste-ups were extremely accurate and only had to last long enough to make it to the darkroom for a negative line shot. For reasons of quality and savings in time and money, much of the stripping was done in-house, with pages delivered as four-ups to the printer, ready to burn plates.

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.

Left: Our first desktop-published issue was May/June 1990, produced with Ready, Set, Go! publishing software by Manhattan Graphics on three Apple Macintosh IIci workstations, each with 100MB hard drives and 5MB of RAM—priced then at $10,000 each. Far from a smooth transition, it quickly became a crash course in typesetting. Ream after ream of bond paper spewed from our laser printer as we worked on the rag, letterspacing, word spacing and kerning, all the while discovering typos and paragraphs that had reragged themselves between versions of the same page. Today, like most publications, we use Adobe software running on iMacs in a server/client topology. Right: During the transition years, when we’d receive some artwork as printed samples and some as digital files, layouts were produced using a proprietary program that automatically calculated the reproduction size of a project after we keyed in the original dimensions. After positioning the projects in a page configuration, the program created a data file that included page geometry and image box definitions. InDesign interpreted the data file to build a document. Image files were then imported and positioned. 

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.

Proofreading is still done in hardcopy form—typically
three rounds of reading and correction, and then
proofs are assembled into sixteen-page forms as
they would run on press. We’ve still found it best to
look at the pages in a format that’s as close as
possible to the final printed form.

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.

The sixth iteration of commarts.com (left) was launched in early 2016. In order to build the site, we had to venture outside our small company for help. After interviewing several firms, we decided to ask Code and Theory to design our site due to its experience in creating content-heavy sites for the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg and Hearst. The team came up with a beautiful, fully responsive design that we feel accurately reflects our aesthetic and brand. Based on the results from reader surveys, we organized the content by discipline, by specific print issue and in a customizable image gallery. We also added Book Reviews and Favorites to our existing mix of feature profiles and columns. For the Gallery view (middle), one of our biggest challenges was updating eleven years of legacy data, which has necessitated a lot of manual work to clean up. Also, adding tags so projects can be filtered by media and industry type in the Gallery view required four interns more than two months to view 31,479 projects and their captions in order to determine the most appropriate tags. Our Magazine view (right) gives subscribers online access to every single issue we’ve published. Subscribers can also download PDFs of each issue included in their subscription. Individual issues can also be purchased and downloaded.

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

Robert Miles Runyan and Jim Fitzgerald designed the cover for CA-60, the first CA Annual (left). The winners of the competition were selected by a jury of seven. Four parallel juries (consumers, management, ad account executives and creatives) chose first, second and third choices in each category. Interestingly, the only entries that were unanimously chosen by all four parallel juries were two McCall’s spreads, art directed by Otto Storch. Art Shipman, Dallas-based Neiman Marcus art director, designed this 1962 cover (center) as a statement on the fleeting life of newspaper advertising. This was also the first issue after our conversion to bimonthly circulation. One of our best-received covers appeared in 1966 (right), when the Ajax white knight commercials were brightening our television screens. Los Angeles–based photographer Peter James Samerjan rented the same suit of armor used in the commercials and hired actor Calvin Brown, who obviously enjoyed the idea as much as we did.
“Frodo Lives!” Two of the buttons on this 1967 cover (left) carry that message. These buttons, along with beads, amulets and so forth, were common hippie adornment. Our decision to show them was triggered by the rock posters we reproduced in the issue. The posters had a rare appeal, and they offered a new kick for those who were attracted to the subculture they reflected. William Arbogast, photographer. ​“Not qualified” had been the explanation for the lack of minority participation in the visual arts. Why not qualify minority talent? Bill Tara, a contributor to CA in the ’60s, created Tutor/Art, training Los Angeles inner-city high school students so they could prepare portfolios for art school. A story on Tutor/Art was included in this 1968 issue (center). William Arbogast, photographer. A reproduction of a limited edition poster created by Dick Hess and Sam Antupit, this 1969 cover (right) was an idea inspired by the unfortunate incident when pop artist Andy Warhol was shot. Everyone agreed that the image made a statement by symbolizing a decade of artistic, social and political unrest. Stettner-Endress, photographer.
​A special 1972 issue on the environment, edited and designed by Dugald Stermer (left). The cover was a needlepoint rendering by Mary Stermer from the 1970 cover of Dugald Stermer’s book The Art of Revolution. We received several letters from subscribers grumbling that if they wanted environmental coverage, they would join Friends of the Earth. Alfredo Rostgaard, symbol; William Arbogast, photographer. A major part of this 1974 issue (center) was devoted to the creation of annual reports during tough financial times. Photographer William Arbogast was given the “burning question” assignment. His solution would have been just as relevant during the recent Great Recession. Our 1991 cover, Frog Spurn (right), is one from a set of fifteen illustrations for Bizarre Birds & Beasts, published by Dial Books/USA and Pavilion Books/UK, with an environmental theme, written and illustrated by London-based James Marsh. This was an extremely popular cover, and we went on to reproduce it as a poster and lapel buttons.
RJ Muna’s 1997 cover photograph (left), from a series of nudes for a gallery show, provoked comments from readers. Some felt that “ ... the contempt shown for this model is not justifiable.” Others saw “ ... a dance move, one that each interpreted in his or her own way; most of us saw celebration and joy.” Muna said, “What would it look like if you asked a dancer to express the concept of noise?” Edel Rodriguez’s 2006 depiction of Che Guevara (center) generated angry letters from both Che supporters and detractors. It also generated more newsstand sales than any other multitopic issue in our recent history. Randal Ford’s 2014 cover image of his son (right), photographed after falling off a bathroom counter, elicited several complaints from readers who found the image offensive. Ford explained: “As a photographer, I believe you find your personal work and voice in your surroundings, and I felt like the ‘shiner’ needed to be documented. It showcased a tough personality that is often the case with two-year-old rough-and-tumble boys.”

Patrick Coyne is the editor and designer of Communication Arts magazine, the largest international trade journal of visual communications. Coyne studied design at the California College of the Arts. Prior to joining Communication Arts in 1986, Coyne worked as a graphic designer for Michael Mabry and SBG Partners and then co-founded the San Francisco-based design firm Patrick Coyne/Stephanie Steyer Design Office. During his tenure as editor and designer of Communication Arts, Coyne has been a frequent speaker at numerous art directors and advertising clubs as well as local, national and international design conferences and has received medals and distinctive merits from AIGA, STA and Society of Illustrators. He is also a member of the AIGA and an honorary member of the Society of Typographic Arts and the University and College Designers Association.


With a free Commarts account, you can enjoy 50% more free content
Create an Account
Get a subscription and have unlimited access
Already a subscriber or have a Commarts account?
Sign In

Get a subscription and have unlimited access
Already a subscriber?
Sign In