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Yes, Cheap Copies!

Imagine for a moment (because this has to be imagined and is in no way connected to real events) that you’re a seventh-grade girl, a bit gangly and with legs up to your armpits, freckle-faced and with flyaway hair, and braces to boot. You’ve stepped out of your habitual fashion comfort zone, which is no fashion at all, and are wearing a jersey-knit red and white mini-skirt/t-shirt combo and white tights (why? because it’s 1983). You’ve ducked into the girls’ room in the middle of lunch period, have finished up, and are about to head back out to wander around a bit aimlessly before the next class because there isn’t exactly a group you hang out with, with whom you feel really comfortable.

You step out of the bathroom, make a sharp right toward the building’s corner, but before you round it, you hear a sudden chortle and look back to find two eighth-grade girls nearly doubled over in laughter.

At this juncture — before you’ve dashed around the corner and out of sight so you can, unseen by mocking schoolmates, run a hand down the back of your outfit to find that you’ve tucked your mini-skirt into your tights — you realize you could’ve really used a friend. That friend would’ve caught your fatal error before you’d made it public and most definitely would not have let news of that error leave private space; just as importantly, she wouldn’t have thought badly of you for not being aware of the mysteries of clothes-that-aren’t-pants.

In short, that friend would’ve had your back.

Rich Dana is that friend to Mimeograph Revival. In fact, he’s that friend to all of us who want to learn old-school-style duplicating methods, play with print and copies and colors, and walk boldly into the world with what’s intended to show, showing, but with even our mistakes (perhaps even of the fashion sort) embraced with flair and energy and courage because they reveal something about our thumping-in-our-throats hearts.

Just a few minutes of browsing around is all it takes the astute Mimeograph Revival-reader to notice the site’s exposed … underbelly (shall we say). As of yet, I simply don’t have the practical experience with mimeographs to offer the full suite of helpful resources that you — as experimenters and tinkerers and down-home/low-tech publishing aficionados and hope-to-be’s — might need.

Yet, when I leaped out the door of my inner world onto the internet with a crazy idea and the gumption to just make it happen, the mimeo-enthusiasts like Rich, along with Sam Keller, Erwin Blok, and many others, met me with a warm welcome and hastened me around the corner where I could sort myself out and not be embarrassed by my own presence.

Cheap Copies!: The Obsolete! Press Guide to DIY Hectography, Mimoegraphy, and Spirit Duplication, self-published in late 2021 by Rich Dana, who has some nifty publishing credits and projects to his name, is a crowd-funded book that, to be honest, is exactly what I’d hoped Mimeograph Revival could grow up to be. I am nothing short of astounded that I lucked out enough to jump into this topic at exactly the moment Rich was about to put this book out, because he’s here to reassure, guide, applaud, and then kick the training wheels off my – and your – wobbly but gonna-be-great first ride toward a vast horizon of possibilities.

Cheap Copies! is THE perfect complement to (if it doesn’t succeed it altogether) the digital philosophizing and electronic archiving that goes on here. It’s a Big Top Tent of printing fun, with a DIY, how-to, and join-the-fun ethos that’s a fine representative of the zine-making and -sharing community at large.

There’s a very particular feeling generated when holding someone’s printed treasure in your hands, something that’s been drawn and written, laid out with care – or even with slapdash devil-may-care haste because the word needs to be gotten out pronto – then copied and stapled or otherwise bound together. It’s the feeling presaging surprises to come, a zine-tingle, if you will. This book delivers it in spades with its marriage of aesthetics and substance: bold line drawings, color reprints of hectograph illustrations, humor, and mix of historical documents (including well-researched biography highlights of duplication’s luminaries), helpful resources, reading list, and do-it-now! tutorials.

If you want to know how to make hectograph gel pads and inks, duplicating fluid for spirit duplicators, DIY mimeograph machines and stencils, as well as what to look for in used machines and basic troubleshooting, this book will get you set to go.

Multiple versions of Cheap Copies! were available for those who donated to the book’s Kickstarter campaign. A completely tech-correct version, made available to those who donated more, included interior pages that were mimeograph- and hectograph-printed, a digitally-printed color section, and a hand-printed cover. The option for mid-scale donations was a digitally-printed version of the same text, also in color, and with the hand-printed cover.

About the production process and the resulting product, Rich’s advice to dive in, embrace your mistakes, and say what you need to say sums it up perfectly:

The project hasn’t been without setbacks, of course. Some design ideas, after being printed, just didn’t work and needed to be re-worked. Geriatric machines have needed some time-consuming TLC.  Conversely, there have been serendipitous moments as well, where experiments have yielded unexpected but beautiful results. In short, thanks to your support, I’ve had the ability to go deeper into these processes than ever before, and the result is, I believe, a book that functions well on several levels… a how-to manual, a history book, a fanzine. It’s my epic love poem to the analog underground.

You can order your own copy, here.