I recently finished this short documentary about the now-shuttered Colby Poster Printing Co. for MOCAtv. I worked with CR Stecyk III on it, and Susanne Melanie Berry was there with us every step of the way. Watch it below now or save for the end of your lunch break — it’s 10min long.
Those who’ve read my posts here before can probably see how this ties together a few long-running interests of mine. Of course, it was pleasure to work with Craig again, especially on such a personal and open-ended project. It was also exciting to finally make an honest attempt at conveying everything I find interesting about Colby Posters in one, free-standing film. Being able to touch on the work of one of my favorite filmmakers was icing on the cake — more on that later.
It seems almost too obvious to state, but the aesthetics of these posters was one of the qualities that first drew me in. I think this bears repeating as in most of my writing about Colby as well as in the film above, I go to great lengths to laud these posters for how un-designed they are! The ultimate triumph of function over form, these tight consecutive lines of large bold type, usually in all caps, were the work of honest craftsmen, negotiating the needs of their local clientele in a crowded autoscape. Neither delicate, nor fetishized, the Colby Poster seemed to exist on the opposite end of the spectrum from all the precious printers who trafficed in overly self-aware business cards and wedding invitations.
I worry though, that in my zeal to sell Colby as the ultimate utilitarian craftsmen, I’ve failed to convey that all three generations of this family as well as the printers and typesetters they employed were incredible designers with pitch perfect taste. Just look at this buckslip!
Equally incredible is this letterhead belonging to Zelda Colby, wife of Herbert, grandmother to the siblings that ran the shop through the end.
I can barely make out the car in this photo, but I like the look of it.
And of course, the orange poster! We see it for a moment at the very end of the film, but I wanted to share again. A rare example of Colby as their own client, this almost convinced me that a separate film was pointless. Objects like this feel very special — freestanding and self-contained, it introduces itself and is what it’s about. A perfectly charming closed circuit of local advertising:
Finally, a correction/omission: We touch on Thom Andersen’s incredible film Get Out of the Car in our documentary, but failed to mention that he used posters he had printed at Colby in his film as well. He marked the former locations of El Monte Legion Stadium, Harvey’s Broiler, The Barrelhouse, and the South Central Farm — all since demolished — with simple text posters:
Go see this, or any other of his incredible films if you get the chance — with new versions of both Los Angeles Plays Itself and Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer in circulation, Los Angelenos should have a few opportunities in the coming year. I’m a huge fan of Thom’s films and can’t overstate my luck in meeting him coincidentally at 7-Eleven in Silver Lake while taking a break editing this film.
Documentaries can be inefficient work. Scattershot research followed by lots of sifting. Things that seemed fascinating end up ‘on the cutting room floor.’ I’ve only just scratched the surface of that material here. Many more photos taken for the film and scans of archival materials can be found in the two-volume zine we made to coincide with the release of this video. Lovingly collected and printed by Susanne Melanie Berry, and bound with fluorescent thread, remaining copies of this small edition can be found at MOCA’s Grand Ave Bookstore in LA, Printed Matter and The Newsstand in NY.