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Autonomy: The Cover Designs of Anarchy, 1961-1970.

Daniel Poyner (ed.), Autonomy: The Cover Designs of Anarchy, 1961-1970

London: Hyphen Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-0907259466.

In 1947 Colin Ward, aged twenty-three and having returned to London after five years as a military conscript, was invited to join the editorial group of the anarchist newspaper, Freedom. For the next fourteen years he and the other editors, never more than some half-a-dozen, brought the paper out weekly, writing the bulk of its contents themselves. It is scarcely surprising that, to break from this punishing regimen, he began to urge the case for a monthly, more reflective Freedom; and finally his fellow editors responded by giving him his head with Anarchy from March 1961, while they continued to bring out Freedom for the other three weeks of each month.

Ward had actually wanted his magazine to be called Autonomy, but this his traditionalist comrades were not prepared to allow--he had already been described as a 'revisionist' and they considered that he was backing away from the talismanic word 'anarchist'--although his subtitle of A Journal of Anarchist Ideas was initially, and now largely redundantly, retained, until ditched from no. 28 by Rufus Segar, the designer of the covers, the subject of the book under review.

118 issues of Anarchy were published, the last appearing in December 1970. The content was always distinctive, blending such traditional anarchist preoccupations as progressive education and crime and punishment with Ward's own interests and enthusiasms: housing and squatting, workers' control, adventure playgrounds and the like. But the real originality lay in anarchism being seen not as a total system to be implemented sometime in the future--after an anarchist revolution--but as present all around us, in everyday human arrangements, in the here-and-now.

Ward was given complete freedom--or autonomy--by Freedom Press to produce each number entirely by himself, laying it out on his kitchen table. A frequent though not uncritical contributor, Nicolas Walter, was to comment: 'Colin almost didn't do anything. He didn't muck it about, didn't really bother to read the proofs. Just shoved them all in. Just let it happen.' (p. 258) Although Ward's ideal was to produce special issues on single themes, most numbers were not. If a promised article failed to materialise, he would be obliged to write it himself, leading to a profusion of pseudonyms.

Daniel Poyner understands the political and intellectual signifi cance of Anarchy, indeed going as far as to reprint from New Society, very usefully, 'Utopian Sociology', the remarkable appreciation of 1987 by the Marxist historian, Raphael Samuel, reviewing A Decade of Anarchy, Ward's selection of contributions by others than himself to his journal. (I have drawn attention in 'Colin Ward and the New Left', Anarchist Studies, 19, 2 (2011), pp. 52-3, to the friendship and mutual admiration of Ward and Samuel.) Yet Poyner's concern is with neither the contents of Anarchy nor Wardian anarchism but the magazine's cover designs. This sumptuous volume lovingly reproduces all of them in colour and in full size, not only each front cover but also the back, since the design frequently spread over the two.

Poyner says one hundred of the covers were the work of Ward's anarchist friend, Rufus Segar. Anarchic, humorous, often wacky (Segar is) and always eye-catching--until no. 59 black alone or black and red were printed on yellow paper--a contemporary subscriber such as myself awaited each Anarchy as much for Segar's cover as for Ward's contents. Segar had similar autonomy to Ward's, as he explains in a long and absorbing interview which Poyner has transcribed for this book. He would never read the contents before they were printed--for Ward would still be throwing them together until the last moment. But ten days before publication he would receive a note of the issue's theme or otherwise the titles of all the articles. He would then have a week to mull over a design. Each month, on a Tuesday afternoon, he would work on the cover for twenty-four hours, taking a respite from his fulltime job (with the Economist and its Economist Intelligence Unit from 1964). On Wednesday afternoon (or Thursday) he delivered the artwork to the block-maker, Gee and Watson. On Friday he and Ward would receive proofs; and later the same day Freedom Press's Express Printers would get the blocks.

The first Ward would know of the month's cover design was on the Friday. But when there was a special issue on Wilhelm Reich, Segar foolishly sent the proof to the lead contributor, Robert Ollendorff, Reich's brother-in-law, expecting him to appreciate it, but who objected to the irreverence and insisted on the suppression of the design. This, possibly Segar's most brilliant cover, was not published until it was used in 1982 to illustrate Ward's New Society review of the correspondence between Reich and A.S. Neill. Poyner reproduces it now for the first time full-size in Autonomy. It depicts a nude couple, a vast balloon from the man's mouth containing the original German titles of Reich's works and the woman remarking 'Orgasm schmorgasm. How about a good lay?'

Robin Kinross's Hyphen Press publishes books exclusively on design and, particularly, typography. His engagement with anarchism has previously only been with the work of the lifelong anarchist furniture-maker and design theorist, Norman Potter, whose impressive Models & Constructs: Margin Notes to a Design Culture (1990) he selflessly assembled for the author. He has now done both Ward and Segar proud with Autonomy, himself compiling an indispensable ten-page index to all the articles in Anarchy. My only reservation is that, very regrettably, the yellows of Autonomy's reproductions are duller, muddier than the bright and garish yellow of my own pristine set of Anarchy.
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Author:Goodway, David
Publication:Anarchist Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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