Credit: Max Barlow

Download the Reader‘s first issue—October 1st, 1971. (PDF)

When I look back at the first Reader, our hubris in starting the paper makes me cringe. What made me think I could edit a paper about Chicago when I’d only visited the city one time before and only had a month or two to get ready? True, our leader, Bob Roth, had a lifetime of Chicago-area experience, but he was supposed to continue his graduate studies and his part-time job at a plant store. Nancy Banks and I were going to put out the paper! It was 1971. We were 22 years old. We thought we knew more than anybody else.

But I’m not embarrassed about the content and format of the first issue. (Or, not mostly. The use of Helvetica as the main headline typeface—that was too mainstream. I still love Egyptian Bold Condensed, our other main headline face. We used lots of Times Roman for body type; it was one of a handful of faces we had to choose from.) The mix of reviews and features, with more about how to live life than whom to vote for, still feels about right. And the use of magazine-style design printed on newsprint was a signal that we were something new—neither fish nor fowl.

I only lasted a few more issues as editor. Roth realized he should be editor, and I became the art director (though the masthead didn’t reflect the change until later). We had wonderful contributors in that first issue: Myron Meisel, Michael Miner, Sally Banes, and Nancy Banks all continued writing for us. J. Leland was a pseudonym for Mark Homstad—and Rodney Wanker was me.

Bob McCamant was the paper’s original editor, though his principal contribution was the publication’s graphic design. Today he’s the owner, editor, and designer of Chicago’s boutique Sherwin Beach Press, some of whose books originated as Reader articles.