Scanning Around With Gene: Stuff Magazine

As an aspiring publishing mogul fresh out of college, I loved living in Los Angeles during the late Seventies and up until I left the city in 1981. There were several weekly publications, including the terrific Reader and LA Weekly. And it seemed like everyone was starting up an alternative monthly of some sort, from low-tech punk zines to slick magazines like Wet, the Venice-based publication of “gourmet bathing and beyond.” One of my favorites was Stuff.

Stuff began in 1979 as an all-advertising monthly with full-page ads that cost $50. Lots of businesses that didn’t traditionally do a lot of advertising could afford that, and the publication became a place to show off your hipness through graphic design. I was digging through some old boxes recently and came upon four issues of Stuff from 1980. Click on any image for a larger version.

Stuff’s publisher, Steve Samiof, previously published a popular punk magazine called Slash. With Stuff he created a platform for what might be called punk design.

Eventually Stuff added editorial material, though it was sometimes hard to tell the difference between the ads and the prose. But it was always wild to look at and for certain establishments I’ll bet the ads even worked.

Part of the reason magazines like Stuff and Wet could survive back then was because production costs took a real dive in the late 1970s thanks to a flood of relatively low-cost typesetting devices hitting the market.

Every other person you met seemed to be a typesetter, at least part-time, and you could easily find a type shop willing to trade work for some ad space. Or, if you were lucky, you could get your own Editwriter or CompSet machine, a waxer, and some Xacto knives and you were on your way.

That was before type and graphics became practically free commodities. A monthly like Stuff didn’t use a whole lot of type, but I’ll bet they ran up giant bills at the stat house.

Stuff often ran ads from graphic designers, photographers, artists and, well, just about anyone with $50 and a desire to create something unique.

LA had a very hip scene back then and stores like Cowboys and Poodles on Melrose, Heaven and Vertigo were all the rage. There was the Roxy and the Troubadour for lighter rock, and places like Madam Wong’s in Chinatown for the harder-core. And every place you went in LA had parking, which is one of the few things I miss about the place.

Stuff was large—a full 11 X 17 inches—and was undoubtedly influenced by Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, which seemed to inspire a lot of publishers back then.

I have no idea what the circulation of Stuff was, but you could find it pretty easily, and it was free. According to an interview I read with Samiof, he made a go of it for a number of years and even licensed Stuff to several other cities. It ceased publication in 1986.

I remember liking much of the typesetting in Stuff, but then I’m a huge fan of Seventies type design, and Stuff certainly pushed it to the limits.

Do you have fond memories of publications from the Seventies and Eighties?

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Posted on: September 2, 2011

Gene Gable

Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. He has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. Gene's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on

4 Comments on Scanning Around With Gene: Stuff Magazine

  1. I own the oldest (first) EditWriter on the west coast. In the late 1970s it cost over $20,000, plus there was the cost of processor, film and chemistry and especially fonts. It was common to pay over $400 for a strip of four typefaces, and the machine could hold a total of eight faces in twelve sizes. It was a monster power consumer, and had two Intel 8080 processors that didn’t always process correctly.

    All of your keystrokes were stored on EIGHT-INCH floppy disks, of which we had hundreds, filed for each customer in a large cabinet.

    We made much more money with our ten-foot-long Walzburg process camera that could produce 26″x26″ film or PMTs (prints). My wife ran that most of the time, and in one afternoon could produce over $1,500 worth of work. Back in the seventies that was good money. Heck, even today that’s good money!

  2. I know $20,000 sounds like a lot of money, but compared to some of the larger typesetting systems that were on the market, an Editwriter was a bargain. I had one too, in 1978 and remember the 8-inch floppies well. I had a special disc given to me by a Compugraphic repair person that allowed you to play Pong on the Editwriter.

    And of course I loved operating the process camera, though making good halftones in those days was a bit of an art. Design was often directly influenced by the availability of these tools — sometimes you just had to make do with the sizes and typestyles you had on hand.

  3. I used several different EditWriters early in my career. “Typesetter” was never part of my job description (at the time I was an art director and/or designer), but I couldn’t resist using them when I had a plausible reason. Looking back, it was my first taste of using a computer and a file system. I recall that they were pretty easy to use because of the dedicated function keys, unlike the general purpose keyboards of personal computers.

  4. Thanks for this article. I was a big fan of both Stuff and Wet magazine. Do you know if there are any archives of these magazines?

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