Saed Meshki: Beside the illustrators of schoolbooks, there are always authors who usually prevent the illustrator from being at ease. It is interesting to know that when you were a schoolbook illustrator, how you overcame this obstacle.
Parviz Kalantari: A part of it should be attributed to destiny! The story was such that, back then, the authors of books felt that if they left us on our own, the result would be better. But, sometimes the illustrations were not approved by the authors and they could veto. I can tell you that the role of graphic designer was more independent then; like in Hollywood cinema that the actors were important in one period, but today it is the director who makes decisions. Back then, maybe because the number of graphic designers was a few, they could have shined. During the time when I was a student in the School of Fine Arts and studied painting, only a few number of graduates of this field could be absorbed in graphic design's market. Before becoming a student, I used to work in graphic studios of that time and was somehow familiar with this topic; however, the market was only limited to publications. Later, the majority of my activity was limited to schoolbooks. I still think that after these 44 years of work, the best part of my professional record belongs to the schoolbooks that I designed in Franklin Publication Co., especially the history and geography books in 1965 and 1966. Designing the first schoolbooks was very difficult, because we did not have any information about schoolbook design. Even the authors, themselves, did not have correct and complete information about details of clothes, tools and devices of different eras of ancient Iran to provide us with. In fact, graphic design was taking its first steps during those times. Some tools and issues such as grid design or archiving was done in Franklin for the first time. At the beginning of our work on the schoolbooks, an adviser from UNESCO, called Spalding, came and taught us some topics. Anyhow, we gradually learned the rules of the job.
SM: Please explain the technical issues of schoolbooks; which factors did you bear in mind for illustrations of a schoolbook?
PK: Schoolbooks apparently do not let us look for modernism to a large extent, but I think it depends on the designer. However, there is the problem that the one who has ordered the schoolbook wants something very close and relevant to the subject. But, I have even seen in books, like math books, where the illustrator has used his creativity to make for example summation understandable; while it seems that this domain is quite distant from artistic work. It is always essential to gather samples from the schoolbooks of various countries to know how each of them has illustrated a common topic. In addition, there is the need to an archive from various illustrations for the illustrator to have access to and select from. In 1960, I passed a six-month course in USA and it was there, where I realized the significance of archives. For the schoolbooks, archives can help both the author and the designer. It will be interesting for you to know that we designed the Afghan schoolbooks in two Farsi and Pashtu in Franklin's studio. To do the job properly my colleague, Mr. Zamani went to Afghanistan and photographed what we needed for illustration. I guess Afghanistan will still need us for many years in future.
SM: Could you please explain the method and process of your work in illustration of schoolbooks during that period also?
PK: We had an art editor, who was the Late Hormoz Vahid. The art editor issued the first and final order. A number of graphic designers, along with a calligrapher, used to work in the studio. The graphic designers have also been divided in groups and categories, according to their capabilities and abilities. The authors of books were in fact those who had requested the work. Whenever we had a problem or question, we got in touch with them through the art editor, who was the link between the authors and us; sometimes they sent us to the National Library or other specialized libraries to solve the problem.
SM: Myself and many people of the same generation have very good memories about your works in "Peyk" [Young Messenger] periodicals.
PK: The reason behind publication of Peyk periodicals was that after a couple of years of activity in fighting against illiteracy, they reached to this conclusion that in rural regions of the country, there are lots of newly-literate people, who do not have any material to read. Peyk periodicals were published to provide reading materials in an easy language and limited number of words, which can be comprehensible for newly-literate villagers. But, gradually it targeted elementary schools and later on it was divided into different age groups: Peyk for children, Peyk for students, Peyk for teenagers and Peyk for youngsters. The authors wrote the items according to the capacity of every age group's terminology. For example, to design a puzzle for Children's Peyk, only the limited number of words that were easy for students in primary schools was used. This same classification was used in the graphic designs' studio. In the beginning of my work, I drew the illustrations of a travel diary, narrated by a villager boy called Ali, who had traveled to Mashad on pilgrimage with his parents; of course with very simple and childish pictures. But, afterward my work was focused on Peyk for youngsters and teenagers. Working on Peyk periodicals was a very tense and complicated work and, honestly, we had a very good archive from the similar foreign publications. That is how a part of my records is related to work in Peyk periodicals.
SM: Could you please also explain the book cover designs in Franklin Publication Co.?
PK: Almost from the beginning of foundation of Franklin Co. in Tehran, I was the only graphic designer who worked with the company. Around 1952, when I was still a student in university, Franklin used to order its book cover designs to me. Later, Mohammad- Zaman Zamani, who was among famous and active designers and painters in publications and advertising companies, started to design a number of book covers. After the launch of offset printing technology and promotion of Pocketbooks' publication, a number of other graphic designers joined our group of two, i.e. Zaman Zamani and I, and a kind of competition was initiated in book cover design. In this manner, orders of book cover designs led to proper classification of works for designers. Usually the classical works were carried out by Zamani and the more modern works was done by me or other colleagues.
SM: Thank you very much for the time you gave to Neshan