The Digital Pabular by Unknown
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 2003)
By way of introduction to this group of digital publications from Martin Breese, I have decided to begin with Pabular, a British journal of close-up magic which began in September of 1974 and continued regular publication through mid-1985 (three additional issues were eventually published in 1989, 1990, and 1992). I subscribed from the start and the magazine quickly became a favorite. The content was first-rate, supervised by Fred Robinson, who was held in sufficiently high esteem by his U.K. colleagues that he was able to amass a steady flow of high quality material. (Robinson was renowned for his false deal skills, and an eagerly awaited book of his material has been in the works for some time now, written by Peter Duffle and David Britland, and now to be published by Martin Breese once the illustrations are completed.)
Robinson wanted the magazine to be filled with useable material, and in this he succeeded on a regular basis. This was not your run-of-the-mill journal of session puzzles and minor variations. The hundreds of contributors comprised a stellar list; some who were new on the scene at the time have since become well known today. Hence, for example, within a year of my first seeing one Jos Bema perform at the national SAM. convention in New York City in 1978, the two coin routines I saw presented there appeared in the pages of Pabular, along with a substantial quantity of other material. Those two coin routines have of course since been re-described by that performer now better known as Tommy Wonder in the pages of The Books of Wonder.
Although the majority of contributors were British, there was an international flavor as well. Robinson expended great effort and justifiable space to describing a multi-phase & Water" routine of Juan Tamariz, along with a handful of other contributions. There are multiple contributions from Gaetan Bloom and Roberto Giobbi. There is material from Americans known then and now, like Larry Jennings and Phil Goldstein, along with upstarts now more familiar to us, like Bob Farmer and Barrie Richardson. Among the Brits there is much material from Robinson himself, along with riches from Bob Read, Roy Walton, Alex Elmsley, Simon Lovell, Trevor Lewis, Ken Brooke, Gordon Bruce, and a running column by that crown jewel of British magic, Patrick Page. (Jerry Sadowitz was also a frequent contributor, but unfortunately due to pending disputes between he and the publisher, his material has been excised.)
Robinson's colleagues in the magazine Walt Lees, Steven Tucker, and Eric Mason (Nick Bolton handled the business) also contributed their own sizeable lodes of material. Mason had a profoundly important impact on Pabular, as he was the designer responsible for its unique and memorable appearance. It was always a pleasure to pull out the latest issue with its distinctive color and characteristic covers. The illustrations were marvelous and the overall layout inimitable. Mason was a marvelous artist who clearly was responsible for the overall look and feel of Pabular. (His book, Stuff remains equally timeless.)
I'm pleased to own a complete original set of Pabular, but the dig-ital age is upon us and one of its greatest boons (I shall leave discussion of the banes for another day) is the opportunity not only to own a complete set of a journal such as this at a reasonable price, but to be able to do so in such a compact and convenient package. Like so many of these digitized collections, and like all four discussed in this column, this one is done in pdf format, readable via Adobe Acrobat, a commonplace piece of software that is included with all of these dig-ital publications from Martin Breese, but is also readily downloadable for free on the Internet. The content (again, as with all four items) has been fully digitized that means these are not just pictures of pages, in which the words are actually images and therefore cannot be searched. Rather, the content is fully searchable, and in the particular case of Pabular, the production goes much further than that. Some years ago Ian Keable produced an extremely thorough index to Pabular which has been included here in very useful form. All tricks are indexed by tide and category. All the non-trick con-tent is also fully indexed, including general articles (don't miss the excellent Walt Lees discussion of routining), book reviews, lecture and convention reviews, editorials, a dozen reprints of images from the Bob Read collection, the Pat Page column, and more. Better still indeed, this is the best part of this element of the production the "con-tents" index, which alone runs 25 pages, is fully hypertext linked. This means that you can click on the name of the article and it will take you directly to that entry. While these other indexes, including by category and contributor (and filling yet another hundred pages) are not linked in this way, you can easily browse through them, then enter the name in a search which will take you immediately to the hypertext link in the contents image, on which you can now click to be taken to the page. As simple as that description is, the doing is even easier once you've done it a couple of times. I only wish that every such publication had this kind of index and embedded linking, as it really makes locating items a breeze, and makes browsing far more productive.
But of course, there is that issue: how pleasant is it to browse a publication in this format? Well, a computer monitor is not a book, and anyone who claims otherwise is either deceiving or delusional. The greatest values of the digital format are found in its space-saving capacity and its accessibility for research. After all, searching on a particular prop or name is faster in digital format than it is in hard copy, even when the latter is accompanied by a good index. To be able to place these great journals at close hand in the space of a few inches, rather than in running feet or even yards of shelf space, represents a stunning advance in research capabilities. Over time, ease of research will continue to improve commensurate with search functions and software formats.
But browsing and reading for pleasure is another thing, and it will take rime and perhaps even practice to grow accustomed to reading at length from a digital format. I remain skeptical that the experience will ever match the pleasure of handling a book, yet the gulf continues to narrow. Even five years ago I thought I would never grow accustomed to reading newspapers online; now I read The New York Times online most weekdays (as well as on my PDA). Technological developments will also continue to have their effect here; when big flat plasma monitors are sufficiently inexpensive for everyone to have one, one may find browsing and long-term reading a much easier matter than on a small CRT monitor.
But for now, I confess that browsing these big journals on my computer cannot compare with the tactile and information processing pleasures of, for example, handling one of those seven pleasantly chunky reprints volumes of the Hugard’s Magic Monthly that are on my shelves, or even the challenging heft of my 1,440-page single-volume reprint of Stanyon’s Magic. Then again, my Manhattan apartment space sent my hard copies of Pabular into storage some while ago, and so I'm happy to have it back on a nearby shelf again all 1,423 digital pages of it on one skinny little plastic disk. Perhaps an effective compromise under the circumstances, and one that others may find of value, is to print out a hard copy of one or more of the indexes. At about 120 pages total the cost and sire are not prohibitive, and with the hard copy index in your hands for easy browsing, and the digital document up on the screen ready to consult, you may find this analog/digital borderline a newly peaceful demilitarized zone in which to peacefully stroll.