Creating ALPHABETS OF DESIRE


©Alan Moore and Todd Klein.

I’m proud to announce the publication of ALPHABETS OF DESIRE, an 11 by 17 inch print, with newly written text by Alan Moore, design and lettering by me. This is the secret project that I’ve been working on for the last few months, and it’s now on sale exclusively on this website HERE. How did it come to be? You’re about to read the complete story.

I launched my website and blog on July 3rd of this year, and as part of it I included some items for sale: two prints I produced in the 1990s, the book I co-authored on lettering and coloring, some original lettering on overlays, and two music CDs. The first week sales were brisk, and I made enough to recover most of my setup costs for the site, so I was very pleased. The second week sales were pretty good, the third week so-so. By the middle of August, they’d trailed off to almost none. Obviously the old stuff had reached everyone who wanted it. I began to think about producing something new to sell. But, what? Another Lettering Sampler? I’d done that, and a variation didn’t seem likely to be a big success. Then the thought came: what if I asked one of the writers I work with to write something for me to letter? Call in a favor, so to speak. The most obvious choices were Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore, but Neil is always so busy, and usually gallivanting around the globe on promotional or signing tours. Alan seemed like the one to approach first. He’s usually home, he usually answers the phone when I call him. The worst that could happen was that he’d say no.

Todd and Alan, May 2007

For anyone who doesn’t know, Alan Moore is one of the most acclaimed writiers in comics history, for titles such as WATCHMEN, V FOR VENDETTA, FROM HELL, PROMETHEA, and THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. Alan and I have only met in person twice, the second time at his wedding to Melinda Gebbie this past May, photo above, but we’ve had a great working relationship for many years. Still, it took me a few weeks to get up the nerve to call him about writing something for me. I finally did in mid September, and his reaction was very encouraging. He thought it sounded like a great idea.

“You may have to call me a few times and remind me about it,” he said. He was busy working on his new novel and another project. But when I explained that I wanted something new to sell on my site, he volunteered, “If we both sign it, I’m sure it will do well.” That made me very happy indeed, as I wasn’t sure if he’d be willing to do that. I began to think this might actually work!

I’d told him about my Lettering Sampler print, and Alan asked, “Did you want something like that, with a lot of lettering styles, or…?”

“No,” I said. “Anything you want, really — a story, poem, fiction, non-fiction. Just something you think would look good hand-lettered. About a thousand words.”

“Right,” he said. “Perhaps something about letters and magic. Let me think on it.”

That night I told Ellen, “I believe he’s really going to write something for me!” I was over the moon.

I called Alan a few more times, as he’d suggested, to remind him. The third time, in early October, he surprised me by saying, “I’ve just started working on it,” and read me the first paragraph, the one that begins with “A is for Apple.” I thought it sounded wonderful.

“Can you get it to me by the end of October?” I asked. “I’d like to have it ready to sell in December, and that should give me enough time.” Alan said he should be able to do that.

About another week later, in mid October, my fax machine spit out a few pages.

From: Alan

Subject: Alphabets of Desire.

Memo: Hi, Todd. Here it is. A little earlier than anticipated and exactly a thousand words. Hope you like it. All the best. Alan

As I read through it, I began to smile and then laugh with amazement. It was perfect, much better than anything I’d imagined. I called him, and he said he’d just been reading it to Melinda. I told him how thrilled and pleased I was.

“What does Melinda think?” I asked.

“She’s on tenterhooks, waiting for the finish,” he said with his usual dry wit. I thanked him profusely and said I’d get to work.

AoD corner

So, now I had the text, and the rest was up to me. Over the next week I laid it out on an 11 by 17 inch piece of art paper. I knew I wanted a decorative title and credits at the top, and to begin, a large letter A. Putting an apple there was an obvious choice, and allowed me to enliven the text with a small bit of art that I later hand-painted red on each print. Around the outside, as I had mentioned to Alan, I thought a border using various old alphabets would look good. But rather than just random letters, I wanted them to say something. I drew elements from Alan’s text for that. I hasten to add that I didn’t translate them into other languages, just copied them out in other alphabets. So don’t email me about the Greek, please, I know it’s not Greek words. (But in old manuscripts from the middle ages, this sort of thing was sometimes done, so I think I have a precedent.) All those elements, the titles and border, I pencilled, then inked with my smallest-point technical drawing pen.

For the text itself, I chose a wedge-tipped Speedball dip-pen and thought I’d use my calligraphic style of lettering. That seemed the best way to go. It took several attempts to lay it all out in pencil before I was happy, then I went on to ink. I worked on it over several days, between other jobs. When I’d done the best I could, I scanned the result at high resolution, made small corrections where needed, and reversed the outer border so that the black letters became white letters on black.

It was time to order paper, and I found a good source online for that. I wanted something thicker than regular copy paper, but not so thick it’d be hard to roll, as I planned to ship the prints in mailing tubes. I settled on a 67 pound Bristol Vellum, and hoped it was the right choice, as I had to buy it sight unseen. Alan had agreed to sign 500 copies, but I bought 1000 sheets, to allow for printing damage and so on. I wanted to try to print them myself on my own 11 by 17 laser printer, but I wasn’t sure if that would work, as it doesn’t always handle large paper well. I might need to have it printed elsewhere.

The paper arrived, and it was just what I wanted, the perfect thickness, and an attractive cream color. I set up the art file and paper for printing, and gave it a go. Amazingly, my printer hardly messed up at all, I was able to print the entire run with barely a hiccup, though I did have to hand-feed each sheet into the printer.

Now I had the prints, and needed to color the apples, the big one at upper left, and a small part of the apple core at lower right. I found a cherry red acrylic ink that seemed right for the job, and spent parts of another few days painting apples. This proved very relaxing and therapeutic, though I kept thinking of that scene in Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” where the cards are “painting the roses red,” and hoping I wasn’t ruining the whole project. In the end, I think the red works fine. Another day or two spent signing my name to the lower right with a wedge-tipped marker, and I was ready to send them to Alan.

This was the most nerve-racking part of the job. I packed the prints well, wrapping them in bubble-wrap, then in the original paper box, then in a larger box around that. I thought that would work, but if the prints were lost or damaged in transit to Alan, or worse yet, back to me after he’d signed them, I’d have to start over. I couldn’t afford the time to carry them to England myself, so shipping them was the only alternative. I sent them off, letting Alan know they were on the way.

I put off calling for almost two weeks, not wanting to bug him, but when I did call, Alan told me they’d arrived safely, he’d finished signing them, and would mail them back to me the following day. “I signed with a red Biro, thought that would look good,” he told me. Anything he wants, I thought to myself, anything at all. Another week and a few days went by, with me worrying, and then, finally, the package was here.

package

A little worse for the two trips, but when I opened it, the prints were fine, and oh, so delightfully added to in red Biro! All that remained was to write my press release, prepare some prints for mailing, write this blog entry, and then sit back and wait for orders.

I’m excited about this venture, the first time I’ve tried something quite like this. I have no idea how the print will sell or be received, but I’m hopeful. If it does well, perhaps I’ll do more. Egad, would that make me a publisher?! In a small way, yes, I suppose it would. Please don’t hold it against me, okay?

You can read about the creation of my other prints on my SIGNED PRINTS page, and ordering information is there, or on my BUY STUFF page.

22 thoughts on “Creating ALPHABETS OF DESIRE

  1. Ralph Mathieu

    Hi Todd

    Great idea and an item I’ll be happy to have framed next to my two Promethea posters (the last issue of Promethea of course)! I ordered three, one for myself and two as gifts.

    You probably don’t remember me, but I’m the guy you lettered that two page original Promethea art for a few years ago (and I’ve always felt guilty about that as you’re so busy). Thanks again! I’m sure you’ll do very well this and will be another item for the Eisner awards to list off when you win your well deserved next Eisner!

  2. chinaboatman (Steven ford)

    This looks like a really nice item. I’m happy to have ordered one. And I have to say you have priced it very reasonably too. Very good show!

    Also, congratulations on the fine job with Black Dossier, which I have just today finished reading. I suppose the lettering is an aspect many people won’t notice but I thought that bill Oakley had done a fine job in the previous volumes, contributing to the overall aesthetic of the work. I had slightly worried that the look would be not quite the same without him (Truly. I pay attention to the little details in a book). Had it not been for the credits I would not have noticed that it wasn’t his work on the latter parts of this book, so seamless was your transition. You replicated his style perfectly! And of course you got your own chance to shine with the fonts and types on the various dossier sections. Congratulations!

    I look forward to recieving my print.

    (oh, and i enjoyed reading your very honest account of how the item came to be too)

    Steven

  3. GFreeman

    Great idea, wonderfully executed! A little tight for Christmas shipping. Please do another project for next Christmas. My only complaint is that your signature looks like it was printed on and not as large, loose and signaturey (?) as Alan’s.

  4. David Goldfarb

    I won’t complain that the Greek letters don’t form Greek words, but I will complain that you used the wrong form of sigma — at the end of a word, there’s an alternate form, ς, that is used instead of σ. (Hope those letters come through OK.) Oh, well.

    Incidentally, if you do something like this again you might want to find a local copy shop or printer. It shouldn’t be hard to find one with a digital machine that can feed 11×17 paper. (I work for a shop that could do something like this very easily.) It would cost a bit more money than using your own laser printer, but would save you a great deal of time and effort, which after all is worth something too.

  5. RM

    Looks excellent, and there’s the added perverse charm that my copy will be winging its way back to Northampton for the second time…

  6. Loki

    Just ordered to, hope there are a few left in a day or so when I get paid. I plan on having the first one in New Orleans!

    Good to see you in the blogosphere, I’m bookmarking you. (Found out about the print and your blog from Neil Gaiman’s blog)

    May whichever holiday you celebrate be everything your desire of it!

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  8. MariaS

    Another much too belated thank you. I am so chuffed to have the Alphabets of Desire print, while the lucky dip of Sandman / Death overlays was perfect – some of those plus the Library of Dream print made a wonderful gift for my Secret Santa person who is also a huge Neil fan.

  9. Jason

    Hi Todd,

    Just ordered my copy after finding your site randomly. I can’t believe how cheap it is. You’ve made my day. Thanks a lot 🙂

  10. Peter Dickie

    Hi Todd (if i may)

    Mine arrived in the UK 4 days after ordering – it is a beautiful thing and at the framers now.

    Thank you

    Px

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