While the production of these signed prints might seem like a savvy business plan, in fact I kind of happened on it. After thinking about it for years, in January 2007 I started working on a website for myself. Looking at other websites I liked, I noted that all of them had an “items for sale” section of some kind, and I thought I should do that, too. I put together a short list of things to sell, including two 11 by 17 inch prints I had made in the 1990s, and when the website launched in July 2007, they were on my BUY STUFF page.
For the first few weeks I made sales, but that dropped off to almost nothing by the end of July, and I pondered what new things I could do to add to the list. New prints of my own lettering was an option, but I couldn’t think of anything really novel in that line. Then it occurred to me to try collaborating with some of the popular and well-liked creators I’d been working with for years. The first two that came to mind were Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. Those were names that could get some attention and generate sales. Of the two, I was in touch more regularly with Alan, so I started with him, and we produced “Alphabets of Desire,” which to my shock was a runaway hit, with the first printing selling out in less than three days.
Okay, then, success! And, why not more? Within days of putting Alan’s print on sale in early December I emailed Neil about the possibility of him writing one for me. The answer came back, “Sure.” I was delighted to hear it, but reprinting Alan’s kept me busy for a few months. In March I brought it up again, and we talked on the phone. Neil is always busy, but he promised to try to come up with something. I threw out a few loose ideas, but Neil went his own way ultimately, which I thought was fine.
After a month of waiting, and several nagging emails, on April 23rd I received the text of “Before You Read This” from Neil, in an email titled “Shorter Than Alan’s”. Neil had complained about having to follow Alan, and I sympathized. We both thought he should go in a completely different direction, and he has. The piece is a free-verse poem about 400 words long. I thought it was perfect for a print: engaging, yet chilling. Mysterious, but with touches of dark humor. The kind of thing that would encourage rereading and rumination. So, now the ball was in my court. I told Neil I thought there’d be room for some images, things mentioned in the text. I knew I wanted to include some black candles (a slight nod to STARDUST), and a moonlit scene of flying geese.
The first thing I needed to focus on was the style for the words. My first thought was something art deco. On a piece of copy paper I penciled out a large decorative B, a few samples of “EFORE”, and then an alphabet came forth rather quickly, both upper and lower case. A bit art deco with additional quirks, perhaps influenced by Frank C. Papé, illustrator of the works of James Branch Cabell, an author Neil and I both like. Papé put fancifully lettered captions on many of his illustrations. Overall, the alphabet is a mix of shapes that appeal to me, and that’s really the closest I can come to an origin for it. I thought it would work fine for this print.
The full layout began this article, here’s a closer look at the upper left corner. Some of the letters changed a bit as I went along, but it’s essentially what was in the design sample. When lettering comics pages by hand I usually don’t have time to do this kind of pencil layout, but here I thought it essential, so I could pinpoint any problem areas, and make sure the text fit in two columns. Fitting the text is always the hardest part. The one shown here is actually the third try, the others were either too long or too short. I had to erase and start over, after making tiny adustments in the Ames Guide I was using to put in the horizontal guidelines. For this version I had to make some small adjustments and changes to the text. I ran this pencilled version by Neil, with a list of the changes, and he thought they were fine, though he did make one new word choice.
For the geese I began with a photo which I manipulated in Photoshop to create a high-contrast image, seen above. I then put this on my light box and loosely traced the geese onto my layout, moving them as needed, and reusing some, not using others. Here’s the result:
After I made this scan of the pencils I actually added a few more as well, since I had room in the right places. The entire layout came together successfully, I think. I only indicated the moon as a circle, I’d be doing more with that in later stages. By the way, this was pencilled on Strathmore one-ply paper with a “plate” or smooth finish, my favorite surface for hand-lettering. I used to be able to buy 2-ply and 3-ply, or thicker versions. I don’t know if Strathmore is even making this particular paper anymore, but I still have a supply of one-ply from years ago, and that’s what I used.
Next time I’ll discuss inks, scanning and more.