Copies of what I’m calling the Stockton book will ship out this month. It includes two linked short stories, ‘The Lady, or the Tiger?’ and ‘The Discourager of Hesitancy’ by Frank L. Stockton. Although the latter story was ostensibly written as a sequel, they can be read in either order and the book is designed to encourage that choice: it has two fronts and no back. Like those paperback Ace doubles from the 1960s (the proper term is tête-bêche, not to be confused with dos-a-dos, an ungainly structure that has two spines). But in this case each story leads to the other, like a kind of ouroboros.
I was introduced to the stories in the mid-’80s by a recording (vinyl) with Toyah reading the text while Robert Fripp (her spouse; they were having fun together long before the covid kitchen sessions) noodled away in the backgroud. Unfortunately the flip side, with ‘The Discourager,’ was less aurally interesting, but the stories lodged in me somewhere. Here’s a link to the recording, but the stories are more fun to read first.
The stories were published in The Century Magazine in the 1880s, and the first one’s unresolved ending made Stockton famous. Like Doyle killing off Holmes, however, he was constantly pestered by readers wanting to know “what happened?” Eventually he provided a sort-of answer with ‘The Discourager,’ and people realized he wasn’t going to give the kind of answer they wanted.
These two stories were the high points of Stockton’s writing career: they remained widely known and anthologized well into the first half of the 20th century. I was surprised to discover while working on this project that the author and these two stories are now barely known among American librarians, booksellers or readers.
When I started making books, I had the idea of printing the stories as two separate pieces that meet in a middle. I also had the idea for frontispieces that echoed this invertible presentation, like playing cards.
Over the years I approached one or two artists but the stories didn’t grab them, and the project remained at the bottom of the pile. I pulled it out again a few years ago and started poking around with the idea of maybe using early playing cards as the illustrations. That led me on a distracting but fun tour through the history of playing cards. I didn’t surface with any art I could pilfer, but I did have some examples that caught the spirit I was after. One of them in particular reminded me of someone, and after much head pounding, I realized it was Walter Bachinski.
In June of 1997 I attended the first week-long letterpress intensive offered by Jan & Crispin Elsted, at their Barbarian Press. Janis Butler was one of the three other students. She and her partner Walter had come out from Ontario, and while she learned the basics of letterpress, Walter, a professional artist and teacher, roamed the area with a sketch pad. During that week he made a linocut, possibly his first, and the Elsteds pulled a proof. It was very cool.
Janis and Walter went home & began publishing books under the imprint Shanty Bay Press, which from the start enjoyed wide acclaim, particularly for Walter’s vibrant pochoir and relief prints. (Janis does the setting, printing & binding.) We weren’t really in touch during the intervening years, but it was always good to see them when our paths crossed.
So when out of the blue I sent Walter a note, with the stories attached and an outline of my concept, I tempered any hope that he might want to get involved – he doesn’t need HM if he wants to do a book project. But the stories did resonate, and better still, so did my idea for their presentation.
Initially the plan was for him to create and print just the two frontispieces, but as I got into the design I wanted to incorporate more Walter (and thus more color) to the text, and asked if he could do some simple drawings that I could play with. Again he happily (and promptly) agreed, sending 12 pieces that played with elements in the frontispieces. By coincidence the drawings could be ordered to reflect aspects of the stories – not illustrations but perhaps evocations?
Here’s a brief description from Walter about the process for editioning pochoirs (printing isn’t quite the right word) & an image of him at work:
“I have worked out a master drawing before I begin any pochoir. When I lay out the image on the page I first establish the rectangle with a light pencil outline. I then trace on mylar the different colours that make up the image. In this case there is a stencil cut for each colour. I print the colours using acrylic ink (Heavy Body Golden Acrylic Paint). The key block for each of your frontispieces was a type high maple block that I cut out to establish the black border. I printed that at the end with an oil based relief ink.
“I use a variety of stencil brushes and it is a dabbing motion of strokes. Even though the areas are flat they are subtle irregularities that reflect the brushstrokes. This makes it different from the mechanical flatness of a silkscreen surface.
“Pochoir appeals to me because there are no limitations as to what you can do with the image. In my books the pochoirs have areas of flatness, areas of blending colour into colour, wash effects and much freehand drawing. I prefer pochoir to lino for an image with multiple colours because I can control the overall effect of the image much better and in finer detail.”
I’ve wanted to use Weiss in a project for years but the right one hadn’t come along until now. It’s legible and has the kind of strong body I like to print, but it’s also just unusual enough to limit its use. The text was printed damp, on handmade Barcham Green Canterbury paper. The frontispiece pochoirs were done by the artist on Arches wove. The edition is 30 press-numbered copies (+ six hors commerce I – VI), all signed by the artist on a colophon found in the middle of the book (6 x 9 inches, 15 leaves).
The edition was uniformly sewn and cased in quarter cloth, the boards covered in a sheet painted black. One side has a pattern printed in black, the other has two paper inlays. (The size & placement of the inlays will be consistent, but there will be a few variations of the inlays themselves, just for fun.) The slipcase is the same painted paper. To emphasize the where’s the front? design, only the slipcase has a spine label. (NOTE: when a book has a slipcase, shelve it with the book’s spine in, to prevent fading.)
Simple as the binding may seem, it’s taking me ages to get it done. Lots of fiddly bits. But this month...
p.s. Walter & Janis have recently finished a new Shanty Bay Press publication, My Landscape; see here for details.
AND ANOTHER THING!
Pradeep Sebastian, author of the bibliomystery The Book Hunters of Katpadi, has a new book out. The Book Beautiful (Hachette 2023) recounts some of his adventures with fine press & rare book collecting. More on that to come...