Opening day

I had no idea it was also the day the Tigers started playing in comerica park this year. The traffic was bad heading into downtown but thankfully I sidestepped most of it, making that sharp right turn on to Gratiot to swing around to Russell street. 

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for but it felt like it was waiting for me because despite the reams of sport fans parading through the streets there was a single parking spot right outside the front doors of Signal-Return. 

The person that practically greeted me at the door, entering at the same time, was in fact Lee, the printer in residence that I’d corresponded with some weeks ago. And so began this journey.  

Despite calling myself a graphic designer for getting close to two decades now it had been years since I approached work this way, in such a a viscerally physical manner, and I’d never worked on an actual press before in my life. Never set type in the traditional sense of the phrase, though I know all the terms and can tell a bad rag from the rest. And now I was walking into the heart of it all, in the heart of Detroit. 

Reintroduced to the word of metal, wood, and picas I was relearning a new but familiar language. I half followed everything Lee was telling me but refrained from taking copious notes, instead allowing myself to focus on doing. I stopped caring if I made mistakes, or understood everything and treated this like one big if, an experiment. 

And Lee was the perfect teacher. Clearly passionate and a self proclaimed print nerd but neither too pedantic or methodical. We mixed ink by sight and tested it and slathered it all over the place. I suppose the measurements setting up the plates were one of the more meticulous tasks but everything else was very much trial and error. 

But it all quickly felt satisfyingly familiar, as if I’d done it all before wait with all the adrenaline that comes from learning a new thing. I was eager to try but patiently awaited the advice from the mentor. Once into it everything from the turn of the crank to listening to the soft hiss of the ink being applied was a symphony of sensory input that created a fuzzy wholistic picture, both literally and figurately throughout the whole process. 
 I ended up making about ten prints. Half with the text and half without, using a color close to Pantone 431, a dark cool gray composed of mostly translucent white filler, black and reference blue. It’s a lovely subtle color that resembles the celadon fabric of the book. 

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to make it back but you can be sure I will, whether its to make more prints or try my hand at setting type, or learn new techniques from Lee to use in another book. This was going back to roots for me. Everything that got me started in this was all about handling objects, cutting things, manipulating by hand. 

This is just the start of what’s going to be a brand new day. 

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CDs are dead. Not.

The primary reason I chose not to initially offer the Zosan Audiobook on physical media was my own convenience. I knew there would be changes, updates and there was no way I wanted to lock myself into a box of 1000 CDs with a version of the audiobook that I would cringe every time I listened to it. There just wasn’t a way to get to that point in time to deliver.

But now that all that dust has settled, I finally found myself wanting a physical CD. I thought too, that the digital download might be simply more convenient for everyone else, but it seems that CDs are not dead yet — like the book itself, people are responding to something they can hold and see and experience directly. That alone gives the thing so much more worth.

So I went ahead and created some. They do look good, and they’ll be a better way of giving the audiobook presence when I show people the book. I may actually go through the trouble of printing and a bunch of them blank just so I can burn them on demand — and in case I ever update the audiobook again (not entirely out of the question) I’ll be able to always have the latest.IMG_3372

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Audiobook Revision

I’ve been listening to the audiobook constantly since I released it, not out of sheer egotism but partially because my kids wanted to hear it a lot for several weeks and so I started to hear things I wanted to change about it.

I finally bounced a new version, and while it’s not dramatically different, it succeeds in many key points because it abridges the text. When I started I was particularly adamant about the audiobook being “unabridged” for some reason that I’ve since forgotten. I eventually realized that a lot of the writing was redundant when listening, so I edited those parts out and retimed things to better fit. The result in some of those spots in a much better, more believable flow of dialogue, without the narrator’s voice always poking in and out.

Also cleaned up were some breaths in the narrator track. I’m not completely opposed to the inclusion of natural breathing entirely but I find having it deliberately taken out helps the flow as well.


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A reader suggested the not so crazy idea of animating Zōsan. Animation, among other things, is an interest of mine. Not so long ago I was spending nights on a big drafting tabling crafting silly random stop motion animations using Crude materials and for a short while doing daily 30 second animations using a whiteboard and a web cam.

Friends and I would spend an entire evening planning an elaborate show of inanimate objects coming to life and by 3am the whole thing had devolved to a chaotic get highly satisfying clip.

And years ago if I wasn’t making silly little flip books using whatever random  notepad I could get my hands on, we would make stop motion films using an old VHS camcorder and whatever was at hand.

“The animation of inanimate objects” was created with quick, if inconsistent, toggling of the recording trigger. The results were dark, grainy, and poorly white balanced but this was 1991. From watching Will Vinton and Nick Park, my friend an I had always dreamed of doing something grander.

More recently I was able to do some traditional 2d animation at work which I found extremely satisfying. The bug had bitten me again.

The great thing is, with today’s tools and computers this sort of thing for Zōsan doesn’t feel too far out of reach. I have Toon Boom Harmony, and tools that would make it possible to do it all digitally.

Of course, don’t expect anything any time soon. The road to something final would be long, and filled with false starts and turns, but if it didn’t stop a certain little elephant I don’t see why that would stop me.


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“Perhaps I imagined the whole thing…”

So this journey is coming to a close. The books are scheduled to be in my hands this week, both letterpress and offset. I’ll be spending the week wrapping & packing them all. They won’t be in people’s hands before the holiday, but the arrival is imminent and they’ll be delivered before the month is over.

In some ways I don’t want this to be over. It was just a little over a year ago that I approached Clare about the vague possibility of making this book letterpress, and here we are. It’s a real thing, and even better than I ever thought at the outset.

Not sure what’s next. I enjoyed making the audiobook immensely, and my kids adore it. I could easily do more of that, so I suppose it’s time to start writing more so as to have something to turn into an audiobook. But I’ve been toying with the idea of collaborating with a writer to allow me to focus on the illustrations, which I think would be just as satisfying and perhaps a bit less intense. There will always be the possibility to write and draw, but only working on one might be even better.

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Names for the little elephant 

I wasn’t immediately settled on the name for the little elephant. I did eventually go with a literal name : Zōchii 象(ぞう)ちい lit. “Little elephant”. In English the long o is implied and the longer i just looks funny. 

I tried things like “zoko” 象子 “elephant child” but it sounds funny in English. 

I tried all three: “zokochii” 象こちお little elephant child, but it’s redundant and again in English looks funny. And I don’t think it actually works in Japanese either. 

“Zōchi” is cute in English and Japanese, so I stuck with it. 

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Visiting Portland

I was fortunate to be able to visit both printers this past weekend — Clare at Tiger Food Press and Charles at Eberhardt press, and both visits clarified why I’m Zōsan is being made in print.

Many times I’ve related to people wondering, sure, I could have easily made this book using Amazon CreateSpace faster and far cheaper. That way, I could sell it and promote it and get sales all over the place!

But it wouldn’t be what it really wanted to be: a book that on every level was touched by a human being, considered from every detail. One made of materials that will last and get better with every reading.

Both printers struck me with their effortless devotion and love of their crafts, whether it was the Ryobi and Kluge presses that Charles had in his shop or the drawers of handset type that Clare kept in her studio. And both were not only willing to enthusiastic about sitting down to chat with me about themselves and what they do.

This was another important part of this book for me, finding that human connection throughout the process. CreateSpace is an extreme example where I essentially interact with no one but a computer, and when I wanted a book I just tell the computers to print me another. Just. Like. The. Rest.

Each of the books made, be it letterpress or offset, has paper that was hand-cut (with appropriate industrial machinery, I’ll admit). Ink is put on rollers by a person as the printing process progresses, and pages are hand inspected. Even the audio book allowed me to connect with friends old and new as I sought voices beyond my own and characters I couldn’t have created alone.

I don’t dislike working alone, but this book has been a wonderful collaboration, and I’ll miss that. So much that I won’t want to call it done. But I will eventually, (er, rather soon if I want to get it to everyone) and it will hold all those thoughts, words, and joy somehow within each page for everyone who opens it to experience. That is my hope, at least.



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The Process


I keep a sketchbook handy. They’re all over the place. I keep one by the bed and I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and scribbled something nearly unintelligible down because I’ve learned if I don’t — no matter how much I think I’ll remember that great idea — it’s gone when I wake up. Or at least, it’s not as convincing as it was at 3am.

I’ve largely transitioned to digital for creating, because, frankly I find it more forgiving and more convenient. When all I had to do was pack a tablet to the Natural History museum instead of  pad, satchel full of pens and erasers — it was that much easier and the results were no less satisfying:


With that pencil sketch I’ll move to either the Paper on the iPad, Autodesk Sketchbook, Photoshop or Mischief on Mac OS X. I haven’t really settled on a favorite except I like using illustrator for the final step.







From that sketch I refine the lines once or twice and then move into inking. process1

Once the major forms are worked out, then I usually start adding background detail:



Then I start adding the shading via cross hatching — which is either medatative or tedious, depending on the mood I’m in. Usually if it’s the latter I take a break and do something else, because I can always tell when I’m rushing it.


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Recording Session

I just finished recording with John Reed, who is playing the part of Little Zo in the audiobook version. He’s done some theater and it showed; he was really excited and was great at taking direction. I’m really glad to have him as part of the project!


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