Flesk Update: “Spectrum Fantastic Art Live!” Art Book. The Making of the Book.

I just approved the final proofs for the “Spectrum Fantastic Art Live!” commemorative art book that I edited and designed. There are five artists featured along with an introduction by five different writers to each gallery section. The book opens with an introduction by Cathy & Arnie Fenner and closes with an afterword that I wrote.

This Spectrum Fantastic Art Live! hardcover collection explores the work of the five special guests at this year’s event: Android Jones, Brom, Iain McCaig, Phil Hale and Mike Mignola. Introductions to each gallery are by industry greats Christopher Golden, Lorne Lanning, Christopher Paolini and William Stout, plus a short interview with Phil Hale by Tray Batey. The book is limited to 2000 copies and it will premiere at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live! in Kansas City, Missouri on May 18-20, 2012.

Since I was working with a dozen people I mapped out every page before I contacted everyone. Then I gave everyone a blueprint in PDF form. I detailed exactly what I needed from each person and provided a due date. The schedule is very important as the “Spectrum Fantastic Art Live!” show is coming up in May and the books have to be there. They can’t show up a day late. The book is done. It is going on the press next week. Then it is a matter of me staying on top of the printer and shipper to make sure they arrive in time.

I spent some time pushing, challenging and driving myself to do something new with the design of the book, when compared with my previous book designs. I felt I really needed to grow. I applied much of what I learned from working with Bruce Timm on the Naughty and Nice book. And I also forced myself to stop answering emails, stop writing blogs and just focus on the book. I get very distracted running Flesk Publications and I had to just shut myself off from the world for a little while and focus on experimenting. This effort added an extra couple weeks to the timeline, but I think it was worth it. I came up with enough new design ideas to apply to the next few books.

The way I started is much in the same way as you see artists draw out thumbnails for book covers or illustrations. I like to use a red or blue pencil, something soft—dull or sharp, it doesn’t matter, and make little two to three inch cover, book spread, title pages and introduction page designs. Like I said before, I rarely have time for this sort of thing but one evening I just sat down and started drawing. Within an hour I had a dozen section spread ideas, a handful of cover ideas and most of the book worked out in miniature form. At this point the book is totally in my head. I never referenced the sketches again. I fine tune any details in my head while running errands, waiting in line at the Post Office, driving to the beach or any other moment that I have a moment to myself.

Another hour to two hour session I spend is going through fonts for the book. Again, it is very hard for me to find this moment focus, but once I do, one to two hours is the most time it takes. I go through hundreds of fonts to find what I am looking for. I never know what font I will choose, or what I really want, but once I see it I know it is the right one. It’s usually very obvious when I see a font and know I want to use it. For all of the non-body text fonts, I wanted to make sure I used selections that I had never used before. Once the fonts were selected, I moved on to designing the book.

As I was designing the cover, I sent my concept to Mark Schultz for his opinion. It’s good to have a guy like Mark to call and run ideas by. It’s fun! Sometimes a ten minute call can result in a good handful of ideas, or cement something in my head I was unsure about. So, I sent him the cover and before I knew it his wife, Denise (a solid artist and designer in her own right) was on the phone to offer ideas. I found myself tweaking the cover as we talked and sending PDF’s through email. I must have sent them fifteen samples with different color variations, font placements, line thicknesses—all very subtle variations to “see” how different ideas would apply to the cover. We had a good time. Before we knew it we had one we all liked the best. There was no arguing or debates, the right cover naturally evolved and we all leaned towards it. A few weeks later I decided to add the burnt paper “look” to replace the flat colors. I spent about three hours making the swatches that are used for the backgrounds on the jacket, but I think it was worth the time. The flat color looked too boring to me and was not harmonizing with Brom’s terrific cover art.

Brom was the first person to get me all of his art and captions, so I started with his section. He gave me more art than I needed so I never felt limited by what would go on each page. This allowed me to design the section by balancing the art on the spreads just how I wanted to. From the start I already knew I wanted every section to have a different feel that represented each artist directly, almost like five chapbooks in one book, and not one single design to run through the whole book. The book does have unity, but each section is unique as well.

By the time I actually start laying out the book in InDesign, if you were to stand over my shoulder and watch you would think I am working very fast. At this point I’m bouncing around the pages and book, adding this, moving that, dumping one idea to start another—I’m on autopilot and am just sticking things in place. It feels very subconscious and I don’t feel that aware of what I am doing. It doesn’t seem like work. I can have music playing, kids screaming, it doesn’t matter. I’m just in the groove. All my preparatory work was done in advance making the actual work seem like a breeze.

Mignola’s section came second. This went fast as well, since I had a very clear vision for how to present his art. I sent it to Mike to look over, took his feedback and made some slight adjustments for the better. It’s very important to me to represent the artists’ energy in the book. Each personality and style is so different from one another and I want to capture some of that uniqueness into the book. It really isn’t about me and my ego. It’s about the artists and the book.

I continued to put together and send each artist their chapters for review. No major changes were made, just little tweaks—mostly by me later on.

Phil Hale requested that he design his section. Sure! I took it as an opportunity for me to learn from him. He sent me a detailed layout for his gallery. I really dug what he sent me. It was very much in line with how I envisioned his art to be showcased. I had studied his previous books so had a good feel for what he would want. He breaks boundaries and really pushes design in subtle, simple and powerful ways. I just love what he did.

I wasn’t too familiar with Android Jones before I started the book. As I worked on his section I grew an intense appreciation for him and his work. He is absolutely amazing! The way he pushes electric art and fuses colors together is unbelievable.

Iain McCaig’s section went together quickly as well. I had a certain idea for his section from the start and ran it by Iain. He sent me some very special pieces. I can’t talk about it yet, but just wait until you see what Iain is sharing with us.

Arnie Fenner suggested Christopher Paolini to write Brom’s introduction. I was crossing my fingers, but not getting my hopes up. I thought he was surely too busy. Turns out I was wrong and Christopher was more than happy to write one. Christopher Golden, another recommendation by Arnie, came through like champ too, writing a piece about Mignola. Lorne Lanning delivered for Android, and William Stout for Iain. Phil Hale supplied an interview extract with Tray Batey. Each is a delight to read and I am grateful to all of these gentlemen for their time and help.

I am very happy with how this book turned out. I was asked last June by Arnie if I would be interested in producing some sort of simple and modest souvenir book for the show. Well, I have a bad habit of taking a simple request and having my way with it. What you will see is something atypical of a souvenir book. In fact I’m not labeling it as such and am focusing on this being a high end art book commemorating the event. At first it was going to be 8.5 x 11 inches at 48 pages. It grew into 64 pages at 9 x 12 inches. I wanted the dimensions to match the Spectrum books and the extra 16 pages added some weight.

I would like to thank Cathy & Arnie Fenner and all of the artists and writers for this opportunity and for their trust.

So there you go–a bit of background information on how the book was made. I’m looking forward to the “Spectrum Fantastic Art Live!” show and having this book available there. See you soon.



John Fleskes
Flesk Publications
Text © 2012 John Fleskes. All rights reserved.

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live! commemorative art book details
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live! event website