Just a couple of weeks ago, I finally finished my newest project “The Lost Falcon”. I finished the bulk of the project back in August, but there were some loose ends that I just recently finished. The longer I work on a project the harder it is to keep working on it. It’s a vicious circle. With this blog post, where I will chronicle the beginnings and execution of this project, I can finally put this nightmare to rest and move on to the next (I’m being melodramatic if you can’t tell), which of course has to be the continuation of my prehistoric series.

The inspiration for this story came from a trip to Egypt many years ago. During my trip, I had the luck to go to Siwa, an oasis in the middle of the desert, and to go snorkeling in Sharm El Sheik. From my first ever experience snorkeling, I drew a book called “Googling at fishes”. I wanted to do a book about the desert but was clueless what the actual story would be.

The first thing that I decided on for this project was the format. I’ve always liked the board book format and was annoyed that virtually all board books are for babies. Why can’t adults enjoy board books? Who made the rule that only babies get board books?

The idea to use heat sensitive ink came later. I knew heat sensitive ink existed, but it wasn’t until someone at the SVA printshop was using it that I realized the stuff was available to regular people like me and not just printers: all I had to do was search for thermal dust on google and find a shop that sold it (and for those interested, the store I went to was solarcolordust.com)

Because I decided on the format of the book and the heat sensitive ink early on, I had to make a story fit these constraints. It’s not the ideal way to start a project: usually, you start with a story and then find a format for it, but sometimes inspiration comes to me backward. I searched for folkloric tales from the people that lived around the Sahara, but couldn’t find any. I looked through “The book of a thousand and one nights” (It’s like the movie Inception in fairytale form becasue you’re reading a story about a woman telling stories about people telling stories about people telling stories) and couldn’t find anything that fit. After a lot of brainstorming, I finally ended up on the idea of using an Ancient Egyptian myth as a basis for a new story.

The myth this story is based on goes like this: The Sun god, Ra, crosses the sky in his Sun Barge. When his boat sets on the horizon, he travels through the Underworld where he battles enemies, including the god of chaos, Apophis, who is a giant snake. Sometimes, other gods, like Set, help him on his journey. Once he defeats the snake, the Sun God is “reborn” and a new day starts…Let me just add that Egyptian mythology is very confusing. There’s no “bible” of Egyptian myth so there are several versions of the same story and several sun gods, and some gods are merged together and it’s just a mess.

In the end, the story is a mishmash of different references. Obviously, there’s the Egyptian mythology, but there’s architectural reference to Petra, Saudis and Tuareg clothing and sumo wrestlers for good measure.

Constructing the book was also quite a journey. This project was a lot of firsts for me: Drawing exclusively on Photoshop as opposed to pencil and paper, using heat-sensitive ink, and binding a board book.

Drawing digitally was a bit of a gamble because I lose the sense of scale. With silkscreen, I can’t print super thin lines, so I was scared my Photoshop brush would turn out too thin for the job. Originally, I wanted to silkscreen the text alongside the pictures, but the text was too small to print well. This was actually quite a bummer because the story is hard to understand without the text since “magical” things happen. So I came up with a compromise: make a separate version of the book that is printed digitally.

Then I needed to find a paper thick enough for a board book but flexible enough to be folded. The paper I found turned out to be expensive, at $3 a sheet, and I could only afford to print 16 copies of my book. The last problem was the heat sensitive ink. I ordered small $20 bags of the powder in different colors: blue, yellow and black. I had to experiment on the fly to figure out how much powder to mix with the ink base to get something opaque enough to cover the artwork. I realized the blue and yellow powders were too transparent and I had to use black powder on all my spreads, which sucked because I was planning on using these colors for the sandstorm and the oasis. In the end, I had to triple print the black heat sensitive layer to get an opaque layer. I ended up spending $120 on the heat sensitive powder.

After all this, I actually hadn’t put much thought into the cover and title of the book. And really, that’s the problem with all my books: I spend so much time working on the inside content that once I need to figure out the cover, I’m really exhausted with the whole project. But I really wanted to do something special, so I had the “great” idea to die cut an Islamic star pattern. That turned out to be an expensive headache as well: $380 for papers with burn marks. Thankfully, a layer of paint covered up the burn marks.

Then there was the actual manufacturing process: I’d never actually build a board book before. It’s actually fairly simple. Just glue the pages back to back, but I did manage to completely mess that up in one copy of the book…that copy now lives in the SVA printshop (unless they threw it away). So by the end, I had 12 books that survived this whole expensive manufacturing process: two books were misprinted, one book was sacrificed to make a dummy, one book was glued incorrectly.

Because I’ve spent over $600 on the materials of this project, and I only have 12 books to show for it (well really I have 9 books for sale. I keep copies for my portfolio), they’re obviously expensive. I decided to add some etchings and postcards to to the book to make it a more enticing purchase…who knows if that’s going to work? I’ll find out this weekend at Comic Arts Brooklyn. My gut instinct is that I should have found a cheaper alternative to die-cutting the covers.

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