Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best.
When a surprising trend takes hold, it’s easy to think of it as something unprecedented. But sometimes it seems that way due to our own limited perspective. Much of fashion in any field is the re-introduction of things that were popular once upon a time—and such is the case with the adult coloring book trend, which has so affected the publishing business in recent years.
Not long ago, a fellow editor shared with me an article in the New Republic about adult coloring books. Putting the fascination with meditative examples of the category in context, the article described a moment in the 1960s when grown-ups were crazed for coloring books, many of which were powered by provocative—even subversive—humor. I hadn’t been around to witness the first big boom of adult coloring, so I was intrigued by the article. Then it identified the genre’s genesis: an incendiary little thing called The Executive Coloring Book.
The Executive Coloring Book by Marcie Hans, Dennis Altman, and Martin A. Cohen was published in 1961. It begins this way: “THIS IS ME. I am an executive. Executives are important. They go to important offices and do important things.” The work of three young advertising copywriters, it became a surprise bestseller and debuted on the New York Times list just a few slots down from Franny and Zooey and To Kill a Mockingbird.
On every page, the authors struck innocent-looking line drawings against deadpan captions. The spark that results is a fierce humor that skewers an era but also comments on the more general phenomenon of corporate culture that is alive and well today, 55 years later. The genius of the thing is that that humor feels perfectly current. So many of today’s biggest companies could stand in as targets for these darts, and so many executives (from the commander-in-chief on down) could benefit from such needling.
So we saw it as our joyful duty to bring The Executive Coloring Book back. After all, while this book might not be a vehicle for meditation, in worrisome times what better therapy is there than humor?
The Executive Coloring Book is on sale March 28, 2017. Stay tuned for more on how to participate in the re-release of this classic coloring book!
Adult coloring books have taken the world by storm. Here, Andy Hughes, (Vice President and Director of Production and Interior Design, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group) takes us behind the scenes of the new Vogue Colors A-Z.
The Vogue coloring book is my first foray into the making of what’s become a publishing phenomenon. I’ve been producing books for Alfred A. Knopf publishing for nearly 40 years, during which time, I’ve handled every genre of book, including massive, sumptuous coffee table Vogue books (Vogue Living, World of Vogue, Vogue Weddings), so I welcomed the opportunity and challenge to figure out how to put together a typically lower-priced interactive consumer book coupled with the prestige of the Vogue brand.
When the idea was introduced to me in December 2015, it was soon apparent that reconstructing full-color vintage Vogue cover images into outline form would be a difficult challenge. Valerie Steiker, the Vogue Editor who conceived and assembled the project, sent Knopf’s editor, Shelley Wanger, four sample images at my request for testing. The alphabetical architecture of the book meant 26 images; when I studied them all, some of the covers were rendered simply with large mono-colored elements, others with the shadowing of garments with folds or the translucency of a diaphanous silky material, and the rest elaborated with rich details of texture and pattern. The goal of retaining the readability of the images, without the assistance of color, shading, and texture, was my immediate concern and challenge to figure out.
The first task was to de-colorize the image and delete the tonal gradations of the art. I had a pre-press vendor handle this in Photoshop, instructing them to retain as much of the skeletal outlines of the images as possible. But, the resulting image file retained just a soft, fuzzy outline, and many of the details got diminished in this filtering process. It was apparent that the services of an artist-illustrator would be needed to re-draw the art to enhance the line and embellish the image to suggest volume and delineate areas of detail for the colorist to fill in. A young, fashionable colleague of mine suggested her aunt, Cecilia Lehar, who did just this sort of inking. So, I wrote Cecilia, who years ago had coincidentally worked on Vogue patterns for 11 years, and worked on an exhibition, 250 years of Fashion, for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I reviewed her portfolio, and asked her to prepare a line art version of the four pieces I had de-colorized. Her initial work was excellent: faithful to the original, yet now as a line rendering that could be successfully filled in with colors.
From that moment on, for the next month, it was meetings at Vogue and in my office to review the ensuing progress of Cecilia’s re-work of all the illustrated covers and incidental art throughout. In the book, each cover appears on the right side page of a spread, faced on the left page with the letter of the alphabet that corresponds to some element or theme of the cover image. Initially, the Vogue Deputy Design Director, Alberto Orta, chose a period-appropriate “Deco” border motif surrounding the letter of the alphabet, dramatic with contrasting black and white panels. We realized quickly that any solid filled-in area needed to be “emptied” to only an outline so another element of the book could be filled in with color by the book’s owner. And, each letter is further decorated by drawings evocative of the letter and cover image, which also needed to be re-drawn as line art. So, as the book took form, we added more and more colorable areas.
The book also includes a six-page barrel gatefold insert, perforated for removal from the book, comprised of 21 appareled models, consecutively arranged, representing the years 1912-1932. Again, each figure required re-drawing and refinements making them suitable for coloring. The cover of this paperback book features six-inch flaps (more figures to color!), and printed on the verso side of the cover, an array of the same decorative drawings that punctuate each letter within the book.
Manufacturing a book equal to the quality of Vogue’s historical covers required extensive research to identify the ideal paper to print on. The paper’s brightness, opacity and surface smoothness were all considered carefully, and finally, a 120-pound text (aka 65-pound cover) Accent Opaque paper was deemed perfect, but the next challenge was to make sure paper this thick could be folded well on the press equipment available for the large quantity of books being printed and the tight schedule we were dealing with. Press tests were conducted—luckily successful—though pushing at the limits of the equipment’s capabilities. Another embellishment to the book was including thumbnail-sized reproductions of the original covers (color elements are very uncommon in coloring books). Their reproduction was critical, and including these references of the original art allowed Valerie the opportunity to identify the cover images’ creators along with fascinating anecdotes, which further elevates Vogue Color A-Z above other coloring books by adding fashion history, wit, and a challenge to this book’s colorist to match the original artwork.
Read below to learn more about the book!