The Story of the Fisherman, taken from the Arabian Nights, Foolscap Press (2015)

Longtime readers of Books and Vines know that I am a huge fan of Foolscap Press. Their designs and bindings are always out of the ordinary and fantastic, never just stand  ard fare. Their quality is always top-notch. Just look at their Dialogue of the Dogs, simply cool! Not to be out-done, check out their work on The Book of Sand from Nawakum Press. Of course, Phisicke Against Fortune is pretty awesome also….AHHHH, which to get? Easy, save for all of them!

I finally got a chance to meet Foolscap’s Lawrence Van Velzer and Peggy Gotthold at CODEX this past month, which was a delight. Besides having a chance to talk with them, I got to see many of their other works that I do not currently own. All are outstanding. You can see them here. Meeting them also gave me a chance to pick up their latest two works, both just released. The Saint John’s Fragment, which I will review in the coming couple months, and The Story of the Fisherman, which this article looks at.

The Story of the Fisherman is taken from the One Thousand and One Nights (also known as the Arabian Nights), using the translation by Edward William Lane (1801-1876). The prospectus reminds us the stories originated from ancient Persian, Indian, Egyptian and Mesopotamian sources collected over hundreds of years during the Islamic Golden Age, that is, from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries. Most of you are familiar with the Arabian Nights, but in case you are not, Foolscap gives us a short synopsis:

There is a frame story common to all the editions of the Arabian Nights that involve the ruler of the Persian Empire, King Shahrayar, and his bride Shahrazad. The core scene is the bedchamber of King Shahrayar. His new bride for the night is Shadrazad, daughter to the king’s own vizier. She is one more virgin destined to die at sunrise after spending just a single night in the king’s bed. The king has sworn to work his way through all the virgins of his kingdom, putting each to death the following morning because his former queen (and therefore all women, in his view) was without virtue. So he decreed that the young women in the kingdom would pay the ultimate penalty for their queen’s transgressions.

In short, the Arabian Nights is a collection of stories told against death.

The stories unfold, stories within stories, many of them with the intention of prolonging the life of the one telling the story. This present book, titled ‘The Story of the Fisherman’, is typical of the Arabian Nights stories in that it is a series of stories tucked within the opening story.

The first thing that grabs you about this edition is the design, coloring and format. The accordion fold binding allows for some spectacular panorama’s of the colorful illustrations by artist Brian Bowes, as you will see below.  As mentioned in the prospectus:

‘The Story of the Fisherman’ has evolved both as a story of words and, at the same time, a story told in graphic art form. Due to the accordion nature of the binding, the book can be opened to display the story in images and the reader will discover visual connections between the linked illustrations.

This format is not just meant as a ‘cool’ way to display the images. The format is extremely well thought out, meant to be symbiotic with the story itself. The prospectus tells us:

One of the main themes of the ‘Arabian Nights‘ is the threat of death, telling stories as a way of saving ones life. ‘The Story of the Fisherman‘ is particularly strong this way. And the teller of the stories flips inside the story, as a narrator nests another story inside the larger story. This idea let us play with the structure of the book, so that the images that also tell the story can be seen as a linear sequence independent of the actual text. By using different colors of ink for the line of the images, it makes clear which images go with what story, and also illustrates that the stories break off for a digression and then resume later for a continuation.

This, ladies and gentleman, is the spirit of what a private press is meant to be. Not just letterpress and great paper, but thoughtful, meaningful design. Followed by the highest level of craftsmanship in execution. Looking at the images below, especially of The Prince and the She Ghoul, Mr. Bowes pointed out to me the extraordinary job Mr. Van Velzer has done printing the images:

…he is able to print the large areas of continuous ink coverage while simultaneously maintaining the fine integrity of all the cross-hatching.

Being thrilled with the book I just purchased, I was curious what was behind Mr. Van Velzer and Ms. Gotthold choosing this as a project. They responded:

The inspiration for books is usually multi-faceted. We always keep in mind stories that we are interested in, and talk with different artists about their work. The ‘Arabian Nights‘ are a very old collection of tales, and told in a vernacular that is well suited to the graphic novel style of Brian Bowes.

Once you immerse yourself in the book and its illustrations there is no arguing that ‘well suited’ it is!  Mr. Bowes, an illustrator, graphic designer and art instructor, is the former Illustrator Coordinator for San Francisco North & East Bay Region of the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI). Mr. Bowes’ illustrations are numerous (18 pen and ink drawings), brilliant in color, and nicely complement the fantastical mood of the story. The illustrations are printed via polymer plates and colored via pochoir. The title page illustration is hand colored by the artist and makes for one amazing presentation. {Ed. Note: See here for an excellent look at the life of this project, full of sketches and a video, all of which gives great context on how a project like this comes to fruition from the illustrators viewpoint. The time lapse is something else!}

The illustration on the front and back covers is based on an illuminated page from a Koran made for Sultan Uljaytu Hamadan in 1313 by Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Hamadani. The type is set in Legend, a type designed in 1937 by F.H. Schneidler for the Bauer Type Foundry. It is printed on Lettra Pearl White from Crane & Company. The paper has a thick, luxurious feel and, as you will see in a macro below, the bite of the type is perfect (for my taste anyway!). The book is hand bound at the press and comes housed in a cloth covered box with a neodymium magnet to hold the front flap shut (which is a great idea). The size of the book is comfortable for reading (9 7/8 tall x 8 5/16 wide), and still large enough to really make for a gorgeous presentation when making use of the accordion format.

There are only 101 of this edition for sale (of 117) total. The cost is $775 plus shipping (subscribers get a 20% discount). If you are an Arabian Nights fan or a fan of great fine and private press work, you should jump on this fast as I am guessing these will not last long.

About the Edition

  • Designed, printed and bound by Peggy Gotthold and Lawrence G. Van Velzer
  • The Story of the Fisherman is taken from the Arabian Nights and is translated by Edward William Lane (1801-1876)
  • 18 pen and ink drawings, including the hand-colored illustrated title page, by Brian Bowes
  • Illustrations are printed via polymer plates (made by Richard Seibert) and done via pochoir (stencils made by Mark Knudsen)
  • The illustration on the front and back covers is based on an illuminated page from a Koran made for Sultan Uljaytu Hamadan in 1313 by Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Hamadani
  • Type set in Legend, a type designed in 1937 by F.H. Schneidler for the Bauer Type Foundry
  • Printed on Lettra Pearl White from Crane & Co.
  • Hand bound at the press
  • Housed in a cloth covered box with a neodymium magnet to hold the front flap shut
  • 9 7/8 tall x 8 5/16 wide, 80 pages
  • Limited to 117 numbered copies, of which 101 are for sale, and is signed by the artist Brian Bowes

Pictures of the Edition

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Cloth Covered Housing Box
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Cloth Covered Housing Box
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Book inside Housing Box
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Book inside Housing Box
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Front Cover
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Front Cover
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Front Cover
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Front Cover
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Spine (Accordion Format)
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Spine (Accordion Format)
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Accordion Format
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Accordion Format
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Title Page (with hand colored illustration)
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Title Page (with hand colored illustration)
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Frontispiece
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Title Page Illustration
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Title Page
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Title Page
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #1
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #1
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Sample Illustration #1
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Sample Illustration #1
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Text #2
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Text #2
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Sample Text #2
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Sample Text #2
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #2
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #2
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Text #3
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Text #3
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration 3
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration 3
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #5 with Text
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #5 with Text
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #6
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #6
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #7
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #7
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #8
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #8
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Text #4
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Text #4
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #9
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #9
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Sample Illustration #9
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Macro of Sample Illustration #9
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #10
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #10
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #11 - Accordion
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #11 – Accordion
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #12 - Accordion
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Sample Illustration #12 – Accordion
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Colophon
The Story of the Fisherman, Foolscap Press, Colophon

9 thoughts on “The Story of the Fisherman, taken from the Arabian Nights, Foolscap Press (2015)

  1. Lovely book and I just need to have it now. Thanks a lot for the extensive review and the high resolution pictures as it helped me appreciate the nuances of the printing and the overall design,

    1. Thank you for your comments. Not sure why I have had such problems with getting that link to work, but it appears to be fixed now. I agree, his work as shown on his site is great!

  2. What a find!!

    This is why one attends the major book fairs, to discover the cutting edge amongst the modern private press books being published. Chris’ excellent article and photographs highlight what sets this book apart and makes it quite special. One expects superb letterpress work and top notch quality of materials with a private press book. However, the superbly matched illustrations by Brian Bowes and the innovative book design by the Foolscap Press truly set this book apart. Bowes’ illustrations perfectly capture the fantastical, larger-than-life world of The Arabian Tales and the concept of linking aspects of the story using the illustrations in a fold-out accordion format is, to say the least, inspired. Incidentally, the Legend type is also a superb choice as it bears more than a passing resemblance to the appearance of the Arabic alphabet and calligraphy.

    Very rarely do all of the individual elements in a private press book come together so beautifully (the Rampant Lions edition of The Psalms of David, reviewed in B&V in October 2014, immediately comes to mind in this regard), but this book is certainly is one of them.

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