Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ellen Raskin: Freak Show

No, this isn't a post about a season of American Horror Story. In 1971, Ellen Raskin published a picture book called The World's Greatest Freak Show. (You can see lots of images of the book's pages in my earlier post about the Milwaukee Public Library's collection of Raskin books.)

Freak Show is Raskin's weightiest picture book. As I wrote earlier,

The story tells of Alastair, a good-looking young man who recruits a group of "freaks" (two-headed man, etc.) to appear in a show in a nearby country. Little does Alastair suspect, but the country's entire population is made up of people who would usually be considered freaks, and he's the one who is considered to be a freak...

I have my theories about how Freak Show's story would have resonated for Raskin, as a Jew from German Milwaukee, an art geek, and a woman with a chronic, disabling illness.
A couple of the photos I took of items in this Kerlan Collection box make good contrasts with my photos from Milwaukee:

First, the cover dummy. Note that the title is typeset here, but because Raskin wanted her name to be yellow, she has painted over the type. Also notice that she used plastic rule tape around the art, instead of inking that line. (The tape is unraveling on the right side of the art.)

The inside pages of the dummy are also fun to see. This photo shows a printed page from the book (above right) contrasted with the dummy of the same spread. Raskin's production method for the dummy is to reproduce the artwork (using photocopies), and then represent the spot colors with self-adhesive color-overlay film. She would have cut out each of those areas of color with an X-Acto knife.

Next, the "blueline" of the whole book. This is a production piece, created as a final proof not long before printing. The film negatives (later used to create the expensive printing plates) are used to expose cheap, light-weight photo paper that turns blue once processed. The printer then turns those photo prints into a booklet in the same size as the finished book. In this era of printing methods, it was the last chance to catch an error before printing.

Other items in the box:

This is Raskin's neatly typed (and even designed) list of all the items in the box. She would have made this by typing the text and then rubbing down the numbers from a sheet of Letraset type. (What kind of perfectionist does that for a list of materials in a box?)

You can see in these sketches of the book's main characters how she worked on their expressions and overall appearances.

Finally, there is the original art for her beautiful pages. That theater marquee is a marvel.

I love the water that roils across the fold on this spread.

I don't own a copy of The World's Greatest Freak Show at this point (I've only seen it once, while visiting Milwaukee), but seeing the materials at the Kerlan Collection reminds me that I need to change that.