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A Few of My Favourite Books #5

Tripp by John Brunner illustrated by Paul Piech

Trip: A Sequence of Poems Through the USA is a book by John Brunner illustrated with linocuts by Paul Piech and printed by the Keepsake Press in 1971. It was printed in a limited edition of 200 copies of which 50 were numbered and signed by John Brunner. Mine is a signed copy.

John Brunner was a British author of science fiction novels. As I child I read his 1968 novel Stand On Zanzibar about an overpopulated world which won the 1969 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel. I loved it. I explored some of his other science fiction and found a great groundswell of humanity in his writing. 20 or so years ago I cam across this card-covered book of his poetry and as soon as I saw the linocuts and John Brunner’s signature I knew I had to have it.

The title page has 1970s charm, with the decorative border. The linocuts are simply carved and expressive. It’s a joy to hold.

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Dead Parrots, Inky Parrots and Abecedarians

An Avian Alphabet - published by the Inky Parrot Press

Back in 1996 I put linocut artist Elizabeth Rashley in touch with Dennis Hall, a printer and publisher of fine limited-edition books. Dennis had run The Inky Parrot Press at Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes University) since 1980, specialising in illustration and producing books printed lithographically. The Inky Parrot Press took its name from the Poly in Polytechnic.

Inky Parrot Press

Dennis had recently retired and, despite running the Inky Parrot Press for years, and despite the Polytechnic having no intention of continuing the Press without him, he was unable to take the name ‘Inky Parrot Press’ with him into a fertile ‘retirement’ of busy book production. Brands are like babies. When you work for so many years to establish a name and an identity for something you have created with your own hard work, vision, skills and determination it’s a wrench to see it languishing in the hands of someone else who has no intention of doing anything with it.

With typical style, Dennis was undeterred and founded the Previous Parrot Press to carry on his good work. This led to many Monty Python-inspired gags about deceased parrots, all of which helped to seal the Press in the affections of its eager customers.

In 1996, after I contacted him, he suggested an alphabet book of birds with text by Nyr Indictor and linocut illustrations by Elizabeth Rashley and so An Avian Alphabet was born. Dennis loved the linocuts so much he felt that they had to be printed life-size and direct from the original blocks. Here therefore reconstituted his old team, with printer Harry Crook and published An Avian Alphabet under the old Inky Parrot Press imprint.

It’s a beautiful book.

“…the full alphabet is so splendid, so lively, so strong and witty, with an appreciation of the medium that Edward Bawden would have commended.”
Olive Cook, wife of Edwin Smith and friend of Edward Bawden.

18 years later and a quick search threw up this copy of An Avian Alphabet currently on sale from Bromer Books for $700. It’s one of the hand-coloured edition which I painstakingly hand-coloured. I was never convinced by the hand-colouring I did, which seemed to distract from the very graphic images, but it did mean that the Special Edition made the whole publication financially worthwhile.

An Avian Alphabet - Bromer Booksellers

Production was a nightmare as the linocut blocks needed so much more ink than the text that each had to be printed separately. The text was so long that having chosen a decorative font Dennis found that there were not enough lead letters in the case to set the full text so the pages had to be printed, re-set and then printed again. Looking at it though, who would guess?

Coming Soon: Ark-Bound Creatures, an alphabet book by Nyr Indictor and Elizabeth Rashley published by the Avenue Press – available to pre-order here soon!