The Edison Files - How We Did It And Why It's Not On Amazon

There is a terrific website called "Comic Strip Of The Day" which, if you haven't read it yet, you should. Then, as soon as you have read a little, you need to immediately bookmark the site or subscribe because it's not just a site about comic strips. It's a site about life. Mike Peterson offers daily commentary on a par with any syndicated columnist you may be reading, it just so happens the jumping off point for each commentary is a comic strip or an editorial cartoon.

Mike is also an excellent friend to comic artists, he lists all the places you can subscribe to comics online (the official sites where the creators are fairly compensated) and also links to comic collections for sale. And, in a nod to the folks that are now producing their comic collections themselves, and possibly not selling them through a retailer like Amazon, Mike has added a spot for independent comic book producers to plug their work.

When I became aware of this opportunity I wrote up a little blurb for the Edison book. Unfortunately, I failed to read the directions and came up with something that exceeded the recommended word count of 50 by quite a bit. So I decided to keep the blurb short but steer anyone who was interested to the longer story of how we did the book and why it's not on Amazon.

Which is when I realized that we had never really told the story in its entirety all in one place. John did do three installments of it over on his Cartoonist Studio Blog but, it turns out that blog doesn't list by topic, only month, so you'll have a hard time finding it there. So I have transported those pieces over here and put them all in one blog post below. It's pretty long but if you are thinking of making your own book collection, I think it's also pretty valuable.

Some quick points in case you don't have time for the whole article:

1) We wanted to use a local American Printer rather than outsource to Asia.

2) We wanted to print the Sunday strips in full color at a legible reading size and include the drop panels most people never see - this meant sizing the book larger than the print on demand options that are available.
3) We not only wanted the book large enough to put in the Sundays properly, we wanted a book that read all in the same direction - not flipping side to side as one went from dailies to Sundays - but also did not wind up with only one daily on a page.
4) We wanted to use a nice heavy paper stock for the interior and a durable high gloss stock for the cover so that the book would stand up to repeated reading and last for many years.
As a result of these choices the books cost us a fair amount to produce which means we had to settle on a cover price of $15.95 plus shipping and handling. Amazon has a habit of discounting books down to a price below that which we paid to produce each book and that is why we don't sell them there.
While we cannot offer discounts on the price of the book, John is happy to sign and personalize your copy - just remember to ask for this in the Special Instructions field when you place your order.

Creating the first Edison Lee book Collection:                    By John Hambrock

2 years ago I approached King Features about creating an Edison Lee Book collection. At the time, I knew nothing about what it would take to create one, or how long it would take. My editor, Brendan Burford, said he would look into it. Eventually, a pitch was made to Andrews McMeel, who kindly turned down the request. It’s a tough market for cartoon book collections these days, with most of the larger publishers shying away from working with smaller, less established strips. So, we decided to create our own.

Anne and I were driving back from the Reuben weekend in New Jersey when we got on the subject of an Edison Book. It was Memorial Day weekend, and we decided we needed to produce the most beautiful book we could come up with by early September.  I was going to be appearing in Marceline for Toonfest on the 16th, attending our big NCS chapter meeting in Omaha on October 2nd, AND attending the OSU Festival of Cartoon Arts on the 15th, and I wanted to have the books printed for these events. We decided we wanted to include rejected strips, Edison puzzles, even an intermission. We also decided to include comments on some of the strips, which more and more cartoonists seem to be doing in their books these days.
I have a background in Graphic Design, but I had no idea how to create a book of this scale. I started out doing what I always do when faced with a project I know nothing about;  I jumped in with both feet and started asking questions. 

The first thing I did was discuss the project with several printers. I considered online, on-demand book printers, but quickly found the options limited for what we were looking to create. I had worked with many Chicago area printers over the years, so I called two that I knew could handle a job of this size and started getting some quotes. We discussed size, paper, lamination, color,  binding, etc. This was a necessary step before settling down to design the book. I went back and forth with both printers, adjusting the size and number of color pages based on their quotes, until I settled on a 11” x 8-1/2” horizontal, 144 page black & white book, which included 32 color pages of Sunday strips. I could have opted for a book entirely in color for just a little more money, but I chose to keep the daily strips  in black & white.

The next step was to lay the thing out. The first thing I did was stop by the Walgreens near my office and buy a huge pack of colored post-it-notes. When I got to my office, I cleared one wall and started sticking the post-its up, one for each page, using the various colors to designate the various types of pages (Sunday strip page, puzzle page, etc). I think we looked at several dozen variations before finalizing the look. It was now the middle of June. I had two months to put together the entire book. I had no idea what I was about to get into.

Book layout by Post-it.

Now that we had settled on a printer and designed a comprehensive layout, we had a decision to make about format. Would this be a simple “year one” collection or a more selective book encompassing the first four years? We decided on the more comprehensive book that would pull material from all four years. We had over 1500 published daily and Sunday strips to choose from, and we had to narrow the choices down to about 340, which was not an easy task. The first part of this enormous undertaking went to Anne. I keep a master photocopy of every strip created to date, filling 9 ring binders, so the first thing Anne did was go through every binder picking out her personal favorites. It took her about a week to pull 600-700 strips.

Photocopies of every Edison strip ever published.

She sorted them into a variety of colored binders so that we could keep them in order. This was important because, after the selection process was ended, all those strips needed to be put back into the proper archive binder. The next step was having me go through those colored binders to pick out my favorites and knock the number down closer to 400. Then back to Anne again to see if there were any major points of disagreement. There were a few strips Anne liked that I was adamant I did not want, a few strips I truly felt I could not live without that she was rather cool on. Likewise, she had her favorites to fight for and a few she fought against. Long story short - we came out happy with our choices and we are still married.

Keeping the strip choices organized was essential.

Once we had decided which strips to include, I needed to proof them again. When a week’s worth of strips are completed on our end, they get sent off to the folks at Reed Brennan Media Associates, who check them for missing punctuation and other minor mistakes I may have made. If I do forget a comma, or misspell a word, which I try never to do, RBMA will make the correction. I don’t often know about these little corrections, so consequently, my copies of strips will contain errors which I did not catch. What I could have done after deciding on the final strips for the book would have been to contact RBMA and have them send me their copies. Being short on time, I chose to proof them myself. Fortunately, my dear old mother had copies of every single Daily Ink strip ever published. She too put them in numerous binders, which I used to proof my original digital files. I did find a few mistakes, which I was able to fix. I also had to take each digital file and remove the dates and copyright information, which took me some time.

Next, the strips had to be put in order, which wasn’t as simple as it sounds. When you put them in straight chronological order, you might find that you have too many ongoing story strips in a row, or too many strips featuring one character. Years ago, when we had run focus groups with our friends, we learned that there is a rhythm to reading a collection of strips that is different than reading them one per day in the newspaper. We settled on an order that was about 60% chronological. The rest were scattered throughout. Since Edison Lee is often political, Anne came up with the idea of dividing the book in half, the first half containing strips from the Bush years, and the second half strips from the Obama years. Anne stacked all of the strips, in final order, in one final master binder. Now I had what I needed to start assembling the pieces. 

Two big steps, designing the look of the book and picking out the best strips to run, were now out of the way. It was the middle of August, and panic was beginning to set in. There was still quite a bit to do, and it felt like time was slipping away. In early August, I had contacted some of my fellow cartoonists asking them to write a few kind words about Edison. My plan was to run these testimonials on the back cover of the book. Amazingly, they had all sent me something by the time I started laying out the pages.

It took me about a week working off and on to put all of the strips into the InDesign document. During this time I created puzzles and a dozen or so pieces of spot art that were to be spread randomly throughout the book. Anne and I also spent several evenings paging through and writing commentary about particular strips when it seemed appropriate.

Creating the cover art was also on the list of things to do. The art for the cover was decided years ago. Early on I had written an Edison strip that showed him coming in from the rain, dragging a smoking kite and drawn as if he had been struck by lightening. Edison looks at Harley and says “Ben Franklin must’ve been completely out of him mind!” At the time, I was told that zapping a kid with lightening was a no-no. Anne loved the strip so much that she suggested we use it for the cover of the first Edison book. I agreed, and years later, when the time came, I copied the art from the original, although I did tone down the “fried” look of Edison quite a bit.

The original Ben Franklin Cartoon

The Final Book Cover
Another thing I needed to do was purchase the ISBN#. To do this, I went to It’s a very simple registration process, and I was able to download the barcode file as well. I could’ve also registered the book with the Library of Congress, but the process takes weeks, and I couldn’t delay the printing waiting to receive the registration number, which normally gets printed in the front of the book. 

Since Edison is syndicated with King Features, I needed to get their approval for the book. I had contacted them as soon as we had decided to self publish. My written agreement with them simply states that they are to receive a small percentage of the profits after expenses. I also agreed to show them the book before printing the final, so when the layout was complete, I went to our local copy center and had them print out the entire book. I sent these to my editor, who enthusiastically signed off on them.

Finally, on Thursday, August 26th, I met with the printer. We had decided to print 1000 initial copies, so I wrote up a purchase order, handed him the disk, and breathed a big sigh of relief. We were done.

DONE?!! I had completely forgotten about the foreword. Anne kept reminding me to get this finalized, and it just kept slipping through the cracks. I knew Greg Walker was a fan of the strip, so I got on the phone with him that afternoon and asked him if he would write the foreword. Greg had a lot going on, and I wasn’t sure if he would have the time to come up with anything on such short notice, but by Saturday morning, he had written a foreword that was better than I could ever have asked for. I dropped in the new text and got the files to the printer first thing Monday morning. In a few days, I had a full set of proofs. Naturally, we found several minor errors, which we corrected, but we were on schedule. The only thing that could have stopped us at that point would have been if a tornado had destroyed the printing plant, which, believe it or not, almost happened several weeks later.

Finally, delivery day arrived. About 9:00 a.m. on September 10th, the delivery truck arrived in front of my studio and began unloading box after box of books. I was amazed at how much space 1000 books takes up.

Nothing could have prepared us for the amount of work we put into this project. Honestly, it wasn’t easy, but now that we know what and what not to do, I’m pretty sure we’ll do it again.

My Favorite Campaign Cartoon in the Past 6 Months

I was reading my New Yorker last night - which, of course, I get for the cartoons, and came across this gem. Despite the recent uptick for Gingrich, I feel this cartoon sums up the feelings of an awful lot of people right now :-)

Kudos to Paul Noth.

Where Does Your Stuff Come From?

On January 6th I heard a piece on This American Life that profoundly affected me. I write about and link to it on my Overbooked Blog.

Support Team Cul De Sac and Buy This Book!

John was very honored to do a piece for the Team Cul De Sac book. (I have a copy of the art somewhere and will find and post it eventually). For those of you who have been living under a rock and don't know, Cul de Sac is a fabulous comic strip by Richard Thompson. A couple of years ago Richard was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease (he is currently putting the strip on hiatus to undergo therapy, which you can read about here.) And Team Cul de Sac is an effort spearheaded by Chris Sparks to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation and overall research for Parkinson's.

Jillions of cartoonists - including the reclusive Bill Watterson - did art featuring Richard's characters that was included in this book and also an art auction. All to raise money for the foundation.

So, don't delay! Head over to Chris's site and pre-order your copy of the book today! (We've ordered ours!!)

Death In The Family

New Year's Day we received word that John's stepfather had passed away. I have written a tribute to him over on the Overbooked blog which you can read here.