New W. A. Dwiggins book! Athalinthia stories and pictures

Created by Bruce Kennett

The personal side of Dwiggins. Cool stories, published together for the first time. Tons of never-before-seen art, much in color.

Latest Updates from Our Project:

More on press run (long!)
5 months ago – Fri, Oct 07, 2022 at 06:17:05 PM

I have some more photos from Monday’s press run that I’d like to share with you.

For those of who who are not familiar with the offset printing process, I also thought I might explain a bit about it.

(Inky friends, now could be the time for you to go back to washing up your presses, distributing type, or kerning character pairs.)

First of all, here is most of Penmor’s immense Komori Lithrone press.

Lithrone press with two sets of four printing units.

Seeing Jamie (press operator) and Zack (feeder) standing at the feed end of the press (way over to the right) will give you a sense of the scale of this machine. It sits in a large space that can accommodate all manner of paper stored on the floor, ready for printing, and thus already conditioned to the ideal temperature and humidity by the time it is fed into the press. (Oh, and there's another press of the same general size, sitting on the plant floor behind me!)

The press has two sets of four towers. To print in “full color” you have to lay down four colors of transparent ink — cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow, and black — onto the paper. These inks combine (imperfectly!) to simulate all colors.  Although this process works fine for general purposes, many colors, including some of the gouache paints that Dwiggins loved to use, are “out of gamut” and cannot be reproduced by this C+M+Y+K process. However, using individual colors (a.k.a. spot colors) means dedicating a cylinder unit to each spot color needed, so that path leads to major expense. Printing our whole book in just CMYK meant some compromises, but it also kept the price far lower than if we had added spot colors — to do the whole book’s worth of illustrations there would have been dozens of spot colors!

Why is this printing called lithography? In traditional lithography (think posters from the Toulouse-Lautrec era), an artist draws an image on a large slab of limestone. (Note: lithos is the classical Greek word for stone.) The litho stone has a specially-processed surface, perfectly flat and smooth, but with super-fine microscopic toothy grain (think maybe 1000-grit sandpaper). The artist uses a greasy material to draw lines and shapes on the top surface. When water is applied to the surface of the stone, the greasy substance rejects it but the rest of the stone is happy to retain a bloom of moisture all over its surface. Following this, when an inked roller (like a paint roller, but with a smooth rubber surface) is run across the surface, the oil-based ink sticks  to those non-wet, greasy areas, but the ink will not come off the roller wherever there is plain wet stone. (Remember the old adage, oil and water do not mix.) A sheet of blank paper is put on top of the inked stone, then that sandwich is run under a roller that applies pressure, and as the paper and stone travel under the roller, the ink transfers to the surface of the paper. Note that the artist makes a drawing that is backwards, and if there is any text on the print, that must be drawn backwards, also.

Why is this called offset lithography? The traditional process used by artists since the 1790s could be called direct lithography, as opposed to offset. In our modern production printing, there is an extra step of transfer whenever an image is printed. Each of the eight towers on this press has an inking system at the top. Below this is an array of three cylinders that all rotate and touch at their points of tangency. Highest up is a cylinder with a thin metal plate wrapped around it; that plate contains the image to be printed: type, lines, and the dots that make up part of a picture. In the middle is a second cylinder that rotates in the opposite direction, tangent to the first one, with a rubber sheet wrapped around it (called a blanket). Below that is the third cylinder, which rotates tangent to the second one. 

First the cylinder at the top (with the metal plate on it) receives ink from the fountain at the top. It then rotates so that its inked surface comes into contact with the rubber blanket on the middle cylinder, and thus the inked information from the metal plate offsets onto the surface of the rubber blanket. That middle cylinder now rotates (the rubber surface carrying the ink) and makes contact with the surface of the third cylinder (called the impression cylinder). However, a sheet of blank paper has been introduced into the mix here: it travels between the rubber cylinder and the impression cylinder. As the second and third cylinders rotate and meet at their point of tangency, the paper scoots between them, and ink now transfers from the rubber surface to the paper surface.

Part of a 32-page press sheet. You can see the color separation proofs off to the side, which we compare to the images on the printed sheet as we are running the job.

Penmor’s press takes sheets of paper up to 40 inches (102 cm) wide. The sheets we are running are 25 x 38 inches (64 x 97 cm). Each sheet going through the press has 32 pages on it (16 pages on each side of the sheet). The Athalinthia book is 256 pages in all, so to make a complete book, we print 8 of these big sheets (in printer’s jargon, 8:32s) and then cut them in half. Each half-sheet now has 16 pages and those fold down into 16-page units called signatures, so that the book is sewn together as 16:16s.

Jamie at the delivery end of the press, making adjustments to the densities of the four colors of ink on both sides of the sheet. This requires a lot of fiddling to get it right, and then vigilance to be sure things stay that way.

It’s amazing how much things have changed over the decades I have been making books. Jamie has pinpoint control over ink levels everywhere. This is a far cry from the olden times when we would print full-color jobs via what was called dry trap, laying down one or two of the CMYK colors at a time, on a one-color or two-color press, and hoping humidity and other pressroom conditions would not change the dimensions of the paper! (Paper is hygroscopic and can change size slightly when moisture increases, whereas the metal plate used to deliver the image always remain the same size. So getting good fit with the four colors was often problematic: the image dots laid down in subsequent runs through the press might not fall in the same exact places as the dots that had been printed in the first run.)

Okay, more another day. I hope this was edifying for at least one or two of you in our little Athalinthia community. Thanks for reading.

Ink on paper!
6 months ago – Thu, Oct 06, 2022 at 05:43:19 AM


Our turn in the queue arrived, so we printed the book yesterday. It looks wonderful. Sylvia and I got back very late last night and I've had a ton of things to do outside today so I'll post some more pictures in a day or so. But here's the first sheet off the press, with poster, endpapers, decorated cover papers for the deluxe, and wraparound cover for the standard. This (and all the interior) was printed on Penmor’s best press, a 40-inch Komori Lithrone that uses UV inks. And they are willing to put up with the extra fussiness of stochastic screens — in their case, Kodak’s Staccato system — which yields such fine detail. And the vivid color that the quick-drying UV ink delivers on uncoated paper is the bee’s knees.

More soon.


Jeff, Steve, Jamie, and Zack with the first sheet of the run. We printed the entire book yesterday. A long day, but it was super to have Jamie there running the press on every fomr for the most consistent results.

6 months ago – Tue, Sep 27, 2022 at 06:45:25 PM

Hello Everyone,

Given all that has happened with the pandemic over the past three years, I guess it was unrealistic for me to think that our Athalinthia project would not be affected in several ways. First it was a change in paper brand for the standard edition (although no change in quality) . . . and now this . . .

When the schedule was made this summer, we planned to print the book at the end of September, then F&Gs (folded and gathered signatures) would go the bindery for sewing and casing in, and bound books back to Penmor for mailing out at the end of October. However . . . I have just learned that the bindery has been ravaged by Covid and continues to be:

“Over a dozen key staff out every day with no sign that this is over — 2 weeks so far, with new cases every day, despite best practices for Covid control. And this during our peak season.”

As a result they have fallen behind in their production. There is no way to predict now when the standard books will be ready to mail out, but our best guess is late November at the earliest, or more realistically, December.

This does not affect the posters — which do not need to pass through the bindery to reach GO. As many of you will remember, posters do not qualify for media mail, so they could not ship with the books; instead they will go under separate cover, rolled in a tube and sent via first class mail within the US. Therefore the mailing of posters to US addresses will precede the mailing of standard books, and should happen as planned by the end of October. The people who ordered a deluxe, and those who live in Canada or other international locations, will not be a part of this initial poster mailing: they will have a poster included in the box that contains their book(s).

Nor does it affect the deluxes. The deluxe interiors, endpapers, and decorated cover papers will go directly from Penmor to Gray once the signatures have been folded and gathered.

I’m disappointed that we are seeing this delay, but doing everything I can to keep things moving forward as quickly as possible. Thanks for your patience and understanding.


Afterword complete, spine revisions
6 months ago – Tue, Sep 13, 2022 at 10:44:25 AM

Greetings Everyone,

The afterword is all written, tons of pictures added, and the entire book has been proofread a second time by the ace copy editor and proofreader Doris Troy. We hope to print later in the month.

Meanwhile, Gray has ordered the goatskin from England and is looking forward to diving into making the first batch of deluxes once we are off press. We'll have one batch of 25 to send out in December, another in February, and a third in April.

Back in the fall of 2021, when I was laying out the book in pages, and choosing illustrations and deciding where to put them, I knew exactly how the front and back covers were going to look, but I struggled with the treatment of the book’s title on the spines. WAD always liked to have the spine type read horizontally, so that a reader never had to do a head-tilt to read the title. This practice of his resulted in lots of hyphenations, such as the narrow spine label for a 1917 book which ended up on nine lines as SON-  NETS   AND  OTH-   ER   LYR-   ICS    HILL-   YER, with all but one word hyphenated!

I tried all manner of combinations to see what I could do with ATHALINTHIA. 

My various attempts to hyphenate the main title.

But everything looked too busy and noisy to me. Nothing felt right. In the end, I decided to keep the spirit of horizontality with the title set in nice, visible Caledonia, set one letter per line, which would create a simple design with NO hyphens.

However, when I had my dummies all built and nested them among other WAD books . . . 

My original dummies shelved among a collection of WAD spines.

 they felt too “other” in appearance. I decided to re-visit the spine design, and to feature instead his hand-lettered artwork from the cover of the 1948 edition of The War Against Waak

(left) WAD’s handlettered artwork (center) New title design (right) deluxe spine

This new design uses two hyphens, on either side of LIN, and everything seems in good equilibrium. WAD’s lettering is flanked above and below by rows of his Caravan Decorative Units. This now provides a central piece of art that fills the width of the spine, just as WAD was fond of doing with so many of his own spine designs.

The author names at top and bottom are still in Metro, as before. (For the deluxe, I am having Michael Babcock set the names on his Linotype machine, so that Gray can hot-stamp those directly from Lino slugs onto the goatskin spines.)

For the standard edition, the previous design had a lavender background and green type, using colors that I eyedroppered from WAD’s gouache artwork for the scene shown on the front and back covers. This lavender-green combo worked fine with the large individual Caledonia capital letters, but lacked contrast when I brought in the new spine artwork. I next tried varying combinations of colors for background and type, but many did not have sufficient contrast for easy readability, or they lacked energy. The most successful of all these color schemes has the green for spine background, and black type, to give lively color and proper contrast, so that’s what we’ll use (with the colorful battle scene on front and back, as before).

These new spines feel much more akin to those surrounding them

I am very pleased with these changes and hope you are, too. Now, nested among the other WAD spines, the two books feel much Dwiggier!

Last call . . .
7 months ago – Wed, Aug 31, 2022 at 06:42:14 AM

Hello Everyone,

First of all, many thanks for completing your surveys. It helps get the information exactly right for shipment.

Second, orders are about to be closed. If you had meant to order a T-shirt or another copy of the book, today is the day to do it. After today, T-shirts and Series II deluxe books can no longer be ordered. A few standard books will be available for purchase later on, but at a higher price.

Thanks again for your help in getting this project off the ground!