I was really excited to get a chance to review the first publication of The Prototype Press. The Press is a joint collaboration between David Johnston and Mark Sarigianis based in Oakland, California. I’ve owned, seen, or reviewed many a book that these two have had a hand in, either in some of the publications of the Arion Press where both spent a good deal time sharpening their fine press skills, or through David’s interim work with his Sharp Teeth Press. You can see those reviews as well as the write-up of my tour of the Press by clicking on the Prototype Press or Sharp Teeth Press tags at the end of this review. Unlike many presses that stick to the safety of publishing established classics, The Prototype Press’ goal is to produce first editions works by local writers illustrated by local artists. They also aspire to the admirable goal of producing these books entirely in-house.
me, myself, and the monkeyface eel is a wonderful start and a statement of intent towards the goals of the Press. The author, Kirk Lombard, is a Bay area local writer and eccentric. The artist, Leighton Kelly, is also based in Oakland and did an amazing job of imagining the perfect illustrations for the book. I believe he came up with the illustration facing the colophon with only a limited amount of information about the book and was considered the illustrator fait accompli as soon as David and Mark saw it. The intention to do as much of the production in-house went so far as to see Mark go eel fishing with the author in order to catch, skin, and tan enough monkeyface eels to half-bind the reserved edition of the books. I can only think of one other book bound in eel off the top of my head: The Flounder by Gunter Grass, published by the Limited Editions Club. And I doubt Sidney Shiff pulled on waders, grabbed a poke-pole, and went out to catch his own binding leather! The eel half binding is finished with handmade cotton rag and seaweed cover papers that the pressmen hand-dyed a fitting shade of green. I was very happy to note that the faint nori-like smell of the leather I had noticed on my tour of the press was completely absent from the finished book. (And believe me, I smelled it several times to check. As fitting as it might be for the subject matter, I don’t think I’d like that sitting in my library next to my other books!)
Upon opening the book, the first feature to catch the eye is the brightly contrasting end papers in red, black, and gold. Then another little bit of design magic appears with the gold foil stamped title on the title page. These colors then continue throughout the handmade paper pages with the main text employing Hess Old Style in black, Libra section headings in red, and gold foil for the headings for Parts I & II. The page numbers and separator lines for the footnotes are also in red, presenting a pleasing contrast on almost every page. The book comes with a separate appendix contained in a chapbook using the same green cover papers and containing poetry and haikus extolling the virtues of the monkeyface eel. The book and chapbook are housed in a sturdy slipcase stamped in gold with another wonderful illustration by Kelly, this time a (reverse?) mermaid with the lower body of a human and the head of a monkeyface eel. As the book itself does not have any spine labeling, it is nice to see that the press saw fit to label the spine of the slipcase, thereby avoiding a pet peeve of mine in having a blank spine on the shelf. Another nice little touch is the paper band around the slipcase giving a little bit of information about the book, a thoughtful design feature considering there is no titling on the front board.
I have close to zero interest in fishing, unless it’s on the banks of a bubbling, or better yet, torrential, mountain stream with no actual fish to disturb my relaxations and reflections. But Lombard’s tale of himself was quite entertaining, even as you scratched your head to figure out how much of it is real and how much tongue-in-cheek comedy. As the (imaginary?) Paczkowski states in the introduction, “only Lombard would write a book about Lombard and his decidedly questionable angling achievements.”
Part I of the book outlines Lombard’s history and his discovery (thanks to Cambodian Stan) of the best way to fish for the monkeyface eel and other denizens of the shoreline. He goes on to describe his experiments with tanning eel leather. Presumably he had this pretty well worked out by the time David and Mark decided to cover the books with it.
Part 2 then dives into some of the nuances of fishing for eels, going into their behavior, how they bite, what they eat, etc. One of my favorite parts is where he is questioning why an eel that only feeds on seaweed would want to take the squid-baited hook. He goes on to draw the parallel with all the vegans he believes sneak off to Wendy’s for a burger several times a week. He then dives into several recipes featuring the monkeyface eel.
All in all, I really enjoyed my couple of reads through this book. Despite the topic being pretty far outside of my usual reading, I would be happy to have this first book of The Prototype Press in my library. I’m really excited to see where they apply their talents next.
AVAILABILITY: me, myself, and the monkeyface eel is published in two states: a standard edition of 75 books and a reserved edition of 25 books. Both are available directly from the press. The reserved edition is reviewed here. There is also a fine review of the standard edition on Books & Vines.
NOTE: The Whole Book Experience would like to thank The Prototype Press for the generosity that made this review possible.