all over coffee

publisher: City Lights

type: Book

spec notes: One-piece case-wrapped hard cover. 176 pages, printed full color.

I had the good fortune to meet and make friends with Paul Madonna while working on an illustrated map of San Francisco literary landmarks, and the ease of that collaboration has led to many more. For Paul, this book was a logical next step, for me, it all started as a conversation about ownership. Paul’s All Over Coffee is a long-running comic strip in the San Francisco Chronicle, and in talking about the business of comic strips in a time when the printed newspaper is literally and figuratively shrinking, he explained that he found himself in a somewhat unusual position in that he retained ownership of his work. Therefore, he had quite a catalog of back-work that he wanted to collect and publish, but without a necessarily obvious publisher to do it for him. So we set out to find one that would make sense for his uniquely San Franciscan drawings paired with universal themes in an envelope-pushing mode for comics. We finally connected with City Lights, who showed great interest, and let us take artistic freedom.

A major element in these strips is the disembodied voice that speaks to the reader as the reader enjoys a scenic view of the city. This juxstaposition in and of itself had given some readers great pause. Some were further frustrated that while they came to terms with the two halves in each strip, they fit the series of them into a longer narrative from one strip to the next. But that didn’t work because the strip isn’t written in that kind of narrative arc. And because narrative is at play so greatly as the reader parses and negotiates the meaning of each strip, in conversations with Paul, it came out he wanted to break down narrative in the long arc. That is, given that it is not exactly automatic to find the narrative of each strip, he wanted to halt the reader’s urge to find narrative from one strip to the next—once the reader successfully navigates a story between the words and images in this page, the story should not be continued as if the same character was speaking in the next page. And in that spirit, I came up with an idea to disrupt the reader’s sense of throughline by breaking up the physical space itself and tipping the book sideways so that the spine is on top and each page must be flipped from the bottom toward the top, rather than from the right toward the left. We both felt that this single bit of defamiliarization was quite successful to that goal. So much so that we continued it in Paul’s second collection of All Over CoffeeEverything is its Own Reward.