Sunday, July 29, 2012

Espresso Book Machine, Part 2

     The article about the espresso Book machine I mentioned in my previous post has been published. In case you missed it online or only saw the abridged print version, here's the  complete article, with photos provided by the Michigan State University library:

The Espresso Book Machine:  An ATM for books and more
By Stephen Bitsoli; @SBitsoli

     The EBM consists of three machines together. A Xerox high speed copier prints the interiors and an Epson color printer prints the covers. In the middle is robotic machinery which attaches the cover to the book interior and trims the sides.

     Electronic book sales may have surpassed print, but e-books have an advantage: they’re instantly available at the click of a mouse.
     Now print books can be just as swiftly available, thanks to On Demand Books’ Espresso Book Machine.
     That’s the theory, and it may be that quick and easy someday. For now, even if you’re near an Espresso Book Machine, you’ll probably need to wait at least a day because of the number of requests put in before you.
     Most of those requests aren’t for existing or out-of-print books.
There are currently Espresso Book Machines at three locations in Michigan: the Michigan State University Library in East Lansing, the University of Michigan library in Ann Arbor and Schuler Books, an independent bookstore in Grand Rapids.
     The EBM consists of three machines together. A Xerox high speed copier prints the interiors and an Epson color printer prints the covers. In the middle is robotic machinery which attaches the cover to the book interior and trims the sides.
     According to the website,, “The Espresso Book Machine (the ‘EBM’) is an ATM for books. Once you select your title and hit the buy button, the EBM will print, bind and trim your book with a full-color cover within minutes at the bookstore or library of your choosing. The book is indistinguishable from paperback books sold at bookstores. And the EBM is a green machine since it only prints what is sold thereby eliminating shipping, returns and the pulping of unwanted books.”
     The first machine was installed briefly at the World Bank’s bookstore. Through a partnership with Xerox, the company now has machines in about 70 bookstores and libraries across the world including London; Tokyo; Amsterdam; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Melbourne, Australia; and Alexandria, Egypt.
     Thor Sigvaldason, chief technology officer of New York-based On Demand Books, said the technology can help book retailers twofold.
“It can, potentially, give them a huge virtual inventory so they can have as many books as Amazon, all in a little bookstore,” he said. “It turns independent bookstores into places to get books published. It’s a new thing for the bookstore to do: not just sell books, but actually create books.”

     Schuler’s Book & Music in Grand Rapids (2660 28th St. SE; or 616-942-2561) is the only bookstore in Michigan that currently has an EBM, which it acquired in 2009.
     “It’s another service we wanted to offer our customers, to make the store more attractive,” said Pierre Camy, who is in charge of the EBM operations at Schuler’s.
It has, but not in the way Schuler’s anticipated. “We thought we would print a lot of print-on-demand books” and out-of-print titles from Google Books, Camy said, so they contacted colleges and universities to let them know the service was available.
     In that sense, Schuler’s experience with the EBM has been disappointing. “Ninety-five percent (of the requests) is (for) self-publishing,” such as family histories and poetry collections. Still, “We print probably 3,000 books a year,” Camy said, which is about the break-even point for the machine.
     On Schuler’s website, there’s a frequently asked questions page for the EBM, informing customers what the cost will be and what they need to bring to the store. For instance, Schuler’s needs PDFs of both the text and the cover. If the customers don’t have the software or programs to create a PDF, Schuler’s will help them get it into a compatible format or direct them to someone who can.
     Probably the most unusual request Schuler’s has received is for a single copy of a self-published book. “It’s expensive,” Camy said, “but worth it to them. We’ve done that a couple of times.”

     Michigan State University received its EBM 2.0 in June 2011, and it was up and running in August, said Ruth Ann Jones, communications coordinator for the MSU libraries. Jones also expected that printing out-of-print books would take up a lot of the EBM’s time — there are 7 million titles available in On Demand Book’s catalog — but said, “We’re not getting many requests for books from the catalog.”
     That wasn’t the primary reason MSU’s library wanted the machine though, Jones said. “We thought it might offer opportunities for collaboration” within the university community when they “applied for funding from (the college’s) technology fund to bring cutting-edge technology to campus.”
 One such collaboration has emerged through the School of Planning, Design and Construction, Jones said: printing a professional portfolio for students and graduates to take on job interviews.
Other uses include printing copies of books only available in the university’s collection in digital form, such as its 175 historic American cookbooks, or making a print copy for situations where a laptop or other e-reader is not practical. One example she mentioned involved a student on an archaeological dig who needed a copy of a relevant dissertation where there wasn’t a reliable power source.
     Self-publishing is also in high demand at MSU. “Geneaologists are very happy” with the EBM, Jones said, because it allows them to provide perfect-bound copies of family trees and documents for every member of their families.
     MSU is also getting requests from authors who want copies of their books to help them sell a book to a publisher, and playwrights who want a better way to show their scripts to prospective producers.

     The University of Michigan is already on its second EBM.
Mary Morris, a public information specialist at the U-M library, said the university “initially acquired a machine in 2008, but this year we got version 2,” which she said is “faster, better” and “can bind larger books.”
     “We thought it was a good service for the campus community, the local community,” said Terri Geitgey, manager of library print services for University of Michigan
As with MSU. Morris said “It’s mostly used by the university community,” but “it’s open to anybody.”
     “We probably see six to 10 requests a week for public domain titles,” Geitgey said, as well as “printing classroom creative writing anthologies” and advance copies of university press titles, plus “some self-publishing. It’s pretty varied.”
     Morris recalled a creative writing class from Ohio came en masse to print their novels, plus their personally designed covers.
     Geitgey said the resulting books  are “perfect-bound, (with) four-color covers,” though currently only with black-and-white interiors. “The quality is really good. They’re virtually indistinguishable” from publisher-printed books, though “the paper may be thinner.” It’s the same paper the university uses in the photocopiers.
     The cost varies by page count, Morris said, but the average job is between 100 and 300 pages for $25.
     The charge, Morris said, only recoups the university’s operating costs, not the initial outlay for the EBM. “We’re not using it as a money-making machine.”
     UM’s Espresso Book Machine is located on the first floor of the university’s Shapiro Library. If you’d like to see the machine in operation, Morris said it’s usually printing between 10 a.m. and noon.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Elmore Leonard book signing, July 26


    Elmore “Dutch” Leonard is well-known in southeast Michigan as a native son for his crime novels (“Raylan,” “Get Shorty”), his westerns (“3:10 to Yuma,” “Hombre”) and the films and television series (“Justified,” “Karen Sisco”) based upon them. His son, Peter, is also a writer (four books so far: “Quiver,” “Trust Me,” “Voices of the Dead” and “All He Saw Was the Girl”), and you can meet them both at a special event, 7 p.m.  July 26, at the Bloomfield Township Public Library (1099 Lone Pine Road, Bloomfield Township, 248-642-5800), presented by the excellent Oak Park independent bookstore The Book Beat.
    (Admission to the event  is free, but advance registration is requested by calling 248-642-5800 ext. 171. The authors will sign copies of their books bought at the event; for more information or to reserve copies, call 248-968-1190.)
     I haven’t read a lot by Leonard the elder, and nothing by the younger, but I am a big fan of “Justified,” which was inspired by Leonard’s short story “Fire in the Hole,” featuring U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, also incorporating a bit from the novel “Pronto.” After seeing the show, I read both. 
     On “Justified,” which Leonard doesn’t write but over which he has some influence, Givens starts out as a super cop, reassigned to his home region of Kentucky for being a little too eager to shoot a drug dealer in “self-defense.” There he has a run-in with Boyd Crowder, a racist, smalltime crook with whom he used to work in the coal mines. Boyd and Raylan are kind of “the road not traveled”: they started out from the same place, in similar situations, but one turned to the law and the other to crime.
     The producers of “Justified” decided to explore that relationship. While in the story “Fire in the Hole” Boyd dies, in the series he survives and even claims to have a religious awakening, professing to have found the lord and preaching to Harlan’s outcasts. Raylan and the viewer is left to wonder how real this conversion is, suspecting not very and that Boyd has some scam up his sleeve.  That’s season one. The relationship shifts and changes over the next two seasons.
     The main difference between the Raylan of Leonard’s fiction and “Justified” is that print Raylan is not quite as together a dude. He’s awkward, a bit of a schlemiel and, at times, downright dumb. Half of “Pronto” is from the perspective of a loan shark who Raylan’s trying to arrest, but who keeps outsmarting him.
     Leonard doesn’t usually write about supermen, but Hollywood likes them. Chilli Palmer in “Get Shorty” is also smarter in the film version.
     I like the Leonard I’ve read a bit more than most of the Leonard adaptations I’ve seen, but I like them both in different ways.
      Elmore Leonard’s latest is “Raylan,” a new novel about Raylan Givens. I don’t know if or how it reconciles the print and TV versions of the character, but I’m curious to find out.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Waiting for 'The Walking Dead'

In this publicity photo provided by AMC, actor, Andrew Lincoln, as Rick Grimes, center, is shown in a scene from AMC's "The Walking Dead," Season 3, Episode 1. (AP photo/AMC, Gene Page)

     This is primarily a book blog, but since AMC's "The Walking Dead" is a TV show based on an ongoing comic book series, which has been collected into "graphic novel" volumes, I'm going to give myself permission to blog about it. Not that I've done more than glance at a few pages of the comic, but I've seen every episode of the TV show's first two seasons.
    "Seen," not enjoyed. I quite liked the first season, but the second (longer) season I found pretty much a snooze when it didn't seem to be deliberately trying to irritate me.
     The third season was teased at the recent Comic-Con. It's scheduled to begin on Oct. 14, 2012.
     From the beginning, I've been a little bothered by how derivative the story is. As I've  blogged before, zombies are a plague on horror literature and film lately, displacing vampires to such an extent that the classic science fiction vamp novel "I Am Legend" was reimagined as a zombie flick. But it goes beyond that. 
     "The Walking Dead" opens with a scene that is a variation of the opening of the 2002 "non-zombie" zombie film "28 Days Later" (wherein the protagonist is in a coma when a "rage virus" turns almost everyone into  the zombielike "infected"). Since the comic book began in 2003, it's possible it was already plotted before anyone saw or heard of the Danny Boyle film.
    (Both were probably inspired by "The Day of the Triffids," a 1950s science fiction novel in which mankind is clobbered by a meteorite shower that blinds most of humanity, and is nearly finished off by walking, poisonous and carnivorous plants. The protagonist misses the meteorite storm because his eyes were bandaged after being temporarily blinded -- not in a coma, but hospitalized. He wakes the next day, removes the bandages himself, and discovers civilization ended over night.)
     Second, this season has been one long slog of boredom as we've been stuck on Hershel's farm while the characters have moments that pass for deep emotional breakthroughs or breakdowns on soap operas, but which advance the story of what do you do when the zombie apocalypse comes not one little bit. It was a lot like "Marty" ("What do you wanna do about the zombies?" "I dunno, what do you wanna do about the zombies?").
     The oddest thing about the season is that the farm, with fences no higher than you need to keep cattle penned,  is relatively free of "walkers." True, we learn that Hershel's people have been catching them and penning them in a barn, because Hershel thinks they can be cured, but if there are few enough of them that you CAN pen them, the farm is amazingly safe. It's also isolated enough that other, less sociable bands of survivors hadn't found it yet.
     So, with the survivors relatively safe from walkers, we just mark time and watch personal conflicts. Don't get me wrong, the show needs those kind of moments, but there were TOO MANY of them. I haven't read the comic books, but, based on recaps I have read, it seems the show has expanded this section of the story enormously, possibly (it was rumored) for budgetary reasons (it's cheaper to maintain one set all season).
     Now that the show is a proven hit, the show promises to pick up the pace (and budget?) by moving on to some of the most popular plots of the comic, including the prison, the Governor, fan-favorite character Michonne (briefly introduced in the last episode of season 2) and the return of Merle, a racist character from the early episodes of Season 1. He was so irritating that good-guy Rick Grimes handcuffed him to a pipe in an area infested by walkers and left him there, and so stubborn that he cut off his own hand to escape. Viewers have been expecting him to show up again, and he was seen in the Season 3 trailer at Comic-Con ... with a knife for a hand.
     Now I'm actually looking forward to the show's return.

A timely approach to medieval history

Image from Simon and
The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England:
A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century
By Ian Mortimer 
Simon & Schuster/Touchstone Books

    I like history, but sometimes it's a bit dry. So the title of this history book caught my eye. It's not literally a "guide for time travelers," and not much text is wasted on the title conceit. Instead, it's a history of England from 1301-1400, organized not so much by chronological order as by subject. Rather than recount every event that occurred in England in the 14th century, it describes what life was like for the English people: how they lived, where they lived, what they wore, what they ate and drank, what was the currency and wages, what medical care was like, what did they do for entertainment. 
     The period covered includes the Black Death (which, he explains, wasn't referred to as "the Black Death" until the 19th century), the peasant's revolt and Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales," so space is devoted to these topics as well.
     There were times when the book dragged a little for me, but it ended strong, and I can recommend it.  
     Mortimer has a few other books out, including a similar guide for Elizabethan England (1558-1603), and I may look for that one as well. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Review: 'Phoenix Rising'

Phoenix Rising: A Ministry 
of Peculiar Occurrences Novel
By Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris
Harper Voyager

Detail of cover

     In an earlier post, I mentioned that while I generally don't like trilogies, I don't mind series in which the same characters recur in stand-alone novels where there are few, if any, cliffhangers between volumes. The Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe stories are classic examples, as is Ben Aaronovitch's ongoing Peter Grant series. Now I can add Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris' Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, which is sort of a Victorian-era X-Files. Two books have been published so far.
     I've just read the first, "Phoenix Rising," an adventure featuring the odd couple team of field agent Eliza Braun and archivist Wellington Books. They book tells the story in both their (third person) voices, alternating chapters,with a few Interludes along the way.
     The book opens with Books a prisoner in the Antarctic base of a terrorist/criminal organization called the House of Usher. He is rescued by Braun, who was supposed to terminate him lest the knowledge in his head fall into the criminals' hands. Her punishment for this mercy is to be reassigned to the archives with Books, who doesn't know his own country preferred him dead.
     There are hints of Books' past -- House of Usher badly wants him for some reason; his father tried to instill in him a disdain for the lower classes, foreigners and women -- and Braun's -- she's from New Zealand, has had near romantic entanglements with former partners and fellow agents -- and there are intrigues within the Ministry (which is apparently not beloved of the Queen) and involving their boss, Dr. Sound and a mysterious locked room within the Archives.
     The plot of "Phoenix" involves an unsolved case which drove Braun's former partner mad and which the Ministry is unable and/or unwilling to solve. From her purgatory of the Archives, Braun resolves to solve it, and drags Books along.
     The book is also squarely within the steampunk genre, without any supernatural aspect as of yet.
     The series has its own website/blog, wherein I discovered a recipe for gingernuts -- a type of ginger cookie beloved of a couple of characters in Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" -- which I confess was the final push I needed to decide to buy and read the book.

German cover of Phoenix Rising

      (As an aside, this brings me to a possible anachronism in the book: Braun describes someone's obsession as "his great white whale," a reference to Melville's "Moby Dick." While Melville's book  had certainly been published before the events of the book, it was a resounding flop until it was rediscovered in the early 20th century. In England, it was published in a heavily edited edition, omitting even the epilogue, and had an even worse reputation. So was the expression "great white whale" in use at the time of the book? Or is this an example of a change brought about by the steampunk technology? If the latter, I'm impressed by Ballantine and Morris' subtlety, and hope to learn more about Melville's far happier later career in this alternate timeline ... but I suspect it was sloppiness. That's not a reason to give the book a thumbs-down, however.
     (Another possible anachronism is Braun's makeup compact with mirror, a ubiquitous item in a modern woman's purse, but was it a part of a Victorian woman's? Yes, she's a secret agent with all sorts of advanced equipment, but she describes the compact as something every woman carries. Maybe it was in our world, but I have my doubts.)
     The characters are entertaining, the world is intriguing and the plot resolves itself in a more than satisfactory manner, while laying the groundwork for future books. The first of these, The Janus Affair, is out now, and I will probably read it, too.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Another one-man 'Macbeth'

     I read on the Associated Press newswire that actor Alan Cumming will play all the roles in William Shakespeare's "Macbeth," which the reporter describes as "an Olympic feat of both endurance and gender-bending."
     I'm sure it will be difficult, but I've seen a more difficult performance:
     One actor playing all the parts, re-interpeted as characters from "The Simpsons."
     I interviewed the performer, Rick Miller, when his one-man show "MacHomer" was scheduled for a Detroit area run in 2002. It never happened for some reason or other, so the article never ran. He did perform it in Ann Arbor in 2005, and I was fortunate enough to see it, but the article still didn't run. 
     Miller is still performing "MacHomer," including recently at the Stratford Festival. I don't see any Michigan-area appearances scheduled at his websites here or  here, but a DVD is available.  
     Here's what I wrote back in 2002 (slightly updated in 2005):

‘MacHomer’ mixes Shakespeare and ‘The Simpsons’

     Rick Miller is a multi-disciplinary performer/artist. He’s most at home in the avant-garde theater world, though he’s also a classical actor. So how did he end up doing a one-man show that inserts mainstream pop culture icon Homer Simpson and his cohorts into one of William Shakespeare’s tragedies?
     It was supposed to be a one-off joke, Miller said in a 2002 phone interview from his Toronto home. Miller was acting in a production of “Macbeth” when he thought it would be fun to recast the play with characters from “The Simpsons” cartoon. He intended it as a cast-party gag, but it proved so popular (“It just seems to work,” Miller said) that, more than 8 years later, “MacHomer” is still going strong.
     Luckily for us, since we finally get a chance to see it. (A November 2002 date in Detroit fell through.) Don’t dawdle though. It’s only at Ann Arbor’s Summer Festival for one performance, and if you miss it, you’re likely to be going “D’oh!” for a long time.
     Miller said some people think it’s odd for him to be doing a show like “MacHomer,” based around a popular TV show’s characters. Miller points out that “Shakespeare was a popular artist in his time,” and “ ‘The Simpsons’ works on many levels.”
     For this show, Miller dons the persona and imitates the voices of some 50 Simpsons characters, but (fortunately for him) doesn’t make 50 costume changes. In fact, he keeps to the same basic dress (which he describes as junkyard Shakespeare) throughout.
     Miller had little trouble getting permission to use “The Simpsons” characters. “Fox has been really generous from the start, particularly (creator) Matt Groening. They’ve allowed me to do it. They feel it does a good thing for the show, and they understand (the value of) parody.”
     Part of the fun of “MacHomer” is seeing which Simpsons characters play what parts. Homer Simpson is MacHomer, his wife Marge plays Lady MacHomer, and Mr. Burns is the king whom MacHomer murders, but not all the casting is so obvious. “It was subjective,” Miller admits, but he seems to have given it some thought. For instance, Macduff, who kills MacHomer in the end, is represented by Barney Gumble, one of Homer’s best friends on “The Simpsons.”
     Miller argues that “Macduff fits very well as Barney, a tragic character in the play,” since Barney can be seen as a tragic character in “The Simpsons” universe. Barney, a bar fly at Moe’s Tavern, is also an accomplished artist, very intelligent and (despite his beer gut) even a great athlete. What holds him back is his addiction to beer ... to which Homer introduced him in college.
     Other changes to the script (which remains 85 percent Shakespeare, Miller asserts) include the witches’ cauldron, which in this show is a “flipped-over television set.” And since this is minimal-set show, various props also emerge from the TV. There’s also a video screen announcing which character has taken the stage and which voice is being used, so that patrons unfamiliar with “The Simpsons” and/or “Macbeth” can follow along.
     There’s a sense of Theater of the Absurd about the show, which suits Miller’s background and interests.
     “I studied architecture before going into theater,” Miller said. “Then, as many people do, I ended up in a musical,” and liked it. He didn’t abandon his architecture studies though. “Really, my intention was to have a hand in all aspects of the arts, from set design to performance.”
     Primarily this hand has been in the avant-garde theater world. He doesn’t see “MacHomer” as much of a departure from this. It’s a one-man show, playing with our perception and understanding of both the Simpsons and Shakespeare. “It’s entertaining. It doesn’t fall into the bracket of ‘high art,’ but it has value. It exposes Shakespeare to people” who never sat through or enjoyed a Shakespearean play in their lives, particularly young people. It’s made people care about Macbeth.”
     For more information on Rick Miller and his shows, visit


Thursday, July 5, 2012

RIP, Leo Dillon (1933-2012)

     I only learned Tuesday (thank you, Locus magazine) that one of my favorite artists died more than a month ago at age 79. It might be truer to say that half of one of my favorite artists has died, for he spent most of his career in collaboration with his wife.
     You may not recognize the names of Leo and Diane Dillon, but chances are you've seen their work. They were never so-called fine artists, painting canvasses primarily meant to hang in museums, galleries and private homes, but commercial artists, painting the covers to numerous books -- also spoken word LPs -- and fully illustrating children's books.
     They won the Caldecott Award for a couple of their books (see below), but I preferred their illustrations for Virginia Hamilton's "The People Could Fly," Nancy Willard's "Pish, Posh, said Hieronymus Bosch," their covers for Isabelle Allende's "The House of the Spirits" and others, and the many science fiction book covers they did for Harlan Ellison (my first exposure to their work was in his 1967 SF anthology "Dangerous Visions," which featured almost abstract, pseudo-woodcut drawings). I occasionally bought books for the Dillon's cover art alone.
     They met in art school and, according to an essay in "The Art of Leo and Diane Dillon," were instantly jealous of each others' talent, then later attracted to each other, despite a fairly large obstacle for the time: she was white, and he was African American.
     Though the book is long out of print, I was fortunate to have it autographed by the pair at a rare Michigan appearance. I interviewed them in 1999 for an advance article about the visit in The Macomb Daily. The complete article (a shorter version ran in the paper) follows.
     You can preview some of their art on, including several dowloadable, printable PDFs from  their 2011 book "Never Forgotten," written by Patricia McKissack (Schwartz & Wade, 2011). I may add some more artwork later.

Leo and Diane Dillon

By Stephen Bitsoli

Macomb Daily Staff Writer

     If you've shopped for children's picture books in the past 25 years, you've probably seen Leo and Diane Dillon's work. The Brooklyn-based husband-wife artist team has collaborated on everything from advertising to science fiction book covers since meeting as students in New York's Parsons School of Design in 1954. And despite the strains of living and working together through initially hard times, and their interracial union in a far less tolerant time, their marriage and their art are still going strong 40 years later.
     Their greatest acclaim has come for their illustrations for such perennial favorites as "Ashanti to Zulu" and "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears," both of which won them the prestigious Caldecott Award.
     "Our first picture book was in 1970," said Diane Dillon. "An editor saw one of our young adult book jackets and sent us a manuscript she had in house that she thought we'd like." Since then they've illustrated more than 40 more.
     Their latest work illuminates Shirley Rousseau Murphy's "Wind Child," a fairy tale of a young weaver whose father was the east wind, and her quest for true love.
     Although it has the feel of a classic folk tale, Murphy's story is original, which is one reason The Dillons agreed to illustrate it. The couple receives more offers of work than they can fulfill (they have six books in progress now alone), so they can afford to be choosy. Murphy's book makes the cut.
While's there's no specific setting for the story, Leo and Diane recognize it is more or less a European fairy tale. But in keeping with their beliefs and backgrounds, there is a wide range of skin tones represented. And the art, both color woodcut-style drawings on the left hand pages, and full paintings on the right, have a vaguely Japanese feel to them.
     Making it a whole family affair, the art styles are separated by photographs of sculpted faces, created by the Dillons' son, Lee, a talented artist in his own right.
     Meet Leo and Diane Dillon this Saturday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Rochester Hills Public Library. Following a question-and-answer session and presentation, the artists will autograph copies of "Wind Child" and their other of their children's books, courtesy of the nearby Halfway Down the Stairs Children's Bookshop. Reservations are required.
     Shop owner Cammie Mannino postponed a vacation in Italy to be there for the signing. "After all, Italy's going to be there forever. How often are The Dillons going to be in my store?"
For Mannino, and the artists' many Michigan fans, the visit is a long awaited dream come true. The Dillons rarely tour for their books unless the publishers request it, and then usually only on the East and West Coast. They're glad this trip takes them to the Midwest, but they'll be gladder when they can get back to work.
     Saturday's reception won't just be a line-up-and-get-your-books-autographed session. First the artists will answer questions, and give an "informal talk" with "schematics that show how we start a book" all the way to the finished product.
     True collaborators, Leo and Diane merge their talents to create "a third artist" who's better than either of them individually. Their influences include medieval woodcuts, romantic Pre-Raphaelite paintings, African folk art and the warped imaginings of Hieronymus Bosch. It's a multicultural approach which reflects both their art and their lives.
     So how do they decide on a project? "Usually the publisher will send us a manuscript if they think it's something we'd like to do," Leo said. They don't have direct contact with the authors themselves,
     "We aren't writers ourselves," Diane said. "We don't feel qualified to comment on manuscripts."
     That's why the talented artists don't write their books, too. "Why illustrate something second rate" -- just because they wrote it themselves, Leo said -- "when there are writers like Shirley Rousseau Murphy out there?"
     Probably the only picture book they've ever assayed without a living writer is last year's "To Every Thing There is a Season," which paired multicultural scenes with an appropriate verse from "Ecclesiastes." The two had long wanted to do such a project, but it didn't gel until their editor at Scholastic Books suggested using "Ecclesiastes."
     For the full range of their work, you can haunt second-hand stores for a copy of the 1981 retrospective "The Art of Leo & Diane Dillon," but don't expect a reissue or a sequel anytime soon.
     "Occasionally some publisher says it would be nice to do a follow-up," Leo said, but he and Diane had misgivings about the original project 18 years ago.
     "We thought it might be an omen," Leo continued, since retrospectives are usually done at the end of a career. Any sequel, Diane said, "will have to wait until we have at least one leg in the grave."
     There are web sites with pages devoted to the Dillons, but none run by the artists. Leo and Diane aren't terribly computer literate. Diane even asked me how I found some of these sites.
     "We're still quill and brush," Leo said. 

 Illustrations and page design by Leo and Diane Dillon 
from “Never Forgotten” by Patricia McKissack 
(Schwartz & Wade, 2011) on