At Century Press every component of our books—spanning from the content to the materials—is deeply considered before melding to create a cohesive experience for devoted readers like yourself. Learn how we built Jack London's The Call of the Wild one element at a time.
📖 The Story 📖
When deciding what Century Press should tackle for our third release, I wanted to take on a classic that felt familiar to readers, but one that had been modified and adapted so many times since its release that we’ve generally lost a sense of the source material.
For this reason, I landed on Jack London’s The Call of the Wild because despite never having read the novel myself, I felt relatively certain that I could surmise the story based upon movies, second-hand sources, and a present-day collective-consciousness of the novel.
Yet, when I picked up my 1939 Macmillan reading copy, I was startled to find a fast-paced, riveting story that defied my pre-existing notions, and furthermore, my expectations about turn-of-the-century literature. Having just tried and failed (for the second time) to ready Henry James’ The Ambassadors, London’s rambunctious tale of the Yukon gold rush was a shock to the system.
Who better to tell this type of raw story than London himself, who traveled to the Yukon, by way of Alaska, at the ripe age of 21. Here, he lived the prospector life first-hand; him and his party toiled to transport their gear over the Chilkoot Pass, often with 100-pound loads weighing down on their backs.
Through these formative experiences, it’s not unexpected that London reported that "it was in the Klondike I found myself."
In this brutal climate, London found himself, both as a human being, and as a writer. London stayed in the Klondike for almost a year, living temporarily in the frontier town of Dawson City, before moving to a nearby winter camp, where he spent the winter in a temporary shelter reading books he had brought, such as Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species.
The story of Buck the dog-hero, which germinated from his travels, is a tale of survival and a return to primitivism:
“These dog-heroes of mine were not directed by abstract reasoning, but by instinct, sensation, and emotion, and by simple reasoning. Also, I endeavored to make my stories in line with the facts of evolution.”
The Call of the Wild doesn’t tell a pretty story, but a powerful one untouched by bookishness, and one that—immediately upon publication—secured London a place in the canon of American literature.
✍️ Introductory Content ✍️
When writing an insightful introduction, there’s something to be said about the value of proximity to the source material. For this reason, Century Press was thrilled to have Jonah Raskin contribute the introduction to The Call of the Wild. A professor at Sonoma State University, Jonah resides a mere 10 km from Jack London’s final resting place in Glen Ellen, California, home of Jack London State Park (and the ruins of the author’s 26-room mansion, ‘Wolf House,’ tragically lost to fire mere months before the author could move in).
Raskin was formerly a freelance journalist covering the 1970s radical counterculture movement interacting with such key figures as Timothy Leary and Abbie Hoffman, as well as the Weather Underground and the Yippies. In more recent years, Raskin has turned his attention to Northern California writers including London.
A frequent contributor to the Jack London Society, Raskin also served as editor of the book, The Radical Jack London: Writings on War and Revolution. With a deep knowledge of London’s oeuvre and life, Raskin adeptly places The Call of the Wild within the larger context of the author’s personal triumphs and tragedies, as well as the state of American literature at the turn of the 20th century.
In The Call of the Wild, London writes about “ecstasy,” which he explains, “comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame.”
Raskin easily identifies London himself as that artist: A romantic and on fire, he surrendered to his unconscious which provided him with free and uncensored access to the emotions, fears and longings he knew as an outsider on the fringes of his own family and society.
📄 A Return to the Letterpress Studio 📄
Similar to our first two releases, The Call of the Wild was entirely printed letterpress by Ian Bristow down in Cornwall, Ontario. It's always a herculean effort to print novel length works on a 1956 Heidelberg platen press, but we think that the gorgeously embossed impressions of relief printing leaves offset or digitally printed novels looking totally soulless by comparison.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Ian pushed the limits yet again with his printing for The Call of the Wild. This time, Ian custom mixed a beautiful blue accent ink to be used for the initial drop caps, chapter numbers, and section openers. The contrast against the black ink came out very handsome and pairs with the slate blue leather and icy blue cotton ribbon to create a consistent, crafted package.
Let it be said that printing two colours on a platen press is no small feat. Since every two-colour page needs to be run twice through the press, it effectively doubles the production time. Furthermore, extreme care must be taken to ensure perfect alignment of the two colours of text.
Like before, we've decided to use Boxcar Press' Flurry paper, which is acid-free, archival, 100% cotton, and most importantly takes a beautiful impression on the press. And thank the lord, London’s book was a bit shorter than The Sun Also Rises, because we had the financial flexibility to add wider page margins on this third release for a more premium look.
There’s also much to look forward to in 2023. Ian’s working to have a second Heidelberg ‘windmill’ press up and running for our fourth book, which should hopefully increase our production capability for next year!
⚒️ At the Bindery ⚒️
We were so glad to continue our relationship with Pergamena for The Call of the Wild. This boutique, family-owned tannery located in New York's Hudson Valley is one of a kind. At their shop, goatskins are cleaned, de-haired, and are vegetable-tanned by hand using techniques and machines that go back generations. Moreover, they produce leather hides that meet our strict requirements for being sustainably produced and traceably sourced.
Beyond having a lovely, natural grain, their leather has a rich, sensual aroma that many of our customers have been gladly taken in by. For The Call of the Wild, we placed a custom order for Slate Blue dyed goatskin leather for our bindings. Always looking to improve, we had even stricter exclusion criteria for hide quality than we did for those that we used for The Sun Also Rises.
We are also working with Studio Carta once more, a small business based in Massachusetts, to supply us with hard to find tight-weave cotton bookmarks imported from Italy. Their icy blue ribbons are gorgeously dyed, and are made with 100% natural materials.
🎨 Paste Papers 🎨
Some readers may recall that the first 50 pre-orders were entered into a drawing for three special editions of The Call of the Wild with handmade paste papers from master Canadian artist Susan Kristoferson.
Immensely talented, her decorative papers were recently acquired by NYC's Metropolitan Art Museum as part of their Paper Legacy Collection and will be included in a collection to be exhibited at the Grolier Club next year.
Susan and myself worked together to design paste paper end sheets that would elevate the fully bound edition to an even greater level. I’m hoping we can expand the use of these papers into more editions for our next book.
Here are the lucky winners: Jayson Powell, Christopher Bowers, and Lloyd Maybaum
Nice going being super quick on the keyboard and supporting us right from the first announcement!
✏️ Illustrations and Cover Art ✏️
We were so happy to welcome back Calvin Laituri, who provided the frontispiece for The Sun Also Rises. This time, we took things up a notch and commissioned four original illustrations. His drawings came out spectacularly, and look breathtaking after being printed letterpress.
If you’re not familiar with his work, Calvin is a Vermont-based illustrator who specializes in scratch-board style illustrations. Calvin is an artist with a singular ability to make this centuries-old technique feel completely fresh. I haven’t found any other artist out there who is innovating like he is.
For the cover art, we had the continued pleasure of working with Mac Pogue, who offered his signature take on this classic novel. Mac created a design that harkens back to the earliest editions of London’s book, while also incorporating some more contemporary elements.
🌅 In Summary 🌅
Personally, I’m feeling super proud of our third release. Every member of our team has been committed to improving upon their techniques and pushing what we’re capable of to the next level. I feel great knowing that the Century Press team is leaving a legacy of beautiful physical objects that are not just built to last, but also made to inspire readers from generation to generation.
Simply stated, we can’t wait to get these books in your hands.
I want to send a huge shoutout to those who've already pre-ordered. Quite honestly, we wouldn't be here without you! Thanks so much in believing in our mission at Century Press.
Lastly, for those still on the fence about placing an order, you have until December 5th before The Call of the Wild moves to its full price of $249 CAD.
Click here to place your order today
Can’t wait to receive my copy and add it to my collection of Century Press novels!
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