Book arts alive in Chicago
Craig Jobson and the Lark Sparrow Press

Robert McCamant

If you had told Craig Jobson in 1998 that by 2001 he would be the proprietor of a private press, he would have told you that you didn’t know him very well. True, he was at the time embarking on an MFA program at the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College, but Jobson pictured himself making artist books, making paper, making broadsides — anything but printing editions of books and being faced with the prospect of selling them. After all, this was the same Craig Jobson who had worked in a library while a student and shelved “books on books” without cracking them open.

Craig credits two courses at Columbia with changing his mind. The first was one taught by Caxtonian Alice Schreyer on the history of the book. In the process of studying for it, the class had trips to the Newberry Library, where he was able to see and hold the products of private presses from Cobden-Sanderson through Andrew Hoyem. And then Jobson took the demanding editioning class taught by Audrey Niffenegger, and realized that having a press was something he could accomplish.

But it’s 2002 now, and Jobson has completed his MFA and is proprietor of the Lark Sparrow Press in Evanston. Its first project is an ambitious three-volume undertaking that he wrote himself. Taken together, it’s called The Billy Chronicles, subtitled “Texas Tales of Transgression, Retribution, Reconciliation, and Dominoes.” The fictional work concerns a once-and-future Texas domino champion named Big Billy, whom Jobson admits is a composite of a former boss, a former brothe-in-law, and a close relative. [Texas dominoes is played with a set of 56 pieces, and the rules are more like that of a card game than traditional dominoes.]

Jobson’s process in developing the books went this way: first (partly as a result of another Columbia class, this one in writing, taught by Steve Tomasula), the text came to life. Next came the plan for the books: each has a CD of Jobson telling the story, in character, with sound effects and a musical score; a CD booklet with the text of the CD; a 14-foot-long accordion folded book, lavishly illustrated with eight pieces of original art in two colors; a domino set of the kind required to play the game of Texas dominoes; and a box to keep the whole thing in. With the plan in hand, Jobson set out to realize it. First he had to make the recordings. Next came taking upwards of 300 photographs, which formed the raw material of the illustrations and which were completed by both drawing and computer manipulation. As if he didn’t already have enough to do, Jobson decided to make the paper for the accordion book, and that process took a month. He set the type for it by hand and turned Photoshop files into engraved magnesium plates, printed it, and then assembled a set. He was dismayed to discover that the assembly process alone for one copy of one book took him about 14 hours.

So far, he has editioned the first book, “DB and the Double Five” but not finished assembling all the copies. Volume 2, “Lizard and Julio Go Nel-o” and Volume 3, “The Colonel’s Chicanery,” are in various stages. He’s working diligently, but not quite so hard as he was back when he was working on his MFA, when he was trying to be both a full-time student and was also teaching full-time in the design department at Columbia. He jokes that in those days he had to “make a date” to manage to fit in time with his wife.

How did he pick the name “Lark Sparrow” for his press? It makes sense if you know his personal history. He’s a native Midwesterner, who attended the University of Texas and ended up spending the early part of his working life as a designer in various cities of Texas. He actually had two bachelor’s degrees: one in literature and another a BFA in studio art with a combined specialty in graphic design and printmaking. But he happily returned to the Midwest to work for McDougal Littell. There followed a few years as head of design for the ABA Press, the job he quit to join the Columbia College faculty. So Jobson believes that the Lark Sparrow, which stops in Texas on its way to Mexico for the winter, and then in Chicago on its way to Canada for the summer, makes an appropriate name.

Jobson thinks this is an excellent time to be starting a private press. He sees the intersection of new and old technologies as opening up new realms for exploration. He points out the two modern technologies in his domino books: the audio, contained on the CD, and the computer photography techniques used in creating the illustrations. “The audio makes this a richer, more interesting object than it would be without it,” he says, “and the computer techniques made creating the 24 illustrations for the three books humanly possible.”

Although his first project is still in process, Jobson is still looking forward to the next one. He has in mind editioning a series of illustrated short stories by local writers.

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