Nick Bantock’s epistolary novel Griffin & Sabine, which traces the metaphysical relationship between a postcard artist and a stamp illustrator, was a cultural touchstone during the early 1990s, selling millions of copies, spawning two sequels, and creating a cult-like following for the British-born artist. Now, 25 years later, the titular lovers have returned for the fourth book in the series, The Pharos Gate: Griffin & Sabine’s Lost Correspondence.
The romantic tale, about two artists who mysteriously connect through written correspondence without ever physically meeting, was inspired by a trip Bantock took to the post office, where he observed someone “getting good mail, and me getting the usual crap.” Bantock, who now lives in Victoria, had never written a word, but did have experience illustrating book covers. He created a mock-up of his idea – a story told completely through postcards and letters, which could be removed from physical envelopes, creating an intimate experience for readers.
“I knew it was viable because I had been working with pop-up books. I understand the nature of gluing things into books,” Bantock says. His publisher, Chronicle Books, found an envelope maker and printer in Hong Kong willing to collaborate on the components.
Designing the handwriting for the letters proved to be a tough task, in particular because Griffin and Sabine’s penmanship begins to magically resemble each other’s as their relationship continues. “Writing the longer pieces is both mind and hand exhausting,” Bantock says. “Sometimes I’d have to write and rewrite 10 times.”
For years, Bantock has poked around flea markets, garage sales, and junk stores to build the visual library of images that he incorporates into the books’ nature-inspired collages. He has one rule: “I paid less than five bucks for it, I can do whatever I want with it.”
All his art is created by hand, then scanned and reduced down to postcard- and stamp-sized pieces for the page. The original works range in size depending on the source material (the endpapers for The Pharos Gate are actually a nine-by-four-foot oil painting). He constructs the collages using multiple layers of found images, and is never sure exactly how they’ll turn out until he’s done. “The whole essence of collage is that you find things that work and you start putting them together, and create some chaos,” he says. “I have no idea what it’s going to look like at the end. To some extent, it becomes a process of listening.”