Spotlight on … Pop-Up Books

One of the big surprises during my recent trip to the big city, was that I came home without a single book. Usually, Melbourne is my number-one place to go for cheap remainders or hard-to-find second hand books. If you’re ever nearby, Arthur Daley’s on Spencer Street should be your first stop, then on and around to Flinders Books on Flinders. Book shopping this trip, however, wasn’t a priority, so a brief wander through a Dymocks was about all I managed.

It was there, though, that I found a really brilliant book, so short I could read it in the store, but a bit too expensive (at $50.00) to take home. The Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense Pop-Up Book (by Kees Moerbeek, Little Simon, 2006) is, however, now on my eBay watch list. What a stunning book, what an amazing concept — key scenes from Hitchcock’s films rendered in detailed pop-ups. The birds fly off the page, the Vertigo vortex actually spins, and Paul Newman really does stick that guy’s head in the oven.

I had no idea when marveling at this, that pop-up books were in the middle of a major comeback. As early as 2 March, the Sacramento Bee featured two related stories, “Big jump in pop-up books” and “Pop-up star“, with Dixie Reid reporting that pop-up books, once aligned more with toys than literature are now considered “a mainstream format”.

Graceland: An Interactive Pop-Up Tour
by Chuck Murphy
Quirk Publishing, 2006

In “Pop-up star”, Reid profiles master paper engineer and pop-up book maker David Carter. Carter talks about his designs, how he came to design pop-ups, and his theories on the enjoyment they provide. One of his catchphrases, which appears on the back covers of each of his books is “Please touch the art”.

Last October, Carter and his latest creation, the pop-up version of Horton Hears a Who, starred in an interactive pop-up book exhibition at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The Rochester City Newspaper wrote about the event describing it as full of “‘Wow!’ and ‘Look at this!'” moments. Pop-up books, the article notes, have come along way from basic three-dimensional shapes and pull-tabs. Now, pages can resemble mini-theatre stages, making stories move with numerous pull-tabs, complex paper and string structures, bits to lift, other bits to fold.

The Neiman Marcus Pop-Up Book

The Hitchcock book was full of “wow” moments, too. As amazing as one page looked, the next was even better. That awe had as much to do with actual artwork itself — bits of plastic and string holding together these intricate pieces — as it did with the very specific way the creator viewed the scene and then built the pop-up version to match that view.

What frightens us about The Birds, for instance? That they appear larger than life? Or is it the shattering phone booth glass as they repeatedly slam into it, causing too-large cracks? The pop-up book page takes these elements and creates its scene. The angles and shapes on the pages are very deliberate, and so the pop-up book is as much about the representation of a concept as is it is cutting and pasting.

A bit of digging, and I discovered that pop-up books exist for any purpose, and all tastes. Dr Seuss is in pop-up form, as is Alice in Wonderland, and even a recent, limited edition Neiman Marcus celebratory book.

The University of North Texas has a great section on its website devoted to pop-up art. The site’s introduction provides a fascinating history of the art form, from its very first appearance in the 1200s. From the introduction:

The first movable books actually predate the print culture. The earliest known examples of such interactive mechanisms are by Ramón Llull (c.1235-1316) of Majorca, a Catalán mystic and poet. His works contain volvelles or revolving discs, which he used to illustrate his complex philosophical search for truth.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
by Stephen King
Artwork by Dingman, Abrahams, Moerbeek
Simon & Schuster, 2004

Prior to reading this, and to picking up the Hitchcock book, I had no idea pop up books had developed so far in terms of design and purpose. I think of pop-up books and I think of hedgehogs and bunnies just lifting from the centre of a book.

Now I see, for instance, the pop-up of Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, how the pull tabs make the rain fall, and I realize it’s more than childlike fun. It’s about lifting the story out of the page, to make it tangible and real.

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