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The Amazing Ballot Race

2020 December 28
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by Matt

In 2020 I had something of a minor hit on my hands, with The Amazing Ballot Race.

This was essentially a grassroots campaign to promote voting by mail; its precise definition and boundaries are somewhat vague, and expanded as it went along. By the conclusion of the campaign, I think around half of Cleveland’s Democratic ward clubs participated in some form.

The Amazing Ballot Race was also the first time my work got a recognition shout-out from Sherrod Brown (or any U.S. senator).

Making The Amazing Ballot Race happen was the work of many people, from volunteers to donors to the organizers. Nora Kelley of Cleveland Ward 17 deserves first position on any list. But I assisted with the concept and plans, and I wrote and designed the door-to-door literature which was the project’s tangible core—and which I think played an important part in drawing the subsequent take-up by groups in more and more areas.

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A map for Christmas

2020 December 26
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by Matt

Despite everything, my wheels mostly kept turning in 2020, including professionally. A diverse mix of projects and clients included the newspaper, aspiring and current officeholders, local government, grassroots activists, the solar industry…

It’s a delight above and beyond this that one of my final paid commissions for the year was a true one-of-a-kind Xmas gift. One little boy in Cleveland Heights was persistent and consistent in declaring “a map of the backyard” his top priority request.

Well why not. Yesterday I was gratified to receive the report that “He wants to hang it in the dining room.”

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ebook production 2020 update

2020 July 27
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by Matt

I have not published any more ebooks of my own since Hancher vs. Hilton, nearly four years ago. But in the past year or so I have continued to land the occasional freelance ebook project, so I have a little sense of what’s going on with this format today.

Fixed-layout ebooks seem to be the trend, at least for people relatively doing their own thing (aside from wanting some freelance technical help). This doesn’t surprise me. The World Wide Web started out intended as thoroughly “reflowable,” and has ended up back there to a great extent, but the demand for rich formatting and layout control has generally prevailed nonetheless. In the world of ebooks in 2020, I’m sure a lot of people come along and see tables and color and complex diagrams as beyond question, and at any rate attach more value to them than to the ability of their book to adapt neatly to a mobile phone screen. I still think the result of the “fixed layout ebook” seems basically like reinventing the PDF, but whatever.

I’m still using InDesign to produce ebooks; this seems mostly to work well, but also some opening up and poking around the epub file’s contents seems to remain necessary. For all that I dislike cluttering up my Mac with applications, the eCanCrusher app’s quick and easy reassembly of split-open epub files is worth downloading it.

One other interesting note, about the .mobi file format. This seems like it is largely obsolete except for internal use by Amazon (which is apparently referring to the format as AZW3). In checking up, today, I read this advisory that “when you publish on KDP, Amazon will convert the file for you. Only [bother creating a .mobi file] if you plan to send the file directly to a Kindle user.”

If you do for some reason wish to create a .mobi file, apparently the best way is to bring an epub file into the Kindle Previewer application, then export it. This impressively modernized application is also, perhaps more practically, a way to check how your epub will be converted if you choose to publish it through Amazon.

Campaign design 2019

2020 March 22
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by Matt

An overdue update; in 2019 I provided a lot of creative work to local candidates. One is now Lakewood’s mayor, a number did not succeed, and one is still running in the primary which was supposed to be over this week (but is now in limbo because an unfit president declined to respond to warnings about a pandemic).

Campaign literature from 2019

At this point, for what it’s worth, I provide a variety of consulting to candidates and even elected officials, including not just design, but writing, social media management, and even complete turn-key event promotions.

I hope to update the online presence to this effect further, some time soon.


2019 March 26
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Thanks, University of California Irvine for commissioning this addition to the school’s whimsical family of anthropomorphic anteaters.

New client: DD214 Chronicle

2018 November 1
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by Matt

As of last month, I have taken on the art direction for DD214 Chronicle.

DD 214 Chronicle is a bimonthly newspaper created in 2010 for northeast Ohio veterans. Our press run of 11,000 copies is delivered without charge to VFW and American Legion posts, health care facilities including the VA hospitals, more than 80 libraries, colleges with veteran programs, among other stops.

Regular readers probably won’t notice any immediate change to the Chronicle, but hopefully I will be with this periodical for some time, and should changes be in order I will do my best as for every client.

copies of November/December issue of DD214 Chronicle

November/December issue of DD214 Chronicle

Custom Lettering in the Digital Age

2018 June 26
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Hand-drawn lettering and technological substitutes coexist with tension.

For example, try bringing up the subject of cursive writing and younger generations, and strong opinions are likely to follow. Ohio state legislators recently proposed that the tradition of cursive even requires intervention by the state, to preserve it from extinction in a society where many people carry around a networked supercomputer by early adolescence, making QWERTY text composition or even spoken word recognition nearly as convenient as pen and paper.

The tension between custom letters and mass production long predates the smartphone, however. After reading Micah Bowers’s blog post “Power of the Pen – A Hand Lettering Tutorial,” it occurred to me that the subject is a rich one.

My own first instinct is to begin with desktop publishing, as he did, but in a real sense this tension probably dates back much further.

I know from historical research that movable type did not replace the manuscript book instantly, or completely halt hand-lettered book production even at the same pace that letterpress technology spread through Europe. Hundreds of years ago, connoisseurs were already arguing for the value of craft and aesthetic superiority of hand lettering relative to the regimented lines of a printed book. (Some were also, in all honesty, likely motivated to maintain their sense of membership in an elite, which book ownership alone no longer accomplished once the option of printing dramatically lowered a book’s cost.)

It would not astonish me if some form of this tension existed even earlier. Perhaps 2,000 years ago, aesthetes debated the merits of basing engraved lettering on brush-drawn forms vs. stencils.

Much more recently, I was spectator to an entire additional front in the post-Macintosh lettering conflict which Bowers describes more broadly.

Comic book lettering, during the years that I was a regular reader and collector, could probably be the subject of an entire lengthy work itself.

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2018 primary campaign work

2018 May 11
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by Matt

The past few months brought a good deal of campaign work.

Lots of literature, lots of mail; doorhangers, “palm cards,” web sites; advertisements, more mail. This is just a selection:

Lots of campaign design

This go-round I worked further up the ballot than last fall, and further down. Design for two state senate candidates, as many as four candidates for state representative… and design for fully 10 candidates for Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Central Committee, each of whom was running to represent just a single precinct.

The central committee candidates’ races are done, and many other candidates are also effectively done even if they won their primary, owing to districts where the general election won’t be very competitive.

So, onward to new things.

Tristan Rader campaign work

2017 November 14
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Much of the 11-month interval since my last post, here, went into my work on the Tristan Rader for Lakewood City Council campaign.

This was not entirely design work. I made a lot of contributions to the campaign, honestly. The bulk of it on a volunteer basis.

But a lot of it was design work. Looked at another way, basically all of the campaign’s design was my work, at any rate.

Rader for Council literature

The main campaign literature

Did I mention that the campaign was a tremendous success?

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Hancher vs. Hilton: ebook

2016 December 5
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by Matt

I recently began some work for a new client, Pineapple Press, including an ebook edition of their upcoming Hemingway and Bimini. As a result, what would otherwise have been my third time out creating an ebook file was the fourth, instead. The requirements of their book differed a little from those for Hancher vs. Hilton, but it was a useful warm-up anyway.

In combination, I find that not a whole lot has changed since my second time out, for good and bad.

Mostly, the same styles and process I used two years ago worked again, this time. Annoyingly, that includes the complicated workaround for some elements of an InDesign-generated epub file which does not like, even though the files are perfectly valid. At least I had the notes which I made on that workaround, which were a godsend. As a result, even with this bother, I only went through a handful of iterations before the finished version, compared with about two dozen for Cotton’s Library.

All in all, it seems like “reflowable” epub has settled down, as a format, relative to my first foray. (Apparently there is now a fixed-layout epub format also, which seems essentially like a PDF, but I’ll deal with that some other time.)

I had a few more notes in mind, I think, which I should have written down sooner; let me see, though. On the freelance project, I discovered that you can include an index in your epub. It’s kind of weird, because it displays page numbers which scarcely even apply for a (reflowable) epub, but they’re all hotlinks so it ultimately works.

Amusingly, for the first time in three books I actually had a few photos available which weren’t originally black and white. But they seem to work just the same in the epub format. I did find that InDesign CC offers some improvements for epub creation which were useful for the Hemingway book. But those improvements don’t include resolution to the objections, so I stuck with InDesign CS6 for my own book.

Same thing with the Kindle format ebook; Amazon seems to have abandoned updates to its plug-in for InDesign, but it also still seems to work fine, so I stuck to what’s familiar for now. This was a brief process as well.

Really, at the moment the biggest note I feel like making for myself about this latest ebook outing is the remarkable number of cover files I had to create:

  • cover image for epub
  • “marketing image” for
  • cover image for Kindle
  • skinny aspect ratio “marketing image” for Amazon

I swear that this last one was new to me, and the combined list seems just absurd, but oh well. In a broader sense, this kind of thing is not a feature of ebook publishing so much as it’s just a feature of publishing.