Nick Bantock
PEN WORLD|October 2016

In the first part of a two-part profile, Deborah Basel discusses Pharos Gate and the legacy of his beloved book series.

For those unfamiliar with artist and writer Nick Bantock and his most well-known works, the two Griffin & Sabine trilogies, a quick overview would be to say that they’re an odyssey and mysterious love story involving the creative correspondence between fictional artist Griffin Moss and his muse and fellow artist Sabine Strohem. In the course of the story, the reader can make his or her own determination as to Sabine’s true nature—but that is all such a simplification.

The concept for the series was inspired one day in 1990 when Bantock went to the post office to get his mail, glanced over and saw someone taking a beautiful handwritten envelope complete with an exotic colorful stamp out of a post office box. He thought about his feelings of envy for the unknown person and realized that the reason he didn’t receive that kind of mail was because he wasn’t writing! Bantock notes, “One of the key pleasures in receiving a letter is the act of holding and entering the envelope—a sort of cross between Christmas and sex.”

He thought for a while of what the perfect correspondence would look like in the context of a book and realized that he would need to create not only both sides of the correspondence, but also generate the feelings surrounding reception of that correspondence. How? And what would the story be?

Bantock visualized his art as translated into postcards. He created a mock-up of a book with envelopes containing handwritten correspondence that the reader could open— not their personal mail, but someone else’s; and not just routine correspondence, but the most beautiful and romantic of letters. The type that makes you sigh. For Bantock, opening the envelopes was the key to developing the same thrill and sense of delicious anticipation within his readers.

After having his fledgling idea firmly trampled by a British publisher, Bantock brought the rough version of his book with him during a visit to California. He intended only to show it to Pat, his childhood pen pal, after first stopping at San Francisco –based independent publisher Chronicle Books. But Victoria Rock, head of children’s books at Chronicle, noticed the book in his bag during a proposal meeting and convinced him to show it to her.

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