Small press comics (or “comix”) are all about the DIY philosophy and aesthetic; so is the process of screen printing, which people use to make their own posters, postcards, and t-shirts. So a comic about screen printing? It was only a matter of time.
Do -It-Yourself Screenprinting is a collection of mini-comics and other ephemera by John Issacson, advertising itself on the cover as “How to turn your home into a t-shirt factory.” That tagline is mildly misleading as it only applies to the first chapter of the book, which was originally the first issue in a series of three. The other installments include an autobiographical tale of John selling his wares on Telegraph Avenue (Berkeley, CA), John getting a job at a professional screen printer so he can print his own t-shirts on better equipment (this section does explain the equipment and the process), and a bonus chapter about printing on paper. Each chapter is separated by a one-page interview with a fellow screen printer, though sometimes these feel like filler, especially if you’re not too familiar with the process of screen printing—a very likely outcome if you’ve picked up this book in the first place.
The book is a bit confused in that manner; what audience is it really intended for anyway? Usually, a comic instruction manual would be something intended for a beginner, walking them through the process and making it as simple as possible so they don’t get confused. While the book does take you through the process, it glosses over bits that a beginner might need to know (like, what exactly is a silkscreen and where do you buy the equipment to make one) and probably could explain other bits better (how to create a design for screen printing). Issacson does say that “this comic is not intended as a single source of information about silkscreening.” He refers readers to the instruction booklets included with the photo emulsion kit (and other equipment), as well as including a “recommended reading” section, but then how exactly does Do-It-Yourself Screenprinting work with those texts? Do we even need this book?
While it might be lacking as an instruction manual at times, as a casual read it’s not bad. The second and third chapters are more story-based than instructional, though the third chapter, “Do-It-Together Screenprinting: Dream Job or Nightmare Job?” does explain the process of printing on professional equipment. It too can be confusing, probably bearing out that it’s easier to learn by doing than just reading about it.
I enjoyed the second chapter for what it was, an inside look at the difficulties of being a street vendor in San Francisco, especially when selling your own wares. Now I’ll feel guilty next time I tell someone, “I’ll come back later.” Because the book is entirely is accurate about shoppers in this aspect: we usually don’t.
Screen printing is something I’ve been interested in trying for some time, but while I was hoping to learn something from this book and get started on my new hobby, I now feel a bit intimidated.
Do-It-Yourself Screenprinting: An Instructional Graphic Novel
by John Isaacson
published by Microcosm Publishing (Bloomington, 2007)