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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 09/21/2010

THE MOUSE THAT SCORED: GPO publishes its own comic book (*starring Gutenberg!)

By Michael Cavna

squeaks.jpg(courtesy of the GPO)

How do you get young readers weaned on videogames particularly interested in the centuries-old history of printing -- get the "Halo" generation intrigued by Gutenberg? If you're the Government Printing Office, you print your own comic book. And make its star a space-pirate mouse straight out of a videogame.

To mark its 150th anniversary next year, the GPO has just released its first self-printed comic book in years. The office -- which has published comics from Pip the Safety Elephant to a "Pogo" parental primer over the past half-century -- now comes out with "Squeaks Discovers Type," featuring the titular space mouse.

In the 24-page comic, a young boy named Jake is assigned a report on the invention of printing. When Jake falls asleep while playing "Squeaks the Space Pirate," the raygunning mouse pops out of the videogame screen -- "Purple Rose of Cairo"-style -- and zaps Jake with the power of his ring, shades of "The Green Lantern." Soon, through the magic of dreams, we are time-tripping from ancient cuneiform ("3200 B.C.") to Egyptian papyrus (3000 B.C.) to illuminated manuscripts (400 A.D.) to China's woodblocks and clay type-blocks and then, of course, Gutenberg.

"Squeaks," now at the GPO's newly renovated bookstore, was written by James Cameron and drawn and co-written by Nick Crawford, who's a graphic designer for GPO's Creative Services.

"Some of us were involved in planning for the 150th anniversary ... ," says Cameron, who works with the GPO's publication and sales business unit. "We talked about how the younger generation doesn't know the background [of printing's inventions], so we kind of discussed: 'Let's do a comic book that's readable enough for adults, too -- about the importance of printing.' "

The lesson, Cameron tells Comic Riffs with a laugh, is: "Be careful what you talk about, because it became an assignment."

So Cameron and Crawford sought a compelling way to tell a story that would appeal to young readers.

"It's a tough thing to [dramatize] the concept of the history of printing," Cameron says. "I've got a couple of sons who had to choose homework over videogames, so that got me to thinking about a young boy with an unwanted homework assignment -- who would rather play video games."

Crawford then began to visualize what kind of videogame character could help tell the tale. "I thought: What could I make that would be kind of cool and reminiscent of the '90s videogame characters?" Crawford tells Comic Riffs. "I also started looking at old [Frank] Frazetta and 'John Carter of Mars' and 'Flash Gordon' and Al Williamson. In deciding on a space-age swashbucking character, that's how I came up with Squeaks the Mouse."

As for process, Crawford began with thumbnails sketches. "Once we decided on the sketches, I blew them up and finished the inking by hand, using India ink," he says. "Once I finished the pages, I scanned those in and colored it all in with Photoshop. The artwork [24 pages] took me about a month, a month-and-a-half."

Cameron takes pride in the fact the entire project was a GPO production. "They did a fantastic job," Cameron says. "The digital images look great ... and from beginning to end, the process was totally in-house."

Notes Crawford: "We've gotten tremendous feedback. People are surprised that the GPO does anything like this."

So when's the next GPO comic book coming out?

"We'll create one for any government agency," Crawford replies quickly. "They can just give me a call."

By Michael Cavna  | September 21, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  The Comic Book  | Tags:  Government Printing Office, James Cameron, Nick Crawford, Squeaks Discovers Type  
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Posted by: oldgal49er | September 22, 2010 8:51 AM | Report abuse

The Government should issue more of its publications as comic books. I can hardly wait to see next April's issue of "Spiderman Fills Out Form 1040".

Posted by: seismic-2 | September 22, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

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