In 2012 and 2013, Brandon Griswold, Senior Designer at VSA Partners, combined his love of letterpress with a personal project that would take him on a journey of long hours, intense labor and over $20,000. This is the story of Manly Marks.
“When I was in college, I took a printmaking course,” recalled Griswold. “Relief printing and letterpress stuck out to me; I loved the craft behind each print, the challenge of locking up the blocks in the press just right and getting to engage with my design in a physical sense.” But it wasn’t until an internship at Hatch Show Print that his passion for letterpress took hold. “I spent six weeks learning the ins and outs from some incredibly talented people, and I owe the start of my design career to my time there.”
After the internship, Griswold was eager to begin combining letterpress projects into his workflow. But the market for letterpress artwork was inundated with wedding invitations and greeting cards—projects that Griswold found himself uninterested in. He aimed to create what seemed like a contrast to common letterpress applications: a book on manliness. Thus was born the idea of Manly Marks.
Manly Marks was an illustrated book detailing 25 of the most enduring manly customs, all individually pressed and hand-bound (more on that later). After months of planning, Griswold realized that bringing the project to life would require overcoming significant challenges: money, machinery, audience and defining the project’s aesthetic.
In search of funding, Griswold turned to Kickstarter to bring Manly Marks to life. He set out to raise $14,000 to purchase the necessary printing machinery and supplies to produce everything. Kickstarter also allowed him to reach a much broader audience than he’d had in previous projects. “Once the project was live, I transitioned into marketing mode,” said Griswold. Though in the end, he didn’t have to worry about reaching his goal; he gained fame on the Kickstarter site by earning a “Staff Pick” spotlight and being featured as a “Project of the Day.” The Manly Marks project received 151% of Griswold’s original goal—over $21,000 in financial backing.
Then came the production phase: Manly Marks was set for a run of 300 books. Apart from the magnitude of labor required to hand-print each one, Griswold hadn’t anticipated the process of hand-binding each too. “That was probably my least favorite stage because it was so new to me. It was a tedious craft, but I wanted complete control over the process from start to finish.” Griswold credits a great support system for the project’s success—a network of talented people in the letterpress community, who were instrumental in helping find his press (“It came from an eBay seller who lived 30 minutes away.”), type and supplies; friends who critiqued his front-end design work; and another friend who directed and produced his project video.
Thanks to his efforts, Griswold and Manly Marks received a slew of excellent press online from around the world, including the blogs Man of Many, That Should Be Mine, The Weekend Edition, Sterling Communications and many more. And the campaign’s popularity led to a store featuring recently created products like coasters, posters, t-shirts, correspondence cards and the Official Man-Card, the only true signifier of manliness, all under a master Manly Marks brand.
For now, Griswold intends to gradually introduce new products like smaller prints and print a second run of the book. To watch Griswold’s Kickstarter video or to buy the several Manly Marks products available for sale, visit the official website. And follow Griswold on Twitter for news on future products and tips on manliness.