This is perhaps one of my favorite finds of recent years. Back in June for Father's Day, I treated myself to a trip around town to some antique malls and stores. As I was making my way through the aisles of one such mall, scanning for any interesting books or ephemeral finds, my eye caught a glimpse of a book with a remarkable blue cover. I had to bend down to take a closer look because it was on the lower level of a bookshelf, and when I did, I almost dropped Ezra. It was This is Cape Canaveral, written and illustrated by the wonderful Miroslav Sasek, aka M. Sasek.
Considered to be one of the rarest of the "This is..." series that M. Sasek produced from 1959 to 1974, "This is Cape Canaveral" was retitled "This is Cape Kennedy" in a later edition when President Johnson recommended changing the name of the entire cape after the assassination of President Kennedy in '63. (The town was not keen on the name change and had the name changed back to Cape Canaveral in '73. You can read more about this here.)
I hate to admit it, but I had no clue who M. Sasek was until a couple of years ago, when a co-worker at Primal showed me a couple of Sasek's books he had checked out from the library. He thought that I, for sure, was familiar with his work. Unfortunately, I was not. So I immediately did a search and found this very informative site on the man and his legacy headed up by Anne of i like. I was hooked.
What's amazing to see is that he produced 18 books for the "This is...," spanning 15 years -- with his signature fun and colorful stylized artwork pretty much retaining the same look throughout the entire run. As an artist I find that very hard to do, especially when your style sometimes starts to evolve without you knowing. Equally impressive is the fact that when you look at Sasek's work, it does not look at all dated. Sure, there are elements to that stylized look and design in his work that was evident of the mid-20th century, but it's just enough to remain timeless. I swear, you could open this book in 2005 and think that you are reading something that is contemporary. Again, credit this to Sasek's impeccable style, which seems to get better with age. Somehow he was able to manage a look and style that transends generations. As a matter of fact, Rizzoli is currently reissuing the series, with all the illustrations intact, but including a section in the back of each book updating certain facts that may be out of date. There have been six already reissued with two more coming soon in early 2006.... A true testament to just how influential Sasek is.
If you've never had the chance to check out any of the books in the "This is..." series, the premise is the same: Sasek takes us on a tour of a featured city, noticing the people, the attractions, the food, the stores, the buildings, the methods of traveling within each place. What makes the series addictive (especially to me) is how Sasek picks up on those quirky little things that makes each city unique unto the world. The little details that might've been overlooked by the casual tourist, but not to a child. And that's the big draw for me: Sasek looked at the world around him as if he was a child. Or rather, he noticed things that a child would find amusing. Also, there's a slight off-beat style of humor in his illustrations and in his writing. I love it.
From his exquisite page layouts to his charming characters, Miroslav Sasek was ahead in the game of children's book illustration, in my opinion. He has since become one of my greatest influences.
To the illustrations. Ah yes, the wonderful illustrations. I'm posting some images from the book below for you all, but I've got more in a Flickr photoset. To check out that set go HERE. Hope you enjoy!
To take a closer look, click on each image and you will be taken to its Flickr page. From there, click on "All sizes."
Like I mentioned earlier, part of the true joy in reading through Sasek's "This is..." series is seeing what captures his eye. And in "This is Cape Canaveral," we see just how exciting the Space Race was, especially in its infancy. With this book published in '63, there's reason to believe that Sasek traveled to Canaveral and Cocoa Beach the previous year, right when all the missile testing and Mercury flights were going on. To see how all the hotels, restaurants and shops -- the entire town, basically -- got caught up in the missile and space craze is fascinating. Heck, they even did parades for the astronauts who simply went into orbit for a couple of hours. To see all this from a post-moon walking, post-Shuttle, post-Star Wars world is downright charming. I don't show everything from this book, but there were a great deal of images of missiles and rockets, all depicted in amazingly-detailed Sasek flair. Sasek's background in architecture shows through in how he illustrates the towers that hold the rockets before liftoff, complete with practically every single iron scaffolding in place.
This particular book is in great condition with no doodles or marks in the pages inside. However, there was some bad ink registration on a couple of the pages. Hopefully, Rizzoli will reissue this book, so that everyone will have a chance to enjoy the Space Race from an innocent time.
UPDATE: Good news! "This is Cape Canaveral" will be released June 23rd, 2009 as "This Is The Way To The Moon"! Buy it here on Amazon:
More about This Is Cape Canaveral.
The entire This is... series.
Sasek in The Retro Kid: This is Hong Kong, This is Israel.
If you like this style of illustration from the mid-20th century era, be sure to check out The Retro Kid.