Pete Halverson of Jackson, age 49, is the senior book designer at University Press of Mississippi. He grew up in Auburn, Ala., and moved to Jackson to attend Millsaps College. He graduated in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree with painting as his focus, worked as a picture framer and joined University Press in 2001 as a production assistant. He and his wife, Lucy, who is also a Millsaps graduate, are parents of a daughter, Camille, who is a senior at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.
Did you set out to become a book designer or did serendipity play a part?
“It was serendipitous. I saw an ad in the newspaper for the job at University Press. It was a part-time job as a production assistant. That meant I assisted the art director and the book designer with some of what they did. I knew enough about publishing with Photoshop and Quark software that I could get by with what the job demanded and I learned more and more on the job. I moved up to designer and then senior book designer. I’ve been here 19 years, which is a long time but doesn’t seem like a long time.”
What skills does a book designer need to have?
“You need to be able to use Photoshop and Indesign software. You need to be creative. A graphic design or art background is good for that. You also have to be logical and pay attention to detail. Design works both sides of your brain. We do creative stuff on the covers to make the books attractive and make people want to buy them but you have to be logical with the inside pages.”
What tasks are involved in designing a book?
“When I get a book it’s a collection of (Microsoft) Word files. It’s my job to take that and put it into Indesign, then design each type element and get it prepared for the printer. Within that process there’s a lot of back and forth between the design department and project editors, who work with copy editors.”
How long does it take to design a book and see it through production until it is in print?
“The entire process takes about six months. I have about 13 books going on at one time in different stages. We focus on one at a time. In the different stages they don’t require as much attention as they do in the beginning.”
What is University Press of Mississippi?
“We are a consortium press. We are not affiliated with just one public university in Mississippi but all of them. We are part of the state Institutions of Higher Learning. Our authors are from around the world, not just Mississippi. We have specific subject areas we specialize in. One area we specialize in is comics studies. A lot of people are surprised to find that this little press in Mississippi is known worldwide for books on comics studies”.
How many books does University Press of Mississippi publish each year?
“We publish about 90 books a year. That number has slowly gone up every year I’ve worked here. I’m responsible for about 30 books a year. That’s from the covers to every page of the interior.”
What kind of books does University Press of Mississippi produce?
“We do a lot of scholarly monographs that are 6-inches-by-9-inches in size. The majority of what we publish are those. We do a lot of pop culture books on film, books on civil rights, books on Caribbean studies. We have a series of youth literature. I’ve got a book coming out some time next year about the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. That helps fulfill our mission as a university press and helps the university by publicizing what they have that collection. We also do some art and photography books.”
How many books have you designed during your career and what are some that stand out to you?
“I’ve designed hundreds of books, between 400 and 500 books, maybe more than that. We work on so many that it’s hard to pick favorites.
“I’m really proud of a book called ‘Cham: The Best Comic Strips and Graphic Novelettes, 1839-1862,’ that is a biography and catalogue of cartoons by the French cartoonist, Count Amedee de Noe. It is the largest book the press has ever published, apart from the Mississippi Encyclopedia. The trim size is larger but the encyclopedia is longer.”
“In 2014, I did a book on the paintings of Bob Ross, ‘Happy Clouds, Happy Trees.’ I was real happy with that one. There’s been a resurgence in his popularity. We’ve had to reprint that one lately because he’s back in the public eye because of a documentary about him and his shows on Netflix.
“In May of this year, we did ‘Vintage Postcards from the African World,’ a four-color book of about 150 postcards from Africa and the Caribbean. They were collected by the author Jessica Harris. She curated the 150 from her collection and wrote an essay about them. They’re rare postcards You don’t see these anywhere. It’s neat to have them in a book format where you can look at the in one place.”
Is there anything new related to book design?
“The main thing is that a lot of books have gone to digital and are e-books like you’d read on a Kindle or iPad. Every book we publish is available in print and an e-book format. We are a traditional publisher but about 10 years ago we made a decision to get on board with technology that was coming out. It was a good decision.”
Are printed books here to stay in the digital age?
“Yes. I don’t think you can replace a physical book. There’s something about just holding a physical book in your hand, the tactical sense of turning the pages and looking at it just cannot be replaced. I think there’s value in e-books because they can be very convenient. But at the end of the day when I come home I would rather pick up a book than stare at a screen. A book doesn’t run out of power, and you’re not going to break it. Eventually it will fall apart but you’re not going to have to upgrade your computer to read it.”
As a book designer, do you end up owning many books?
“Yes. I have bookshelves that have nothing but books I’ve worked on. It’s neat to look at and say, ‘Wow, I did every one of those books.’ It’s like an artist having a portfolio.”