“Me? Oh, I write book history-themed mouse superhero comic books for the government.”

squeaks the mouse

Since I was teaching last week on government publications and archives, I had the singular pleasure (no, really! it was fun!) of browsing the YouTube channel of the US Government Printing Office. Rock out! No, actually, if you are a book historian/librarian and/or a nerd who liked those features on Mr. Rogers where he went to visit a pencil factory, you will probably enjoy checking out exactly how the GPO compiles the Congressional Register (like the Hansard, for my Canadian readers) or the Public Papers of the President. The short answer: it’s complicated, and those employees can’t be replaced by a computer. Especially the guy whose job it is to press the endpapers on leather-bound books, whose job title is “head forwarder.”

and then? and then! I encountered the video about a little comic book called Squeaks discovers type! : how print has expanded our universe!. My mind was blown. Who knew that there were two guys working for the federal government who decided that

  • GPO should advertise its creative and technological abilities in order to gain more business from other government departments (a sensible plan), and
  • the way to sell these services was obviously to write and illustrate an original comic book about a mouse superhero video game character who comes to life and takes a child on a whirlwind tour of print and communications history, in order to underline the important work of the government’s official printer?
  • Watch more about Squeaks here.

    As I said, the mind boggles. According to WorldCat, 323 libraries worldwide (out of approximately 10,000 Worldcat users) hold this item. That figure might be higher, considering that the cataloging of government publications is often spotty.

    I’m not sure whether to be happy that Squeaks the Mouse is introducing the wonder of cuneiform, scriptoria and typesetting to that many patrons, or to be sad that he’s not more of a library bestseller. I think it’s important to recognize though (and predictably, the book has been criticized as a waste of taxpayers’ money) that the point of this book was not only, or even mainly, to sell books to libraries or to educate kids about print history. It seems pretty clear from the video that the aim was to show what the Office could do for its government clients. I’m sure that the chance to produce something different was a factor too, and things like morale and promotional value can’t be easily measured. I find it interesting, finally, that print history was the subject chosen, considering the fact that the GPO employees featured in these videos seem to have (understandably) a complex appreciation of the fact that they are dealing with a new era in digital communication, while still keeping one foot firmly in the problems and pleasures of print.

    And if you’ve ever wondered where to find a book to convince your child that book history is more fun than video games, now you know where to get one.

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