The Secret Life of Penguins: working with Mark Pelczarski on his new book

The most noteworthy book I designed and edited this year was “Graphically Speaking: Enhanced Edition” by Mark Pelczarski, and there are some fun stories to share about its development. The book teaches graphics programming on the Apple II, compiling his “Graphically Speaking” tutorial columns that appeared in Softalk magazine. This new “Enhanced Edition” includes a new preface from the author, remastered and unseen Penguin Software art, penguin trivia, and a redesigned interior.

When Bill suggested that we should publish this book, I laughed a bit because I emailed Mark a few years ago and he kindly sent me a signed copy of the original edition. This was very helpful, because I needed to scan and recreate the cover and chapter graphics, which was no small endeavor. Once again for me, unplanned past actions helped future events.

Mark and I started emailing at the end of April and began collaborating on his new preface. It was quite interesting to learn more about his educational experiences as a student and also as a programming teacher. And it was nice that he could share new information about his history that hasn’t been published before.

One of the first things I wanted to do with the Enhanced Edition was to incorporate art and emphasize Penguin Software. Mark scanned most of the art that I added and enhanced, resulting in over 25 fun penguin illustrations from artists Cheryl Pelczarski, Dav Holle, Steve Wedemeyer, Bill Giese, Elaine Cheever, and Rick Incrocci. For the purpose of proper credits, Mark and I also had fun naming some of the illustrations that hadn’t been named before, as found in the book’s “A Waddle of Penguins Credits.”

Mark shared several details about the artists such as, “Bill Giese did the Transylvania cover, the color version of the Graphics Magician cover, the Computer Graphics poster, Transitions cover, the second version of the Spy’s Demise cover, and our 9′ by 20′ backdrop for our trade show booths. And he went on to do a lot of other cool stuff, including album covers and other artwork for the Grateful Dead. Compared signatures. Same Giese. Wow!”

During our conversations, Mark put me in contact with artist and programmer Dav Holle who clearly fit it with the Penguin Software crew. In the Apple world, you might recognize Dav as the author of Zoom Grafix and the Sherwood Forest adventure from Phoenix Software. When he replied to my email, he changed the subject to, “10 PRINT ‘HELLO, BRIAN!'” And in apparent Dav tradition, the beginning of his email was, “Hi Brian, I wrote this little song at a quarter to 3 this morning… ‘Sorry for the delay… Real Life has been… Gettin’ in my way…’ Hey, I didn’t say it was a *good* song :)”.

Dav went on to say, “A lot of these penguins were drawn on the outside of envelopes sent to Mark. He liked that, but sometimes the scans didn’t come out so clean because of handling, or because they were drawn on gnarly dark envelopes. I would doodle them in the margins of correspondence just for the heck of it. Mark and his team were receptive. I would draw on invoices. So there would be something to look forward to in there. A prize in every envelope.”

Speaking of details, I wanted to make the copyright and acknowledgements page more fun. With permission, I borrowed Penguin Software’s language and updated it for A.P.P.L.E.. Obviously, their fun spirit was pervasive in everything they did, “Books will not be replaced, so don’t lose this book or let your dog eat it. At no time will A.P.P.L.E. or anyone else who has been involved in the creation, production, or distribution of this book be liable or responsible for any errors or omissions, or for indirect, special, or consequential damages resulting from use of this material, such as, but not limited to: hurricanes, fires, minor head colds, divorce, or beady eyes.”

Mark and I also talked about the penguin trivia that appeared the back of many software packages. Including trivia written by Penguin Software staff was a perfect and fun addition, and we became somewhat obsessed for a few weeks searching software boxes we had, and searching online for references to others. I dubbed this section “The Secret Life of Penguins” encouraging people to, “Brush up on your penguin lore and become a Penguinologist!” We included 36 bits of trivia in chronological order – it’s mostly complete, leaving a bit of undiscovered mystery. Here you’ll learn things such as, “Cats and penguins are often seen together in sushi bars” and “Penguins like their croissants buttered.”

As with any production, I endeavored to make the layout and editing as perfect as possible. When placing the penguins to the left of every chapter, I did my best to match each penguin and its personality with trivia, keeping the chapter’s subject in mind. Trying to harmonize those three elements that were never put together before was an enjoyable experience.

I think it’s important to share a bit from an email with Mark, to demonstrate his personality. In one email I wrote, “The first transport is away! The first transport is away! I’m having coffee and apparently channeling The Empire Strikes Back…The proof is being ordered today for your Enhanced Edition book :-).” Mark’s reply included the subject, “We’ve spotted Imperial walkers!”

Throughout our numerous interactions over a few months, Mark was very helpful and frequently amusing. He spent a lot of time helping me with these aspects, and the new edition of his book reflects more of his personality and Penguin Software’s influence. When I had the pleasure of meeting him in person at KansasFest, Mark was kind enough to make time for an interview. That interview and those I’ve done every year at KansasFest (such as Mike Harvey and Roger Wagner), will be released in podcast form as soon as I can find some free time.

The last thing I want to share from this experience is something personal I shared with Mark. I told him, “I never had the privilege of working for you. But now I can now imagine, with a hint of reality, that I did work for you and Penguin Software – and that makes the kid in me beam with pride.” And that’s truly how I feel. Penguin Software through its fun, creative and innovative software made a noticeable impact on countless people. I hope that you enjoy this “Enhanced Edition” of Graphically Speaking and create something else innovative.

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About the Author

Brian Wiser

Brian is an A.P.P.L.E. Board member and Managing Editor of Call-A.P.P.L.E.. He is a producer of books, films, games, and events, as well as an Apple consultant, historian and archivist. Brian designed, edited, and co-produced dozens of books including:  "Nibble Viewpoints: Business Insights From The Computing Revolution," "Cyber Jack: The Adventures of Robert Clardy and Synergistic Software," "Synergistic Software: The Early Games," "Graphically Speaking: Enhanced Edition," "What’s Where in the Apple: Enhanced Edition," and "The WOZPAK Special Edition: Steve Wozniak’s Apple-1 & Apple II Computers."  Brian also co-produced the retro iOS game "Structris." Brian was an extra in Joss Whedon’s movie “Serenity,” leading him to being a producer/director for the documentary film “Done The Impossible: The Fans’ Tale of Firefly & Serenity.” He brought some of the Firefly cast aboard his Browncoat Cruise convention and recruited several of the Firefly cast to appear in a film for charity. Brian speaks about his adventures at conventions around the country.