An interview with Javier Cano of El Artesano Del Rey
El Artesano Del Rey (The King’s Craftsman) is a Spanish bookbinding firm that produces hand-bound gaming books by master craftsman Javier Cano. After seeing the jaw dropping work he did on our Vampire the Masquerade Luxury edition, we knew we had to work with Javier again on something similar for Dune. Working with our graphic designer Chris Webb and the creative team at Modiphius, we discussed several ideas about how to develop a special edition of the Dune Core Rulebook. We’re exceptionally pleased with how this turned out, so we asked Javier if he could spare some time to talk about creating this new edition and how he goes about crafting these amazing books.
How long have you been doing this and what made you get started? Why did you get involved in RPGs particularly?
I've been making books professionally for 7 years now, for role-players and book lovers as well as at an international level with big publishers. But I’ve also been a role player for over 30 years, mainly running "Call of Cthulhu", "AD&D", "Vampire”, "In Nomine", "Shadowrun” and many others. I’ve always taken great care of the books themselves, I think they are treasures that should be preserved given all the knowledge and fun they contain.
When I was a student I once bought a completely ruined but very rare book. I didn't have the money to get someone else to repair it and so little by little I began to learn the technique of book binding myself. A few years later, with a large library behind me, I found this hobby had turned into a professional business. My first major commission was with the Spanish role-playing game "Aquelarre”. This Deluxe edition from the publishing house "Nosolorol" made my name in the Spanish role-playing community. But I was shocked to see how quickly the books were selling out. In a few hours of them going on sale they were gone. It’s now almost impossible to find a copy, and is listed as a collector’s book. That's one of the special things about my books. They are all limited editions and together with their certificate, as the years go by they become more valuable.
What is the first thing you do to the book when you get them from us?
Well... the first thing is to check that all the books have arrived correctly by which I mean a first visual inspection of the covers, back covers, corners, spines, to see if they are damaged or have misshapen areas. I need to be especially meticulous as there is no point in working on a flawed book. They have to be perfect before I begin the process.
After this first approach to the books, I put on gloves so I don't tear the pages inside and with a lot of patience I check each page of each book, looking for printing or cutting faults from the printer. It's a long job, but it gives me the opportunity to admire the art and illustrations of each book.
Can you detail the process of rebinding in general terms?
After the preliminary inspection of the books, I move on to the workshop work. At this point I prepare the books to be bound, starting by staining the edges of the pages. I prepare the front and back covers and I build the structure of the spine of the book.
There are about 15 stages for just this work per book, so I won’t bore you with all the details! For me, the real pleasure of the process is to create a product with my own hands that will remain for posterity and that its owners will take care of. I hope that, in time, each owner will even pass these books on to their children.
Have you done anything particularly special with the Dune Core Rulebook?
Over the years I have created many books and I’ve always made them special with different kinds of leather, designs, and details. But the "Dune" book is the first one I’ve done with the whole cover in metal. I had been thinking about doing it for a long time, but the right book and the right moment had never come up. It is very difficult for me as a craftsman to decide on the right approach to the cover for such an amazing book. But when I saw the illustration of the sandworm, it suddenly became clear to me. I prepared a first prototype for Modiphius who approved it almost immediately. So I was able to start work on it quite quickly. What makes this metal cover special is that I’ve also processed and aged the plate several times to make this book a timeless jewel.
What do you most enjoy about the process?
For me as a bookbinding craftsman and artist, I find the whole process interesting. From the moment a project is proposed to me, my mind starts to come up with designs and ideas that I find hard to ignore. At that moment I go back to watching the "Dune" films, or reading the book to remember the style and set the scene.
With this process and the publisher's ideas, I develop a plan to meet everyone’s requirements. In this case it was to be impressive, to look like a book from the Dune setting, an ‘ancient book from the future’ uncovered after hundreds of years, as well as being pleasing to the eye. I think we succeeded. After a lot of thinking and looking at leather types, textures and colours, I decided on this one. It was the most similar to the colour of the skin of the worms from Arrakis and it matched perfectly with the sands and the story of "Dune". The metal of the cover and the leather make this book something unique, which I'm sure its owners will appreciate.
How long does it take to do one book? Do you do each one in turn or have several on the go at one time?
Well... I'd love to say not long, but it's not the case. Although I make them in phases, each book is different and behaves in a different way. The materials influence the way they are put together and as time goes by each book reveals its own personality. As a craftsman I don't look for perfection, I look for uniqueness in every piece. I don't use electric machines, only antique metal and wood presses. So all the work is done by hand, following the ancient medieval bookbinding techniques.
As it takes a long time to produce each book, I never give my clients a delivery date as I don't even know when I will finish them. Although I can assure you that I don't stop working until all the books are done.
After all these years working, I like to finish a project before taking on another one. I don't care how long it takes me to do it, because I really enjoy my work. I see the days, months and almost years go by without noticing it. I am very lucky.
Is there any option you would especially like to try on a book? What are you hoping a customer will ask you to do one day?
The truth is that I have so many ideas, I usually suggest a few when a client asks me for a book in the "epic" category - which you can see on my website www.elartesanodelrey.es, in the finished works section.
But to tell you the truth, I love challenges. Once, I was very pleased to get a commission on a "World of Darkness" book for a printing company, because they didn't know how to do what their client had asked of them due to the technical complications of the manufacturing. It is these projects I like the most, but well... I could spend hours talking about books, I hope you like my work and again thank you very much for this opportunity.The Dune: Adventures in the Imperium Imperial Limited Edition Core Rulebook is available from Modiphius at www.modiphius.net. You can learn more about the work of El Artesano Del Rey at www.elartesanodelrey.es.