From the Mast-Head
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From the Mast-Head

In my Mast-Head for the March 2013 issue of Leviathan, I announced the happy news that Johns Hopkins University Press had taken on the role of publisher for the journal. I also used the announcement of that milestone as an opportunity to reflect on how Leviathan grew.

Last time, I had brought the narrative of the birthing of this whale up to the moment of the decision to create the journal as a semiannual, with Melville Society Extracts also appearing twice a year. Leviathan would offer substantial essays on Melville scholarship and criticism, reviews, special features, and even poetry; MSEx (as bibliographers pruriently liked to code it) would continue publishing shorter pieces and notes as well as Society news, developments involving Melville in the culture, conference reports, and abstracts. With this balanced approach, all I had to do was find a reputable publisher to help me start Leviathan from scratch.

It was 1996, and a start-up journal focusing on a single author was not an easy proposition, but I drew up a credible proposal and submitted it to—Irony Alert #1—Johns Hopkins University Press. The journals acquisition editor at that time took the proposal seriously but, after some focused negotiation, made the decision not to pursue the enterprise. In the ensuing week, I went through however many stages of grief that are allowed an editor and landed upon the somewhat truculent resolution that if no one else would do this for me, I would do it myself.

A month later, at a chance meeting with Hofstra administrator Richard Block, I mentioned the dilemma and wondered aloud if Hofstra could provide the necessary funding for the start-up. With the crucial support of Provost Herman Berliner and Dean Bernard J. Firestone, I was able to hire free-lance book designer Peter Batchelder—recommended to me through business associates of Virginia Blanford, a long-time and close friend of mine in the publishing world—to work with me on every feature of the journal.

I was determined that our cover design and logo evoke all aspects of Melville's work, not only the nautical and the expected Moby-Dick but also the symbolic and modern. The sperm whale outline that tops our front cover comes from the image created by a carved wood block hand stamp used by whaling captains to indicate in their logs the daily sightings of whales. A square area carved out of the surface of the block created a blank space on the body of the stamped whale image that allowed the captain to inscribe the number of each [End Page 1] whale captured, and on the back cover of each issue of Extracts Don Yannella had used the blank square in the body of the whale image to number each issue of Extracts consecutively. In editing the newsletter, I had kept up that practice, and to provide continuity in transition to Leviathan but also to add a new twist, I elevated the marking-stamp system, for whales and issues, to the new journal's logo, filling in the blank space and giving the antique whaling log image a more modern look that seems to fuse the naturalistic and the abstract. The sperm whale logo might appear to be white, but that is only an illusion: its pale blue seems white only in comparison to the darker blue of the background. And the image sits atop a word—Leviathan—like a hieroglyph on some Rosetta Stone.

We sometimes take books as objects for granted; they are such a common technology that they seem like nature to us. But making a book, or rather a journal, from scratch reminds you that books and journals are indeed physical not just metaphorical anatomies. And with Batchelder's help, I had the pleasure of crafting every feature of Leviathan's design and gaining a more intimate, tactile understanding of what this beast would be. Thus, I had myriad decisions to make: page design, typography, paper stock, even the Pantone number for the color of the cover, which, if you must know, is 542.

The first issue of Leviathan appeared in the fall of 1998. I...


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