The traveler waits on the dock surrounded by his baggage: steamer trunks, wooden crates of books, parcels of drawings and rolled-up paintings. He is dressed in a purple jacket with a daffodil in the lapel, an orange scarf tied as an ascot, and a brown Borsalino cocked over one ear, and holds a furled umbrella whose green and black stripes match his own coloring.
In the window of a handsome pink stucco building at 1061 India Street in San Diego is a painted figure that has the same long tail and the same black stripes on the green fur. Inside, on the wall above the fireplace is another. Our traveler is a painting, too, on the cover of a book, and they all three are trademarks of the business that announces, on a hand-lettered sign in the window. "We offer the pictures found in old children's books as postcards, notecards, books, posters, bookplates, bookmarks."
The building, formerly a Jordan and De Soto car showroom, is the home of the Green Tiger Press. Past the rather baroque and somewhat Oriental facade is a Dickensian milieu of dark oak furniture, bric-a-brac, and controlled clutter. Amid the office desks and chairs and the plaster-vine-wrapped columns are a mannequin with pearls in her hair, a wooden rocking horse, a ferris wheel, Raggedy Anns and Andys, a venerable yellow platen printing press. On the left is the showroom, on the right the editorial department, and upstairs on the mezzanine are business and accounting. The remainder of the block-long building, which extends from India to Columbia Street, is the manufacturing plant.
Green Tiger is the most productive and successful of the more than sixty small publishing houses in San Diego. In little more than a decade, they've gone from printing a handful of notecards to a line of thirty books (called Star & Elephant Books) and 436 notecards and picture (formerly post-) cards, and acquired a unique reputation for excellence along the way. Once of their books has sold 100,000 copies, another 80,000, and most of the rest between 10,000 and 30,000, which is a lot for a small publisher. Their images of faeries, rainbows, magical animals and gossamer draw fervent admirers. But success in the publishing business is like quicksilver, and expansion and change have kept Green Tiger struggling since its beginning. Any company would be feeling the strain if, after three years of doubling its gross sales each year, it has had almost no real growth for the last three years. So while production manager Jerry Hauck says positively, " Our image is much larger than we are; everyone in the marketplace knows Green Tiger and what we do, and they watch us," business director Harold Leigh says, "We grew much too quickly," and editor-in-chief Harold Darling says, "To a certain extent we have failed; that is entirely our doing and in the future can be corrected."
Harold Darling, his wife Sandra Darling, and Harold Leigh (called Leigh to avoid confusion with the other Harold) have been in business together since the mid-Sixties. Already, Harold Darling had operated a private film club, the Classic Cinema Guild, and a short-lived theater on University Avenue, the Shadow Box Theater, and a bookstore known as the Sign of the Sun, first in Hillcrest and then on College Avenue. When Darling opened the Unicorn Theater in December of 1964, Harold Leigh came to the first show, and never left; and when Mithras Books opened in early 1966, it was a joint venture of Harold and Sandra Darling.
There has always been something mysterious, and paradoxical, about their business ventures: the Unicorn Cinema, Mithras Books at the Sign of the Sun, and the sole surviving Green Tiger Press. Each place has had an elaborate aesthetic and style independent of establishment culture. Remarkable personal and expressive, they have been peerless in San Diego, and influential. The Unicorn showed films that couldn't be seen anywhere else in town, but that even neighborhood and multiplex theaters show now; and the antiques and folk art furnishing of the Mithras that seemed so bohemians for a place of business have become comfortably familiar if not ubiquitous. Their end came in part as a result of their influence. For years patrons of the Unicorn and Mithras has wondered how a theater with only 100 comfortable seats, and a bookstore where people sat and read but didn't buy, could be profitable. People say they closed because the Green Tiger became so successful. But the history of the Green Tiger has also favored beauty before, and sometimes at the expense of, commerce.
As assertive as their businesses have been, the Darlings and Leigh are themselves unusually private people, protective of their personal lives. Stores of their instincts for anonymity abound, of Harold Darling and Harold Leigh pretending to inquisitive customers at the Unicorn/Mithras that they were just employees; of Darling, who uses a literary pseudonym, and using his pseudonym when someone asked for Harold Darling. Offered a three-month retrospective of Unicorn film programming at the Cinematheque Francaise, and institution he admires, Darling refused, presumable because of the attention it would have focused on him. Employees at the Unicorn world there for years without exchanging more than hellos with Darling. And, asked when they were married, Sandra Darling — a woman about forty years old who wears long Victorian-style dress and often looks severe — looks severe, shrugs impatiently, and answers shortly, "I don't know. Fifteens years ago." For this article the Darlings consented to be interviewed but declined to be photographed.
One former employee offers this opinion: "They'd rather be magicians and not let you see them. They're perfectionists, idealists. They want life to be seamless. They have a need for the distance." In the preface to A Book of Unicorns, their best-selling book, is a statement that sounds like a philosophy: "We present these texts without annotation, hoping by this to allow for clear perception and unhindered personal response."
Harold Darling, close to fifty years old, looks like a rumpled academic or perhaps, a small-town druggist dressed for work in shirtsleeves and baggy pants, with a fringe of graying hair falling around his ears and neck. His gaze is direct and attentive, his voice quick and youthful. He states his interest in books quite simply. "What I like about books is their extension in time. They will last so long and make a difference in so many lives. Old books mean so much to me, it's like receiving something an passing it on. It's not everlastingness," he cautions, "because nothing is forever." His interest in children's books began at about the age of twenty-one. "I read largely adult books when I was a child. I don't remember being read to. Maybe when you are starved as a child, you seek it afterward." Of their books, he says, "What we publish is not unique — not that other books accomplish the same goals, but the differences are not in the contents of the books. The difference about Green Tiger is that we emphasize visual books, that is our whole focus — visual books without an emphasis on the child." Who buys their products? "I don't know, but my guess is, mostly educated women. I think that most are bought by adults for adults, with no child in mind."
All the Green Tiger books have pictures, or in the case of a couple, photographs. Some of their books have no words at all, or few words, or words that shape poems rather than stories; while others have strong narratives. A number of books are reprinting of previously published books, from alphabet books to fables and fairy tales. There are also, in print or in preparation; a cookbook for children; a 600-page anthology of French poems with English translations by SDSU professor emeritus John Theobald; a comprehensive and scholarly book on the Swedish artist Carol Larsson; and a series of "envelope books," eight- to twelve-page booklets that tuck into envelopes for mailing. Retail prices range from $2.50 for an envelope book and $3.96 for the least expensive paperbacks, to twenty-five dollars for John Theobald's book and $29.95 for the Carl Larsson book. Most of their paperbacks retail for eight to ten dollars. "People think ten dollars is a lot for paperbacks," acknowledges Harold Darling. "There is prejudice against paperbacks, paperbacks are associated with cheaper materials, less care. We want to publish a brochure that will state in our case, there is no less care."
In the current catalogue, The Green Tiger's Compendium of Images, Harold Darling writes, "Life cannot be properly looked at without the help of picture makers, for their find those moments, those combinations which, when arrested, allow us to look at existence." His other statements in the compendium include; "Like him [an itinerant peddler] we deal in play things, ornaments, tools for the imagination. Like him we sell baubles, memories and fabric for dreams," and " ... our preference in both story and image is for the romantic, the dreamlike, or the visionary," and "We strive for perfection." And from the Green Tiger guideline for protective contributors, "We are not a publisher of the conventional 'how-to' or the slavishly realistic."
To fabricate the tools, realize the vision, and arrive as close as possible to perfection is a process requiring many steps, most of which are executed on the premises — though hardly in assembly-line fashion. One can follow a Green Tiger project from conception to completion here. In the case of a book, it may take nine months or more.
The ideas begin with Harold (the editor-in-chief) and Sandra (the art director) Darling in a cubbyhole office they share and which is decorated with Oriental rugs, antique desks, and a teddy bear on a bookcase. They decide on author and text, artist and illustration for each project. Commenting on their collaboration, Sandra Darling says, "It's hard to say where one of our ideas ends and the other's starts. I've heard Harold tell someone about an idea of his that was actually an idea of mine. One of us will think of something and the other will add to it." In most instances, the writers and artists come to them, by submitting ideas or samples of their work. Occasionally they have asked writers whose work they had seen, to write something for them or commissioned artists to illustrate specific texts. They attend an annual children's book fair in Bologna, Italy (where Harold Darling was a judge this year) that is a showcase for contemporary illustrators, and have come back with some new illustrators or complete books. "We don't have any local artists," Sandra Darling reports. "I don't think we have any San Diego artists in our file. I don't know why. Either they don't come in or they're not good enough." She expresses sympathetic regret for a young artist who drove from Los Angeles just to show her portfolio, with whom she spent only five minutes. "I wish they would send their work in. After all, the art stands on its own. The artist can't defend the work to the reader."
Harold Darling says, "There are far more books that I'd like to publish than we do. I have a book full of book projects that goes back ten years. It's not always clear, what to publish. I know what I like, but I don't know if that's what we should publish." In the end, though, "one makes clear decisions, says at one point, let's publish.... One is forced into that."
Sometimes the decision comes easily, and sometimes a project comes to them entire. The first book by Cooper Edens, a Seattle resident who has since become their best-selling and most popular author/artist, was an immediate choice. Harold Darling remembers, "The Night Rainbow [If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow, published in 1979, more than 80,000 copies sold, in its eighth printing] was sent to us typed out on a single sheet with a color Xerox of one of the drawings."
"If tomorrow morning the sky falls ... have clouds for breakfast/If night falls ... use stars for streetlights ..." The book consists of eighteen such verbal pictures, with illustrations whose style is naive and imagery surrealistic. There is linear continuity without narrative, a kind of free association that reflects an unusual sense of the connectedness of things.
"I like the aphorisms right away, but the Xerox seemed too amateur. When he came to talk to us, I had a list of artists to suggest to him, but as soon as I saw the drawings — the Xerox was not a good reproduction — I knew." That book, says their sales manager was the one that made the publishing world aware of Green Tiger; since then they have published five other Cooper Edens books, a calendar, a poster, and two dozen cards.
Another book that came full-blown to them was Elizabeth Ratisseau's The House at the End of the Lane, publishing under the pseudonym Elizabeth Rush. It is a warm, elegant, old-fashioned story of a communal household of animals and a doll. Bartholomew is a sad, homeless young kangaroo who finds happiness and a home with Mr. Bear, the local magistrate; Rabbit, who grows prize-winning carrots; Chester Dog, a shy writer; and Miss Lucy, who concocts such deserts as blubber berries with lime ice. (Describing Chester Dog, the author's comment is also a description of Green Tiger: "Mostly he liked books that were older, books bent at the corners and worn at the seams; books whose pages had lost their thing, some yellow-tinted with age, and showing drawings of extraordinary interest.") Ratisseau was manager of Mithras Books, and Harold Darling recalls, "She had never submitted it for publication — maybe fearing rejection. I knew of its existence, had read it many years ago, and suddenly it tumbled into my mind. It's hard to appraise friends' works, so I gave it to readers without identifying the author. They were enthusiastic. She was willing to have it published — maybe she was just waiting to be approached."
Once the decision for a project has been made, Sandra Darling works with the artist. "My direction varies a lot. It depends on how much I trust them — if I don't know their work or if I know they are not reliable in some way, I will guide them more, maybe ask for sketches. Then I will say, I like this style, I don't like this style. I will reject a painting, but I don't do that too much. Artists can take a lot of direction, particularly if it's early. Then it's not a rejection of something they've already done.
"We've gotten good work from our artists, in some cases the best they've ever done." Why? "Something about the project, the ambiance, maybe she Green Tiger reputation. I don't know what it is."
Next comes the design of the project, Sandra Darling says, "There are more picture books now. before, picture books were ephemeral, just knocked out. They have status now. And more attention is paid to children's books now." She continues, "The art of picture book design is different from ordinary book design. I won't say that no one thinks about it — some people think about it very carefully. but people often think. "You have the illustrations, you just plunk them down." I'm concerned about rhythm, connection, coordination of the page - that's very significant."
Picking up one of their books, she says, "The Red Shoes is a well-designed book." She pages through their edition of the Hans Christian Andersen story. The luminous paintings by Katie Thamer are on the right-hand pages; accompanying text is on the left, within a grid formed by colored lines whose color changes from page to page. The number of divisions within each grid, and the location of the text, also vary. The effect is romantic, surprising, and satisfying. "The text position and the color around it were chosen to reflect what is going on in the story," she explains. "Here, on this page, it is gray because this is the darkest point in the story, and here, on this page, the text is up here [top, center] because it's a high point in the story."
The design is worked out in the art department, which is located almost as far from editorial as it could be, beyond the showrooms aisles and in the manufacturing area. Every inch seems to be in use — much of it occupied by inanimate stacks of paper. The noise of machines varies, but is everywhere. Going through shopping, one passes quality control own the left, walks along the corridor kitchen, angles diagonally to the right past the cutting machine and into the middle of the stripping department, crosses over to a flight of wooden stairs, climbs those stairs, slides open an accordion door, to step into an angular room known as "Judythe's loft." Seated at a drafting table is Judythe Sieck, the senior of two designers. She is finishing a hand-calligraphed title for the Green Tiger's Caravan, an anthology of stories, puzzles, games, and pens that has been three years in the making (a book Harold Darling says has a curse on it; it was plagued with difficulties, paintings were lost at one point, the typesetter went out of business). Despite its high ceiling and skylight, the room has a hermetic quality. There are no windows and a large air conditioning unit makes an oppressive noise. "I don't mind the noise," Sieck says brightly. "We have to have it because it gets so hot in here from the skylight. There's a fan, too, that's shared by us and the darkroom below."
A brown-haired woman with a frank manner, Sieck came to work at Green Tiger fifteen months ago, after writing a letter expressing a sense of affinity with them. To her, it is that "we strive for the extraordinary, the baffling, something that bothers you because it is a little different - not eccentricity for its own sake — something that will challenge you. The opposite of minimal — elaborate."
Sandra Darling, Sieck says, "can't do much designing herself, there's not time, but occasionally she works up here. And she keeps on top of things. She has an aura of chaos, flutter, flurry, but she can be working on eight things at once and I am working on two and she remembers what I am doing. She's the one who has the singular taste. A lot of her tastes coincide with mine. She is a visual person, a painter, too, and very intuitive. An example is an ad we're placing in Publisher's Weekly for a new book. She showed me three possibilities, illustrations from the book, and told me to go home and put it under my pillow, and left the decision up to me."
The Green Tiger does a lot of calligraphy, but usually in small doses: For Bird's Eye, a story that is narrated and illustrated from the overhead view of two pigeons, Sieck calligraphed the entire text. The lines of the text undulate in simulation of the birds' flight. According to Sandra Darling, "Current thinking is that people can't read calligraphy, especially children. I don't know. People would say Bird's Eye can't be read. But the correspondence of story line and calligraphic line adds so much."
Sieck defines her job thoughtfully: "I try to do a design and make it as refined as I am capable of doing. I rummage around, looking in lettering books. I fell in love with calligraphy when I worked for an architect. That led to typography. I'm obsessed with it. There are thousands of designs.I order the typography from the typesetter. The creative part of designing takes less time than the technical part — which is not as much fun. but if you do a design and it comes out crooked, it doesn't matter how good it is."
Sieck doesn't do much illustration. Since she's been at Green Riger, she says, she looks at a book more for its design and its illustrations. "My vision was to be a painter. I've just been realizing that painting was such a struggle for me, it was against the grain. Design is such a joy, it literally makes me gasp when I get something that is just right."
Pasted-up layouts of artwork or pages of text — mechanicals — leave the art department and go downstairs to the darkroom to be photographed. Sometimes Sieck operates the camera, but usually it is Raul Guerrero. He says, "We used to have a horrendous little black room with an ancient dusty parallel camera. The new one is digital-computerized. We were the first on the West Coast to acquire this model, so there were a lot of bugs."
Color work still gets sent out, but the black-and-white negatives are made here. They are stored on sheets of acetate called flats, and the flats travel down the corridor outside the darkroom into the stripping department.
Working at facing light tables, in a crowded space partitioned off from the rest of the manufacturing area, Raul Guerrero and Jean Lazorthes are positioning black-and-white negatives for a book. They will tape the negatives in place and cover them with a sheet of vinyl that is transparent, yet will block out everything but the image area. This is photo composition, known in the trade as stripping.
For a color illustration there will be four negatives for each image: one each for black, cyan (blue), magenta (red), and yellow, which combine into the full spectrum of colors. Color negatives come from a photography laboratory in San Diego, or, if special treatment is demanded, from a lab in Zurich, Switzerland. The labs use laser scanners to break down a painting or printed image and isolate, or separate, the individual colors. The cool on each negative is expressed in the form of dots of different size and varying angles. Stripping the color negatives involves registering one negative to the next, superimposing the dots precisely. Otherwise the printed image will be blurred.
Guerrero walks out the door, lives the top one from a stack of printed sheets, and holds it up. It is 23 by 35 inches on it there are 25 different images, which will ultimately be cut apart for notecards. "With four negatives per image," he points out, "that means one hundred pieces of negative film. That is quite a feat, really amazing, because we have to manipulate the negatives so you have the same registration all across the sheet.
"We are movies at the art of printing," he says, returning to his light table, "just as we are novices at the art of publishing." Dark, with dark wavy hair and large, expressive head, Guerrero is a professional artist whose job here as a stripper supports his interest in art. He began working at Green Tiger when the new printing press was purchased, nearly two years ago. "I knew zero," he says candidly, "I made many, many errors, basically learned on the job. We had a couple of women strippers, one was topnotch; she's since left to take a better job offers. She was very mellow, a follower of a yogi in Oregon. She trying me in a way that is equatable to Zen training. Your breathing is important, how you pick up the tape, things that you would never think of. There's a methodology to it, an abstract sense. Stripping teaches you qualities you can carry late life. It can be equal to a philosophy.
"I've built boots, painted houses, drove a cab in L.A. for three days, earthquake-proofed all the art objects in the J. Paul Getty Museum. For me, this is one of the most satisfying means of making a living for an artist. It's complex and very creative, allied to what I find interesting, but it doesn't take away my energy to be an artist."
Furthermore, he says, "I feel I'm participating in something unique and poetic in San Diego. it's not financially remunerative, but it's not high pressure either, and you get intellectual and emotion benefits you don't get elsewhere. Where else can you discuss the French Revolution on your coffee break?" (Fellow stripper Joan L. is French.) "Everywhere else they talk about football."
Walking back toward the darkroom, Guerrero demonstrates how the image is transferred to a printable form. He removes a large rectangular aluminum plate that is hanging from a rack; it comes coated with an emulsion, and several negatives have been tapes onto it. He lays the plate down on the plate burner near the darkroom door. He closes the hood of the plate burner and presses a button which produces a vacuum in the chamber. The pressure is compressing the dots on the negatives against the plate. then he pushes another button and a violet-blue high intensity light goes on which etches the pattern of dots into the plate. The finished plate will be processed with solvents that wash away the emulsion from the dogs, thus removing the negative area and leaving a positive images on the plate. The plate will then be ready to go over too the press for printing — where, "If anything goes wrong," Guerrero says ruefully, "we get the blame." The printer? "All they do is push buttons, adjust color. It's not as sophisticated as what we do."
The Heidelberg offset two-color press fills a large space at the rear of the manufacturing plant, near the back exit on Columbia Street. Before its purchase about two years ago, all of Green Tiger's color printing was done outside. Since its arrival, everything has been printed on the premises — that is 6,138,311 sheets of paper, according to Colin Kerr. A sandy-haired Irishman from Belfast with a dry sense of humor, Kerr has run the press since last December. he had applied for a job here shortly after arriving in San Diego six years ago, but, as he says over the clacking din of the Heidelberg, "They were doing nothing here." He came to the U.S. following a five-year apprenticeship and a year of work to pay off his obligation to the company — "an old-fashioned British company, family-owned, they expected you to work there for fifty years and get your gold watch. They managed by intimidation." Kerr says he has gotten adjusted to the different way of life in California. When he was interviewed by the previous printer at Green Tiger, he says, "One of the first questions he asked me was, 'How do you feel about working with homosexuals?.' I told him, 'Some of my best friends are homosexuals.'" He blushes.
Right now Kerr is running one of the final sheets for The Green Tiger's Caravan. Clean sheets of white paper are stacked at the back of the press. They've already been through an empty press once to be moistened, which stretches the to their final size. One by one, the sheets feed toward two huge horizontal revolving cylinders; a feeder head with suckers on the front and on the sides guides each successive sheet into exactly the same position as the one before. "Otherwise," says Kerr with a wry grin," you get a lot of scrap paper." Underneath, electric eyes watch the process; if a sheet stops, Kerr can look down at the lights and see what's wrong. Impression grippers pick up the sheet to pass it over one cylinder, which imprints it with the first color, then other grippers transfer it to the second impression cylinder. A second run-through will add the other two colors; occasionally a fifth color requires a third run.
"We get every job basically where we want it," Kerr says. "There are no real absolutes. Women see yellow better than men, for example, and older people see yellow and res less well. So there are always differences of opinion. I got not for the absolute, but pretty close." He deftly removes a freshly printed sheet from the growing pile and places and places it on a raked counter. With an instrument called a densitometer he measure the saturation of green across the sheet. Quickly, he climbs onto the press with a palette knife full of yellow pigment, adding it to the rear font. Then he adds more blue to the front font. Waiting a moment for the ink to change the printed color, he then takes a new sheet off the press and checks it: 85, 85, 88, 92.
"Sandra decides on the cool," he says. "What she wants is usually within five points of what the densitometer says. We discuss it. We look at the flesh tones. She'll say, 'See what happens if we bring up the yellow.' Yellow," he adds, "it a really important color for the kind of work we do — we have a lot of yellow, a lot of grays that need the yellow. A lot of people don't think yellow is important."
According to Sandra Darling, "The longer we're in the business the better are at guessing how something will turn out. It's always a gamble, there's always a degree of uncertainty - problems of paper, mixing of inks, transparency of the ink, the absorbency of the paper. Color is subjective. What you see at Green Tiger is my color.
Kerr says, "The color is as good as we can get it with the equipment that we have. This press is all right but it isn't backed up with the equipment in the camera room or the stripping department. Union shops are more inclined to get equipment that matches. Here, people have less formal training. Me and Judythe, we're the only ones with craft training.
"they had problems here at first." Looking at a two-foot stack of printed sheets int he corner, he comments dryly. "That's a few thousand dollars of waste stock - the color didn't come out right." Waste stock is used for testing at the beginning of a run and for packing material, but, says Kerr, "That's going to the be there for a long time. I make enough waste of my own. The color may change during a run. By the time I see it and make an adjustment, the press has run a hundred to 150 sheets. you can't stop the press to avoid that. You'd be all day on one job."
Staring morosely at the press, he sums up, "The printer gets blamed for everything."
The stacks of sheets that come off the press are placed by the rear door for the first of several quality-control steps. Every sheet will be lifted and looked at - not the entire sheet, but at least the corner. Then, if the sheets are to be cut an bound into a book, they sit here on pallets until a truck comes and takes it to the bindery. Binding, like color separating and typesetting, is still done out. "I'm content with the color separating," Sand Darling says. "We're able to buy good color separation. And it's not worthwhile for us to do typesetting because picture books have relatively few words. Binding is a problem. No on in San Diego specializes in binding. We've gotten good work done by two local places, but they're slow. We're considering doing our own binding. It wouldn't be that expensive. What worries me about hat is, that would be one more operating to oversee."
The next several steps of the production process are supervised by Raveevan Paulson, who, like most of her crew of ten, is Thai. She has worked at Green Tiger for seven years and says, in a musical staccato with a moderately strong accent, "I feel that Green Tiger is my home. I spend more time here than in my home."
The cutting machine, the folder, and the sealer are downstairs, but Paulson and the other women usually work up in the loft above the shipping department, gluing down artwork on notecards, a process known as tipping. Today, however, she and three others are working on a calendar at the long table near the lounge, in the shadow of a merry-go-round green tiger made from a mold of one of the famous Denzel carousel animals. At the other end of the table a wide-open door frames the glassy new Columbia Centre Building, and an occasional red trolley as it glides by.
Illustrations tipped onto calendars and notecards, or into books, are one of the most distinctive Green Tiger hallmarks. While many old books featured this tradition of gluing illustrations — by hand, one by one — along one edge onto a backing page, hardly anyone does it anymore. In the Green Tiger compendium, Harold Darling gives these reasons for hand-tipping: "First, we enormously admire the illustrated books of the past in which the pictures were often applied in this manner. We intend homage and evocation by our use of this method. Second, we restore, by this means, an element of hand production and human care to the excessively mechanized art of the book. Finally, we think the placement of a shiny picture on a dull background is aesthetically satisfying, offering an effect similar to the matting of a print."
"Not anybody can do it," says Paulson, a pert, diminutive woman with very black hair worn in a long braided ponytail and bangs. "It looks easy but it is not. You have to watch every step. Most people who try it come and go, they just can't make it straight. Most Americans don't like to do it, it's too boring.
"The girls tipping now have very good eyes," she says proudly. "They can tip 500 an hour." They are tipping a shiny teddy bear image onto a calendar page. She explains how they gauge where to put the line of glue, and how much glue to put on — it depends on the thickness of the page — and how they eyeball the image straight. "Some designed are harder to tip," she says, pulling out the page they will do next, one with diagonal lines running across the entire page. "This one is designed to make you crazy." As they tip, they also check both picture and page for imperfections.
One of the women at the table is flipping through copies of a book just back from the bindery, making a final quality check. Nearby tales hold rejects of other books. Occasionally she holds up a page to Paulson, not sure if the imperfection is acceptable or not. "I think about myself," Paulson says, "if I were buying it, I tell the girls, 'If you would buy it, someone else would buy it too.'"
The production process is over when the cards are bagged and the books sealed, but there remains the final step: order fulfillment. Orders come down from the business office on the mezzanine and are processed by the shipping and fulfillment department located at the front of the manufacturing area. Hanging overhead is the sign with the copper-faced sun that used to be at the Mithras, and at the Sign of the Sun before that. The shipper wheel carts through the showroom aisles and take what's needed from the shelves. A second person checks each other. Then the orders are boxed, wrapped, and take to the post office or picked up by UPS. now and until a week or so before Christmas is their busiest season. More orders are shipping out in October and November than at any other time of the year. One entire room is being filled with 37,200 cards for a new Canadian distributor in Ontario. By the end of the year, about a million cards and half a million books will have left Green Tiger.
Sandra Darling oversee all of the production process: Jerry Hauck is her second-in-command. "When she is not here, I take over; when she is here, I kind of step back." His office is in a raised, orange-painted, glass-enclosures booth known as the caboose. From there, he can look out the tables of reject books under the Wheel Alignment sign left over from the car showroom days, or at the church pews and pinball machines in the lounge. Today he is filling in for someone at the sealer, wrapping copies of The Teddy Bear ABC their new colored reproduction of a book publishing originally in 1907. Colin Kerr brings a new color run from the press, and Hauck stops the sealer to examine it. Up in one corner is a black-and-white image, a line drawing by Raul Guerrero; the space was empty and there wasn't any other Green Tiger image to put in it. The sheet looks good to Hauck. "That's unusual," he says, rolling his eyes. "We usually have problems. We're still new, still experimenting. It makes it exciting — and we have fewer problems than when we were having the work done elsewhere.
"We do everything wrong," he says reflectively. "We print few copies, have too many titles, do a lot of handwork. The economics are against us. We operate on a very very low margin." Paper is their biggest compromised, especially since the big price increases of about five years ago. Hauck laments, "We've settled on the upper end of mediocrity. The pairs we'd prefer are all done in the East, because ninety percent of all publishing is done in the eastern half of the U.S." Sandra Darling concurs that "it's junk, we're all using junk, much too much acid. It won't last. We can't afford to use paper with any rag content. They don't even make book grades of rag paper anymore." she adds that another area of compromise is hard binding. "All the inexpensive places are on the East Coast. That would add terrible freight to our cost — we would have to pay a dollar an a half per book. That's why we print paperbacks — unless we know there is a market for a book, then we'll publish a hard-bound edition."
Hack, who looks something like a trim teddy bear, has brown, brushy hair and a bear and mustache on their way to being grizzled. His eyes are deep-set, blue, and piercing. He has, as he puts it, "been here since day one. I helped start the company — but I've only been working steadily at Green Tiger since 1978." he began in 1960 at Harold Darling's first bookstore, the Sign of the Sun, after it moved from Hillcrest to College Avenue.
"I came along as a high school student, interested in folk music. I helped run fold music concerts [at the bookstore] back in the Sixties, primarily '60 to '64. When the Mithras started in 1965, I moved out there, did all the folk music ordering. I also ordered a lot of the spiritual books. Then I left heading east, took what I thought would be a few months off to travel with a friend, and stayed three years. "I came back," he continues, "and from '68 to '73 worked primarily at the Mithras and Unicorn, did a lot of the artwork, the brochures. We had our own printing press, shared it with another person up in Alpine. i order up on my scooter. In '73 I had the wild hair to pick up and leave. I sold everything, gave my records away — six or seven thousand I gave to a friend, she said, 'I'll keep them till you come back,' I said, 'I don't think I'm coming back.'" He wound up at Findhorn, the experimental spiritual community in Scotland, and, again, stayed three years.
"I came back here in '76, started back with Harold at the bookstore. I had a little trauma: Should I go back to the same things, the same people I left, step back in the same old patterns, or should I move on?" It wasn't exactly the same, however, for "the theater and bookstore changed a lot because of Green Tiger. A lot got done by default, because it was the easiest thing. All the energy came here, this was growing so quickly. The stuffing was drawn away from the theater, and there weren't people coming in with the same vision. It was a relief, I think, for us to close the Unicorn and Mithras, because we knew it was coming, a financial inevitability.
"My main reason for being here," he says, "is that we publish the most spiritual books in America. I don't think the Darlings will tell you that. They don't consciously look at the spiritual aspects of the books as a primary thought. They look at the quality of it."
Children's responses to their books are good, he says. "A lot of kindergarten classes use [Cooper Edens'] Night Rainbow as a text because it sets up a kind of thinking that give them permission to make things up, opens a new world. Others stay with the negative side: If you are afraid of the dark ... you hide under the covers." Barbara Cole, the gracious and genteel proprietor of John Cole's Book Shop in La Jolla, displays the Green Tiger books that she stocks in their own special corner — not in the children's book room, but just outside it. "People come looking for them," she says. "They have a following. Sundays they drive down from Los Angeles and known on our door if we're inside. They're not really children's books," she says of most of them. Parents and grandparents buy them but she doesn't see many children pick them up and look at them. "Clouds on a plate," she says, referring to Cooper Edens' Rainbow book, which the one they sell most copies of, " are hard for a child to understand. A sixth grader would think the illustrations too childish-looking, and not be old enough to really understand the text." Adults buy it, people of college age on up, for themselves or in bunches, to give to friends.
Cole speaks admiringly of the quality of paper and the clean printing typical of Green Tiger products, their exquisite exhibits at the American Booksellers Association fairs (last year their theme was a Victorian garden party), and, she says with a smile, she doesn't mind paying their bill because they are present in such a personal, informal manner.
"There's nothing even close to this kind of publishing in America," asserts Jerry Hauck, "or anywhere." He gestures at the books and calendars not he shelf above the sealer. "Hand binding, hand typing: no one would do that in this country; they would find a way to do it bbs machine. It's the commercial mind in America."
Something about Green Tiger arouses unusually inspiration and dedication among its employees. There is pride in the handwork, the noncommercial aspects of the business, and the quality of their products. There is warm, even effusive response form their customers. Beyond that? Terrell Pulliam a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School who is the Green Tiger Sales manager, says, "Working here is like being an apprentice; I appreciate that way of learning. Harold Darling has that aura about him, of pedagoguery." Helen Newmayer, production and editorial assistant says, "Green Tiger has a warm heart at the center. A lot of interesting things happen here personally. We're flexible and creative, people can work their way into so many areas." Jerry Hauck says. "We rarely have to step away from idealism. Harold and Sandra are it and it is their company. Mainly we publish because Harold loves it. If they like it, we do it; If they don't like it, we don't. I think that's what gives it its life. Harold is a visionary and Sandra is excellent at getting the job done. No one has the energy they have."
The Green Tiger has always been a family business. The company was started by the Darlings (Harold Darling remembers it was in 1969, others say '70 or '71) working out of their home. The name comes, principally, from Harold's lifelong interest in the Detroit Tigers. At first they printed images from their own collection of children's books, by Arthur Rackham, then Beatrix Potter and others; copyrights had expired so no royalties had to be paid. Various family members have taken part in it; one of Harold Darling's children by an earlier marriage works in shipping, and their four school-age children also work from time to time. And, of course, the Darlings are still at its head. It is a business that has gradually become more businesslike. In a certain light, Green Tiger can be seen not just as family business but as a family, as many involved with it claim that it is. As in a family, though, especially a family that is also a business experiencing growing pains, there are growing pains associated with being a family member. For many former employees, there were issues of need, independence, rebellion, rejection, and disillusionment.
The assessment of one ex-employee seems typical: "Harold Darling is a Victorian pater familias. His genius is a two-edge sword, but it's fundamentally positive. he will hire a young person who has not held a position of responsibility, but in whom he see a potential, and he gives that opportunity. I learned from him that I knew how to do thinks I didn't know how to do. That's why people stay until they can't afford to any longer."
Another former employee with another typical evaluation is Betty Symons, who was the very first Green Tiger employee. She left the company in 1980, after nearly ten years, having started as a ninth-grade babysitter for the Darlings' oldest child, then worked as bookkeeper, and opened a share of the company for a time. She remembers that "it was a lot of fun, I wouldn't have wanted to work anywhere else in high school. Mrs. Darling said she thought of me as one of her daughters. They thought I was going to be there for the rest of my like. They felt they gave me an opportunity, but I couldn't go on making five bucks and hour with no benefits. They said fine, move on, let's no wreck the friendship — and they invited me to their January 6th party, but they wouldn't talk to me."
The second Green Tiger employee Leslie Timpe, was also a babysitter for the Darlings, also a former co-owner, and a friend of Betty Symons since they were three years old. Time speaker for both of them when she says, "It was our life for a long time, like part of our family, and they were our parents for such a long time. I loved the whole philosophy — a fantasy. Every card we sent out hard a part of us in it." She quit in 1979 following a disagreement with Harold weight. She says regretfully of the Darlings, "I think they're kind of hostile toward us now, feel we deserted them. They used to say to us [including Jan Gobel, the third partner], 'You think you want to go out there into the world. Every one of you will be back.' We're all godparents to their children and sent them Christmas presents — that they didn't acknowledge in any way." Without equivocation, though, she finishes, "We all learned a lot and none of us regret it. We all still believe in them."
Of course, Green Tiger is not a real family. In a real family a son is always a son and a daughter always a daughter whether they stay or leave. At Green Tiger, those who leave or are asked to leave must go outside the family circle. For the family itself, a family like Green Tiger, there are always new family members to take the place of those who have left, new sons and new daughters.
Turnover, until about six months ago, has been high. Richard Schmitz, Green Tiger's tall, bearded general manager, defines a major part of their problem. "We can't afford to pay someone $20,000 a year as at HBJ [the publishing house of Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich], but if we pay minimum wage, we don't find the people we want. I think we look for a couple of things: either someone who loves the product — we get people calling or writing saying they love Green Tiger and would do anything to work for Green Tiger — or else they want to break into publishing. But after they pack a few boxed, some of the romance goes out it. We tend to have an experimental approach. We don't offer a five-year contract with a pension plan. We have a two-week try-out period, even try-out days. I came in for a a try-out day myself. One person worked here two or three hours, got up and walked out — it was not for her. I try to be brutally honest. I tell them, 'It's not glamorous, it's hard work, low pay, and long hours.'" Another part of their problem may be, as Sandra Darlin says, "We have very high standards. Sometimes its hard for people to work in these circumstances, or do the job well enough." Another part of the problem, some have said, is that Harold Leigh is a hard man to work for.
"Leigh wanted everything done his way," recalls Fred Horn of the four years he worked at the Unicorn as projectionist and then theater manager. "Once, he got the idea that the theater was overstaffed, that money could be saved if one person would sell tickets up front, take the tickets in the back door, run the refreshment stand in the lobby, and project the films. To prove it, he tried it himself one evening. It was a disaster.
"At the same time," muses Horn, "there was always a late show - sometimes with only two people in the theater." Unicorn projectionists were paid only one-third to one-fourth union rates — "and had to light the incense." But, Horn says, "There was nowhere in San Diego I would rather have worked. It had an usual resonance. I'm glad I was there, but I should have left earlier."
Horn left in 1979, because, he says, Leigh fired him. "I got a handwritten note that said, 'It's time for you to move on.' That was it. There was no point in discussing it. it was typical. I think he got tired of people."
Others say: "Eighty-five percent of the people who left Green Tiger left because of Leigh. One day he pushed me too far. It was always teensy tiny things. We never got along. I've told him to his face — he does not like women." And "Leigh is just the worst guy in the world to work with. You can never predict him. He blows up over the littlest things." And "He's a wonderful man and infinitely more relaxed than he used to be, extremely creative but finicky, perfectionistic but idiosyncratic."
Leigh himself says about Green Tiger employees, "It's like dating. You try a lot, eventually one stays and you get married. The odds of finding people who fit in here are less than at a conventional place like IBM."
Jerry Hauck suggest the difficulty of leigh's position when he observes, "The darlings are seen more as Momma and Poppa — they tell you what to do, but they are not the boss. Leigh is the boss, he holds the purse strings, and so he takes on that image of the ogre.... He hasn't been able to get the Green Tiger on a firm financial footing, though he has done a very good job at a thankless task. he may be ready to move on to other things."
Sitting at a delicatessen across the street from Green Tiger, light — a man who smiles easily and speaks with charm — retells how it was. Coming into the Unicorn as a projectionist, he was soon its business manager and, in 1973, bought the building when it became available for sale. (His father length him the money he needed.) He used rental revenues from the building's other tenants to help keep the Unicorn and Mithras going, and is now using revenues — estimated to be in excess of three-quarters of a million dollars — from the sale of the building to help finance the Green Tiger. The last night of the Unicorn was March 21, 1982. The Mithras bookstore closed the next day.
"When you've been with something a long time, family or whatever, and had a relationship with it for many years — it was eighteen years ... I didn't realize how much love and attachment I had. It really hit me at the last screening." (The final program was a reprise of their very first; Jonas Mekas's Hallelujah the Hills, Francois Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player, and a short about an alligator; followed by some of the many slides that Leigh had taken, a homemade film about Ken Kesey's bus, and, for those who were still there, Singin' in the Rain.) "I was standing at the back when a customer who didn't know who I was — probably her first time there said, 'Is this the last night?' The closing I could talk about, but the actuality of the last night.... Not until after she walked away did it sink in. I burst into tears." Now he is the owner of Green Tiger. Sandra Darling says, "We started it, it grew, and we got sick of doing everything. Twice now we have tried to give it away. We don't care [about ownership], it's not important to us."
The first time the Darlings gave the company away was at the demise of the Digit Dragon, a short-lived subsidiary formed to handle all the invoicing and bookkeeping for the Unicorn, Mithras, and Green Tiger. Things had gotten more businesslike: typed invoices had replaced the more aesthetic but less efficient handwritten ones and a ledger came into use, ending the reliance on stacks of handwritten invoices and the problem of lost credits. (Irate customers had canceled their accounts over credit disputes; one customer called from Rhode Island, so upset she refused to hang up and trust a Green Tiger employee to return her call. So someone had to drive to the Darlings' house where the inactive files were kept in their daughter's room, then had to wait until the child awake from a nap, find the file, drive back to the office, and pick up the phone — forty minutes later.)
The Digit Dragon split into the Green Tiger Press and Green Tiger Distributing, and the distribution company was offered to and accepted by Betty Symons, Leslie Timpe, and Jan Gobel in January, 1977. The girls were only eighteen, and Gobel was in his mid twenties. Earning $3.50 an hour, they weren't given raises, but they would share in the profits at the end of the year. Anyway, as Symons remembers, "They couldn't have paid much more. The money wasn't there." But the Darlings, claim the women, continued to make the decisions about what to print and where to advertise, and to put the profits back into the business. They also continued to draw money out for themselves whoever they wanted to. Time says, "there was nothing set up legally — that was our big mistake. It was hard for us to understand. We were very young. We thought they were so greedy. Now I understand — they gave up a lot.... But there was no time we were out of the red comfortably; if ever we were out of the red, it was for one day." In busy times they worked from five or six in the morning till midnight. At the end of the year, there was no profit for the young partners, and yet they had to pay additional taxes. "I had to pay $1700 myself," says Timpe. So when Harold Leigh offered to take over ownership of the whole enterprise. " We just gave it away as we had gotten it." On January 1, 1979 Leigh officially assumed ownership.
"Technically, on paper," he says today, "I'm the owner. The reality is that we work together as a team. We have worked as a team the last twenty years, as a community, as one. We have never had a need for dining roles. Occasionally there is a difference of opinion - but I would rather put my energy on different things, not on negative energy. Sometimes I'll say, 'I wouldn't have done that,' and I might be wrong. Ninety-nine percent of the time I go along with and accept what the Darlings have chosen.
"Our business is very seasonal," states Leigh. "the first two-thirds of the year more money goes out than come in. We have to juggle accounts, but we pay as we go, we don't owe the paper companies or anyone. And we are definitely in the black. Several years ago, that is '79, we thought it we had about two and a half million [dollars] gross a year, that would be a good base of support; now we think between two and a half and five million. Our gross now [for 1981] is $1,200,00. That's not bad. We are not in a crisis because we know we can change. but not having capital slows us down to grow."
The Green Tiger has a ten-year lease on the India Street building but the proposed convention center would have had the building torn down long before 1986. Until the proposal was voted down in May of 1981, everyone at Green Tiger expected they would have to move - and the plan was to move to Seattle, a city that seems more suited to their temperament than San Diego. Now, since they don't have to move, they probably won't. Meanwhile, since the spring, The Green Tiger has placed ads in trade journalism for potential investors or working partners. Employees mention the possibility of an outright sale. The only one who seems to be denying that possibility is Leigh. "We haven't advertised for an outright buyer," he says firmly. "We know absolutely we can do it [ourselves], but we don't want the struggle. I know we will contuse on, not give up. We don't have to give up; we already have complete artistic success. The question is how fast, how long, how pleasant, how satisfying it's going to be."
Richard Schmitz. who was hired two years ago as Leigh's assistant, has taken over daily management duties. Leigh, who, Schmitz says, "was coming in at midnight and working till noon to cut down interruptions," has worked at home for the last six months, setting up a computer system for Green Tiger business functions, Schmitz explains that "this is a business that has never been capitalized has never had a massive infusion of capital from any source. So what happens when sales go up suddenly, as they did, is that we are constantly playing catch-up. We've had to increase our production without a bankroll behind us. We need someone with the expertise we lack in sales and marketing." They have initiated a new policy of hiring regional sales representatives on a commission basis, to enhance what Harold Darling refers to as "persuasion." Schmitz concludes, "We all realize we have to raise some money."
Sandra Darling agrees. "We need an infusion of capital. it's very difficult to pull yourself up by the bootstraps. but I don't think Green Tiger's existence depends on that. Its efflorescence, finding itself does depend on that."
Their economic situation, says Harold Darling, "is not essentially any different from when we started." He professes, "I enjoy the economic part of it — if we were to receive a $50 million grant from the For Foundation. I wouldn't like it. To have one's choices forced is beneficial, raises the quality. People work well under pressure, adversity. Maybe because I'm in this options," he smiles, "I see the good of it. I'm a game player. I see it as a game, and I like the long odds. if we have enough wit and ingenuity, we'll survive.
"It would be a relief to have more capital, but it's not a necessity. Leigh might sell his portion," he concedes, "but we stay with the Green Tiger. between us there is an agreement, a portion of the ownership belongs to us. We work on contract, and we would do the same with anybody else. Sandra and I have gone through the scenario of working with new investors. Before we became involved, we would understand who they were and they would understand us. They will want us to produce more that makes money. We will have to push back, as we do now. There will be limitations - if we want to publish a book that would cost $700 and be bound in alligator skin, we'd be told we'd have to give up the alligator skin. We are now, trimming back to necessity. I'm confident that goodness could proceed out of it. A number of people feel [new ownership] would threaten Green Tiger, as far as I understand, it wouldn't. Sandra and I are particularly good at making books. If they [prospective buyers] knew how better than we did, they wouldn't need us. I think," he says, predicting the future, "we'll make more books together."
Jerry Hauck has the last word. "If we folded tomorrow they'd open Purple Dragon Press."