In January 2002, some of the graphic designers I work with asked if I wanted to help them with an art project they were planning to do as a charity donation. The Raleigh chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) was sponsoring an art auction, selling works donated by area artists to raise money for local literacy councils. My colleagues were planning to create a journal containing a different illustration for every letter of the alphabet, in keeping with the theme of literacy. They wondered if I would be interested in writing some kind of story to tie all the 26 pieces together as a unified whole.

At first, I had no clue how I might handle such a challenge. The artists, understandably, didn't want anyone dictating what to do with each piece, so I would be stuck overlaying some contrived linkages for a couple dozen random illustrations. But then, in a flash, I realized what I could do.

I would use magic.

For the past few years, I've been developing some personal theories about communication and art. It's all pretty complicated, covering everything from the rules of grammar to the aesthetic significance of pop culture, but the essential thesis is this: communication, by definition, is an act of true magic; and art, being the highest and purest form of communication, is the grandest magical feat that humankind is capable of performing, or appreciating. I think there are some horrible misconceptions in modern society on these issues -- people don't realize how powerful and mysterious all communication is, while conversely, we don't understand that the finest works of art are only an extension of the same process we all use when we have a conversation or scribble a note. It's all magic.

I have been planning a series of essays presenting these views, a project tentatively titled "Human Magic," to be published on The Lard Biscuit. My initial attempts have failed. This stuff all sounds great in my head, but when I've tried to put it down in words, it's sounded stuffy and pretentious and boring. I decided I needed some way to present these ideas in a fun and engaging way that wouldn't put readers to sleep... some kind of new and exciting element.

And here it had fallen right into my lap! The themes of literacy and language are a big part of my "Human Magic" hypotheses, and I knew I could summarize some of these thoughts in thumbnail form to go along with the alphabetical illustrations of this art project. Inspiration came upon me in a major way. I spent a weekend without leaving the house, furiously composing the text of Spellbound in a hallucinogenic fugue state. To give credit where credit is due, I must note that both the style and the substance of this piece are heavily influenced by the works of my favorite contemporary author, the master magician Alan Moore. Any Promethea fans out there will know what I'm talking about. I've always had a special fondness (or depravity) for alliteration, and this was my ultimate opportunity to go hog wild with it, unrestrained and unashamed. A, B, and C were hard to do, but once I got the ball rolling, the thing started writing itself, and I just tried to hang onto my keyboard.

Plus, the great thing about using magic as the theme is that it means anything can happen. So the artwork for the letters could be anything under the sun, and it would fit in with what I was writing -- no matter how insane the resulting non sequiturs might be. At least, that was my theory. You can judge for yourself how successfully we pulled it off.

Since we had twenty-six individual pieces of art to create and a short time to do it in, some of us non-designer types at Signal Design pitched in with the art chores. Account executive Brianne Racer did a couple of great pieces, and company owners Rick Haynes and Dave Grinnell respectively contributed an oil painting and some origami. I even got out my rusty watercolors and slapped together two letters myself. Altogether, it's a radically eclectic collection of visual art that I am proud to be a small, inferior part of.

We presented Spellbound to the charity auction as a bound set of reproductions in a booklet with my text, along with all the original artwork, collected in a custom-built box. I decided I would use our scans of the artwork to create an online version of the piece for my web site. No one actually got to read the finished book before we had to turn it in to the auction, so now, at last, this crazy thing we've created can be experienced by an audience. I think it's pretty trippy, and definitely different from anything you typically see on the web, at the very least. And if you don't like it, hey, we did this thing to raise money for a good charity, so give us a break.

I want to thank Robin Vuchnich, Bill Payne and Jessie Schaefer for inviting me to work with them on this most rewarding collaboration. For their friendship, their teamwork, and their accommodation in letting me selfishly exploit their charity project as a sledgehammer for my writer's block, I am grateful beyond words. Now that Spellbound has sounded the overture and sketched out a quick libretto, the stage is set for me to finish writing the opera.

Yes, I truly do believe in magic.

D. Trull
March 2002

Fancy Renerings