When the film The Babadook came out in 2014 I watched it, lights out, dark room, and felt the lick of terror roll up the back of my neck. It’s a remarkable accomplishment for both the director, Jennifer Kent, and the leading actress, Essie Davis, neither of whom I’d heard of before. The monster is Mister Babadook, and he comes to life when the single mother in the film reads a large pop-up book, whose artwork would not be out of place in a German Expressionist film like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, to her son. The boy pulls it off his shelf and asks her to read it. She asks him where he got it, and he replies, “On the shelf.” And then Mr. Babadook shows up and we get some classic horror cinema at its finest.
Much like everyone’s first thought upon seeing the Evil Dead-I want that book!-or Hellraiser-I want one of those boxes!-lots of us thought “I want that Babadook book!” The book is central to the film’s plot and in a Rolling Stone article director Kent explains the unique role the book played in the creation of the film:
“… illustrator Alex Juhasz’s designs for Mister Babadook, the sinister pop-up book that plants the first seed in the young boy’s imagination, also played a major role in the look of the film: Rather than design the movie and commission a prop to match, Kent modeled the film on the sharp edges and small imperfections of Juhasz’s work. ‘The book felt handmade and raw, and that’s how I wanted the energy of the film to feel,’ she says. ‘We created that world as much as possible first, and the production design then had to mirror that’.”
The director and the book’s designer decided to try a crowd-funded experiment to see if people just thought they wanted it, or if they really wanted it. I purchased my copy on November 24, 2014, for $80-the selling price during the crowd-funded campaign. The director wrote to the purchasers of the first 2,000 books:
“To all our incredible fans (and especially to you, the first 2000 owners of our special edition Mister Babadook book …)
“Thank you for being such solid supporters of this book and of the film. We are thrilled that The Babadook has received so much love and support from around the world. I never thought when we were shooting this film that so many people would see it, let alone give us the opportunity to put this special book into print. This is all happening because of the support from each and every one of you, and I will never forget that.
“I have written some more story pages for this special edition, and I’m going to be working with Alex Juhasz (our brilliant illustrator) over the coming months to create some very beautiful pop ups to go with that extra bit of Babadook story. You will be owning pages not even seen in the film. It is special for Alex and I to now be able to create this ‘stand alone book,’ and I believe it is going to be a very special book to own.
“In order to show my appreciation for your support, I have made a decision to sign each and every book that is sold in our campaign. So not only will your copies be numbered, they will also be signed. Thanks again to you all.”
And then they went to work.
In an article in
The Creators Project we learn more about what was required to create a product from a film prop:
“Since its premiere at Sundance in January 2014, the film’s fans quickly rallied for the production of the pop-up book seen on screen. ‘We didn’t know how the film would do,’ says illustrator Alexander Juhasz. ‘So when I made the book for the film, we were joking about how if it became a big hit, people might want the book in their home.’ … requests to get the book made-bordering on demands-were heard loud and clear. …
“Once it came time to prepare the limited edition book for production, the team brought on paper engineer Simon Arizpe. Juhasz had to recreate all of the original artwork and reverse engineer much of what was made for the film. ‘We had to rethink a lot of stuff for the design and format to work. In the film, the book ends abruptly, so we had to add some content. But we wanted to keep the integrity of the original-all of images that are in the movie are in the book, except maybe for one, I think,’ explains Juhasz. Arizpe adds: ‘Between the three of us, we figured out what we wanted each page to do. Alex gave me his art and I would mess around with it to make it move.’ Once the prototype was completed, it was sent off to the printing house, where the paper is die cut, then folded and glued by hand.”
The print run was just 6,000 copies (only the first 2,000 are numbered and signed) and they sold quickly. It took two years for the purchasers to receive the book-it just arrived at the end of this October. It’s hard to imagine anyone not being thrilled with the enormous pop-up book that not only exactly replicates the main prop in the film, but goes further with the story.
The easiest place for you to obtain Mister Babadook is on eBay, where copies are selling for between $300 and $600. You might get lucky and snag an unsigned copy for just over $200 if you keep your eye on things. If your means are more modest, and you want to include watching the film in your purchase, you can buy it at amazon.com in a deluxe edition Blu-ray with a single pop-up inside the front cover.
Whatever your choice, I would strongly suggest that you do not read the book aloud. If you foolishly ignore my advice, don’t look up at the ceiling, because Mister Babadook is keeping his eye on you.