UVic alum publishes world’s tiniest book

Contemporary artist brings talk on illustrating with ion beam to university’s Alumni Week

There were many interesting stops along the path to publishing the world’s smallest book – a title its creator didn’t initially set out to claim, but one he embraced once he knew it was within reach.

When contemporary visual artist Robert Chaplin, graduate of the University of Victoria and member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, taught himself how to carve, he didn’t practice on microchips, but the experience would come soon enough in 2007 when he used a focused gallium-ion beam to carve Teeny Ted From Turnip Town. The fable of Teeny Ted and his victory in a turnip contest, written by Chaplin’s brother Malcolm Douglas Chaplin, is all of 69 x 97 microns square, or 11 x 15 microns for each tablet.

“It’s the world’s smallest book about Teeny Ted with the largest turnip,” says Chaplin from his Vancouver home. “There’s something about that that feels appropriate.”

Before attending the nano imaging lab at Simon Fraser University, Chaplin drew each tablet in Microsoft Paint in order to create bitmap files that could be used to program the ion beam and control the scatter of ions, otherwise referred to as tuning the beam. The classically low-tech MS Paint program made for a more-than-tedious process, Chaplin says.

“It’s a bit like a monk having to sit in a cloister, drawing a bible on goat skin. It was an act of really, really concentrated effort. … You have to give yourself over to the process. …

“It took a long time,” Chaplin says before he lets out a raucous laugh.

Until recently, electron microscope or enlarged images were the only viewing options for Teeny Ted, but a successful kickstarter campaign this fall ensured the world’s tiniest book is now available in large print.

“Doesn’t that sound like the world’s tallest (little person)? Or the world’s smallest giant?” Chaplin says. “The large print edition of the world’s smallest book? That’s just funny to me.”

Chaplin’s interest with publishing began as a child, when, he says his attention deficit disorder saw him spend long hours alone in the library, fascinated by the copyright information found on the back of a book’s title page. To become a publisher, he learned, all he needed was an International Standard Book Number, but it didn’t necessarily have to be applied to a book in the traditional sense. His non-traditional published works include a matchbook, followed by a toilet plunger, because “If (Marcel) Duchamp can put a toilet in (the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and call it a fountain, then I can put a plunger in an art gallery and call it a book,” Chaplin says.

Chaplin also published Genuine original Canadian fun tickets: Legal tender have some fun, a book of 10 brand-new, sequentially-numbered five-dollar bills, perforated and bound into a book, to be torn out and used for fun, he says. The books are priced at $65 for $50 worth of fun. The Canadian national library refused to publish the book in what Chaplin describes as “one of the only cases of true censorship in Canada.”

“They refused to file the fun tickets because they said it wasn’t fun,” he says. “They said they didn’t think it was fun and also it was illegal.”

The British National Library published the book of “fun tickets,” which remains for sale through Amazon.co.uk.

“Certain individuals find it fun. I treat it very seriously, but I get it. There’s a certain kind of amusement that comes along with it. It’s a unique position to be in, treating publication as a form of contemporary art is a unique position to be in.”

Chaplin will speak about his Guinness Book of World Records-recognized book, among other things, on Feb. 9  from 9:30 a.m. until 12 p.m. in UVic’s David Lam Auditorium as a part of Alumni Week.

The talk is free and open to the public.

Teeny Ted From Turnip Town is available online through robertchaplin.ca