Getting Started in Electronics (1983) is an incredible hand-lettered curiosity

In the latest issue of my newsletter, The Magnet, (subscribe here), I wrote about a book I bought in 1984 — Forrest Mims' Getting Started in Electronics, which he hand-lettered. It remains one of my favorite books. The instructional content is excellent, but the main reason I like it is because of its stupendous design. Forrest hand-lettered the entire 128-page-book, and it has hundreds of his charming hand-drawn illustrations. In 2008 I called Mims, who was 64 years old at the time, and asked him how he created this book. He told me:

Getting Started in Electronics was a sequel to the original Engineer's Notebook series. My editor at Radio Shack was Dave Gunzel. By that time I'd already written 16 or 17 Radio Shack books. We were sitting there talking one day and Dave witnessed my laboratory notebooks. He said, "Wow! Your books oughta look like this!" because I hand-printed everything in the notebooks with little drawings. He said, "Your next book has got to be done like your notebooks."

So the Engineer's Notebook was done that way. It begins with a typewriter. Then it becomes typewritten pages with hand-written symbols, and then by the time you get to each of the integrated circuits it's totally hand done. It's done with India ink on Mylar. It was so hard to letter this book that my fingers were bleeding — the middle finger, where you press the India ink pen. And I had really severe writer's cramp. And also, you can't make mistakes with India ink. If you make a mistake, you have to start over the whole Mylar page.

Then the idea of Getting Started in Electronics came up, so I met with Dave. Of course it was gonna be hand-lettered. He even suggested using a crayon. I said "You can't do a book with a crayon. It has to be a pen or a pencil! But I don't want to use ink again, because it's too painful." So we agreed to use a #7 pencil — well, he didn't agree to it, I just showed him what it would look like. I drew the book. I think the entire book was done in 54 days. I was doing two pages a day. Getting Started in Electronics sold in the neighborhood of 1.3 million books or more. The first printing of 100,000 copies was gone in the flash of an eye.