George White III '84

Pop-up publisher
November 30, 2008
George White III '84

George White III '84. Credit: Jim Callaway

You're standing in a store, considering which of the hundreds of greeting cards lined up in front of you is just right for your mother's birthday, or your nephew's first Easter. A nearby display catches your eye: three-dimensional pop-up cards with more wit and flair than the usual generic offerings. For mom, there's one that features an elegant, multi-tiered birthday cake. For your nephew, there's a glittery pop-up Easter basket replete with paper grass, or a seated, fuzzy bunny that can hold one of four personalized message eggs.

Produced by Up With Paper, the world's largest pop-up greeting card company, the line is featured in thousands of specialty retail stores around the country, as well as major chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders. But George White, Up With Paper's chief operating officer and president, is not satisfied with a one-dimensional business approach.

In keeping with the company's emphasis on wonders that unfold, White wants the business to branch up and out. In 2007, he launched Jumping Jack Press, an Up With Paper imprint for pop-up books with early releases that include Halloween at the Zoo, Christmas at the Zoo, Kirby the Easter Dog, and Splish Splash, Dog Bash! Exquisitely detailed and inventively designed, the hardbound books are affordable works of art that retail for less than twenty dollars. My Baby Book, a larger pop-up with interactive features, is about thirty-five dollars.

"Following the creative process is amazing to me," says White, whose past professional incarnations include chief of staff for Republican Congressman D. French Slaughter Jr., executive producer of original webisodes and Internet content, and the man in charge of managing licensing, product development, and marketing for Gibson Greetings and the U.S. Playing Card Company. (It was White who marketed the famous Iraqi Most Wanted Playing Cards deck with Saddam Hussein as the Ace of Spades.)

"One constant through all of my work has been my excitement about the product, whether that's a politician I believe in or watching the development of an idea into a finished product," says White, who joined Up With Paper in 2004.

White, who claims no artistic talent—"I can only draw stick figures," he says—relies on a select group of international illustrators and paper engineers trained in three-dimensional techniques to design and produce the cards and books for Up With Paper. His wife, Anne Sheldon Barton '84, and, increasingly, his young sons Sam and Joe, help with story ideas. Barton co-authored Splish Splash, Dog Bash!, and Joe came up with the book's title.

Pop-up creations, particularly books, are complicated feats of design. The visual story is told through layers of paper shapes that must fit together just so.

Paper engineers first figure out how the book will be constructed by using plain white card stock, essentially creating a book dummy without actual illustrations. Graphic designers and illustrators craft artwork mindful of the limits imposed by how the moving pieces align and fold. A machine called a plotter is used to cut and score the 100 to 150 individual pieces of paper that make up a modest eight-spread book, which is hand-assembled through an intricate series of an average of thirty-five hand operations per spread.

"Engineering alone can take months, creating the art takes another couple of months, and we see at least three samples before the finished product—and each of those samples takes a month to six weeks to produce," says White. But the time and expense is worth it, he says. "These are products to keep, not throw away. They last."