Chances are good that if you were ever in a long-distance relationship after 1991, you've probably encountered Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine trilogy. The books are beautiful, totemic objects depicting a long-distance relationship between a man and a woman who are separated by more than just space—they learn that through some bizarre eldritch mechanics, they can't occupy the same place at the same time. Each of the letters and postcards between Griffin and Sabine are represented physically in the books—you open an envelope and pull the folded letter out to read it—which lands them squarely in the realm between epistolary novels, comic books, and art books.

Speaking as someone whose first real love affair started as a long-distance correspondence—through the mail, no less—I can personally attest to Bantock's appeal. We identified with the Griffin and Sabine books the way other young couples embrace a pop song or a movie, absorbing the characters so much into ourselves that it's impossible to recall our romance without also remembering those books. They provided us with a vocabulary for what we were feeling, and they added an element of mystery and adventure to our teenage love affair.

So receiving a letter from Nick Bantock in the mail is a serious head trip. Bantock agreed to a mail interview in advance of his appearance in Seattle to support his new book, The Trickster's Hat: A Mischievous Apprenticeship in Creativity (Penguin, $20). His handwriting looks like a perfect mix of Griffin's and Sabine's, as though he were the product of their relationship and not the other way around. And the envelope is a work of art, festooned as it is with real and imaginary stamps, rubber stamp art, and a delicate little sketch of a fishing lure.

Bantock responds humbly when I thank him for Griffin and Sabine's influence on my life, interpreting the praise as a sign that "sometimes there is universal merit in artistic self-indulgence." He writes, "I try not to take credit or responsibility for anything the books inadvertently instigated. But it is mildly daunting that during the 22 years since the first six books came out, I might well have been indirectly responsible for children & pets named Griffin & Sabine."

The Trickster's Hat is a collection of 50 creativity exercises for artists that Bantock says teaches them to "use both intuition and logic in equal parts." Many of the exercises involve the creation of Bantock-like collages, but others involve writing a joke, or rewriting the story of your first kiss again and again. It's a decidedly analog experience, requiring paper and pencils, glue and stamps, and other items intended to get your hands dirty.

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Since Bantock's famous for his work with correspondence, and since the arts are a kind of correspondence from artist to reader or viewer, is Trickster's Hat a way of defending the idea of sending these physical missives out into the universe? Does the book come from a concern that digital culture could destroy physical art, the way e-mail wiped out physical correspondence? "The reason I've stuck with hand-eye-paper-ink-paint-pencil-brush rather than keyboard & screen is simple," Bantock writes. "It's more risky & therefore more compatible with the asymmetry of nature and the art of adapting to happy accidents."

Trickster's frequent earnest references to magic and archetypes might make some less-airy readers nervous, but Bantock's enthusiasm is what makes it work. "It's about chance and creative passion," he writes, "but mostly it's a plea to roll up our sleeves, get down on all fours and play with physical elements, trusting that wisdom, dignity, and pleasure will grow diligent, intelligent mess-making." The unexpected thrill of finding a handwritten letter in the mail may be going extinct, but the finding—and the making—of art is a very similar kind of rush.