Friday, February 28, 2014

A new perspective on publishing

As heartbreaking as it may be, news of bookstores closing do not come as a surprise any more. Maybe it is time for us to come to the realization that this is the end of an era: the status of the book changed, in  form, consumption, value, significance. Long gone are the times when books were treasured and passed from generation to generation, when wonder and wisdom could be found in limited edition. Now a book is just something-I'm-reading-this-week book, not the it-changed-my-life book. We do not feel the need to hold on to them, nor do we have the space to hold them. Besides, the truth is digital revolution cannot be stopped, or even slowed down. And even the most traditional of us must admit that the digital medium has its merits.

Does this mean that all book-related businesses are slowly marching towards extinction? Will book stores, publishing houses and printing presses find a quiet place to draw their last breaths and expire, like dying elephants? They will have to, unless they find new ways to look at an old business. Thinking outside the box is more vital than ever in these desperate times. This is what Francois LeBled did when he decided to open a print publishing company in Malmo, Sweden, The New Heroes & Pioneers (TNHP). His business strategy, although traditional, has a twist: it created something similar to a Robin Hood approach to publishing. TNHP will encourage and exploit the need of the corporate culture to express itself, by publishing books for companies that think they have a story to tell, to be distributed for free to employees or customers, in order to create interest and advertise the company. Having its main source of income covered, TNHP will subsequently use its resources to support and promote new artists, and help charities.

But the novelty does not lie in the business approach only. Francois looks at the book itself from a different perspective. One of his interesting concepts, planned to be published at the end of the year, is The Social Network Book (working title). This is a "sharable" book: all its pages are posters by unknown artists, and since the book is quite expensive, the cost can be split between five people, who can detach and divide the posters. This is very interesting, unique concept, that not only challenges the role and format of a book, but it also proves how an expensive item can become affordable by sharing the costs. For more details, you can find the whole interview with Francois LeBled here.

It is hard to tell whether this is the right move or not. TNHP is new on the market, and its big ideals may be derailed by reality. But it definitely makes a valiant attempt, and innovation and change is the only way to succeed in the face of adversity. It would be great to see more book business drift towards a more creative strategy to rekindle the readers' interest in owning books.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book covers: Haruki Murakami

Sooner or later, we all find ourselves irresistibly drawn to a book cover. Be it through an unexpected colour palette, creative illustration, or unusual texture, the book cover is one place where the book designer can fully express his interpretation of the book, without worrying about functionality, legibility, or accuracy. Sometimes, this is how the same book can become edgy, sophisticated, eccentric, or anything in between. And while some designers prefer to play it safe, some of them really embrace the possibilities and do not miss the chance to experiment, as it can be seen in this article in The Guardian.

But not all book covers have to involve an extraordinary process to be appealing. Sometimes some good old high-quality artwork can hit the right spot, as in these covers for Haruki Murakami's novels produced by the Spanish illustrator Celia Arellano who lives in Manchester. The exquisite attention to detail in the illustrations complements Murakami's style, the pastel colour choices convey a pensive mood, and the simple but elegant typographical treatment of the title and author's name do not detract from the rest of the composition. As a bonus feature, have a peek at Celia's sketchbook; spying on the creative process is always an indulgence.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Wikipedia in print

As most books make the transition from print to digital, it is quite unexpected to see a giant moving in the opposite direction. Wikipedia, the well-known open-source encyclopedia, that was born in the digital era and has never known a printed format, is planning on becoming a physical book. Well, not just a book, because, with more than four million articles created by 20 million volunteers in the English version alone, we are actually talking about 1,000 books, 1,200 pages each. Fortunately, only one such set will be produced, and the goal is to present it at the Wikimania conference in London in August, and if there are enough funds, to send the books on the road on an international tour.

But as the growth of Wikipedia depended entirely on anonymous contributors, this project also relies on crowdfunding: anybody can donate money on Indiegogo to raise the $50,000 necessary to print the books. Is this a wise idea? Just the quantity of paper involved makes any mild environmentalist cringe. The rationale offered by the Wikipedia Book Project team is that they wanted to show the world how monumental Wikipedia is, and this cannot be done unless it takes a physical form. Whether or not this justifies the extravagance, it is hard to tell. Wired magazine disapproves. But, in the end, it will be the public who decides, and Wikipedia has lots of fans.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Oscar's Art Books on Broadway is closing

I have very fond memories of Oscar's Art Books store. Most times getting off the 9 or 99 bus, I could not resist the magic pull of the store: the beautiful, colourful, heavy hardbacks proved irresistible. It was such an amazing experience cracking them open, browsing the exquisite printed pages, wistfully running my fingers over them and inhaling the fragrance of fresh ink. Hours later I would emerge with a dreamy look and usually with a book or two under my arm. Nothing you can get by flipping through an ebook, or ordering a book online.

I also associate different periods in my life and passions with different sections in Oscar's: my discovery of typefaces and layouts saw me spending a lot of time in the Typography section; my artistic dreams unravelled in front of Illustration or Watercolour books; my colourful fantasies were nurtured by CG Graphic section, with its amazing landscapes and characters.

Unfortunately those times will come to an end soon, as good old Oscar's is losing the corporate fight and will close its doors at the end of March. This is their official statement on Facebook:
Oscar’s Art Books opened March 15th 1990 and, after 24 years, Oscar’s Art Books will be closing its doors March 31st.

It’s been a great run, being on Broadway for 24 years, what a show! We’ve always moved with the times but unfortunately the internet has taken over.

Our sincerest thanks to all the great customers and the Vancouver art community who have supported Oscar’s as an independent bookstore throughout the years – thank you for your love and loyalty.
 This marks the end of an era. It was a pleasure knowing you, Oscar's. You will be missed.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Seth -- A cartoonist's life in broad strokes

"Cartooning is a solitary pursuit. The cartoonist sits alone at a drawing table for most of his life, struggling with himself and his past in an attempt to create something meaningful." Seth

Seth details the experience of the cartoonist's reclusive life in the article "The Quiet Art of Cartooning." Looking at his beautiful, distinctive work, one often wonders about the process that brings it to life. It turns out that random things go through the artist's head while working hard on drawing and inking. Snippets of memories, random thoughts, sometimes even full-blown emotional outbursts. And some of them find their way into the work that comes to life under the cartoonist's hand.

Seth's work, so moody and recognizable, has been influenced by The New Yorker classic style, with heavy lines and muted colours. After he started doing comics and illustration, he published his own series, Palookaville, which initially was assumed to be autobiographical. Since althen, Seth has illustrated and designed books and book covers, has had his work published in The New Yorker, The Walrus, the New York Times Magazine, and Canadian Notes & Queries, and Palookaville has just reached its 21st edition. His work is becoming more and more in demand, which may be because of the new-found popularity of the graphic novels and comics. "Seth's cartooning sensibility is front and centre in virtually every book design he produces," says Chris Oliveros, who has worked with Seth on the Palookaville series since 1991, quoted in Quill and Quire.

It is hard to predict what will be Seth's next project, but we know for sure that he is one of the judges in the Alcuin Book Design Competition that will take place on April 12.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

In the memory of Wil Hudson

Wil Hudson (1929-2014)
It is with great regret that we found out that Wil Hudson passed away in Creston Valley, BC, on January 10, at the age of 85. His name is indubitably linked to the history of letterpress fine printing in BC, and the Alcuin Society's first publishing projects. Some of his work is part of the UBC or SFU Special Collections. Rollin Milroy from Heavenly Monkey posted more about Wil's connection with the Society and his achievements.

Wil Hudson is also known for his work with the Inuit artists, whom he supported, translated, and taught printing techniques. Wil Hudson spent the last years of his life in Creston, where he cultivated other passions, such as railways, ships, and cats. The residents of Creston have very fond memories of him as a witty, fascinating, unconventional person, and some of his friends depicted him and his character in this lively, wonderful obituary.

Make the angels smile, Wil Hudson.