“We Want To Print Books That Deserve To Be Printed” – The Bleeding Cool Interview With Nobrow Co-Founder Alex Spiro

David Dissanayake, our Washington DC Correspondent, interviews Nobrow co-founder Alex Spiro shortly after their New York office opening:

If you’ve ever seen a book published by Nobrow Press, you know they are some of the most beautiful, carefully crafted masterpieces of print work in all of Comics.  The London publishing company pushes the boundary of comics as artifacts, wrapping their stories in the most handsome and innovative packaging I’ve ever seen – from fold outs, to stunningly vibrant hardcovers and handmade books.

Now that Nobrow Press has officially opened its new office in New York City, I talked with co-founder Alex Spiro about the company, its new office, and its plans moving forward:

Nobrow 1For readers who may not be familiar with Nobrow Press, could you talk a little bit about you, the company, and Nobrow’s unique approach to comics?

Nobrow Press was founded in 2008, but it was not until early 2009 that we published our first title and eponymous magazine Nobrow 1: Gods and Monsters. Our aim was to imbue our comics and other publications with care and attention and craft, so that they would not only deliver top-tier content, but also exist as beautiful, covetable objects.

Our genesis was close to the end of the mass market paperback boom and at the beginning of the current shift to digital publishing and distribution of the same content. We felt that there was an area of print publishing that far from dissolving in the face of these sea changes, would weather the storms and rise to the surface – that of finely produced, expertly designed ‘books as object’.

In many senses we set out to do what other publishers had been doing for a while, Taschen in art publishing, Fantagraphics in Comics, the work of designers like Chip Kidd – that is to say, to cultivate a thirst and desire for the book as a thing of beauty, to be coveted and collected, as well as to be read and enjoyed. We say this a lot when talking about ourselves, but it’s because I think it sums up what we do and want to do best: we want to print books that deserve to be printed.

As regards our editorial perspective, that has always been contingent on a meticulous vetting process at first, and then a trust in the creator afterwards. We are tough and picky in our selection processes, but once ‘in’ we are very friendly and supportive of artists’ creative vision. We trust creators’ instincts and seek to be a supportive, rather than a constrictive presence.

What went into the decision to open up a Nobrow office in NYC?

Two factors: that our presence and sales in North America were beginning to surpass those on our native soil and that it was no longer enough to support them remotely; and second, that we were keen to develop an American voice for our work. After all, so much of what had inspired us to establish our operation in the UK had originated over here.

Nobrow 3Besides expanding your retail presence here in the states, will Nobrow be delving more deeply into the creative pool on this side of the Atlantic? Are there any new North American creators that you’ll be working with? 

Yes, that is precisely what we are hoping to do. There is so much talent here and so many great academic institutions supporting the arts and creativity, I am confident we will have a great time working with North American creators. We will also be working to continue building bridges between North American readers and European creators, as we have had the great privilege of working with many brilliant artists from all over Europe: France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Finland, to name a few, and we are keen to make this work as accessible here as possible.

Will you be exploring new means of distribution now that you’re here in the states?

We are very happy with our current distributors Consortium Book Sales and Distribution, but we are certainly aiming to maximize our presence and assist them in any way we can.

How is Nobrow looking to expand its visibility? 

Press and publicity, sales and marketing, and events, these are all charges of the new office and we are very lucky to have a great talent with us in Tucker Stone. We are confident he will help us achieve a greater presence in US retail and in the public consciousness.

I’ve heard a little bit about Nobrow’s unique “idiosyncratic” printing process for some of its books.  Could you talk a little bit about that? 

We do use a special process to print several of our books, but if I told you about it, I’d have to ask the NSA to monitor your communications for us…

In all seriousness, we use ‘hand color separation’ processes in the printing of many of our books. That is not to say we use our hands to draw the plates, or to print the books themselves – we use modern lithographic presses like everyone else. What it means is that we work digitally to control the way the lithographic plates are burned in their individual colours and we also use special pantones to give the work extra vibrancy and depth in print. The process allows us to control the way the ink hits and is absorbed into the paper, it also allows us to control the way different inks overlap and combine and to determine their saturation and pigment. A solid grounding in colour theory is imperative for our designers and we are quite obsessive about the process.

This is why many of our books have that ‘old school’ look to them, the process is about as close to early chromolithographic printing as you can get using modern industrial manufacturing methods.

Nobrow 5What can we expect from Nobrow in the near future? Any new exciting projects in the pipeline? 

Oh, plenty! We have a new book called Freud coming out this month by Corinne Maier and Anne Simon, a necessary and entertaining introduction to the genius of Freud; and next month we will be releasing Professor Astro’s Frontiers of Space, a brilliant book created by a quantum computer mechanic, Dr. Dominic Walliman and star Illustrator Ben Newman, if there is one book to get for your kids on space, this is it! It comes out in the US through our sister imprint Flying Eye Books on November 12th. Finally we have a beautiful book by French artist Thibaud Herem exploring the magnificent and forgotten art deco masterpieces of London, it’s called London Deco and it’s a giant fold out art book containing some mind-bendingly intricate and stunning pen drawings. That will be out in early December.

As for longer term future plans, we will continue to produce beautiful books and products and are developing some very exciting projects for the new year, but I wouldn’t want to give everything away just yet, watch this space…

David Dissanayake is Washington DC correspondent for Bleeding Cool.  Give him a shout @dwdissanayake on twitter.




About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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