29 November 2011
Today, as well as working on the paperwork for a grant application due this week, I had jackets for the Gaspereau redesign of George Elliott Clarke’s poetry book Blue. Gaspereau adopted a number of books from Clarke’s backlist (Whylah Falls, Blue and Black which is due out next spring) when his original publisher stopped publishing Canadian books.
Actually, that’s an interesting story. Clarke was originally publishing most of his poetry with Polestar Books, a very fine west coast literary publisher owned by Michelle Benjamin. In 2000, Polestar got swallowed up by the gigantic west coast book distributor and repackager Raincoast Books. Raincoast was awash in cash; they had a very profitable stake in the Harry Potter franchise as the books’ Canadian publisher and distributor. At the time of the takeover, Benjamin told Publisher’s Weekly that the purchase would give Polestar “the kind of financial security that is hard to achieve as a small press.”
How’d that work out? Turns out that Raincoast’s interest in publishing with a bit flighty. In January 2008, Raincoast announced that it was ceasing its Canadian publishing operations. The imprints and authors they had adopted through their various acquisitions were being turfed. Raincoast brass intoned that publishing books in Canada simply wasn’t economically viable. Ouch! Even after selling us all those millions of dollars worth of Harry Potter books to Canadians, Raincoast felt no commitment to reinvest in publishing Canadian writers for Canadian Readers. Too risky. They just took the money and ran. Did I mention that the decision to stop publishing books and refocus on being a distributor and repackager was announced shortly after the release of the final book in the Harry Potter series? It has to be one of the most cynical moves in the history of Canadian publishing (if you ignore the present elephant in the room, that self-loathing farce of pretending that the once proud flagship of Canadian publishing, McClelland & Stewart, is anything other than an mere imprint of Random House).
And so, as i was saying, Clarke’s marooned poetry titles have landed now at Gaspereau and we are gradually bringing them back into print.
Today I was hand printing the jacket for Blue, a stark departure from the photographic cover of the original, but very much in the Gaspereau style. The paper is a dark blue felt stock. I printed the oversized type in black, and the small text in a silver ink tinted with PMS 301 blue. The type is Plantin, but with extenders modified to match those Sir Frances Meynell commissioned from Monotype for his Nonesuch Press.
When I was goofing around taking photos of the silvery blue ink, I caught my reflection in the ink knife.
Here’s a peek at the finished jacket, and some other stuff kicking around my press-side table:
1. A litho stone collected by my friend Jack McMaster.
2. A bone folder.
3. A photo of my father with the poet Peter Sanger; two Petes in a pod.
4. A funny, handwritten note from Will Rueter at the Aliquando Press.
5. The photopolymer plate for the black form of the Clarke jacket.
6. The Clarke jacket (the hero of our tale).
7. Make-ready sheets.
8. A single piece of type cast by the late, great type designer Jim Rimmer.
9. Some film canisters of copper spacing material for fine letterspacing capitals.
10. A bunch of Linotype mats and a space band, frozen together in some sort of casting midhap.
11. A broken rib from Chestnut canoe.
ANDREW STEEVES ¶ PRINTER & PUBLISHER