Working with 300-Year Old Paper

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

Last you heard, we were working on a hardcover, deluxe edition of the Inkpoems book by MJP. Because the paper MJP uses for these works of art is so distinctive, I wanted to use it to cover the boards of the hardcover, making it the dominant component of the binding. Originally I thought I would use it more as an accent, since my idea was to include an original ink poem with each copy as well. However, one of my pet peeves in art vs book collecting is how individual pieces of art are valued so much more highly than art that is attached to a book… that the uncouth book drags the spiritually pure artwork down to the level of a commercial object. (For evidence of this, refer to the results of a recent auction of work by Charles Bukowski in which a painting that literally looks like it was finger painted in diarrhea sold for over $10,000, while a drop-dead mint copy of his most collectible book (Post Office) with a much more attractive painting tipped in sold for $6,600.) So, rather than using the 300-year old paper as a design accent, I decided to make it the centerpiece of the book and then ask the artist to paint an original ink poem on each cover. This way, the art isn’t a bonus or an add-on (or something you can carefully separate, frame, and later sell at auction) – it IS the cover. Take that. This book is for book collectors, not art collectors.

The problem, however, is that the paper is fragile. Normally, to bind a book like this, I would use Gudy adhesive film, since, as I’ve previously noted, I’m not particularly worried about Gudy breaking down chemically and staining the cloth over time, since it is very stable (and the bookcloth we use has an acid-free paper lining, providing an extra layer of material between the adhesive and the cloth). In this case, though, I don’t want a pressure-sensitive adhesive anywhere near the old paper. It would probably be fine, but I’m not taking any chances with it – it is remarkable that it has survived 300 years in the first place, and so I only want it to come into contact with materials that meet the highest conservation standards.

That being said, I didn’t really want to start slathering it with glue, either. My glue of choice for this (and really for anything that requires glue from now on) is Beva Gel. I like Beva Gel for a few reasons. First, unlike most PVA formulations, Beva Gel (which is an EVA formulation) has a very low water content, meaning it forms an adhesive layer that sits on top of the material without really being absorbed into it. This can make it difficult to work with, since it dries very quickly, but this property has some advantages as well. It is less messy to work with, since it performs best if left to dry momentarily before being applied and then being brayed heavily after application. Because it is partially dry before application, it can be repositioned without making a mess – and if it dries too much, it can be reactivated (although not fully removed) with heat. But, like I said, given the fragility and thickness of the paper, I didn’t want to start spreading thick glue all over it, fearing that some of the adhesive would be absorbed inevitably, and imagining some detrimental effects that this would have on the appearance of the paper. Also, covering boards with paper is rough on the paper – this is less of an issue with strong paper purpose-made for art applications than it is when you’re using paper made for commercial books in the 1700s. Although this paper is nice stuff – fairly thick rag paper with a really nice feel to it – I was still worried about the paper splitting and cracking where it is folded over the edges of the boards.

So, to add an absorptive layer to the paper and to provide tensile strength, I selected a tissue-weight Japanese Tengujo paper as a lining. I didn’t want something that would be too thick, since that would make the end result too thick and potentially difficult to work with, and I like Japanese papers for their strength – they are often much stronger and much lower weights than Western paper. To join the two layers, I used a heat activated Beva 371 film with a 1ml thickness. This way, there is a permanent, flexible bond between the paper and the lining that further boosts the tensile strength, since it is an actual EVA film and not an adhesive substrate like many films. (In other words, when Beva 371 film is hot, it acts like glue, but when it cools, it feels like very thin SaranWrap.) After letting the adhesive cool, I trimmed the paper to size and applied the glue in order to bind the books.

For the spine, I used Genji bookcloth, which is a Japanese handmade cotton/rayon cloth that is one of the most high-quality bookcloths available. It has a sheen that isn’t really visible in the photos below, but rest assured it looks very cool.

A Chance Press Miscellany

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

So, what have your fine friends at Chance Press been up to the past couple months? Well, with the restoration of Carol Es’s books completed, we’ve been focusing on our next two projects, which we’re excited to announce:

Coming (hopefully) in June of this year is Ink Poems by Michael Phillips (MJP to you and me). MJP has been cranking these out for the better part of a decade using 100+ year-old paper (sometimes as old as 400 year-old paper) and hand-ground inks to create genre-bending works of cartoon/poetic art. Examples litter the eponymous website: MJP was warm to the idea of collecting some of our (meaning Justine and my) favorites into a book, so that’s just what we’re doing – 30 ink poems (digitally printed in full color), plus a new introduction for the book, inked by hand by the man himself. 50 or so copies will have Gocco-printed covers – the “trade” edition, if you will. Another 20 will have handmade covers with scraps of 100 year old paper applied in a decorative configuration, plus hand-lettered titles by the author. Finally, we’re doing 8 hardcover copies covered in 300 year-old paper, each of which will have an original ink poem on the cover. These will be ridiculously deluxe, as you’ve come to expect. (Check back  for a post with process photos…)

The second book we’re releasing – hopefully sometime in July – is the first published work of an author we both feel eminently confident is going to move on to a fabulous career as a cartoonist and illustrator (not to mention that elusive, nebulous title of “fine artist”). Brett Harder is his name, and his skill is, not to put too fine a point on it, jaw-dropping. Here’s the thing about Brett – I didn’t expect him to be any good. He got in touch with me over my blog after reading my Serafini article, saying that he began researching Serafini because some people had seen his work and asked him if Serafini was an influence. Now, I’ve become pretty jaded to this line, since I’ve been contacted by more than one person who claims to ‘channel’ Serafini, but instead only channels something that looks like the bottom of the sink after I do the dishes. I was bored, though, and so I clicked over to his website to see what he had. And. I. Was. Blown. Away. The Serafini influence is definitely there, although calling it an ‘influence’ is unfair to Brett, since he was unaware of Serafini at the time he was working on the book we are going to publish, titled Furlqump. Even more remarkable is that Brett is a young fellow – an exciting prospect considering where his talent will be with 10, 20, 30 more years of experience. I don’t really think of the books we publish as investment pieces (although I would be very happy for our collectors if our books did appreciate in value), but this one is an exception, since I can all but guarantee that Brett is going to move onto larger publishers and wider audiences, leaving this as the “lost” first edition of his first book that people are buzzing about on message boards years in the future.

So what about it? We’re printing it digitally, in full color in an edition of 100 copies, although we will do another printing of 100 if the initial run sells out. We’ll do a run of 26 hardcovers printed entirely using archival inks for the best possible image quality (take THAT, commercial publishers!) that will be signed (hopefully with a little sketch), and for the die-hards, an amazing, heretofore unseen (except in my own head) binding concept I’m calling a “triple hardcover” that includes an archival print on museum-quality paper. This edition will be printed as close to actual-size as possible, meaning that it will measure around 11″ tall by 9″ wide, printed entirely using archival inks. Obviously it will be limited, so like I always say, let us know if you’re interested so I can mark you down for one. Without diminishing any of our other books, this is really one that you shouldn’t pass up.

What else is going on? Well, we’re doing a little fundraising drive to raise some money to fund the above books, but it isn’t really taking off. If you’re on our email list, you’ll get an email about it shortly – and if the idea of buying stuff from us that isn’t advertised on this site, not available in our store, and only going to be made to fill orders we get through our fundraising promotion (a la Kickstarter), is interesting to you, shoot us an email and we’ll fill you in on the details.

Restoring Scribbles in a Sandstorm

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

As a follow-up to my post about archival materials, I thought I’d write about fixing up Scribbles in a Sandstorm. Avid readers may recall that the problem we faced was that a particular kind of tape we used had some undesirable effects on paper – namely, that it turned paper yellow. I’m glad we caught this after a few months, since for the most part, we have been able to remove the tape wherever it was used on paper and replace it with a true archival adhesive (something called “Beva Gel”, which is most commonly used by professional art conservators). Thankfully, the tape hasn’t been in place long enough to ruin either the book itself or the individual prints, although it has left its very pale yellow mark nonetheless. We have been careful to remove all trace of the adhesive residue from the paper so that chemicals in the tape won’t continue the degradation process, and luckily due to the design of the book, these yellow marks get covered up when we re-adhere the prints into the book with Beva Gel.

One note: in my last post on the subject, I described the process of separating pages that have been stuck together: using a spatula or flat knife, you carefully separate the pages and then use an eraser to remove the adhesive residue. Unfortunately, in this case that process didn’t work so well. First, I am not a professional conservator, and so there is the problem of my skill level – it is really difficult not to pierce one of the pages you are trying to separate… and even if you are able to avoid doing that, it is next to impossible to separate the two pieces without some pretty significant handling marks. (There’s a reason why being a conservator is something that takes years upon years of study and practice.) Second, we’re not dealing with tape that has become brittle or lost its strength over the years – the tape we used for this book is still incredibly strong, and it’s also very gummy (and around 0.5mm thick) – so the spatula or conservator’s knife gets gummed up in the adhesive, which makes separating the two pages even more difficult.

For this reason, we made the choice to use a solvent to help release the paper from the adhesive. After some extensive testing, I decided that heptane (sold commercially as “Un-Du” sticker remover) would work well. I researched heptane for many hours as well and found that it is fairly commonly used in the conservation community, unlike other commercial adhesive removers like Goo Gone or similar products. Heptane is a very low-polarity solvent, which means that it doesn’t change the structure of the paper (water, on the other hand, is very high-polarity, which is why it causes paper to warp and buckle). It also evaporates very quickly and is relatively safe (compared to other solvents). Most research I did recommending starting with a low polarity solvent, and if that doesn’t work, slowly increasing the polarity of the solvent (acetone, naphtha, toluene, xylene, etc.) until you get something that does work. Thankfully heptane has worked extremely well, since solvents like toluene are very toxic and also have their own problems – namely “overcleaning,” which means that the solvent cleans the paper beyond its original state, leaving “tide lines” as it evaporates.

The one unknown here is what the heptane-treated paper will look like in 20 years. Looking at the yellow marks the tape has left in a few short months gives me confidence that removing it was necessary, and I can say honestly that I probably would have ruined most of the books if I tried to remove it without the aid of a solvent. For what it’s worth, Un-Du is acid free and photo safe, although those claims are worth almost nothing, as I have learned. Again, the fact that heptane is discussed in conservation literature as a viable product to use in archival applications gives me hope that it won’t turn the paper yellow in 20 years.

Archival Methods and Another Look at the Small Press/Fine Press Issue

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

A few months ago, I posted in the forum about the materials Chance Press uses, noting that we use a lot of a particular type of tape, and that if there were ever a problem with that tape, all of our books would fall apart. Now, this tape wasn’t some cut-rate crap that we were using to cut corners – the manufacturer guaranteed that it was acid-free and “archival,” and would remain transparent for a very long time. Add to that fact that it is incredibly strong and bonds like crazy, and it didn’t really bother us to pay the fairly steep price of $20 per roll. Some of our books – like Carol Es’s book that I have just about finished – use over $100 worth of tape throughout the entire edition.

Well, last night I was looking at the display copy of Carol’s book, and I noticed that there was some very worrying yellowing starting to appear along the edge of a couple tipped-in pieces. I peeled them off, and I found that the tape had completely turned yellow in a matter of around 6 months. Not only was this tape decidedly NOT archival, it was also very aggressively acidic. I emailed our supplier (who gets bulk rolls directly from the manufacturer, an operation called Provo Craft), and let her know what was going on, and she nonchalantly told me that the manufacturer had stopped claiming that it was acid free due to a specification change a while back, and that she would change the website to take that feature off the page selling the tape. I let her know that it was a pretty big deal to me and that this little spec change that no one had thought to let anyone know about had ruined thousands of dollars worth of merchandise and months of my labor, but she didn’t really seem all that fazed. Feel free to email Provo Craft and let them know that they are evil baby snatching fornicators if you wish – I hate them about as much as I hate the Westboro Baptist Church these days. This very thing – a manufacturer changing a superior product into a shit-erior product without telling anyone only to save a few cents – had been voiced to me, and I guess I just hoped that it wouldn’t actually happen. But there you go.

Where this really hits us hard is with Scribbles in a Sandstorm, a book in which we’ve invested close to $1000 (if not more) and countless hours of our time. I have been working on this book since April of last year (while fitting in some other projects here and there), and in a recent surge over the last month, I had almost finished all the copies in the edition. And now this. The main problem is that this book uses the offending tape everywhere – in the binding, to adhere the cover print, the title page, and the colophon, and to tip in all the other material. First order of business is to take care of people who bought the book – and we will do that, either by reworking the actual sold copies or by making a brand new copy.

I don’t think that I will have to redo any of the binding, since this tape is only used to reinforce the hemmed edges of the bookcloth (the center is adhered using another adhesive), and so there is no part of the book that exerts any force on the tape (something that could cause the tape to de-bond if it dries out and becomes brittle). Nor do I have much concern that it ever will become brittle – it may have turned yellow, but even the pieces I pulled off are very tacky. Still, all bets are off with this stuff, and if the tape were used anywhere that might fall apart, I would redo the bindings. But, since I really can’t see that happening, I’m not too worried about it. Additionally, the tape is sandwiched between acid-free bookboard and a hemmed layer of paper-backed bookcloth – meaning that the chemical in the tape would have to penetrate two layers of cloth and two layers of paper before they reached the surface of the book, where they would be visible. Again, this is very unlikely.

Anywhere the tape touches paper, however, needs to be reworked. This is out of what could be termed “an abundance of caution” – I have only seen the yellowing so far in two places – on the colophon page of the display copy and on the colophon page of a one-off book we did back in September (the Porcellino/Van Sciver Z-binding). Both of these instances involve the same type of paper – Canson Infinity Rag Photographique, which is known for its exceptionally smooth surface. In working with this paper, I have noticed that the coating is very delicate and prone to staining from just about anything – even a light pencil mark is very difficult to erase without creating a smudge. And in all the copies of Carol’s book, it is only one colophon page that is turning yellow. Still, in seeing what has happened to the tape over this short period of time, I am not confident that the problem is limited to these few instances. In the best case scenario, the yellowed tape will not affect places where it is used to adhere thick watercolor or printmaking paper to boards (such as on the covers of the hardcover CPR books we released last spring), or dark-colored Fabriano paper (such as in the Larding hardcovers). In the worst case, those too will become stained over time, and we’ll have a number of books to rework. (As an aside, I should note that we stand behind all the books we’ve made, and if a book you bought from us suffers a defect relating to a non-archival material, we will fix it.)

The day this went down, I was a mess – a tightly wound ball of rage who could only think of how horribly wrong everything had gone – and considered shutting down Chance Press forever. But, once my temper tantrum subsided, I got to work researching how to fix this problem… and if there is a silver lining to the whole thing it’s that we were forced to take a critical look at our practices and firm up our stance on the whole notion of “archival” as it relates to our books.

The idea of what constitutes “archival” is debatable in the first place. Many people simply use it as a stand-in for “acid-free,” since anything with an overly acidic ph generally tends to degrade more quickly than one that is ph-neutral. But acid-free doesn’t tell the whole story, since there are plenty of other variables that can cause paper, cloth, board, thread, and adhesive to degrade over time. If handled with cotton gloves and stored in a light-proof box made from acid-free board in a humidity-controlled environment, a standard piece of Japanese paper (like Mulberry) will last an incredibly long time. If handled regularly by normal people and left exposed on a shelf, it won’t. So is the paper archival? It is acid-free and made by hand from very durable plant fibers, but how long it lasts depends more on how it is stored than on the paper itself. Concerning storage, most products sold as “archival” are either acid free, or ideally they will pass the ANSI test for “photoactivity” (IT9.16). This means that the materials in question have been subjected to an accelerated aging process and then applied to substances like silver (which is present in photographic prints) to see if the tested material will cause a chemical change. To pass the test, the material has to produce no chemical change to the substances on which it is tested, meaning that in real world conditions, the material can be applied to a photographic print for hundreds of years without distorting it in any way. The PAT (“photo-activity test”) is a good benchmark to test the long-term stability of a product, but it only tests one small sliver of that product’s reactivity. For instance, an adhesive tape such as 3M’s Preservation tape (which is used by professional framers) has passed the PAT, but no data is available on things like how long it remains adhesive, what affect it has on the inkjet coatings of digital art papers, and how many years it takes before the adhesive goes cloudy or yellow. Because it has passed the PAT, one can assume that it is sufficiently stable to last a very long time, but how long remains to be seen except by conservators hundreds of years from now (as long as the world hasn’t been destroyed by nuclear or environmental catastrophe by that point, rendering the entire notion of “archival” moot).

It just so happens that Justine’s childhood best friend is a professional conservator who now tends to historical archives in various locations around Europe; that is to say, she is a good resource for these types of questions. When I emailed her for help with this issue, she gave me a bunch of good ideas for salvaging and reworking the Carol books where we had used the offending tape – the strategy is to lightly heat the adhesive and then to use a long, flat knife or spatula to carefully separate the layers of paper and then to remove the adhesive residue with an eraser. There are harsher chemicals available for this (things that have long organic chemistry-sounding names that end in –ylene), but these will probably react negatively with the prints that are on the other side of the paper, so some gentle hours spent dragging an eraser over the adhesive residue should do the trick. As far as what to use instead of the tape, that’s where things get tricky.

Tammi (that’s the conservator) admitted that she was definitely the wrong person to ask about what types of tape are safe, since conservators stay away from pressure-sensitive adhesives altogether. (For reference, a pressure-sensitive adhesive is any adhesive that bonds without the aid of moisture or heat.) Again, the problem is that even tapes that do advertise as acid-free may contain all types of other non-acidic chemicals that are very harmful over the long-term to paper, and even the very best of them (such as 3M Preservation tape) have not been in use long enough to assess their long-term implications. Another problem with pressure-sensitive adhesive, at least from a conservator’s perspective, is that they are not “reversible” – meaning that they don’t become unstuck easily, if at all (usually the aforementioned harsh chemicals are required). Reversibility is the other side of the “archival” coin, and one that I am much less concerned with as a book maker. I want the books we make never to come apart, but I wouldn’t feel the same way if I were relining 500-year old canvases or repairing very old documents. So, suffice it to say that Tammi was not very sympathetic about the acid-free dupe, since in her opinion, our books were in trouble from day one the minute we chose to use any type of pressure-sensitive adhesive.

Instead, Tammi recommended the bookbinding staple of wheat paste, or failing that, PVA glue (which is very good – although how good is dependent on the particular formulation – but not reversible). My problem with wet adhesives is that I have a very difficult time using them in a way that doesn’t cause the paper to warp or buckle. This can be a consequence of the amount of glue used, or it can be caused by too much water in the formulation, or not enough weight applied during drying. I made the decision before starting on Carol’s book not to use any wet adhesives for that very reason (the binding is such that any warping of the paper or boards could cause the book not to “work” (meaning, the spine wouldn’t be able to be attached). Additionally, using a wet adhesive and then following the correct protocol for drying (hold in place with pressure, then place between layers of non-adherent synthetic paper and absorbent paper outside the synthetic, all under weight for at least several hours) would have caused each book to take an unrealistically long time.
This brings me to another issue that needs to be taken into account: how much our books cost. If I knew that we could sell Carol’s books for the $500 or so (if not more) that you see fine press books like this command, then I would feel more comfortable taking 2-3 years to produce the entire edition. Unfortunately, we are not a fine press, and we also want to have a steady stream of releases rather than one very significant release every few years. And so, we reach a point where we need to adopt certain less-than-archival methods to build our books that enable us to cut down on steps like weighting and drying wheat paste or PVA glue.

In other words, when deciding what archival methods to use, we need to keep the following things in mind:

  • How much we expect the book to cost
  • How much time we can devote to making it
  • The potential negative effects of using a non-archival product

And, our goal is to come up with the most ideal balance for each project. This doesn’t mean that we want to cut corners wherever possible; it is more like we start by looking at only the most archival adhesives and decide where these A+ products aren’t totally necessary, given the realities of the project. For instance, if I had to do Carol’s book over again, I would still use pressure-sensitive adhesive for the binding, despite Tammi’s warnings. However, I would obviously not use the same tape, or even the Xyron adhesive film that we used. Knowing what I know now, Xyron is probably fine, but possibly not. It is acid free, but I don’t know what else is in it, and I do know that it is made by a big art supply company in China who could change the specifications without notice, leaving us in the same position. Instead, I would use a product called Gudy, which is manufactured in Germany by a company called Neschen whose main business is very high-end adhesive films for framing and other archival applications. Gudy is reversible with certain chemicals and has passed the PAT, which suggests that it is suitable for book arts applications. Is Gudy a true archival product? Probably not, but I have a high level of confidence in it, and my feeling is that it will last for a great many years before falling apart.

I feel the same way about the 3M Preservation tape (“the best of the worst” in Tammi’s words): it is very likely perfectly fine to use in long-term applications, and I don’t have much worry about using it to adhere pastedowns to low-to-medium-priced books. We just finished up a new book by David Donovan, and I used 3M tape on the pastedowns for the special edition, which we are pricing at $12. But what if the pastedown was an original watercolor painting by Dave? Or, in a less hypothetical example, a sketch by Carol that needed to be tipped in? Here, it is much more important to me to use a true archival adhesive. Adhering cloth to board is fairly simple – the cloth just needs to stick to it for a long time. But, as noted earlier, when dealing with paper-on-paper, a lot more can go wrong than the adhesive losing its strength. Even though I would be 99% confident using Gudy or 3M tape, proceeding with these materials on a piece of original artwork or a limited edition print would leave me feeling anxious as to the future of the material.

Because I am still trying wherever possible to avoid wet adhesives, the other option is heat-transfer adhesive or film. An extremely highly-regarded product developed specifically for professional conservators over 40 years ago and researched extensively is known as “Beva” or Beva 371, which is the standard formula. Unfortunately, Beva 371 is toxic enough to melt the skin off your face, and it can only be used in shops where full respirators, chemical-resistant gloves, and industrial eye protection are available. Beva 371 works (as far as I can tell) by suspending adhesive in a goo of toxic chemicals that are, somehow, not toxic to paint, canvas, or paper. When the toxic goo dries, the adhesive is left on the canvas in a totally inert form – only after being heated to a fairly low 150 degrees F does it become tacky and adherent. As it cools, it forms a bond that is very strong, unless it is reheated, at which point it releases (making it highly reversible). Then, by applying a new round of toxic chemicals (which again are safe to use on canvas, paper, and paint), the residue can be removed from the canvas entirely, as if it were never there.

Fortunately for archival adhesive enthusiasts, Beva 371 is also available in a film format, which basically applies all the above steps up until the heating to a piece of mylar film. This works like double-sided tape, although the pain-in-the-ass factor has been augmented. One side of the film is coated with Beva 371 which has been dried and covered with a silicone release paper. (So no toxic vapors or caustic goo, just good old-fashioned archival adhesive.) To use it, you remove the release paper and position the Beva side down on one of the materials you are sticking together. Using a heated spatula, you warm the adhesive to 150 degrees, allowing it to form a bond with the material. After it cools, you remove the mylar film and place the other material over it, heating it again to cause the adhesive to form another bond. When it cools, the two materials will be stuck together. I have some Beva film on order (as well as another product called Beva Gel, which is a much-less-toxic version of Beva that I want to experiment with, although I’m pretty sure it was a waste of money), and I will play around with it – right now it sounds like the best compromise between wanting to use a dry adhesive and using a true archival adhesive to tip the prints into Carol’s book.

Hopefully all of this makes sense and sounds reasonable to our collectors. Our main goal is to make books that we as collectors would want to buy, but we also want to be up front about how the sausage is made, so to speak. Our books won’t last if they sit in direct sunlight for 5 years, if your dog chews them, if you use them to blow your nose, etc. If we use Beva in a book, and you leave that book in your car, it will liquefy in the heat, and it might get ruined (although Beva is so reversible that we could repair it for you, since we’re nice like that). But, we put enough care into the details that they will most likely last a very long time if properly cared for. And obviously, if you’ve purchased a book from us and would like to know about any issues with its construction that could negatively affect its lifespan, let us know, and we’d be happy to go through it with you.

Chance Press News and Notes on 'Acontextual Drawings'

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

We did what amounts to a ’soft’ release of our three newest books around 6 weeks ago, making the trade editions available to our repeat customers and sending out an email blast… but still no information on the site! Mostly, that’s because we’re lazy, and updating the website is often the last thing that we want to do, and so we put it off and hope no one notices. But this time, there’s a little more to it – we’re also working on a new online store hosted by BigCartel that will handle online transactions a far sight better than our crappy “Buy Books” page that we’ve used for the last year or so. We like BigCartel because they don’t require you to register in order to place an order, which makes them much more customer-friendly than sites like Etsy or Artfire. So, we’re working on that as well as creating pages on this site for each of the new books, and as with everything we do, it’s taking a while.

As far as what we’ve been working on, most of January was spent on the special and deluxe editions of Acontextual Drawings, our recently-published book by cartoonist Abbigail McCracken. Trade editions are available now, and the deluxe editions will be available hopefully by the middle of February. I wasn’t sure at first what I wanted for the cover of the deluxe edition – we usually just do a pastedown on fancy paper, but I wanted to go for something more elaborate this time. After thinking about it for a while, I decided to do a double-layer print of a “colored in” version of one of the drawings from the book. The top layer, then, is a printout of the drawing as it appears in the book, and the bottom layer is a printout of just the colors that fill in the drawing (but no lines). Since both are printed on vellum, the colors show through the top layer, and it looks pretty neat. When the book is closed, it’s fairly dull, although the colors get more vibrant when held up to light.

That edition also comes with a 5 x 7 archival print, signed by the artist. I’m still waiting to get those back from Abbigail, and then this edition will be available for sale (at a very reasonable price of $20).

Now, say that $20 wasn’t enough money, and you wanted something really awesome. You’re in luck! We’re also doing a VERY limited 5-copy hardcover portfolio that includes the a copy of the deluxe edition described above AS WELL AS archival prints of all eight drawings from the book – all of which are signed by the artist. (Prints are 5.5 x 8.5 on Moab Entrada Rag Bright 300gsm paper.) The cover pastedown is printed on Canson Infinity Montval Torchon, a very unique paper with a nice eggshell texture. Boards are covered in Hahnemuhle Ingres paper and Canson Mi-Teintes, with Japanese bookcloth on the spine. Finally, cloth-covered handmade paper triangle pockets hold everything together inside the portfolio. I don’t have the prints back yet, so no photos of those, but you can see everything else in the pictures below. Price for these is $75 – and remember that there are only 5, so get in while the getting’s good!

Long Time No Update!

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

Busy busy busy!  Numbered list of what Chance Press has been up to:

1) went to zine fair.  sold a fair number of books.  barry lutz complemented by jesse reklaw.

2) releasing three books – one poetry, one comics, one comic art.  all three are amazing.  you buy now.

3) starting new webstore with bigcartel.  will post link when ready.

4) carol es book officially released.  you buy now.

Scribbles in a Sandstorm - THE FINAL BATTLE

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

Well, the first batch of these will be ready for sale through Carol’s gallery in mere weeks.  I’m just putting the finishing touches on the ones that will be sent to the gallery, as well as trying to get one ready for Carol to keep (instead of making her wait and wait and wait for a copy to call her own… starving artist indeed!).  The following photos show the items that weren’t ready yet the last time I shot pictures.  Excuse the poor quality photos – it’s late, and there’s no natural light right now, but I just can’t wait to share!

One note on availability – if you want one of these direct from us, PLEASE get in touch with us prior to Carol’s show.  Once they go to the gallery, we won’t be able to sell any copies at the pre-order price, and we have a huge backlog of other projects that need some attention before I can come back to this book to make the rest of the copies that we’ll offer for general sale.  Also, if the copies sell well at the gallery, they have first dibs on additional copies, so there is a possibility (not too likely, but it’s there) that we won’t have ANY to sell except the ones that people claimed on pre-order.  If you want to chance it (pun intended), I’m guessing I’ll probably have the rest of the edition done sometime in February.

And – for anyone interested in the deluxe edition – we only have 3 copies available to sell at the pre-order price.

Announcing: Scribbles in a Sanstorm by Carol Es

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

What is Scribbles in a Sandstorm?

  • An illustrated account of the birth of Dan
  • A flurry of artistic output from a secluded desert outpost
  • What the Joshua Trees were pointing at all along
  • A celebration of printing and bookmaking
  • An accordion whose music is ecstatically visual

Chance Press is very excited to announce the publication of Scribbles in a Sandstorm, a collaborative project with Los Angeles-based artist Carol Es.  We have known Carol for a couple years now, although we were hesitant to approach her about working together until we were confident enough in our own abilities to do her incredible work justice.  We have been working quietly for the past few months planning the ins and outs of the project, and Carol has been furiously creating some of the most consciousness-bending art your eyes will ever see.  The result will be unlike anything you have seen from Chance Press, and it will further cement Carol Es’s status as an artist of the highest order.

Scribbles in a Sandstorm is no mere art book, with some images printed on each page and bound in snappy covers.  Here, the art is the book, which contains a removable spine, enabling the accordion-folded text block to unfold and display a 40″ color-printed panorama.  Then, on the flipside, is your instant Carol Es art collection, where tipped-in you’ll find a Gocco print, a letterpress print, and a giclee print on watercolor paper, as well as a bound-in excerpt from Carol’s sketchbook, and a signed original sketch.  No expense is being spared in the construction of the book, which features boutique paper-backed bookcloth, papers from Moab, Canson, Arches, and Rives, and printing using archival Epson Ultrachrome K3 inks.  Because of the time and expense involved in producing each copy, the edition will be strictly limited to 30 copies, of which six deluxe copies will also include a folder containing signed copies of each print, suitable for framing.

This is a new venture for Chance Press – not every book we publish from now on will be this elaborate, but we are very excited to enter the rarefied realm of “artist books” that will complement our other small press offerings.  To support this project, we are hoping to pre-sell ten copies of the book to collectors who believe in what we’re doing and want to ensure the lowest possible edition number.  As a special bonus, anyone who pre-orders a copy will receive one of ten prints of an image titled “The Birth of Dan” from Carol’s sketchbook on Moab Entrada Rag paper, housed in a custom-made cloth-covered folder.  These prints will not be available once the book is released – the ONLY way to get one is to preorder a copy.

Preorder pricing for the deluxe edition of six copies is $250, and the slightly-less-deluxe edition is $150.  (If we end up charging more for the book when it is released, you will still receive the book at the price you paid.)  We are only accepting ten preorders, and otherwise, the book will be available for purchase when it is released, which we anticipate will be around January or February 2011.  You can preorder either edition, or both editions, if you are so inclined and would like to receive two prints.

You can send money via PayPal to books (at) chancepress (dot) com; questions about this book can be directed to this email as well.

Signs of Life!

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

So Justine and I are back from our two-week honeymoon in New Zealand, and we’re ready to make books again!  We’re about halfway through binding up the Larding books, and once we have the signed pages back from Steve Hines, we’ll be just about ready to list them for sale.  We sat down and figured it out today, and the final stat is that, when you add up the total amount of time we will have spent on the deluxe edition of this book, each copy from conception to finished product will have taken us between 4 and 5 hours (and that doesn’t include the time spent actually planning out the book in the first place).  Spread that out over 22 copies and you’ve got a pretty big workload for what’s supposed to be a “hobby.”

In other exciting news, work has started on both the Paul Hornschemeier book and the Carol Es book.  I put a mockup in the mail today for Paul, who is working on the artwork right now.  We’re going to start prework while he does that, and then we can get to printing and binding in August/September.  We had originally scheduled to start production on Carol’s book *after* Paul’s is officially released at the Alternative Press Expo in October, but it turns out that Carol has a solo show at a highfalutin’ gallery in LA in late October and she requested that some copies of her book be done by then.  So, we’re pushing into overdrive and trying to get both of them done by then (although the true release date for Carol’s book probably won’t be until 2011, with only a handful of pre-release copies making it to the gallery opening).


Posted on by Jordan Hurder

Sometimes personal issues and stress motivate the heck out of me, and I come home every day from work and put in a few hours of good work, and stuff gets done.  Other times, nothing.  Patience… Larding will come out soon, just not quite as soon as I had hoped.  (For those concerned, nothing too bad is going on, just frustrating developments outside my control.)

Book Design Problem Solving

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

Let’s just say I thought I was closer to being done with the Larding project before we put it on hiatus in February.  At the very least, I thought all the design work was done.  Well, not quite, it turns out.  But this is what is fun about running a small press and getting to design books from start to finish – and solving problems along the way has been exhilarating, even if the self-imposed stress I’m under has left me feeling a little ragged.  The goal is to get these out before Justine and I leave for our honeymoon on May 1st, but that’s looking less and less realistic (there we are again with the dreaded More Work Than We Expected).

Flying back to Oakland from Chicago last week, I was trying to sketch out the cover print for the book, despite the turbulence forcing my hand around the page against my will.  I have felt – especially after the covers of the CPR books we just finished – that my ability to arrange letters in attractive ways is limited to parallel lines and 90 degree angles.  I feel like I’m decent at designing books, but I’ve NEVER considered myself any type of visual artist, so the task of designing covers in the first place is one I do out of necessity, not because I think I’m so awesome at it that someone else couldn’t do a better job.  Still, like amateur photography or bowling, it’s something I like doing, and so I spend a lot of time thinking about letter forms and how different ones complement each other on the page.  But, when I look at the greats of the medium – especially my hero Massin – I realize that my designs are all boxy, like I laid down a grid and made every element on the page rigidly adhere to it.  I tasked myself with at least placing text diagonally or something at least to disrupt the rigid symmetry of what I would normally do.

I’m pretty happy with what I came up with (happy enough to use it, at least) – it’s fairly asymmetrical, and I took the bold (for me) step of embellishing the end of the “e” to illustrate the idea of “pulling at the line.”  (Also, I added the horizontal bars at the top and bottom of the “I” – I love this font (Turnpike), although I wanted each letter in “tirez” to be an equal width, and the “I” is just a vertical column.)  The major problem with the design is that it’s wide and not very tall, and I had originally designed the books around a 2.5″ x 2.5″ cover print.  I didn’t want to go back to my original sketches for a square design, so I decided to work the new size into the design of the book.  For the trade edition (the problem of which I’ll get to in a minute), this made sense – I will just print the design directly on the wrap-around band, instead of on the book itself.  Easy enough.  But for the deluxe edition, it is a priority for the cover to have a pastedown to break up the monotony of the bookcloth.  My original plan was to put the square cover print in the upper left-hand corner and the wrap-around band along the bottom, which would have looked pretty neat.  However, there was really no orientation for the new, wider pastedown that looked good (center, top, bottom… I came close to going with just-above-center, but it just didn’t work).  What did work was to turn the print 90 degrees and align it toward the left side of the book.  Not only can I size up the artwork a little bit (since the book is taller than it is wide, leaving the artwork more room to spread out), but the print will look good turned on its side, and the pastedown looks great on the left side of the cover this way.  The problem now, of course, is that the band will cover part of the print, and there’s no way for that not to look bad.  My first instinct was just to ditch the band, but because of the accordion binding, the book really needs something to hold it together.

Here is the solution I came up with: A thick mylar window strategically placed in the band, right over the pastedown.  Now, the band can go around the center of the book, which looks better anyway, and the window is pretty badass.  I was just going to use .005 acetate, the same stuff Black Sparrow Press used to use as dustjackets for their hardcover releases, but I found this really thick stuff at an art supply store (it’s almost like plastic sheeting), and it fit the bill absolutely perfectly.  Problem solved.

A while back, Justine and I had to decide if we were even going to do a trade edition for this book.  Due mostly to laziness, we cut the deluxe edition from 30 copies to 18, which isn’t quite enough, so we made the choice to produce a trade edition as well.  At first, I planned just to do a normal pamphlet binding, but after typesetting the book, I’m totally sold on the idea of 5 individual page spreads, and I don’t like how they look printed double-sided and bound as a pamphlet (in the deluxe edition, each one is folded in half and sewn individually into the accordion spine).  Problem was, neither of us could think of a good way to deliver unbound page spreads without making the product too complicated to be an inexpensive trade edition.  Luckily, Justine came up with the idea of folding each spread and tucking them into a triangular pocket at the bottom right corner of the inside, and then tying the package together with a wrap-around band.  It took me a few tries to come up with a good size and configuration for the triangle (giving it a gusset so that it can hold the pages). Problem solved.

Now you have way more information than you ever even thought you needed about how we go about designing our books.  Pretty gripping stuff, eh?  At this point, I’m just looking forward to releasing this book so we can move onto Paul Hornschemeier’s book and a whole new set of design problems to solve.

Announcing Forthcoming Books by Paul Hornschemeier and Carol Es

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

Take note, kids – this is how you lure top talent to your small press… Find authors you like as they’re graciously doing book signings, and then present them with at least ten books to sign.  As they wade through the task of signing each and every book you plonked down in front of them, make small chitchat, eventually steering the conversation to your fledging small press that they’re way too good for in the first place.  Suggest doing a project with them like you’re half kidding, and then email them later that evening with a more firm proposal, steeling yourself against near-certain rejection by acknowledging that they’re probably too busy to spend any time thinking about the fool you just made of yourself anyway.

I followed the above steps, and now I’m the proud publisher (along with Justine, of course) of a book by the great cartoonist Paul Hornschemeier (learn more about him at his website).  Paul is well-established in the alternative comics scene, having published multiple books with the top publishers in the game, including AdHouse Books, Fantagraphics, Dark Horse, and Villard.  He has two major books forthcoming this year, and he is widely published in anthologies (including Mome, generally regarded as the best alternative comics periodical to come along in many years), as well as being a sought-after illustrator and graphic designer.  His work is characterized by obsessive attention to form and detail, humanized by multi-layered emotional storylines – in short, the very embodiment of what great comics can accomplish.

To be working with an artist like Paul is a feather in our young cap here at Chance Press, and it is a daunting task as well.  As a noted graphic artist who designs all of his publications from front to back, Paul is on the same level as the greats in the industry (Chip Kidd, Chris Ware, Jacob Covey, Jordan Crane, etc.), which makes it imperative that we put everything we have into any book of his that we publish.  Luckily, we have a few tricks up our sleeve, and it will be very exciting to see how it all plays out.

What about the book itself?  Paul is relaunching his comics series Forlorn Funnies this fall via a hardcover release from Fantagraphics, and Chance Press will be publishing the companion piece to this book: plans, sketches, notes, etc.  The behind-the-scenes nature of the book complements the look of our handmade books really well; Fantagraphics will publishe the full-color, polished and finished-looking product, while ours will be a little rougher looking, with hand-cut paper, exposed thread binding, and other touches that people have come to expect from us.  This will be an ambitious project, with a higher page count than anything since A Common Thread, a fairly complex convertible “M” binding (more on this in future blog posts), and a large print run of at least 100 trade copies.

Release of this book should coincide with the Alternative Press Expo in October, where we will be exhibiting for the first time.


We’ve known Los Angeles artist Carol Es for a couple years, even having the good fortune to spend some time drinking with her and her pet gorilla MJP last year.  Both Justine and I thought it would be great to work with her on a book project, although we assumed that she – who has created mind-bending artist books that sell for over $1000 a pop – would have no interest in working with such neophytes (though she’d likely be too nice to say so).  Well, I finally got up the nerve to suggest project to her, and she surprised both Justine and I by accepting the job and even adding that she thought we’d never ask.  Some sappy “you’re-so-great-no-you’re-so-great” emails followed, and then we got down to planning the book, which promises to be a doozy.

Like Mr. Hornschemeier, Carol is a huge get for us – she has exhibited artwork all over the country, received numerous grants and fellowships, and her work resides in the permanent collections of multiple esteemed museums and special collections libraries including those of LACMA and UCLA.  Her art is full of wide-eyed power, combining the gritty, urban aesthetic of Los Angeles, playful yet haunting cartooning, and mixed media elements to create a startlingly authentic experience of what is swirling around in the artist’s own head.  As I mentioned earlier, to be working with an artist of this caliber so soon into our tenure as small press publishers is a little frightening, like we’ve bitten off more than we can chew.  Still, I wouldn’t have suggested the project if I didn’t think we could pull it off; we’re just going to have to push ourselves to do Carol’s work justice.

Not much about the book has been finalized at this point, although we will be using the same removable-spine accordion binding used by Two Fine Chaps on their fine publication of The Chase.  The book will be published in a deluxe edition only, although a small zine/sketchbook may end up being published separately.  The goal here is to produce a book that bridges the gap between a zine and an artist book and to offer something to the art/book collector who wants a very limited edition handmade book and who might spend $150, but who just can’t afford $1000.

We will be working on Carol’s book this winter, and it will likely be released in the early part of 2011.  Who’s excited?

Chance Press News - March/April 2010

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

So, the Larding project, darling of my incessant news updates, went on hold for a couple reasons.  First, despite all the pre-work that I put in during December and January, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to print out the text until we procured an Epson Ultrachrome K3 printer.  When the book is finally released, I think people will agree with me, that it just wouldn’t be the same if it were printed any other way, including letterpress.  The test pages I’ve done on the Epson look so good, it’s kind of mind-blowing… I’m using InDesign to do the text (which is another new development for us, since all the previous books were done either in Word or Publisher), which enables me to do more things with the actual words and really experiment typographically, and then the Epson brings it home on Canson Infinity Mi-Teintes with the richest black of any printing method I have ever seen.

But, even after finding a great deal on a used Epson R2400, I still had the little problem of this being a collaborative process, and I was still looking for a reliable collaborator.  I had already worked with a couple people (and made pretty good progress with one), but waiting two to three weeks between emails was starting to delay the project beyond what I could tolerate.  So, to kill time until I could figure out what was going on with Larding, Justine and I pushed the CPR books forward and dedicated all of our resources toward getting those released.

And now it’s April (give or take a couple days), and Larding needs to shit or get off the pot.  I’ve done too much work on the project to let it die, and so I asked the question that I’m sure many have asked at various points in history: “Why the hell haven’t I asked Steve Hines to collaborate with me on this?”  In fact, the people I originally contacted were new, barely-published writers, and I wanted to see what they had to offer.  Having just published Steve a few months ago, I thought it would be a good idea to diversify the authors we work with, rather than going back to the same well too soon.  Well, that all makes good sense, except for the fact that Hines can write circles around just about everybody, and the more we can put his work out there the better, as far as I’m concerned.  So there you go: Larding, Hurder + Hines, May 2010, deluxe edition limited to 18 copies, the most ambitious project I’ve undertaken to date.  (The only project even close in terms of complexity is the other Hines book that Justine slaved over.)

Chance Press isn’t going to turn into the Steve Hines channel, but for this project, it just makes too much sense not to do it.  And the writing we’ve done together just kicks ass – it’s some of the best writing I’ve ever done, getting pushed to up my game by the stuff that Steve has emailed to me.  Seriously, I wasn’t even getting that much enjoyment out of the back-and-forth process until we started working on this iteration of it, and in about three weeks, we have two full stories to publish.  So, cue this project getting pushed into high-gear, and stay tuned to this blog for updates as the process closes in on its release later this month.

Serafini 2nd Edition - Publisher's Copy

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

Here are some pictures of the extra-fancy publisher’s copy of the Serafini 2nd edition.  Because this is our first hardcover release, and since I’m pretty proud of the essay inside as well, we wanted to do up a really nice copy to keep in our collection.  So, while the deluxe edition for sale has blue Italian bookcloth and a Canson Montval pastedown, we upgraded the publisher’s copy to green Japanese Asahi cloth and an Arches 88 pastedown with a deckle edge.

But, perhaps the best, and most blog-worthy, upgrade is the interior pastedowns.  We recently invested in an Epson Stylus R2400 inkjet printer, because we want to incorporate the technology behind fine-art prints into our work.  This is the most affordable printer that uses Epson Ultrachrome K3 inks, which are used in pretty much any fine art print or high-end photography print that you see, and you will see elements incorporated into our future deluxe editions that are made possible by this printer.  Because of the cost of the ink (and the time it takes to print), the bulk of our printing will still be on our trusty Lexmark laser printer, but the Epson gives us a lot of new capability – and the deluxe editions of the Larding book will be the first ones to truly show off what this baby can do.

For the Serafini book, however, I wanted to experiment a little with the printer, so I found an iconic image from the Codex (a deer’s head planted in a pot, with tree branches for antlers) and laid it up on a sheet to create a pattern.  I printed out the pattern on Canson Infinity Mi-Teintes paper and pasted it down over the original interior pastedowns, creating a really beautiful effect.

I thought about adding these endpapers to the deluxe editions, but there are a few problems – first, these books are already going to be relatively expensive, and I don’t want to add to the cost by having to recoup expenses on paper and ink (which is not cheap and is used up faster than in a regular inkjet printer, due to the vibrancy of the colors).  Second, I don’t own this artwork, and so I don’t want to “sell” Serafini’s work, even though I’m sure no one would ever find out.

Pictures of this book are available in the "Books, 2010-2011" gallery.

Small Press vs. Fine Press

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

The debate about what constitutes a small press bears about as much fruit as debating “what is art?”  Really, anyone who does anything to publicize literature could be considered a small press, from someone that runs a blog like Gloom Cupboard or Zygote in my Coffee to someone that painstaking hand-sews letterpress-printed pages into leather-bound deluxe editions.  You could draw the line at “press = paper,” but I really think that there’s very little difference between a publisher who copies and pastes a manuscript into Wordpress and a publisher who copies and pastes a manuscript into a document that is submitted to a print-on-demand service that makes books that are then sold directly on Amazon, all without the publisher ever touching a copy.  The line is always going to be arbitrary – do you have to sew the binding yourself, or can you use a stapler?  Do you have to employ manual methods of printing, or can you use a laser printer?  Does your paper have to be handmade?  How about your ink and your glue?

So, to avoid bloating the term “small press” into uselessness by claiming that it encompasses every word published by contemporary DIY culture, I associate it with some basic concepts:

  • Self-printing: this could mean Xerox, laser, inkjet, by hand, letterpress, silkscreen, woodblock, etc.  As long as YOU, the publisher, did it, and not a service that returned the printed pages to you.
  • Self-binding: staples, thread, animal hide, paper covers, hardcovers, cloth covers, etc… again, as long as YOU did it.
  • Self-fulfilling: meaning, literally, fulfilling orders yourself.  Packing, mailing, stamping, trips to the post office, etc., instead of warehousing your copies at Amazon and running all your payments through them.

Now, to reiterate, this is just my idea of what the small press is, and it is formed by my experience so far with the above categories.  (You know you’re always free to call me an exclusionary bastard in the comments section.)  This encompasses a fairly wide range of outfits as well, from zine-makers with a Kinko’s card and a stapler to experienced book binders with Teflon bone folders and stainless steel scalpels.

My guiding light as a small press publisher, as I stated in a recent post, is to make our publications justify their existence in print.  And this is where I encounter the crossover between the small press and the fine press.  At both extremes, there are books that are simply ridiculous – on the small press side, you have poetry books that are hastily stapled, poorly printed, and just plain ugly to read.  The publisher of a book like this will say that he or she only cares about the writing, man; apparently, all other concerns about form only serve to distract the reader from the author’s genius.  On the other hand, you have books that cost thousands of dollars, even though they only print five lines of a poem by a 16th Century Frenchman you’ve never heard of.  The publisher of this book insists that it’s not just about the writing, kind sir; it is about the craft of bookmaking, the interplay between the delicate grain of the paper, the hand-tooled Moroccan goatskin cover, the custom-formulated ink on the Vandercook press, the handspun slik headbands (are you bored yet?)…

But, there is value in looking at the fine press and emulating what they do while running a small press.  We can’t charge $250 and up for every book we produce, so there’s no way that we can create books that rival those put out by well-known fine presses (such as Whittington Press, Janus Press, Barbarian Press, Sherwin Beach Press, and Kickshaws, just to name a few).  However, these presses are the ones that hit the home runs, when they produce books that strike the absolute perfect balance between engaging text, elegant printing, deluxe materials, and beautiful (but still purposeful) binding.  Whittington Press’s annual deluxe edition of Matrix is a good example of the “perfect book,” in the context of this balance.  But it’s a rare thing, and almost impossibly difficult to achieve.

It all makes my head spin.  At what point does the object begin to overwhelm the content?  That this is such a subjective question only makes it worse.  Looking through catalogs of fine presses sometimes makes the actual content of their books seem like an afterthought; the author I imagine being embarrassed by the terrible small press publication of his work that I mentioned above seems almost to be in a better place than the author whose work recedes into the background, outweighed by the artistry of the book binder.

In pursuing the balance of form and content, I have felt at times that we do our authors a disservice by printing their work on a laser printer – that their writing is good enough to warrant letterpress printing.  I have come close to throwing away finished work because of small blemishes that only a perfectionist would notice.  I have a bad temper, and I often lose it while sitting at my desk looking at warped hardcover boards, crooked bindings, uneven screen printing, etc.  But we aren’t a fine press, and I’m not sure that our customers expect that of us.  Our goal is still to publish writing and art, and to call attention to book design and hand binding, but not to the detriment of the content.  More than that, the goal is for the design to enhance the content, and vice versa – looking at the book as a total package, rather than simply as writing or simply as an object.

We’ll get there, as we both continue to improve our skills as both publishers and book makers.  I’m very impatient, and I’m guilty of wanting to have the expertise of someone like Bill Roberts right away, without putting in the time at my desk, developing that expertise.  And already, 2010 looks like a productive year for us, so I can only imagine what we’ll be doing in 2020.  It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience so far, and I should add that we’re grateful to our repeat-order customers who give us the confidence to push on with our projects.  I write a lot about our goals as publishers on this blog, but I feel just as often that we’re not meeting any of them.  As long as the books are selling, however, we’ll keep doing our best.

Introducing: Chance Press Research (CPR)

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

Yes, it’s a fairly big announcement, and one we’re very excited to make.  Soon, we will release two books under the “Chance Press Research” banner.  More on those books in a minute, but first a word or two about CPR, and how it aligns with our editorial goals…

While we take pride in publishing a wide range of genres and mediums, we don’t intend to name a new series or imprint every time we publish a new type of book.  However, one area on  which we intend to focus in particular is research into forgotten, unknown, or underappreciated literature.  Our goal is to find smartly written (and enjoyably readable) essays about interesting literary topics and to publish them in stand-alone editions under the CPR header.  While generally the domain of literary journals and academic anthologies, we believe there is a place in the small press for editions like this, and we are proud to debut two such titles in March of 2010.  We will plan to release at least one CPR book per year moving forward, and each will maintain the same basic design and edition size.

The first CPR title is an exhaustively researched account of Charles Bukowski’s “transition years” from 1945 to 1957, written by noted Bukowski scholar and bibliographer Abel Debritto.  This essay debunks the myth of Bukowski’s famous 10-year drinking binge with greater authority than previous efforts and follows Bukowski during his gradual transition to literary acceptance in the 1960’s and eventual fame in the later part of the 20th Century.  Debritto provides information that has never been discovered before, including the titles of Bukowski stories that were rejected from periodicals and then destroyed, and factual accounts of multiple self-generated Bukowski myths.

The second CPR title is a new edition of my essay, Confronting and Collecting the Works of Luigi Serafini.  There has been sufficient demand for a new edition of this essay, and so I have added additional material (previously only available in the ten deluxe copies of the first edition) and printed new covers that reflect the design conventions of the CPR series.

These books will be available in trade, signed/numbered, and hardcover deluxe editions, with prices and edition size to be announced upon publication.  Those already on our subscriber list will get first priority for deluxe copies (please email books (at) chancepress (dot) com to be added to this list).

Chance Press News in Brief

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

In a clear sign of poetry’s resurgence, the fifteenth person bought a deluxe copy of The Confusion will be Enough for them to Leave you Alone by Stephen Hines, rather than spending the money on 1/7th of an XBOX 360. Also, the fact that this book sold out fairly quickly should motivate you to do two things so that you never miss out on gems like this ever again:

a) buy a deluxe copy of MJP’s chapbook for the insanely low price of $20

b) email us at books (at) chancepress (dot) com to get on the waiting list for the deluxe edition of the Larding chapbook, which will be limited to 18 copies and cost around $40 (price still TBD)

Also, keep an eye on this blog, since we are about a week away from announcing a brand new project that will be released sometime this Spring, as well as our plans for the 2nd edition of the Serafini chapbook.

E-Books: I'm Supposed to Hate Them, Right?

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

I think, as someone who is putting even a few books out into the world, it is useful to have a position on print books versus ebooks. The topic will continue to be debated, but it is inevitable that the terms of the debate will change over time, as technology advances, and the voice that defends print books will get more and more shrill in the face of the “embrace the future”-ists whose side is very clearly winning the battle.

This is not to say that I think that print books will cease to exist –only that the debate will become unwinnable for people who defend print books to the exclusion of ebooks and other electronic media. I think the writing was on the liquid ink screen a few years ago when liquid ink screens hit the market, and “printies” could no longer cite the eye strain that comes from looking at a computer monitor for hours at a time as the smoking gun argument as to why books would always be superior. I think a lot of printies haven’t seen a liquid ink screen up-close before, because it is difficult to acknowledge that they don’t look great – especially compared to your average mass-market paperback.

The main thrust behind ebooks is that they make large amounts of information portable on a small device. This device will continue to develop to the point that a Kindle takes on the comical proportions of a 1980’s cell phone when viewed from a similar future vantage point, but that core drive will never change. As portability and access to incomprehensible amounts of data entrench themselves as the inalienable rights of contemporary culture, it makes less and less sense to decry the rise of ebooks or to adorn them with accusations that they are killing off print books, putting bookstores out of business, and so on.

I hear the position often stated that books are the key gateway to our culture, near-sacred objects that preserve our history and document our existence for future generations. To me, this misses the point – the books merely carry that data. And it’s all data. Now, the emotional engagement with that data in itself is a key aspect of our culture as well. It’s necessary to split the two apart, because it isolates the materiality of the book itself from what the book contains. Not one of the printies’ emotional screeds that I’ve read defends an empty book – every time, the books are the keys to passing on what they contain from generation to generation, but there’s never a reason why this can’t be done electronically, especially when electronically transmitting information becomes the standard method to do exactly this in every other aspect of society.

What do you get from a Kindle when it is turned off? It is a functionless machine whose existence does not justify itself until it is displaying text on the screen. A closed book is more than that – the materiality of the book has the ability to communicate more than just that there is content inside. This is a tenuous distinction, but the cultural history of books (their “place in our culture” trumpeted by the printies) makes it a necessary one – the Kindle has come along as part of a cultural movement based on the potential to do different things with data, more advanced things than anything humanity has conceived of before. When you receive a Kindle in a box, you are receiving the potential to homogenize incredible amounts of print in a single device.

On the other hand, a book will always be tied to the specific data that is contained within. This unbreakable marriage between the exterior device and the interior content creates the emotional attachment to books-as-objects. The specific book becomes the signifier of one text – a favorite story, perhaps – whereas the Kindle is the signifier of all texts. So, can an electronic device that promises totality ever compete on an emotional level with the multitude of cherished specificities contained on a bookshelf?

Probably not, but I am realistic enough to know that emotional reservations are never strong enough en masse to trump the march of technological innovation. Instead of throwing up my hands and running to the printy camp, however, I have come up with my own personal four-word manifesto that sums up how I feel print books can eke out a foothold in a world that is drifting inexorably toward a land of ebooks: make print justify itself. Because it needs to, and quite often, it doesn’t.

The end of the printed wor(l)d isn’t at hand right now. Printies are citing laundry lists of bookstore closures, but pinning this on ebooks is tough. Look at the state of the book industry, the drop-in-the-bucket sales of ebooks versus print books, and the fact that most people don’t spend $250 on books in an entire year, meaning that they aren’t very likely to buy a device for that much that enables them to do something they can do for free by visiting a library, for ten dollars by visiting a Borders & Noble. Instead, I’d look to look at the business decisions of some of the closed bookstores, to see how they managed inventory, engaged with the community, and promoted themselves – since yes, a lot of bookstores are closing, but so are a lot of other businesses, and moreover, a good number of bookstores are thriving as well.

So really, what are printies doing to save the printed word, other than coughing up sky-is-falling scenarios and putting the guilt on anyone who owns a Kindle for the downfall of our shared cultural history? We – lovers of print books (and if this essay suggests I’m not one, the fact that I co-run a small press should be sufficient evidence to the contrary) – need to change the way books are printed and how they are perceived. The corollary to the all-data-in-existence-on-a-thumb-drive world we now live in is the resistant upsurge in crafting and handwork that is visible everywhere. People are turning forgotten hobbies into semi-commercial enterprises selling needlepoint felted animals on Etsy that are even more popular than – gasp – Sony’s robot dog! Letterpress printing is making a huge comeback, with book arts workshops springing up all over the country. And idiots like me are leaving their deskjobs at 5:00 PM to go home and work on small press publishing. The resistance is active and needs to be fed, but it isn’t going to eat garbage.

One printy I read recently talked about the legitimization of his written work manifesting itself in the pile of books he had published – a satisfying material signifier that couldn’t exist in electronic form. I completely understand this, but I think the dark side of book publishing needs to be factored into this too… the remaindered copies on sale for a few bucks, or the creased, worn copies that people didn’t want any more sitting in the dollar bin on the sidewalk in front of the bookstore because the store already had so many that they wouldn’t give it a proper space on the shelf. Books get exalted in the fearmongering that goes on when people start to feel that books as a whole might not exist anymore. But maybe it’s time to admit that not all books are all so great, and that some of them are downright useless as material objects and are only a way to transport some data from one place to another.

I don’t own an e-reader, but I’m certainly not against it, because I see their value. I don’t love every book on my shelf, and I wouldn’t mind if some of them existed on a flash drive instead. If publishers weren’t so difficult to steer, if they could actually recognize new technology as an opportunity rather than a threat, then the publishing business wouldn’t be weaving stories about its own demise at the hands of these awful, awful ebooks. One of the more common bugaboos is the $9.99 maximum retail price for an ebook – a publisher will naturally make less money if $9.99 is the retail ceiling for a hot new book, versus $25.00 for a hardcover. But who does this really hurt? Amazon is going to sell the hardcover for $13.00 anyway, because they have the publisher by the balls and are enforcing a ridiculously low price. Add in the cost of producing the hardcover, warehousing pallets of them, and shipping them, and selling the hardcover through Amazon becomes a loss-leader, with the real profits to be made from a) selling the ebook, which has almost no production costs beyond initial formatting, and b) selling the book at standard wholesale to bookstores, who then have to try to find a way to sell it for full retail when it’s going for half that on the web.

The death of the independent bookstore, then, is not going to come at the hands of the ebook, but at the hands of predatory pricing that has been driving all sorts of independent businesses into the ground for decades now. So how to cope with this and survive as a bookstore that deals exclusively in print books? Make print justify itself. Stock the shelves with books that have to be seen to be appreciated. If a customer’s attitude about a book is, “I don’t care what it looks like, I only care what’s insde,” then print isn’t justifying itself, and the bookstore is fighting a losing fight. But, if the book looks great, feels great, AND has great content, chances are someone is going to buy it straight away, rather than marking it down to buy later from an online retailer. (A quick case study: in the fall of 2008, a comics anthology called Kramer’s Ergot 7 came out – an unspeakably gorgeous 16” x 21” hardcover book that had to be hand bound because of its enormous size. Also enormous was its price tag – $125, although it was much cheaper on This is a book that could never have the same impact as an ebook, because the size is integral to the experience of reading the comics (sized to mimic the original Sunday page comics of the early 20th century). Additionally, those that bought it from Amazon found that shipping was delayed so that they didn’t get it in time for the holidays, and when it did arrive, it was packaged poorly and thus damaged. People posted on message boards about returning their copies and buying copies for full retail from comics shops, because Amazon wasn’t doing a good job fulfilling their orders. And so, the end result is a book that makes print justify itself, while also bolstering the independent bookstore over the gigantic online retailer.)

It’s a process of separating the wheat from the chaff so that books that have no reason to be physical books eventually get converted into ebooks, and books that justify the print format become the main commodity sold in bookstores, alongside ATM-like terminals that offer the texts to people who would prefer to read it on their ereaders. Obviously this is merely my imaginary future, but anyone reading this article is free to steal my idea and set up a bookstore that sells both print books and ebooks – I promise I’ll patronize your business.

What I think it would benefit print culture to move past is the arrogant assumption that any form of print is superior to any form of electronic publishing. I have seen blogs with amazing, artistic designs that publish groundbreaking works of literature, yet for many authors, a small press that prints something on copy paper, Xeroxes it at a copy shop, and slaps some staples on it is a superior publisher to the web counterpart. And I just don’t understand why some presses dutifully churn out book after book on cheap paper, with ugly design, uneven stapled covers, etc. when the same presses could be publishing the work online in a much more attractive format. This isn’t the 1960’s, where self publishing was limited to typewriters and mimeograph machines. The idea of internet as a second-class citizen of the publishing world helps keep printies lazy by suggesting that no matter what they print out, as long as it is on paper, it is more worthy than what’s online. And with that attitude, why wouldn’t ebooks eventually put print books out to pasture?

My goal is to put out books that justify their existence as books. I don’t want to take for granted the idea that printing something is more worthwhile than just hosting content on I want to sweat over every last detail of the books – even if it means we can only come out with three or four books a year – because I want the materiality of the books to live up to the cultural importance ascribed to books. Ebooks have a place and aren’t going anywhere, but they can never enable a reader’s emotional connection to the content the way a well designed print book can. And my mission as a small press publisher is to get the absolute most I possibly can out of the print medium in order to do that, in order to create something that just can’t be uploaded and converted to computer code without losing the essence of the original book.

The Tools of Chance Press

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

Part of running a small press is working with tools, and that is unquestionably fun.  Most small pressioners could go on at length about tools they would love to possess if they had the money and space (board shear, Vandercook, UV lightbox, awesome homemade silkscreen press, etc.), and as the preceding parenthetical attests, I am no exception.  Here at Chance Press, we use a bunch of manual tools, despite the fact that our books are actually printed with high-tech lasers (and hopefully high-tech droplets of ink in the near future).

While most of our tools are your garden variety craft tools (X-acto knife, bone folder, needle/thread, beeswax lump, pliers, glue brush, etc.), we have amassed some neat tools that this blog post will introduce to the world.  My favorite tools get imaginative names, which I will list here:

Slicey is the first tool we owned – a Martin Yale 7000e paper cutter that was a wedding gift from my parents.  It makes trimming the edges of books a breeze, and it can cut through a ream of paper like a hot knife through vegan butter substitute.  The reason the Oulipo book uses illustration board instead of bookboard is that I didn’t want to ruin Slicey’s blade by cutting bookboard, which has bits of abrasive crap insde.  Illustration board (as long as it is acid-free) is okay for thin boards (like the ones I’m using on this book), and it is constructed like thick card stock, making it more blade-friendly.

Roundy is a new tool – a heavy-duty corner rounding press.  For our previous books with rounded corners (the special edition of the Serafini book and the McSweeney’s book), we used a small corner rounding punch, which was a real pain, and very difficult to get even as well.  This has been on our radar for a while, so we’re happy to finally get it in stock.  Now, if you order a book from us that doesn’t have rounded corners, Roundy will provide a snazzy upgrade over the production model for only $15!  (Enough suckers and Roundy will pay for itself!)

Squeezy is another new tool, a book press handmade by me.  While I could have accomplished the same thing with two pieces of wood and some clamps, I wanted a self-contained unit that would be easier to operate and store.  So, I bought two pieces of wood, sanded them down, and covered the inside surface of each piece with spare book cloth (so the wood surface doesn’t mar the book being squeezed), drilled four holes, and glued in four gigantic bolts.  Extra touches include recessed washers (so the nuts don’t dig into the wood over time (TMI)), and a handy handle, which I added because the already-made one that Talas sells has a handle.

Printy is our Gocco printer, which isn’t even ours.  I borrowed it from a coworker and am scared she’s going to need it back, since they aren’t very easy to find in the US anymore.

Finally, Stabby is my triangular straightedge that I bought from an art supply store.  They gave it to me for less than half price, because it had been there for years.  It works when I need a straightedge, and best of all, the point is so sharp that it could stab someone in the brain.  It’s pretty intimidating.