Welcome to “New Hotness,” an ENCLAVE series dedicated to featuring new and exceedingly metal developments in the publishing industry. Given how quickly social media and the media industries at large continue to develop, it’s really easy to lose track of all the great work being produced and promoted by literary citizens industry-wide. For every well-deserved profile by a prominent blog, there are dozens of lit citizens going relatively unnoticed. Well, here’s my attempt to help draw some attention to the people, the powerhouses, operating in publishing.
The inaugural edition features one of the most prolific artists working this side of surreal fiction, experimental music, and book design. His name is Matthew Revert, author of “Basal Ganglia,” the album, “Not You,” and single-handedly the man that gave over hundreds of books a face to stand behind. I state, with no hyperbole, that without a lit citizen like Revert, indie lit would not be the strong, DIY showcase it has surely become. Revert makes more than splash with his work; he leads us to new oceans of intrigue. He’s forging new rivers of Revertian design. We are, quite possibly, basking in what could be called, a “Revertian Renaissance.”
It wouldn’t be “New Hotness” without handing over this space to the lit citizen, allowing them the ability to speak about their work, showcases some of their favorite pieces, and provide a first-hand exclusive or two to what they’ve been working on lately. Without another sentence, I pass it over to Revert.
“I became a designer by accident. I still don’t consider myself a designer and when people attribute that label to me, I’m not sure how to take it. Whenever something I design is made public, I always imagine real ‘designers’ who can comfortably have that label attributed to them shaking their head in bemusement when they witness my flailing attempts. Despite any opinions I may hold regarding my own merit, in the last few years I have had the opportunity to work with more labels, presses and artists than I can count. This has led to great professional and personal relationships and in that regard, I am very grateful.
“I was asked to present a handful of new designs. A good number of what you will see below have not been seen before now. They are very much hot off the press and I thank the presses and labels that have given me permission to share these pieces.
How to Successfully Kidnap Strangers by Max Booth III (Bizarro Pulp Press, 2015)
Although this design has recently been made public, I wanted to include it in here as an example of one of my very few predominantly handmade pieces. The method by which I approach a design varies wildly from press to press. Often my contact remains with the press and during the design process I have little to no contact with the author themselves. Bizarro Pulp Press operate a differently in that the design process consists of direct conversation between the author and myself. I have designed several books for Max before and enjoy a very easy working relationship with him. He is one of those who will give me a couple of general ideas and then let me do whatever my whim dictates. For this design, one of those general ideas was that of a ransom note. I liked the possible directions such a concept might take. I knew from the start I had no interest in seeking out some generic ransom note-like font and figured if I were going to go down this path, I needed to make it myself by hand. This led to every aspect of the design being assembled by hand (a hand which was cut by my x-acto knife on more than one occasion). I was very happy with the end result but knew it was out there, even for me. I thought there was a very good chance this design would be rejected and was overjoyed when Max and the press responded with such enthusiasm.
Glen Galloway – 1968 (Glistening Examples, 2015)
As an avid music fan, when I started designing books several years ago, I held onto a hope it may one-day lead to an opportunity to design LP sleeves. The idea of having a beautiful 12”x12” canvas in which to work with excited me. This hope managed to become reality in 2012 when Vanessa Rossetto asked me to design the sleeve for her upcoming LP Exotic Exit. The end result was as exciting as I had hoped it would be and in the time since then, I have been lucky enough to design several more. Glistening Examples owner, Jason Lescalleet was a musician whose work I had already admired greatly for many years before ever trying my hand at design. As my work started to find wider circulation, it caught Jason’s eye, which led to him contacting me for design assistance. This design assistance maintained for some time before our collaboration achieved a greater level of permanence. Eventually he handed me my biggest job to date, which was designing the elaborate packaging for his release with Graham Lambkin on the Erstwhile Records label called Photographs (please link the words ‘elaborate packaging’ to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGkVYPiQM8c ). Perhaps the execution of this design helped prove myself because Jason and I have been working closely ever since. In fact, Jason was the one who mastered my debut record Not You, which was released last year.
Jason and I share a very similar graphic aesthetic, which has helped us really gel. For the sleeve of Glen Galloway’s 1968, I presented Jason with a link featuring a delicious glut of Czech and Polish film posters from the 60s and 70s. Glen picked out a few of his favourites and I used those to help inspire the design. The benefit of working with someone whose visual tastes so closely match your own is the added excitement that final result often instills in me.
Lemon Yellow Poison by Brian Allen Carr (Lazy Fascist, 2015)
My professional relationship with Lazy Fascist owner, Cameron Pierce rates as one of my oldest, and I now consider Cameron a dear friend. He was the first to ever pay me for design work, which at the time was an astonishing occurrence. I could not believe anyone would be willing to part with money to have me give a visual identity to a book. Cameron and I already admired each other’s writing, so it felt good to be able to give something to a press I admired (and one that would go on to release my own writing). I have been Lazy Fascist’s in house designer since the release of Anatomy Courses by Blake Butler and Sean Kilpatrick. This was soon followed by my design for Patrick Wensink’s Broken Piano For President, which achieved a certain level of infamy due to (unbelievably kind) legal threats by Jack Daniels. I won’t go into details here, but I am sure a simple Google search will reveal anything you could hope to learn about this very unusual time.
Cameron’s faith in me as a designer is what really allowed it to take off as a viable source of income, and for that I will always be grateful. Even now, it is the designs I do for Lazy Fascist that are often the most personally rewarding. This design for Brian Allen Carr’s Lemon Yellow Poison came about after receiving the simple brief, ‘think weird haunted house book’. This is where that brief led me. I seem to have developed an obsession with this colour scheme. It should be noted that this book is still some way from being released and the design may possess a different final form.
Greg Stuart & Ryoko Akama – kotoba koukan (Lengua de Lava, 2015)
Lengua de Lava is a fantastic new record label based in Mexico, which focuses on improvisation, noise and electroacoustic music. The label’s owners, Gerardo Alejos and Enrique R. Palma are two of the nicest people one could hope to meet and working with them since the inception of the label has been a privilege.
Cover design for abstract music allows for a great deal of freedom, yet this freedom is also the biggest challenge. Finding a visual form for abstract sound opens itself up to abuse as one can claim any visual representation is correct due to the highly personal level of interpretation from one set of ears to the next. It goes without saying that, where possible, I like to listen to the music while designing for it. I try to let the sound dictate my direction and provoke imagery hoping my interpretation gels sufficiently with enough others to make sense. For those whom struggle to match my imagery with the sound, I at least hope the design is pretty enough to look at as a standalone thing. This was a particularly fun design to do, as it allowed me to explore my love of simple shapes coming together to form complex patterns, which, to my eyes and ears, matched the music nicely.
The Narrator by Michael Cisco (Lazy Fascist Press, 2015)
Here is another design for Lazy Fascist, unseen until now. I was compelled to share this because the original design brief presented a problem I am often faced with – the distinction between designer and illustrator. When given this job, I was asked to create a Gormenghast-like cover featuring a surrealist medieval city, which might have looked cool but there was one problem… I couldn’t even begin to illustrate something like that. The end result would be laughable and everyone involved would suffer. I am often considered as a designer with a retro aesthetic, but there is a pragmatic reason for this, which concerns the sort of imagery I am able to use freely in a commercial sense without raising the ire of copyright holders. Imagery of this sort tends to reside in the public domain, which of course makes it quite old, which in turn dictates the overall aesthetic of a piece. Old imagery often leads to old looking books. I would love to be able to illustrate an elaborate surreal castle scene or a hapless victim being torn asunder by cannibals, but it just isn’t in my skillset. I often view what I do as the assembly of pre-existing elements into a new whole. I envy those illustrators, living and dead, whose work I have turned into elements of my various wholes. Without you, I would literally not be able to design. This little rant is something I have wanted to communicate for some time, so please forgive me for the indulgence. If there’s a lesson to be learned here it’s that clients need to think about what they need and who might be best suited to provide it, and designers need to be honest with clients about what they can provide. In the small press world this isn’t often easy as budgetary constraints often lead to difficulties, but it is worth at least keeping in mind. This design is the result of the middle ground that exists as a result of consultation. Cameron and I discussed different elements of the book until a viable design concept emerged that fit the book and fell within my scope. If you are an illustrator capable of rendering an intricate Gormenghast-like castle, you should make yourself known to publishers.
Death Don’t Have No Mercy by William Boyle (Broken River Books, 2015)
I include this design for multiple reasons. It is a personal favorite of mine, yes, but that is one of the lesser reasons I include it. Broken River Books is another press I have been lucky to work with since its inception. I consider its owner, J. David Osborne, one of my closest friends, and watching the ascension of his press has been enormously gratifying. Having the ability to develop a press’ aesthetic direction is not one I take lightly. It is a big responsibility, but also a deeply rewarding one. David has been generous and trusting toward me from the very first, allowing me to follow my instinct rather than being too prescriptive. As a result, I think the BRB catalogue possesses a striking unity, while allowing each book within to own their identity.
The second reason I include this design? A little thing called March Madness. Osborne, in all his insanity, is endeavoring to release TWELVE books in March across Broken River and his two new imprints, King Shot Books and Ladybox. A Kickstarter campaign was recently launched to help fund this madness. Within five days the campaign hit its target, which is fantastic and gratifying for anyone who has had anything to do with Broken River. This is a worthy project worth backing.
New Hotness. Matthew Revert. Revertian Renaissance. We’re coping.