Kathleen Gomes: Always judge a book by its cover

(c) Ricardo Castro, Público (Source)

(Unauthorized, google-assisted translation of Kathleen Gomes (multimedia editor at Público newspaper), “Julguem sempre um livro pela capa”)

At “O Homem do Saco” [The Bag Man] books are hand-made, one at a time. “This is as subversive as a basket-maker or a cobbler,” they say.

In August, the owners of a printing shop in Lisbon moved to new facilities and needed extra help to carry a cast iron machine with a wheel on its left side. The hired moving company sent a truck with three men and an additional three friends’ pairs of arms, and two poets were called in. Ten men against one machine; but the photos taken at the time suggest the handling of a bull or what Luís Henriques, one of the amateur pitchforks involved in the project, describes as “a brave bullfight”. It was the first thing to be installed in the new space, a ground floor on Avenida Dom Carlos I, 500m from Parliament. And if in this circumstance –a white room and devoid of context– one had asked a sample of pedestrians what kind of machine this was and what it was for, few might have guessed correctly. Imagine a sewing machine with a desk top and a movable tray as have toasters. And such a rudder on the left. A museum piece, say? Thumbs up.

No one will dispute that Gutenberg and his heirs –printers with hands dirty of ink and a penetrating odor of oil– are a thing of the past. The last specimens are making cardboard into gold-leafed letterhead for the government of Angola. But a new generation of non-typographers have come to embrace the old methods of text printing, including ink and oil, to produce books.

At a time when the publishing world is defined by its concentration in large groups and the final triumph of the book defined as a commercial product, projects such as “O Homem do Saco” seem grandly reactionary. They do not just look back. They look back very far — to the 15th century to be exact, when Gutenberg printed the Bible in his printing shop, handing it afterwards over to craftsmen to adorn the pages; each specimen was unique.

The same can be said of “O Homem do Saco”, that distinguishes itself by not making one book equal to another. Their speciality is slow printing, because a book is hard work. Right now, four members of “O Homem do Saco” dedicated four months to make a hundred copies of the latest book of poems by Alberto Pimenta. Composing, printing, paper cutting, assembling the folios, sewing, binding. “It seemed like an assembly line of the nineteenth century,” says Mariana Pinto dos Santos, laughing. A part of the printing of Autocataclismos was done on the museum piece referred to above, a Minerva printing machine.

“O Homem do Saco” opened in December 2012 in a small commercial space near Campo Martires da Patria, created by a group of friends: some artists, some poets, a pharmacist and a pianist. They were eight, but they needed nine persons to form an association, so the wife of one of them, a psychologist, also became a nominal member. “O Homem do Saco” is what unites everyone, but there is room for individual projects and almost all the members have their own label or stamp — Pianola, Momo, Edições do Tédio, 100 Cabeças, Troppo Inchiostro

“We often joke that we are a large publishing group,” says Mariana Pinto dos Santos, art historian, under the general laughter.

“This more or less anarchic side that each may have a label turns out to be quite healthy,” says Eduardo Brito, photographer and archivist living in Guimarães.

“In fact, there are more labels than members,” notes Ricardo Castro, a plastic artist.

“Everyone has their ideas and no one draws anyone. That’s why I think this works so well,” says Mariana. “We’ve all had had some experiences with associations and knew there were problems that could arise. So we came here knowing how to avoid them. “

“Or at least, things do not overlap,” says Luís Henriques, illustrator with a background in painting. “There is no one who wants a lot of bureaucracy. There is no one who is always trying to control what the others are doing. Sometimes, even when associations are small, people formalize things too much.”

“O Homem do Saco” doesn’t have an editorial plan. “Our plan is not to have a plan,” they say. Vítor Silva Tavares, the editor of &etc, is, apart from being a friend, a reference. “The way he works in edition is exemplary, there is nobody like that. He is completely free. He does not do reprints. And regardless of the values ​​that his books can reach on the market, he does not change the prices,” says Mariana Pinto dos Santos. “Also on the editorial level, he follows very personal criteria, and he is very diversified. He can publish great writers and also obscure ones,” adds Luis Henriques. Mariana: “Even today he continues to publish new authors.”

Recently “O Homem do Saco” manufactured the cover’s of two &etc books, Como Se Morre [How to die] by Émile Zola, and Cotão [Lint] by Miguel Martins. The cover of the first volume of the Obra Escrita [Writings] of João César Monteiro, an edition of Letra Live that includes the scripts of the first films of the filmmaker, was also printed at “O Homem do Saco”. Not one cover, but 1,000. The square black-covered books reached “O Homem do Saco” already assembled, and Luís Henriques, responsible for the graphic design of Obra Escrita, made ​​the covers in the press, one by one. For days, no one could enter into “O Homem do Saco” because the floor was covered with books, to let the ink on the covers dry — this is one reason why the opening of the new space in Dom Carlos I was being postponed to October, although the business is already running at 100%.

No one here cares that their books are judged by their covers. “The idea is that the book is an object whose form corresponds to its context,” resumes Mariana Pinto dos Santos. Alberto Pimenta’s book, for example: each poem seems two haikus, arranged side by side, which is why the book has a Japanese bookbinding and the paper is similar to rice paper. In addition to this special edition of one hundred numbered and signed copies, there is a second edition of 400 copies, at a more accessible price, offset-printed on a printing press. The poems are printed in red font on green paper — as the colors of the flag, but “faded, faded,” Mariana notes, “being very corrosive against Portugal.” And as the book was to be entitled O Regular Funcionamento das Instituições [The regular operation of the institutions], it was thought that the format could simulate a receipt book, “something a bit bureaucratic,” says Luís Henriques. The original title was lost on the way, but the format has survived as a memory of it.

The books of “O Homem do Saco” are not for everyone. Not even for most people. The average edition is around 50 copies and some, like Stardust by Rui Pires Cabral, are sold out as soon as they are ready. The books are sold by mail (and bank transfer) and at the following outlets: Letra Livre, Paralelo W and Pó dos Livros, in Lisbon; Poetria and Gato Vadio, in Porto; Livraria Utopia, in Coimbra; Livraria Pinto dos Santos, in Guimarães, and Fonte de Letras, in Évora.

Although they are often using noble materials and they invest patience and handwork in many editions, they are not interested in immaculate productions. The techniques they use are those of a typographer but they insist on the idea of working differently. “We want to explore the materials, even with the grain and the flaws they have.” A professional typesetter would never approve.

Also they do not have an attitude of purity in relation to what they do or how they do it. They do not make exclusively craft books — the text pages of Intimigrafia by André Barata were photocopied (in color, because the black looks better that way) on the leftover paper of the book by Alberto Pimenta.

They do not even do exclusively books – given the case they print the menu for a restaurant; also they made ​​posters for the last Festival of World Music in Sines.

Noboby pretends to fill any gap in the publishing market. “We do not care. I want to publish what I feel like,” says Mariana Pinto dos Santos. “The principles of this are the principles of craftsmanship,” says Rui Miguel Ribeiro, poet. “This is as subversive as a basket maker or a shoemaker.”

More pictures of their workshop and examples of their work can be seen on tumblr

The publisher &etc has got this blog.

SOURCE: Público, Oct. 10, 2014


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