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A Short Interview With Nadia Katz-Wise
posted March 24, 2005
 

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Typocrat Press is one of the more exciting boutique publishers to come along in several years. Starting wth their handsome remountng of Alex Baladi's Frankenstein Now & Forever, Typocrat seems to be carving out a place for itself as an ecelectic producer of English-language versions of the smaller European comics album format. One under-reported fact of the world comics industry in English-language circles is that the French-language market has exploded in the last few years, meaning they should have a lot of really compelling material to work with in the years to come. Frankenstein Now & Forever should have shipped to American comic book stores on March 16. I communicated with Typocrat co-publisher Nadia Katz-Wise as she was preparing her company's next offering, 676 Apparitions of Killoffer.


TOM SPURGEON: How was Angouleme and how was your first book received there?

NADIA KATZ-WISE: Angouleme was really fun this year. A lot of people I know who've been attending Angouleme for years always tell me how it's not like it used to be and it's changed for the worst, etc. This might be true but despite that, I had a fantastic time. Le Dernier Cri premiered their latest film which contained an hour of work (mostly animation) from a wide range of different artists, and also with a live music score by Pakito Bolino. There was a great Dave Cooper exhibition and an even better (in my opinion) OUBAPO exhibition at the CNBDI. L'Association put together some games of 'comics scrabble' which were clever and funny, although my French wasn't quite good enough to understand it all. And aside from getting to see the "M le Menu" book and all the other great new European comics released in the past year, I think those were the highlights of Angouleme for me.

We 'pre-launched' Frankenstein Now and Forever at Angouleme, because it was printed only a few weeks beforehand. We brought with us one box of books, and sold them at the Red Route table and at Sylvia Farago's Sturgeon White Moss table, along with some other UK comics people like Tom Gauld, Le Gun and Steven Preston.

It was received extremely well, the feedback was very positive. I felt really happy being there with Frankenstein as our first book. It's one of Baladi's most important works, and as new publishers, it was great that Baladi and Atrabile entrusted us to do a good job with the English edition. I was pleased to get such a positive reaction from them at the festival.

imageSPURGEON: Why the Killoffer book next? What qualities about it appeal to you, and what about it makes it a good second project for your company?

KATZ-WISE: I fell in love with the book the first time I saw it. We went to Angouleme with a list of comics we where interested in putting out and this one was at the top of the list. There's not much that you can really compare it to. It combines its super smart literacy with an incredible pitch of violence and obscenity. Graphically it's just totally overwhelming at times. We got to see some original pages from 676 in the OUBAPO exhibition in Angouleme. Seeing them in their original size was awesome.

I really can't conceive of whether a book would be a good second project, or tenth project, other than whether I think it's a great book or not. PR can be a dirty game and servicing the press whorish at times, unless you really believe in what you're selling. I'm extremely happy with our first two publishing choices and at this point, I can only hope that enough people with be equally excited.

SPURGEON: Ideally, how many books would you like to publish in a year? Will they be all translated works from the European markets or do you hope to eventually get into other areas.

imageKATZ-WISE: Well, we have a wish list of dozens of titles, but realistically we'll only be putting out a handful a year. We've no aspirations to be Fantagraphics, or to build some kind of publishing empire. Personally, I quite like the advantages inherent in a small company, in which every book counts and you're involved in every aspect of publishing. We've got a couple of new projects in the works and we'll hopefully be releasing news of them shortly.

For now we want to mainly concentrate almost exclusively on works from Europe, but I'm not ruling out anything for the future. There's so much good stuff that's out there that hasn't been published in English yet. I think we'll have our hands full for a while.

SPURGEON: Are you distributing them in North America, and if so, through what distributors? If you're working through Diamond, how would you assess their performance as a business partner?

KATZ-WISE: We're mainly working through Diamond to the direct market, and Frankenstein Now and Forever ships to North America later this month, so we'll see how it goes. So far it's been a good experience. There are perils inherent in running a small independent company when it comes to things like international distribution, and we tried to go into this whole thing with our eyes open. We want to reach as many potential readers as possible, which Diamond is allowing us to do.

SPURGEON: You have a great web site crammed with information and elegantly designed; has that been a boon for your company thus far?

KATZ-WISE: Thanks! Eventually when we have more books out, it'll become more of a proper website, hopefully. We've had a lot of signups to our mailing list, so at least people are looking at it. I think that this is undoubtedly a good thing.

SPURGEON: What is your background that you've ended up as a small comics publishing house? When and how was the decision made to go into comics?

KATZ-WISE: Neither George or myself have a publishing background, and aside from reading them, my only experience working in comics was that I worked at Gosh Comics in London until last year. We decided to start Typocrat Press at the end of 2003 and obviously our goal is to become filthy rich moneybags…

SPURGEON: Is there anyone in comics that you look to as a corporate role-model. How much of your desire to get into publishing has to do with fulfilling a need you feel wasn't being met?

imageKATZ-WISE: One comics publishing company that I looked up to a lot in North America was Highwater Books, because they put out such quality books and because it was run with a kind of idealism. Tom Devlin saw a large group of great young cartoonists who weren't being represented well enough in the comics world. He had a vision of what he wanted to do, and he did it, and he did it really well with really nice looking books. It's particularly sad that they've closed down, but that scene, that whole group of artists are now accepted as a really important part of American comics, other publishers are still publishing them and they're still getting the exposure they deserve. In some ways, I feel that publishing European comics involves creating a need by just creating awareness of what's out there. I don't think that there's this great group of disgruntled Baladi fans in Pocatello, Idaho... I'm not sure there's any great untapped desire out there for these great European comics to be put out, but when they are made available, like David B or Satrapi, people really do respond.

Running a comics company has to be a fairly idealist venture, it's very different than selling vacuum cleaners. But it is running a business, there's an enormous difference between idealism and vanity publication and any comics publisher who's doing vanity printing isn't going to last very long and probably isn't going to put out very good books. As a business you're going to have to make compromises somewhere, and I think it's really important to be clear about where you're going to make those compromises. Then if you've got some core ideals that you can be stubborn about, you can then think, now what do I need to do to make money, without compromising on these main things, like ripping people off or producing shoddy books. At least, that's my theory. I admire Fantagraphics for their tenacity, and I think that in the past, they've been pretty idealistic in the compromises they've had to make. Launching Eros Comix in the 1980s back when they needed money was a fun and creative way of solving a financial predicament. As someone just starting out with a small company, I guess it's natural to look up to people who are able to be idealistic and survive financially at the same time.

SPURGEON: Project ahead to say, your fifth or sixth release -- how do you think readers will be able to characterize you at that point? Will there be elements that connect all of your books, do you think, and if so, what will they be?

KATZ-WISE: Maybe we'll be porno publishers by then… I don't know, I certainly have no desire to stamp a Typocrat brand over any books that come out, but inevitably the books we put out will define us. I'd most like it if Typocrat editions are seen to have as much integrity as the originals. Of course, in some ways that would preclude characterizing the books as Typocrat books. By which I mean, I hope that when people look at a Typocrat book, they won't see a Typocrat translation of a really great book, they'll just see a really great book. With any translation, people might be apt to feel that the book is less authentic and inferior to the original. This is often the case, and it takes a lot of sensitivity to the work in order to retain that feeling of authenticity. So for example, both Frankenstein and 676 have been re-lettered by the artists themselves, and new covers were drawn specifically for the English editions.

SPURGEON: What would you like to communicate directly to readers and North American comics industry folk about your books, given the chance?

KATZ-WISE: I'd like to say, I want you to buy our books and if I have to bend over with a novelty action figure up my ass I'll do it.

*****

Typocrat Press Web Site
Samples from Frankenstein Now & Forever: TYPOCRAT79.tiff.tif, TYPOCRAT80.tiff.tif, TYPOCRAT81.tiff.tif
Samples from 676 Apparitions of Killoffer: KILLO11.tif, KILLO12.tif, KILLO13.tif