Getting The Smell Right

Solipsistic Pop on the shelves of Toronto's The Beguling

Trying to describe, in as succinct a manner as possible, the reasons I wanted to publish something like Solipsistic Pop has been difficult. Discussing the state of the British alternative comics scene, the comic industry in general, the joy of anthologies, and the slow decline of print is not a simple task. These are all complex issues and everyone has their own varying but entirely viable, entirely reasonable opinions on each. Well, perhaps not everyone. But everyone to whom these things matter.

On the day Solipsistic Pop launched, amidst the crowded, hot, cramped but exciting confines of the ICA theatre, people were walking up to offer their support and feedback for the book. The most popular phrase being:

“You got the smell right!”

This was heartening to hear. Believe it or not, I’d gone to a lot of trouble to make sure the book had that just printed aroma. It was part of the reason the anthology existed. Which – I grant you – sounds a bit odd. But it offers me a perfect springboard to address what I wanted to do with Solipsistic Pop as a physical object.

Now, a lot has been said about digital versus traditional print. A lot of important and intelligent people have written about this issue at far more length than I have the time or inclination to do here. I’m sure you have your own opinions about the subject and I’m sure you’re more informed than I on it. That said, my own feelings are that I welcome digital print.

I don’t own a kindle or e-book reader yet. I’m biding my time until the technology has improved. Until those little design kinks have been ironed out and the choice of books available to download (in the UK) has increased. Regardless, I’m excited by the opportunities this technology presents. Not just for the consumer, but for publishers and creators.

You can download books whenever and wherever you need them. They will all fit on a tiny tablet in your pocket. They cost less. They take up less room on your shelves. They make environmental sense. Sample chapters can be downloaded. Most people who own kindles admit to reading more and taking the chance on new books more frequently than they might have before. And as long as one doesn’t mind formatting their story, creators have a far more immediate way of getting their work out there with a workable business model in place. Essentially, read screenwriter John August’s thoughts about his digital-only short story The Variant and Richard Herring’s delightful acceptance of the Kindle – they will articulate these things better than I.

Now, the arguments most people make against the rise of digital print can be boiled down to the following:

1. The glare of the computer screen makes it hard to concentrate and can give one a headache.
2. They like to be able to turn the pages of a book. To hold it in their hands.
3. The smell
4. “But… I like books! I like them on my shelf! Please don’t take my books away from me!”

Firstly, screens are getting better all the time. Anyone who has seen an e-book will admit that the screens do a very impressive job of cutting the glare down and mimicking the look of a printed page. This will only improve.

The rest of the points can be addressed with one simple sentence: Physical books are not going away.

I know a lot of people who make the connection to CDs and vinyl. But I think it’s more complicated and nuanced than that. To embrace a new way of delivering information and reading does not mean that one must divorce the other. No, all this does is increase our options and force us to make some important decisions as publishers and consumers.

Lucy Knisely makes a good point that there are some books you wouldn’t actually want to own or have on your shelf but might want to read. Smell matters sure, Knisely concedes in the comments to her latest comic about digital print, but does the smell of a guilty pleasure genuinely matter to you? Would you want the tactile quality of thumbing through Twilight? Wouldn’t it be preferable to hide the fact that you’re reading Harry Potter and the Sarcastically Huge Book from fellow commuters on your train into work?

Meanwhile, those books that you may well want to buy as a physical object have a wonderfully exciting challenge presented to them: there has to be a reason for you to print. This is why Solipsistic Pop had to be a little bit different.

The first book had to do a lot of things. It had to establish itself as a perfect venue to view and discover the leading alternative comic artists based in the UK. This book had to look like it would be at home on a shelf in Waterstones and Art/Design book stores. These comics needed to be printed properly. On good paperstock. Exposed to lithographic plates for maximum quality. The colours needed to be just right. Everything needed to be just right. Going through Lulu or any other POD company wouldn’t be enough. I knew we needed to find a reliable, reasonable, and respected printers who could offer their own thoughts and feedback on the production. Someone we could a build a strong relationship with for future volumes.

Additionally, I wanted to give a nod towards the humble but similarly beautiful origins of small press comics by featuring two hand stapled mini-comics. There’s something to be cherished about photocopy roller marks and misaligned crop markers. I didn’t want this book to suggest otherwise. Solipsistic Pop is about trying to look forward to the future of British alternative comics, but by doing so, the past and present also needed to be acknowledged.

On top of all this, I’d been having a lot of thoughts about newspapers. I knew I wanted to have a pull out newspaper section that mimicked the American Sunday Funnies format. It was a nod towards our other major influence – the already well established American alternative comics industry that owes a lot to the widely accepted newspaper Sunday Funnies tradition. I also wanted to suggest that – while even the larger newspaper companies are facing a huge structural and financial crisis – the tactile quality and format of the paperstock and printing process is something that will, I feel, always remain. I soon found out about Newspaper Club while planning the first volume of Solipsistic Pop – but they wouldn’t be ready for public consumption until the new year. So we improvised and used 80 gsm (slightly thicker than traditional newsprint) and uncoated, recycled paperstock. It gave the insert a quality similar enough to a high-quality newspaper while managing to withstand a little wear and tear.

The book came out exactly how I imagined. Slightly better even. With many contributors commenting on how much better the comics (be it the colour or the subtlety and quality of line) look when printed as opposed to the early pdf preview everyone was emailed. And this is the point. Comics look good in print. They look good on the screen too but you’d be surprised how much difference it makes if these intelligent, inventive and highly original comics are given a high quality platform from which they can work their twisted, perverse magic. It’s why, as mentioned above, Solipsistic Pop exists.

I look forward to Longbox and the way that (or something else like it) could potentially revolutionise the way we consume monthly comics. I look forward to seeing what happens with Artist’s E-Books. I look forward to Apple tablets and comics on incredible digital screens.

But I also look forward to publishing the next Solipsistic Pop in May.

It will smell great.

Tom Humberstone is the editor and publisher of Solipsistic Pop

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10 Comments

  1. […] It’s been a busy few months. Which, I suppose, came to fruition when Solipsistic Pop – the anthology of alternative British comics that I edited and published – launched at the ICA. I’d been working hard on the book since September and it was wonderful to finally see what everyone made of it. You can read more about that and the reasons I wanted to publish Solipsistic Pop here. […]

    Reply

  2. […] Tom Humberstone ruminates on the recently launched Solipsistic Pop anthology of British small press creators. Its not just about Tom’s bizarre nasal fixation which has seen him barred from several public libraries for sniffing the spines of various tomes though (and to be serious as a committed bibliophile I totally understand where he is coming from, books, especially those with a lot of art in them, often have a distinctive, evocative aroma that means nothing to some but speaks volumes – no pun intended to the book lover). Actually its the starting point for a discussion about the place of printed books and comics in an increasingly digital age, with Tom pointing out that using digital comics, be it in the home computer, laptop or mobile device or e-reader, doesn’t mean totally abandoning physical print, that a reader can use both. Its an interesting post, discussing what Tom hoped to do with the new anthology and putting it in the context of traditional print and changing media and the requirement for creators, retailers and readers to adapt. var addthis_pub = ''; var addthis_language = 'en';var addthis_options = 'email, favorites, digg, delicious, twitter, google, facebook, reddit, live, more'; […]

    Reply

  3. […] Tom Humberstone ruminates on the recently launched Solipsistic Pop anthology of British small press creators. Its not just about Tom’s bizarre nasal fixation which has seen him barred from several public libraries for sniffing the spines of various tomes though (and to be serious as a committed bibliophile I totally understand where he is coming from, books, especially those with a lot of art in them, often have a distinctive, evocative aroma that means nothing to some but speaks volumes – no pun intended to the book lover). Actually its the starting point for a discussion about the place of printed books and comics in an increasingly digital age, with Tom pointing out that using digital comics, be it in the home computer, laptop or mobile device or e-reader, doesn’t mean totally abandoning physical print, that a reader can use both. Its an interesting post, discussing what Tom hoped to do with the new anthology and putting it in the context of traditional print and changing media and the requirement for creators, retailers and readers to adapt. […]

    Reply

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