One of the most intriguing comics I picked up at the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo a few weeks back was Minimum Paige, an anthology produced by the Harvard Bookstore and printed in-house on their print-on-demand machine, Paige M. Gutenborg. I checked in with editor Ryan Mita to get the story behind the stories.
Brigid Alverson: First of all, tell me about Paige M. Gutenborg—what is it and what can it do?
Ryan Mita: Paige M. Gutenborg is a book machine and fantastic opportunity for artists to custom print their works. Books must be over 40 pages long, there is no minimum print run and artists can design the book anyway they like.
In addition to custom printing, Paige can print nearly five million titles, including Google Books in the public domain, and later this fall, HarperCollins will make 5,000 backlist titles available.
We’re excited about the future of bookselling and Paige keeps Harvard Book Store a step ahead.
Alverson: What gave you the idea of creating a comics anthology for Paige to print?
Mita: Originally, I pitched a one-page comic history of Harvard Book Store illustrated by a local comics artist to my boss and she liked it. But my boss asked for something bigger. So I thought about that and realized there’s rich comic talent in the area and there’s a printing press at my place of work. The idea felt natural, so I decided to give it a try and my boss was on board right away.
Alverson: How did you find the creators?
Mita: For six weeks this summer, Harvard Book Store held a comics contest, and we received almost 100 submissions! We put posters in local comic shops, cafes and announced it in our email newsletter (a cartoonist from Serbia found the contest that way). The grand prize winner, Robert Sergel, was in the store on August 19th and submitted his story before the 5pm deadline.
Alverson: Who decided what comics would make it into the book?
Mita: I had a number of conversations with my colleagues on the Minimum Paige editorial staff. Smart, savvy people who experience comics by writing at CBR and working at Fantagraphics. We decided which comics to include in the anthology.
Alverson: As the editor, what part did you play in all this?
Mita: My responsibility was managing Minimum Paige to be printed on time and treating my artists and colleagues with total respect. To be more precise, I was responsible for running the contest and establishing deadlines, I communicated with the marketing department and throughout Harvard Book Store, I liaised with artists and coordinated with local comic groups to contribute to the release party.
And I also brought back iced coffees and treats from the local café, because my talented colleagues were making my idea better.
Alverson: What was the biggest challenge when you were putting this book together, and what surprised you the most?
Mita: I think the biggest surprise was how professional all the artists were. Not a single submission came in after deadline. Not one. I remember having visions of artists calling at 5:01 asking for extensions, but it was silent, so I played with fonts instead.
As I put the book block together, I asked a few artists to correct punctuation and misspelled words. I received perfect pages within a day, which was a huge relief with the publication date so close.
I think the biggest challenge was the small time window. We went from closing the contest to printing a 96 page anthology in one month! I constantly reminded myself: “I’d love to do it this way, but I only have this much time left.”
Alverson: It's unusual for a bookstore to create a book from scratch like this. Why do you think this is an important role for the Harvard Book Store to play?
Mita: Harvard Book Store has always been active in the local community. In September we hosted a writer’s workshop with Grub Street, and Amnesty International recently celebrated their 50th anniversary in-store, plus we lead book clubs and philosophy discussions that are open to all.
I thought the Minimum Paige was an opportunity to showcase the abundant local talent and directly reach out to a new group of artists. We’re doing vibrant things at Harvard Book Store.
Alverson:How many copies of Minimum Paige have you printed so far?
Mita: 90 copies have been printed, and it’s been a best seller in the bookstore since day one!
Alverson: How can people get their own copy?
Mita: Visit Harvard.com or call (617) 661-1515 and a friendly bookseller will take care of the rest.
Alverson: Will there be a volume 2?
Mita: Yes, I’d like that.