ARTIST INTERVIEW: Hat & Beard Press
Based in Los Angeles, with editors and project managers on the ground in Chicago, London, and New York City, Hat & Beard Press is a print collective, a publishing think tank, and a small press dedicated to all things tactile. H&B Press creates original, illustrated nonfiction books of pop-cultural and historical significance, drawing on existing cult audiences. They also produce artist monographs as well as redesigned reissues of classic visual culture titles worth a second look. Combining modern, targeted marketing efforts, old-fashioned craftsmanship, and disciplined publishing practices, H&B produces physical books and magazines for readers and collectors. H&B aims to be the ultimate boutique publication house for the nonfiction illustrated art-book market.
Describe the path that led you to the work you do now. Did you take any big risks to get where you are?
Jessica Hundley – Making books in a digital era is a leap for sure, but we’re hoping that tactile, high quality, beautiful objects that you can hold in your hand, touch, feel and experience – is an allure and a seductive alternative to experiencing words and images on a computer or cell screen. We focus on making art books on subjects that are enhanced by being REAL, immersive experiences. All of us have backgrounds and established careers in journalism, editing and print design and we were really looking to find a way to keep exploring print as a valid creative medium in the modern digital age.
JC Gabel— In many ways, we are operating as think tank for printed matter. No one we have signed up to work on a book with has ever asked for a digital version; they are all committed to the tactile experiments we keep churning out… roughly one original book a month. We are going to return small press publishing to a profitable and viable business in the age of Amazon late capitalist tomfoolery and multi-national corporations owning most of what still exists. There has never been a better time to start an independent small press that publishes meaningful work than now. The audiences are dying for un-dumbed-down books. Our books are objet d’art.
Do you feel like you’re part of a greater community of artists? If so, describe why?
JH -Hat & Beard functions as a collective, with everyone involved in the company a part of our community, from partners, to the editors, the designers, to the artists and authors. One of the amazing things about working in books is that is such collaborative creative experience – a collective of visions that makes for a great whole. We feel lucky we are part of a long tradition of books as art and cherished object.
JCG— I second Jess here. We do truly function more like a print collective than a traditional publisher in a variety of ways; most notably, our royalty splits are 50/50 with all authors, more like an art gallery model. We are also producing most (if not all) of our books in the United States instead via near slave labor practices in fake Communist counties. We have to charge a little more per book, but all our books are more than just book anyhow; each one includes an original soundtrack, film accompaniment, a pop-up exhibition, etc.
What is so special about making art NOW, in our hectic digital age?
JH – There is nothing more important. What could be more rewarding than bringing beauty into people’s real lives – creating things they can touch and interact with in an organic way. We love being part of a larger community of makers that know how important the tactile experience and those immersive interactions are – especially in a world where we are too often caught up and overwhelmed by data and info and pixels and screens.
JCG— The artistic and intellectual escapism of the work we are creating—outside of its commercial value—is such a welcome retreat for most of us. Most of our original titles are about subject matter that appeal to us, or new work by contemporary artists—many our peers. At the end of each production, though, it’s about friendship and collaboration, and this idea of making books that wouldn’t otherwise exist. The Makers culture in general has been in my DNA since I started making zines in my teenager years, and I’m encouraged and honored that so many other folks have taken the plunge and make their own art, through any means necessary, no matter what the medium. There is also this sense that what we’re doing could only happen in Los Angeles RIGHT NOW.
Why is it important to you to show and share your work to a larger community?
JH— Making books is all about showcasing and sharing something special – a lost classic movie for instance, or an artist, or a special moment in history—to a larger community. With books we can pull up a gem from the past or showcase a young artist — we can introduce people to something they may have never experienced before or go deeper into a topic they only knew only a bit about. It’s incredible rewarding to be working in books for exactly these reasons.
JCG — The experiential aspect our books has really been driving the narrative, the press, the sales—everything. Grass roots, immediate action… works. If anything, we are going to do more outreach at book and craft fairs and less emphasis on traditional retail and wholesale, which has left publishers no margins to make a profit in the post-Amazon age. There is also a salon aspect to our title list—each book is highly curated and needs to be exhibited and marketed in a certain way in order to have maximum effect and accomplish our goals; and so authors can actually get back to getting biannual royalty statements, not fuzzy math. But this whole process starts by bringing people together to celebrate something in print with accouterments, drawn from the annals of pop culture history.