In a nondescript industrial area of Bloordale, Perish Publishing is churning out book-shaped works of art.
On Wade Avenue, tucked away in that strip of warehouses by Lansdowne station, you’ll find Perish Publishing. It’s housed in a long and narrow shop full of skids, record sleeves, paper stacks, and a risograph printer—the latter an essential element of the company’s success. A beast with the body of a photocopier and the mind of a screen-printing machine, the risograph translates images from a computer to a stencil on a master sheet, which is attached to a cylindrical ink drum. It’s relatively inexpensive, and allows Perish to keep all printing in-house. “You know when you go to some greasy spoon and they have menus with ads on them? Those were printed on this,” says Alex Durlak of the bulky machine’s past life.
Durlak, 33, co-founded Perish Publishing in September 2013 with Ryan Dodgson and Jayme Keith. Perish began as a spin-off of Standard Form, the company Durlak started eight years ago, which specializes in album packaging, music, books, and ephemera.
The group aims to create books that are art pieces in and of themselves. “You see a lot of books that are just art ideas shoved into a book format,” Durlak says. “I’m not interested in publishing a catalogue of work that already exists.” Their name, Perish Publishing, stems from the axiom “publish or perish,” something Durlak’s university-professor parents would often say while he was growing up. “I would hear that around the house and thought it was this hilarious thing,” he says. “You know, ‘Make books or die.’”
Around 2006, while doing design work for a friend’s record label, Durlak found someone with a print shop who was willing to let him share the space. During the following year, he learned how to make plates, perfected the bindery process, and taught himself the ins and outs of running a printing press. “I took two summer classes at OCAD, one printmaking and one bookbinding class,” he says. “That’s really the only formal training I’ve ever had. It’s just DIY to the extreme.”
Keith, 29, had worked part-time for Durlak at Standard Form. “I knew I wanted to do something involving books, because I love them,” she says. Dodgson, 28, and Durlak are friends, and collaborated on a record and book set last year. “I wanted to make my own stuff, and I wanted to work with editors who keep their eye to the ground and talk to artists,” Durlak says. “These two were the only ones who were, like, ‘Yeah, let’s fucking do it!’”
Perish’s most recent endeavour is a four-part illustrated series titled Perish Plains, initiated by Dodgson. Each volume is a 20- to 30-page collaboration between two illustrators from the world of alternative comics and zines. The first one is by Michael Deforge and Patrick Kyle, artist friends of Dodgson’s. “It’s non-narrative work, just abstract environments,” says Dodgson.
The production process is tedious, time-consuming, and testy. Perish’s Riso V8000 prints two colours at once. Durlak, dressed in black from head to toe (the best way to avoid ink stains), loads one drum at a time, alternating between fluorescent yellow and pink, then cobalt blue and pure black. After a test page prints, Durlak surveys it using a lupe (a small magnifying device), folds it in half, and holds it over a lightbox to check the registration. “Half of the beauty of the risograph is that you have to keep adjusting it,” Durlak said. “It’s a joke—it was never meant for this. It’s meant for math tests and church flyers.”
Next, the green Baumfolder machine whirs as pages are folded in half. “The machine is being fussy today, like a temperamental lover,” Durlak says, transferring the folded pages to a nearby table to be collated by Keith and Dodgson. The Anddak machine has a magnesium stamp that uses heat and pressure to make foil stick to paper, essential for creating the embossed holographic cover of this particular publication. Wearing rubber thimbles on some of his fingers, Durlak positions the paper and presses a button to initiate the big squish. Later, he sits and folds die-cut covers in half.
Response to the Perish Publishing catalogue has been enthusiastic. They debuted their first four works at the NY Art Book Fair in September of 2013, then held a local launch for a packed house at Toronto’s Art Metropole the following week.
The trio plans to continue approaching artists to collaborate on future work, and welcome submissions. “I think we would like to diversify our catalogue, because we don’t want to do any one type of book,” says Dodgson. Keith, who has printed her own drawings at the shop, is considering a travel writing book, and “would like [Perish] to branch out to some writing as well, maybe poetry.”
As for the uncertain prospect of producing tangible publications and art in this digital-run world, Durlak is optimistic. “The talk of books dying—it’ll never happen. What will continue to flourish is things that are art objects. None of these would have any impact as an iPad app, or on a website. The way that they’re printed, the way that they’re bound—they’re all very much unique objects. That’s what appeals to me.”
Perish Publishing, 74 Wade Ave., perishpublishing.ca.