Everything from Books to Magazines

PQL’s biyearly magazine, The Devil’s Artisan, also features images of wood engravings along with articles revolving around the art of printing. Many of the wood engravings shown in the magazine were found by Tim and Elke Inkster in 1971, when they happened upon the ruins of a barn that housed boxes of books filled with them.

The Devil’s Artisan was purchased by PQL in 1995 from its founders, Paul Forage, William Rueter, Glenn Goluska, and Phyllis Lambert, who started the magazine in 1980. As the magazine’s website describes, “the focus of the journal has broadened somewhat, since its inception, from an early technical interest of fine printing to its current role as ‘A Journal of the Printing Arts.’”

The magazine features essays, photographs, illustrations, and prints wood engravings, among other contributions from and about printing artists. Digitizing its archive of wood engravings, initials, and ornaments since 2009, PQL offers visitors to its Devil’s Artisan website access to over 700 stunning, high resolution copyright-free images of the archive. The images were extracted and cataloged by Tim Inkster’s father, Walt Inkster.

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Indie Groundbreaking Publisher

Indie Groundbreaking Publisher: The Porcupine’s Quill

Building Award-Winning Books By Hand Since 1974

This month’s Indie Groundbreaking Publisher, The Porcupine’s Quill (PQL), is a small book publishing company in Wellington County, Ontario, Canada that proves that the best way to print isn’t always the easiest way. At PQL’s headquarters on Main Street in Erin Village, you’ll likely spot co-founders Tim and Elke Inkster printing and binding the majority of the company’s titles themselves.

“The Porcupine’s Quill began in 1974, originally as the production arm of Dave Godfrey’s Press Porcépic,” comments Tim Inkster. Inkster had been working for Dave Godfrey when the company moved from Toronto to the more rural Wellington County where PQL is now located. The Porcupine’s Quill began after Inkster discovered that his taste for publishing was different from Godfrey’s.

“Not too many months had passed before I realized that I was more interested in the production side of publishing,” Inkster explained. “I knew Dave Godfrey would not likely be inclined to invest in antiquated printing equipment. Godfrey’s interest in publishing was editorial, primarily, and political. Mine was more practical. I enjoyed making books.”

Elke and Tim Inkster purchased their first 1905 model Smyth National Book Sewing machine and began printing and binding books, publishing PQL’s first title, Marzipan Lies, a collection of poems by Brian Johnson, in 1975. According Inkster, “The Porcupine’s Quill did a lot of contract book printing for a variety of small publishers in the 1970s and 80s,” while continuing to publish a few of their own titles during that time. The Inksters faced a few financial battles and mechanical mishaps along the way, acquiring several machines before purchasing the Heidelberg KORD on which today’s books are printed in-house.

Hand-sewing books is a lengthier process than printing using more automated methods, but Elke Inkster has been using the Smyth National for years. To put things in perspective, Inkster elaborates, “Elkie is very quick, and can often sew 7500 signatures a day. That could easily be 500 copies of a 160 page (ten signature) book.”

When asked why PQL prints the majority of its own books, Inkster promotes the value of a handmade book.

“I am reminded of an instance (some years ago) in which a young designer, working for a much larger publisher company, challenged RR Donnelly (a large Chicago book printer) to match a PQL product. And Donnelly could not. Partly because of the paper, partly because of the sewing, in 16 page signatures, partly because of the endpapers in a trade paperback format.

“I am, of course, limited in what I can do. I recognize that. On the other hand, I also recognize that what I CAN do, I can do very well. And there are any number of larger competitors who CANNOT do what I can do. This provides a constant source of amusement in the twilight of my career.”

PQL not only prints, sews, and distributes collections of poems and novels, but also features an entire series of printed wood engravings, which they call their “The Wordless Novel Series.” Tim Inkster describes his experience publishing his first wordless book:

“We first encountered contemporary wood engraving at a Wayzgoose event in Grimsby, Ontario, in the late 1970s. It took us a number of years to convince Gerard Brender a Brandis that we could do justice to his engravings, reproducing them on an offset press, but in the end we prevailed and Wood, Ink and Paper appeared in June, 1980.”

Engravers Wesley Bates and George A. Walker were moved by what they saw of the Inkster and Brender a Brandis collaboration, and subsequently have both been published by PQL. The wordless novel series features engravers like these who, according to the series’ website, “create visual narratives [in wood] which are then scanned and published in a format that uses 20th century offset printing technology.”

Tim and Elke Inkster know a good manuscript and can recognize a quality engraved storyline when they see one. Their published titles have won countless awards, including several IPPYs, and the pair were appointed to the Order of Canada in 2008 “for their distinctive contributions to publishing in Canada and to for their promotion of new authors.”

I asked Inkster of which award he was most proud, and he answered, “I am most proud of the Leipzig medal that was hand delivered by the East German ambassador to Washington, although at a time that Canada did not recognize East Germany. The ceremony took place at the Westbury Hotel in Toronto.” He added, “My father was also happy because the ambassador subsequently sent Walt a fulsome box of elaborate Eastern Bloc stamps to add to the family stamp album.”

The Porcupine’s Quill is a publishing company devoted to producing authentic, handmade books, whether the pages are full of text or images. The expertise with which they use the Heidelberg KORD and Smyth National machines is evident in the award-winning quality of their books. Their website describes their ability to “use twentieth-century offset printing technology to replicate the quality look, and feel, of a nineteenth-century letterpress product.” While most of us are going entirely digital, PQL is sticking to its guns with finesse, and that is groundbreaking.

Check out some of the Porcupine’s Quill IPPY and Moonbeam winners over the years!

 

What the Furies Bring, By Kenneth Sherman

2010 Gold IPPY Winner

 

 

 

 

Sailor Girl, by Sheree-Lee Olson

2009 Bronze IPPY

 

 

 

 

Images from the Neocerebellum: The Wood Engravings of George A. Walker

2008 Bronze IPPY

 

 

 

A Voweller’s Bestiary, by JonArno Lawson

2008 Bronze Moonbeam

 

 

 

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Ariel Bronson is a senior at the University of Michigan studying as a dual concentrator in English and Communication Studies. She worked as an editorial intern at Sleeping Bear Press in 2011 and is currently an Online Content Editor at LEAD Magazine on Michigan’s campus. Please contact her with any comments, questions, or criticisms at abrons@umich.edu


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