When Robert Blair, Thomas Colligan, Nichole Shinn and Kurt Woerpel met at New York’s Pratt Institute, they discovered just how “genuinely fun the independent publishing scene was compared to the rest of the design and fine art world.”
Faced with the mundanity of the real world’s nine-to-five cycle, and the threat of their individual voices being “muted by top-down instruction or fatigue”, the group decided to form TXTbooks upon graduation in 2014. TXTbooks is an independent publishing project that produces brilliant artist’s books, zines and “dumb jokes” on a risograph machine.
The collective see TXTbooks as an escape from the adult world of work. “We adopted a sort of ‘fake it until someone thinks we are real’ mentality early on”, Robert explains. The publishing house goes against the grain. It is not trying to deliver the usual, perfect bound art-book. Projects such as Two Worms Waltz by Haejin Park use spiral binding that invokes a child-like, notepad feel, further emphasised by the bright and playful content. “On the process level, we try to welcome the mistakes and experimentation that come with self-produced zines”, Thomas tells us.
However, there are limitations to both self-publishing and risograph printing, and these tend to affect the aesthetic. “We have to ask how many colours are available? How much money do I have for paper? How much time can I steal from my bosses to finish this project at work?” Kurt explains. It is this DIY feel that gives the publications their charm; the books are eclectic, vibrant, punky and honestly just downright cool. We definitely want to own a book that pairs fierce female characters with slimy toads and the words “men are gross” on repeat.
When it comes to talking about publishing, Robert comments, “I think it’s helpful to expand your preconceptions of what a book object can be”. TXTbooks definitely do that; they push publications to the limit, often bringing in "people who have ideally never made a zine before and who don’t regard it as their primary practice”. For example, they worked with the Chilean animator Anibal Bley, taking what would usually be on the screen and putting it on the page.
“In some ways, I think we try to stray away from the self-seriousness that runs through the publishing community”, Robert comments. Dumb jokes are the antithesis of polished professional content and something that have been important to TXTbooks from the start. “If the point of self-publishing is to explore the space beyond what other people give you permission to create, dumb jokes are absolutely crucial”, Kurt comments. The publishing house does not limit artistic categories; a poetry collection sits beautifully juxtaposed next to a bootleg Whole Foods catalogue, comically called Whoa Fuck Maaaan. The zines are accessible to everyone.
TXTbooks is about good friends sticking together to keep an aspect of play and inspiration in their lives. As Robert says, when starting out on a project, "don’t go it alone. If you work in an office, use the printer after work. If you are a recent grad, make friends with the lab techs”!