In Córdoba, Argentina

Vicente Ferrer and Begoña Lobo, creators of the Spanish imprint Media Vaca, will give a free seminar in Córdoba. The publishing house is a gem of independent publishing. They publish only three books a year, with an emphasis on illustration and graphic art. Their catalogue includes Argentinian authors such as Isol and Diego Bianki.

A publishing house can be a dream-making machine. This is how Begoña Lobo and Vicente Ferrer understand their work, who are the two halves that compose Media Vaca, an imprint based in Valencia which is distinguished for its exquisite designs and risky ventures.

Since 1998, Media Vaca devote themselves to ‘inventing very illustrated books for readers of all ages’. They truly do make ‘very illustrated’ books. The publishing house’s catalogue, which currently comprises over 60 titles spread across six collections, responds to a kind of caprice based on visual delight and care for graphic art. Each work is a real treasure.

‘The humour, poetry, and mystery that animate the varied manifestations of popular culture’ is Media Vaca’s slogan, a gem of independent publishing which firmly maintains its ‘will to not grow as a way to guarantee the care of each project’.

Both editors will be in Córdoba in February. On 8 and 9, Vicente Ferrer will give a free seminar titled ‘Media vaca: public life of a secret publisher’. The event is organised by Agencia Córdoba Cultura (Córdoba Culture Agency), in collaboration with CEDILIJ, and will be held at the Evita Museum.

Trying new things

‘To experiment, to take the risks many times associated with the ventures of visual art, and to exercise your whims are characteristics of the publishing house. What are other traits are decisive in describing Media Vaca?’

‘In my opinion, experimentation, the taste for trying new things, should be consubstantial to all publishing projects. Unfortunately, this is not the case because most people prioritise commercial aspects over creative ones, and also because they do not usually take into account that being a publisher is a profession with a long history: books have existed for a while, and sometimes it is worth looking into the past to rescue valuable inventions. If we can devote time to experimentation (so to speak) it is because we only publish three books a year. We are aware of our limitations, and our will to not grow is firm, as a way to guarantee each project with be done with care. As well as seeking our own satisfaction, we are aware that we have made a commitment to authors and readers.’

‘On the publishing house’s webpage it reads: “Some books seem to regard children as very elemental beings who, instead of brains, have a kind of tuber that needs to be watered from time to time to make it grow in size. This belief is most likely what prompts authors and editors to make books for idiots that no adult would ever read”. What are the strategies for making other kinds of books?’

‘As it turns out, books for ‘idiots’ are also necessary. What is important, surely, is that the idiocy of all books is not of the same style. In the world of books, a variety of offers that do not follow a unique model is fundamental. This way, readers have the option to choose. There will be people who pick idiotic books and in spite of everything, as well as finding a source of distraction and information, will acquire a certain critical spirit. The point is that idiotic books should not turn us into idiots.’

‘Are whims and personal taste at odds with commercial results?’

‘I do not believe so. We began making print runs of 3,000 copies, what is a considerable amount, and now we produce an average of 2,000 copies of each title. Books sell, and when they run out we reprint them. Not all sell equally. Some even take years to become known. As it happens everywhere, books that sell better help to publish more daring titles. For the rest, no one in this business can aspire to become a great success and earn large sums of money (although there are always exceptions, of course). In any case, our approach is more like angling rather than fish farming.’

‘Digital culture, social media, and the omnipresence of screens are factors that, according to some, are distancing young and adult audiences from literary readings and from contact with ‘devices’ such as books. What challenges do you face in this area?’

‘So far, we have not had any experience with electronic books; only one of our books, Robinson Crusoe by Ajubel, has a digital version, but this was a personal project of the author. I think paper and new technologies can coexist perfectly. Paper books have demonstrated to be a great invention, and some works, as we have seen, last much longer than we expect. As a matter of fact, my concern as a publisher focuses almost entirely on the content, and the format is always secondary. I am convinced that the books we make could easily adapt to new technologies but, to be honest, it is a task that should be well done and we have not yet found the time to think about it.’

‘What is your connection to Argentinian authors?’

‘By reviewing the publishing house’s catalogue, it is easy to find a good number of Argentinian authors, both illustrators and writers. Some appear with their names on the cover: Isol, Mariana Chiesa, Diego Bianki, Marco Denevi; others, many more, participate in collective works: Baldomero and César Fernández Moreno, Oliverio Girondo, Macedonio Fernández, Laura Yasán, Washington Cucurto or Raúl González Tuñón, for example, among the writers and poets. Among illustrators, Carlos and Lucas Nine, Hermenegildo Sábat, Sergio Langer, Ral Veroni, Silvia Lenardón, Max Cachimba, and a long etcetera. Some Argentinian presences are less obvious: the book Furtive Portraits, by Luis Seoane, was only possible thanks to editions found in Argentina; Ramón Gómez de la Serna, the author of greguerías, lived for a long time in Buenos Aires, city in which many of his heirs reside. I could not not mention three writers which have made very significant contributions. Álvaro Abós, Carlos Vitale and Andrés Ehrenhaus signed the translations of the books Carrot Hair, Letters to Aldo Buzzi and Through the Looking-Glass, splendid works. (By the way, an extremely high percentage of Spanish translations are done by Argentinian writers.)

‘Is there a book, among those published by Media Vaca, that could summarise happiness, a kind of dream come true?’

‘I do not know if there is a book that could serve as a summary. I am especially happy to have gotten the book My First 80,000 Words off the ground, a dictionary of favourite words in which 333 illustrators took part (several of them Argentinian). It was not easy to make a book like this, paying all the collaborators and sending them copies of the work, as due, and, in hindsight, it seems like an investment of energy and time that I would not be able to repeat right now. I would say my biggest satisfaction is seeing how, in general, the publish house’s plan is being accomplished and how projects that seemed unachievable are now books that one can finally put in an envelope and send to the awaiting recipient.’

Said moo

‘Apparently, the publishing house’s name is a well kept secret you are not willing to reveal. The question, then, could be: what happened to the other half of the cow?’

‘Exactly: what happened to the other half? One day, Begoña and I woke up as editors, and we had this strange animal for a pet. Since we are of simple tastes, we found that half a cow is more manageable than a winged unicorn going through a ring of fire, and even more manageable than a whole cow, which cannot fit anywhere.’

‘With what expectations are you coming to Córdoba?’

‘We are very excited about the trip. We will give two talks at the Evita Museum, explaining our 20 years of work with books. The idea is to meet with readers and friends and be able to talk about literature, illustration, and books, which is always a pleasure. We often receive messages and projects from Argentina and this year we have decided to visit some of the places where our readers live, and dedicate some time to converse about books in person. To touch the paper, to shake the hands of real people.

Free seminar at the Evita Museum

The publisher Vicente Ferrer will lead the seminar ‘Media vaca: public life of a secret publisher’ on 8 and 9 February. The events will take place from 17:00 to 20:00 at the Evita Museum (Hipólito Irigoyen 511).

Demian Orosz: «Media Vaca: la máquina de hacer sueños. Los editores de Media Vaca visitarán nuestra ciudad», La Voz del Interior, Córdoba, Argentina, 3 de febrero de 2017.
[Fotografía: A salvo de la lluvia en la sede de CEDILIJ, Centro de Difusión e Investigación de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil].