A super gelatinous interview

Media Vaca is a different publishing house, as they all are, of course, although magical from the first moment. In Media Vaca, every single detail is taken care of, the same details which make keeping the books worthwhile, to later take them out, stand in front of them, touch them, have them… As Vicente Ferrer says, it might be because this is not his world, he does not consider himself a publisher (‘No one taught me, I do not value the things other publishers value’). It may be a question of priorities, different from those of rushing, presentations, and placing copies. Or simply because in everything, there are always those who astonish without intending to. One has the feeling when speaking to Vicente Ferrer, that he opens up the field of publishing and resolves his books as an artist would in any of their possible fields.

When I decided to interview Vicente Ferrer, I stumbled upon a problem: What could I ask him that he had not already talked about on the publishing house’s website? (See: medivaca.com). I decided then it would be a good idea to ask questions through the illustrators who had worked with him. So, Miguel Calatayud, David Pintor, Ale+Ale, Oliveiro Dumas, Javier Olivares, and Max aid me in this interview that almost resembles the conversation it was.

Octavio Ferrero

Miguel Calatayud: ‘When you were making those booklets, the ‘medias vacas’ (half cows), were you already thinking about a future in publishing, or was the publishing house a result of such?’

Vicente Ferrer: No, they were an end in itself. They were not a means to get anywhere, to the current state of ruin. In reality, these booklets are a sheet of paper folded twice, with a staple in the middle, which becomes an eight-page booklet in which six are pages, shall we say with information, plus a front and a back cover containing data. These flying sheets were called ‘1/2 Vaca’ (1/2 Cow).

At first, I made photocopies, print runs of two hundred copies. But it was unusual for the photocopier worker to go to the trouble of fitting the A side with the B side so that it would cut well. I went from one photocopier to another all around the city in a very amusing pilgrimage. Then I made them in offset. But there was a time when I made almost all of them in photocopy. I tried using two inks, then three. The idea was that anyone could hand me the text or the drawings they wanted: anything that could be interesting and fit within those dimensions, and I would make the booklet. Of the two hundred copies, fifty were for the author, fifty for other friends, and a hundred were kept in boxes that were sold to subscribers. Thirty-three issues a year. The price of subscription was 5,000 Spanish pesetas the first year, 4,000 the second, 3,000 the third, 2,000 the fourth, 1,000 the fifth, and free after the sixth year, which is the year that it ended. It was a lot of fun because, well, there is a bit of everything, from a one year old child, to my grandfather, who was the oldest collaborator, who made six before passing away. It was a handmade Internet. It had its charm, because it provided very pleasant surprises.

OF: What was the origin of these ‘half cows’?

VF: The origin of this was Antonio Fernández Molina, who is the author of the first issue: a friend, poet and painter, who had an extraordinary need for publication. He is a very prolific person who had many unpublished works in drawers, who thought he was going to die from one day to the next, because he was a hypochondriac, and that most of his work would remain unpublished. So, then, we decided to make this collection.

The first one was made on a tablecloth of a restaurant in Madrid. Everything was drawn and written on a paper tablecloth that we then cut out. After, he made many more. He mentioned it to other friends, many people through him. Someone had even written an article for press that appeared in a newspaper; then he wrote it by hand to turn it into a 1/2 Vaca.

The calligraphic aspect of these booklets is also interesting. For example, Lucebert, the Dutch painter, poet, and photographer, made a 1/2 Vaca. He could not write in Spanish, but copied several poems from his anthology, made original drawings and… it was funny because he also copied the typos from the edition. But from the hand of the author, so it has its charm.
Then, there were people who had never written anything before, people who had never drawn. But no matter how bad you are at writing or drawing, or how little you have to say, there is always something you can say in a space as reduced as a sheet of paper.

OF: What is Media Vaca’s editorial line?

VF: There is no editorial line, only my personal taste. It is more of a blend of things that interest me, which are not always orthodoxy. I am just as interested in comic books as in classic literature and, well, also a mixture of what is popular and what is falsely erudite. That which is fake, deceiving, literary, theatrical… Literature is full of those characters of pataphysics, of word plays and literary jokes. And all this in addition to things made by Art Brut artisans, children, madmen, non-professionals, amateurs, who always have a very different vision. I am interested in the margins of officialdom, of what everyone reads.

OF: Do you seek out the projects yourself or do you choose them?

VF: I come up with them, actually. I rarely accept what is sent to me. Some things I do, as sometimes they get it right; not only with something I would do at some point, but with something I would do at that exact moment, at the point of receiving the project.

Many people, people I know, when they send things, tell me: ‘I am going to give up trying to publish this story I wrote because I have sent it to three publishers and they said no’. Three publishers is nothing. What you should do, if you believe in it, is send it to thirty or three hundred. This is the bare minimum. Then you would have an idea of whether your story fits into the market or not, but three does not really represent anything. Perhaps those three might not be interested right now in what you have to offer, but they might be in a month or in a year. So it does not hurt to insist, a story does not have an expiry date. In the end, things that have value transcend the present moment.

OF: When some time passes after a publication and you look back, do you ever think ‘I would do this differently now’?

VF: Yes, generally, I do. I try not to think too much about it, I do not think much about the published books. I am fussy, but to a certain extent. It is true that later, since such a long time has passed from the beginning of the project until the books is completed, I have my ears and eyes on everything that has to do with it, and see and read many things that are related to what I am doing. When the book is completed, you cannot help but think: ‘Ah, if only I had known this earlier, perhaps I could have used it for the book’. But it would have not changed anything.

OF: Sometimes it is difficult to put an end to what you are doing…

VF: But you can see the evolution, of course. In reality, I have learned by making books, by making the ‘half cows’ —the booklets—, and before that, fanzines, publications, some entirely by hand, others photocopied. Sometimes I would make five or ten copies. I have learned by doing this, but there is no end to it. I might go back to making something more rustic soon, with a less industrial or produced appearance. Perhaps I will be more interested in making a handwritten book, writing it myself in good calligraphy. Or… I do not know. There are all types of books. I like looking at them.

But the same thing happens to any writer, sculptor, poet, or painter who has to distance himself from what they are working on in some way. It is hard to do a good job when you have been working on the same project for a long time.

OF: Do you have any long-term projects? Anything that you are still working on?

VF: Yes, there are books with authors who have been working for years. The book on Buenos Aires with Diego Bianki. It has been going on for… I do not know, it scares me to consult the first e-mail exchanges, the first times we met to talk about the book. Before this title, there were two others which we replaced until the book is finally a book about the city of Buenos Aires. Fortunately, the city of Buenos Aires will still exist by the time this book is finished, which it is, almost… But it will no longer be like the city I knew, for example.

The authors Diego is using are literary references to Buenos Aires, but perhaps for previous generations. We have been working with these authors for possibly ten years. The important thing is that the author of the book, the real author, which is him, takes on that role. And his work is a contemporary one. He handles these materials as he handles literary materials, words, and poems. As he handles the drawings, cut-outs, papers, stickers, labels, with which he constructs his images. In this case, the text is also an image.

David Pintor: ‘What would have happened if Media Vaca had been created in France?’

VF: I do not know, no idea. But I think I would probably not have my own publishing house. Perhaps I would be working for a big publishing house, or for several, as a collection director; or I would have passed through many places, I would have made several books but I would not have this publishing house. I think that living in this place, which is fairly out of the way… with this window overlooking a school and seeing the children… Well, I know who I work for. All things considered, I am fortunate to be able to make the books I want to make, without the pressures of the market. France is a big market… Our publishing house, being tiny, has won more awards at the Bologna Fair than anyone else… although that has no repercussions here. In France that would be of value.

Everything would have been more comfortable in France, certainly, but not better. In the end, I am making what I want to make from a place which is so corrupt and unbearable, where everything is an issue, where no one respects anyone. I hope that someone will consider ‘one must be intelligent to read these books; therefore, since we want to read them, we must become intelligent’. In short, may they be an encouragement to make critical readers.

Ale+Ale: ‘What is your publishing house’s connection to the “super gelatinous” theme?’

VF: None, I think. Only that the word gives me the creeps, but we have a lot of fun with that story. This anecdote happened to us in the Otranto castle. There was an exhibition on Dalí’s sculptures, and they featured a hilarious video in which Dalí appeared with a poor man who was trying to ask him questions. Dalí was teasing him, in a very scandalous way, and it was very funny. The journalist had taken Dalí for an impertinent figure and he did not expect for him to turn against him. This rather uncontrollable force of Dali’s, who was in his element. Dalí mentions the ‘super gelatinous’ subject when he is asked about García Lorca, which was a rather complicated topic for him, because of their relationship, which later ceased to exist, and each of their stances. Then, when the journalist asked him about Lorca, Dalí came out with the ‘super gelatinous’ phrase, which of course makes you say olé!, how well he evaded the subject to not reveal anything and at the same time say something. Because I remember he said something that could be regarded as a compliment, and something affectionate.

OF: Do you think your books can be defined in this way?

VF: Yes, but the hardcover ones, rather than those of soft material. Yes, they are super gelatinous hardcovers. 

Oliveiro Dumas: ‘Vicente, do you think it has all been seen before in the publishing world, or is there a book you would like to make but have never dared to, either because there is no illustrator capable of illustrating it, or because there is no writer capable of writing it?’

VF: No, there is no book I have not been able to make. At least I do not think of it that way. I do not intend to do impossible things, nor do I think there are authors who are inaccessible; in principle, I believe that everyone is accessible. I also do not believe there is an author who is indispensable; I do not mythologise them. I do not believe there are authors who achieve things others do not. Perhaps in terms of sales, yes, but I do not think there are people who write or draw better than others, because it does not always work this way. Great authors, great illustrators, also make many mistakes, the important thing is to make a good team: that when you propose a book to a writer and an illustrator, things come together so that we are all working in the same direction. That we all have the same book in mind and we unite forces; that no one is doing their own thing, in a way.

I have made strange books, and I am probably making the strangest ones of my life right now; and, well, they are being done little by little. Another question will be to sell them later and for someone to appreciate them. But that is a minor issue: if we do not enjoy making books, everything else will be meaningless.

Javier Olivares: ‘What is your book process like? Do you always start by selecting a text and then the ideal illustrator, or has the opposite ever happened to you: searching for a suitable text for an illustrator you want to work with?’

VF: Both… Well, I was first interested in the texts, and I had more information on them. Later, I have accumulated more information about illustrators and seen many things. When observing someone’s work, it is easy for me to come up with another book which I would have not thought about if I had not known that work. If the illustrator did not exist, neither would the book. I am interested in the ideas that illustrators bring to the table. I am generally very satisfied with the people I work with because they take a lot of interest in what they do. They carry out research work which I do not believe is paid at all. And, therefore, they are very generous.

Max: ‘If you could commission a new book, including authors from all eras and from all over the world, what would your dream writer/illustrator be?’

VF: Thankfully, I do not dream of such things, I would suffer a great deal. If I were to imagine —and while we are at it, aiming high—, I would pair Miguel de Cervantes and Gustave Doré together, to see what they could come up with. Separately, one invented Don Quixote and the other gave him a body and face. Working together, we should not be surprised if the result was a ridiculous work, or worse, something we already know.

Interview by Octavio Ferrero published in the 12th issue of Optiks Magazine (March 2013). The illustration that accompanies the text is a greeting card by Ale+Ale made in 2009.