Five Questions for Elana Schlenker
Elana Schlenker, a graphic designer and the publisher of Gratuitous Type, will be speaking at our next Working Late event in Brooklyn at Makeshift Society. In preparation, we asked her to share a few thoughts about her work; below Elana expresses her enthusiasm for independent publishing and the freedom and creativity it breeds.
Who are your mentors? How have they shaped your approach to publishing?
My earliest mentors were the authors of books I loved as a child. Shel Silverstein and Graeme Base were perhaps my favorites—both authored and illustrated their own books, and from a very early age I remember telling people that’s what I wanted to do as well, write and draw. Not one or the other, but both. It’s funny that so many years later, in my own way, I’m doing that with Gratuitous Type, designing and writing everything myself. I suppose even as a five-year-old, I had some sense that I wanted to be in charge of everything—a tyrant from the start.
In my professional life, there are so many people who have inspired and supported me, but one of the most notable would be Tod Lippy, the editor and publisher of Esopus, a magazine I interned with during my first summer in New York. Esopus is an incredible publication of artists’ projects that Tod runs almost completely on his own. Just like those childhood inspirations, here was someone doing everything himself. I really respect his singular vision and ability to carry it out; he was a huge inspiration in my decision to start Gratuitous Type.
What are some interesting trends you’re noticing in printed material?
I love how more and more people are taking the whole process into their own hands—not just self publishing, but producing and printing work themselves. Publishers like Conveyor Editions, Hato Press, Publication Studio are some of my favorites.
What do you most enjoy about the zine format?
I like the inherent simplicity of the booklet format, and the endless ways in which artists continue to subvert and reinvent it. There is so much potential for incorporating unique production details, storytelling techniques, and just to play—it’s a great place for experimentation.
To what type of communication style are zines and quarterlies best suited?
I think the beauty of zines and other independent publications is that they are adaptable to so many styles and types of communication—again, it’s exciting to see people continue to reinvent a format that’s been around for ages. From a personal standpoint, I’m interested in the serial nature of publications (like Gratuitous Type), and the ways in which this feature facilitates reinvention, play, and growth. I love that I always have another chance to change things and make them better. (I hope!)
In anticipation of your presentation Wednesday, what are you most looking forward to (how about a little teaser)?
Everyone will be asked to draw one thing they love and one thing they hate. Both will be printed on the same page, and each contributor will be able to decide to what degree these pieces will overlap or interact. I think there will be some really interesting and exciting results.
I’m also super excited to work with Gerardo Madera of Common Satisfactory Standard. I can’t wait to see his Riso printer in action! I love that we’ll be making the zines right there on the spot, so attendants will really be a part of the entire process.