Founded in Montreal in 1996, Conundrum Press is yet another notable Canadian indie comics press with a roster of distinctive comics talents. The house specializes in graphic novels and publishes such highly regarded artists as Joe Ollmann, David Collier and Meags Fitzgerald, on a list its founder describes as “hybrid, quirky stuff.”
Conundrum Press was founded by Andy Brown, a writer and director of the Annapolis Valley Zine Library near Halifax, Nova Scotia where Conundrum Press is now located. The house began while Brown was living in post-referendum Montreal (Quebec)—the economy had tanked in the wake of the pro-French language vote. The city was cheap, English speakers were determined to stay, and artists off all kinds flocked to the city and its low rents. Surrounded by artists, writers and illustrators, Brown began publishing zines and chapbooks, helped along the way by grants from the Canadian government.
Today the press publishes 7-10 books a year, all book-format graphic novels (no periodical comics). The list includes graphic novels, comics-related archival works, art books, monographs and nonfiction works like Meags Fitzgerald's Photobooth: A Biography, a hybrid memoiristic graphic work. There's also literary adaptation. This spring CP released Amerika, a comics adaptation of Franz Kafka’s hallucinatory prose work by Real Godbout, a pioneering Quebec comics artist who was inducted into the Canadian Comics Hall of Fame in 2009.
The house has long published Joe Ollmann (though D&Q published Ollmann’s hilarious 2011 graphic novel Mid-Life). He's a Doug Wright Award-winner, the annual awards honoring the best Canadian comics of the year. This fall CP will release Happy Stories About Well-Adjusted People: An Ollmann Omnibus, short stories collected from two previous books that were released by prose houses, plus new work. Last year CP also published Ollmann’s thoroughly odd graphic novel, Science Fiction, a hyper quirky, dementedly engrossing work immersed in the notion of life after alien abduction.
Since 2011 Conundrum Press has been based about an hour outside of Halifax in a house that includes the Conundrum offices and warehouse. Brown is the “sole proprietor and only employee,” he told PW during a phone interview. Although he acknowledges contracting out translations and social media. “Otherwise, it’s a one man operation.” The press really began to grow, he said, when he “discovered a circuit of alt-comics festivals, events like CAB in Brooklyn and MoCCA, a whole network for distributing these comics.” Foreign rights sales are growing. He also uses a foreign rights agent who has “been selling my books into the French market and now he’s selling foreign artists to me.”
The house has two imprints BDang, which publishes “Quebec’s Underground Comics in English,” and Conundrum International. BDang is releasing the aforementioned Amerika adaptation and My Neighbour’s Bikini, a sexy, slice-of-Montreal-life comics vignette by Jimmy Beaulieu. Among Conundrum International titles are Hong Kong-born Chihoi’s hauntingly penciled graphic novel, The Train, an adaptation of a short story by the Taiwanese writer Hung Hung (October). There’s also What We Need to Know (May) by the great Belgium comics artist Willy Linthout—the “Charles Schulz of Belgium”—a sequel to his acclaimed 2007 Years of the Elephant, an award winning graphic memoir produced in response to his son’s suicide.
Brown says he attends about 7-10 comics festivals a year, finds his artists by visiting shows, from recommendations by other artists as well as a network of friends and fellow-publishers that includes the noted Montreal literary comics house, Drawn & Quarterly and its publisher Chris Oliveros.
Distribution for Conundrum titles in Canada is by LitDistCo and Conundrum books are available through B&T and Ingram and other wholesalers in the U.S. But he’s looking to add distribution, “half of our sales are in the U.S. and they’re growing.” He’s also talking to a vendor about U.K. distribution.
He says the biggest changes he’s seen in the comics marketplace have been the growth of the book store market and the explosion of local talent. “I was lucky, the timing was right,” he said. “We were able to move into the graphic novel market with new artists; especially women artists,” Brown explained. “The illustration field is producing a lot of the artists. The talent pool has vastly increased.”