Norman Conquest is the Président-Fondateur of Black Scat Books, which publishes “sublime” visual and literary books. His latest release, Nickle Noir: the Art of John Nickle has just been released. Nickle is a master of shadows. He creates moody crime scenes for novels by the likes of Ross MacDonald, James Swain, Sjöwall and Wahlöö, and others. His cinematic style is both creepy and comic. I asked Président Conquest to tell us more about this book and his publishing evolution.
I started publishing little mags back when I was 16, and grew up with publishers like Grove Press, City Lights, Olympia and Gaberbocchus. They were the source of my education, and their books were my religion There was a kind of magic and aura of mischief and rebellion around those publishers and the books they brought into the world. Well, I started Black Scat Books last July to try and bring back some of that magic and mischief — in defiance of the trend away from print to digital. There’s nothing wrong with digital books, mind you, but only as a convenience. An accessory. Not a replacement! I refuse to accept a future without bookshelves.
What are your signature publications?
My taste in art and literature is eclectic, but I lean heavily toward the avant-garde. I don’t like labels, but it’s impossible to escape them, so I publish what I consider to be “sublime” art ans lit.
The first book I published was an absurdist tale by one of my favorite writers, Alphonse Allais, the French humorist. That book, “Masks”, launched Scat’s signature Absurdist Texts & Documents series. A high point of my life has been getting to know the composer, writer, performer and master translator, Doug Skinner. He’s been translating the untranslatable pun-filled writings of “Allais” for me. It’s very exciting being the first to bring “Allais” to America.
I recently had the honor (not to mention thrill) of releasing a collection of previously unpublished texts by an early hero of mine — the late, great Terry Southern, Hot Heart of Boar and Other Tastes. Hoo-boy!!
I’m also addicted to noir fiction and films. I discovered the work of John Nickle years ago when he was doing the “Martin Beck” series covers for Vintage/Black Lizard. I didn’t know at the time he was working mainly with colored pencils…and this is pure magic in my book. The texture and cinematic quality of light and shadow in the drawings are mind-bending. His strange, satiric sensibility and style encompasses everything I love.
What stands out about Nickle’s work that you want an audience to appreciate?
I hope young people discover John’s art, as it will undoubtedly lead them beyond art to reading and an appreciation for printed books … a book’s content as well as its cover.
Now wouldn’t that be sublime.
For more Steven Heller, check out Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility, one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.