Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Canzine Interview Series: BookThug

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Jay MillAr and Hazel Millar

On October 17, 2015, the Art Gallery of Ontario will see over 500 zines, comics, art books and small press publications on display and for sale at Canzine, the indie comic and book fair that has been going strong for an unbelievable 20 years. It's now Canada’s largest gathering of independent publishers.

To celebrate this milestone anniversary, we're speaking with Jay MillAr and Hazel Millar, the great minds behind beloved local press BookThug, who have been involved with Canzine since its early days and who are a National Sponsor of the fair this year. We'll also be speaking to Canzine founder Hal Niedzviecki next week, so stay tuned!

Some highlights at Canzine this year include the Radical Reading Series featuring special guest and Pulitzer Prize finalist Ted Rall, and the 1-2 Punch Book Pitch, where aspiring authors get two minutes to pitch their book ideas to a panel of judges.

Jay and Hazel tell us about growing up with Canzine, why the weird and wild shine at the fair and what they are most excited about showcasing this year.

Open Book:

How did you first become involved with Canzine?

Jay MillAr & Hazel Millar:

We’ve known about Canzine for years. We remember as a micropress sitting behind one of their tables years ago when the fair was held in a bar somewhere. We think it was at Sneaky Dee’s? All these many years later, BookThug has grown from a micropress to an independent literary press, and we're now a national sponsor for Canzine. This is pretty fun because we see how big Canzine and the culture it supports has gotten too. It’s like we all grew up together.


How would you describe Canzine's role in the Toronto arts community?

JM & HM:

Canzine is the place where the weird and the wild can shine. You never quite know what you might find at the fair. There is also a great cross-section of creativity from independent literary productions to comic books to pop culture fanzines to poster art to people making little finger puppets or jewelry. Diversity is the bomb.


Tell us about a favourite experience you've had at Canzine.

JM & HM:

Last year, Jay was invited to participate as a judge in in Canzine’s 1-2 Punch Book Pitch. This was a panel where Jay, Jess Taylor and Hal Niedzviecki listened to 2 minute book pitches from anyone who signed up. The pitches were anything from a new book of poetry to a thriller mystery to a zombie apocalypse thing to a book of non-fiction about brain injuries. It was interesting how people would use their two minutes: some had detailed outlines, others were pretty free flowing but used lots of catch-phrases and marketing sound bites. One guy spent most of his time buttering Jay up about BookThug and ran out of time before he could pitch his book, and still another read obtuse prose poems while explaining nothing about their project. The three judges generally criticized and poked fun at each participant in turn for their efforts and then convened and decided on a winner. Then afterward Hal told Jay that he was a terrible judge because he wasn’t mean enough and he’d never be asked back again as a celebrity judge. It was all fun and games.


What are some of the advantages and unique strengths of operating as an indie publisher? How would you describe Toronto's independent publishing scene and culture?

JM & HM:

Toronto’s indie publishing scene is pretty fantastic and vibrant. There are independent presses like BookThug and Coach House Books who are doing their thing, and all around us is this exciting churning froth of micropublishing activities. We're huge fans of presses like words(on)pages or magazines like Little Brother, who are supporting and publishing new writers and artists. What we like about being an indie publisher is the creative freedom it gives us to enter the discussion about what literature is, or could be, in a variety of ways.


What are you most excited to show at Canzine this year?

JM & HM:

We are always excited to display our new fiction and poetry. This year we are particularly excited bring Jess Taylor’s debut short story collection, Pauls, which should hit a nerve for Canzine attendees. At its core, it’s a book about young people (many of whom are named Paul) trying to figure out their place in the world as well as their relationship to each other. The poetry book we are most excited to share is Liz Worth’s pop-art collection No Work Finished Here: Rewriting Andy Warhol, which remixes Andy Warhol’s a: A Novel into a 460 page book of poetry. Again, it’s the kind of alt-lit book that Canzine peeps are going to love. Plus Liz is a featured reader at the Radical Reading Series this year so attendees will also have the chance to hear her perform from the book.


How do you picture the future of Canzine?

JM & HM:

As long as the indie publishing scene continues to be as vibrant and dynamic as it is now then Canzine can only continue to grow and flourish. Vive la Canzine!

BookThug’s publisher Jay MillAr began publishing chapbooks in 1992, under the name Boondoggle Books. Boondoggle was partially modeled after blewointment press, founded by Canadian experimental poet and publisher bill bissett. Eleven years later, MillAr transformed Boondoggle Books into BookThug. In 2004, BookThug began publishing trade books. We’ve been celebrating adventures in literary publishing ever since.

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