Profile: Nobrow Press

Sam Arthur could not stand the idea of disposable print. Garrick Webster meets up with him and his colleague Alex Spiro to hear how they set up Nobrow Press and have created an astounding and esoteric library of work

Selling a range of retro-styled books, comics and magazines, the small publisher Nobrow has achieved cult status among young designers – especially those who count spot colours, bold illustration and whimsical storylines among their favourite things. This theme of ’favourite things’ forms the basis of the newly released issue five of Nobrow magazine, the publication that spearheads the company’s mission to make stunning print products.

’We asked 30 different artists to contribute a different piece of work, which was also a repeatable pattern, that would in some way include a few of their favourite things,’ explains Alex Spiro, who founded the company alongside Sam Arthur three years ago.

The artists appearing in the magazine are often bold mark-makers, and usually employ print-making techniques in their creative process. A key aspect of the magazine is how it is printed. Each issue, Spiro and Arthur choose three or four spot colours and substitute these for the standard cyan, magenta, yellow and black. It is quite an experiment, but the results give Nobrow its unique aesthetic.

’This time we’re using a rich blue, a really warm yellow, quite a bluey pink, and then gold,’ says Spiro. ’The fourth spot colour is always the wild card and in this case it’s gold. It came out really well.’

The favourite things theme from issue five carried over into the design of the pop-up bookshop Nobrow erected at the Pick Me Up exhibition at London’s Somerset House last month. The Nobrow staff love tea, so they made giant teacups, which also served as seating. They like photography too, and constructed a giant Leica camera out of cardboard. And, of course, they love books and comics, and these were on sale at the event. You can also find its products in the Nobrow shop and gallery in Shoreditch, where shows are held that weave into the publishing work it does, featuring the artists it works with.

One recent highlight is Pebble Island, a silent comic created with the artist Jon McNaught. There are no voice bubbles in it, though there are comic-book-style noises. The story is based on the illustrator’s recollections of living on the Falkland Islands. Another fantastic Nobrow publication is A Graphic Cosmogony, a hardback book including 24 creation myths illustrated by different artists.

Nobrow chooses artists according to its own tastes, but is sent a lot of work by aspiring illustrators. As it sees so many portfolios, while inspiring the creatives who buy its products, it is interesting to know who it is tipping to be the next big thing. ’Jack Teagle – you’ll be seeing more of him from time to time,’ says Sam Arthur. ’For a young guy he’s got a really confident way of working and a great work ethic as well.’

’Meg Hunt is a really interesting artist,’ adds Spiro. ’She has a style that I haven’t really seen before and she has a great body of work and she’s very adept at dealing with narratives.’

While both partners have a background in design – Spiro as an illustrator and Arthur in animation – they have found their groove in publishing and there is plenty of ambition for the future. They are planning a vinyl toy with the illustrator McBess, and have big plans for issue six of Nobrow magazine – look for something thicker, with more of a narrative element to it.

’Our aim is to expand our library systematically over the next few years so that we have some weight as a publisher,’ says Spiro. ’We’re quite new, and I like to think that we have a little bit of weight, but there’s always more work to be done so we’re just going to keepon working.’

It all stems from that passion many designers share, which is to create desirable print products. ’We’re always trying to improve and make books as beautiful as they can be, and make them as well as they can be made,’ concludes Arthur.

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