Blowing in the Books

Written by Prof. Jan Baetens

Visitors of the « Galerie Bortier » near the Central Station in Brussels (a must see for all those interested in 19th Century arcade culture) will have noticed the Crypte Tonique, a modern antiquarian bookshop specialized in popular culture (please notice the allusion to Superman in the name of the company, which means something like “tonic vault”) and managed by Philippe Capart, equally active as publisher, historian, critic and curator.

Brussels: entrance of the Galerie Bortier
La Crypte Tonique: Manager Philippe Capart

One of his recent initiative is the “blowbook”, a new type of small-sized visual narrative books that “reinvent” a special type of books launched by Dutch cartoonist Alfred Mazure during the Second World War, at a moment of great paper shortage. Yet blowbooks (and there are currently already four of them) are much more than just “little books”.

Blowbooks: the current collection

The format is part of a larger policy trying to remediate two problems of current comics publishing: first the neglect of all formats that not fit into the binary model of either the album or the magazine; second, the often dissuasive price of recent publications, which make them no longer available to their intended audience.

Blowbooks are an answer to these problems, more specifically an answer in print (it is well known that graphic narrative is a field that does not easily move from print to screen) as well an answer that relies on the combination of all criteria that play a role in the making, distributing, selling, and reading of this kind of works:

  • Size: 7,5 x 11,5 cm (the size of a packet of cigarettes or a standard 52 cards deck) and more than 200 pages
  • Layout: one panel per page
  • Material quality of the object: first class printing and binding and particular focus on the work’s cover and opening and ending pages (generally just “filled” with technical information)
  • A new marketing tool: the books are not sold in bookshops or newsstands but in vending machines in the public space (like the first Penguins, by the way).
  • A special prize: five euros.
  • An attractive mix of reissues of classic small format books and new, often highly experimental works.
Vending machine in the Galerie Bortier
Penguin’s original “book-o-mat”

Blowbooks are just great. Buy them. Read them. Share them. Swap them. Keep them (if you manage to get them back from your friends of course).

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