A CONVERSATION WITH JASON POLAN, JENNY TONDERA, AND CHARLIE B. WARD
OCTOBER 22, 2012
Michelle Yo, ICP Store Assistant, spoke to Jason Polan (JP), Jenny Tondera (JT), and Charlie B. Ward (CW) about Polan's The Land Can Handle It, the inaugural publications from Tondera and Ward's Parts & Labor Books. They join ICP for a book signing on Thursday, October 25.
MY: I thought each of you could talk about another person in this group—what they do and their role in the book The Land Can Handle It.
JP: I am Jason Polan, and I met Charlie maybe 2 years ago. We immediately became friends, because I think we have some similar interests in things. We had talked about going on a road trip last year around the [NY Art] Book Fair time. I was talking about how much I love road trips. Charlie was talking about how much he loves road trips. So we kind of decided to do one together. And since Charlie had a car... I was just excited to do it with Charlie because we get along well, and I like his work a lot. And I think we have a kind of similar way of looking at things.
CW: Jenny and I met through Alec Soth at his studio, because she was the quote-unquote intern, but really she was making books and more. Long story short, Jenny and I went out one night to a bar and had a bunch of beers before she left for Philly, and we kind of drunkenly confessed our dreams about making books together.
JP: And the first time I met Jenny was at ICP. I think Charlie introduced me at Brad Zeller's Conductors of the Moving World signing.
JT: Yes! You're right! We met just outside ICP. Life comes full circle.
MY: Did the road trip idea come first and foremost or had you guys [Jenny and Charlie] talked about making it the first book published through Parts & Labor?
JP: I didn't know I was going to do the book project with them when we were initially deciding to do the trip. I think it was evolving as I was with Charlie, and I thought it would be a good fit for the project.
CW: We knew we wanted our first book to be with Jason but we didn't know what it was going to be yet.
JT: Yeah, that was in our mind. If we were going to do this thing, we should do a book with Jason. And then you guys were on your road trip. I think I may have gotten a text from you, Charlie. "You know I think this road trip might be a really cool book." I think it went from there. But I think it's really cool that you guys weren't like, "This is our road trip, and we're going to make a book." You guys just had cool trip, and Jason made all these cool things on the trip that became a book.
MY: I saw the full PDF today for the first time, and I just want to say, it's really beautiful. Jason, you're most known for your drawings. But The Land Can Handle It has writing, photographs, and collected objects. Is that something you do in your everyday life? Collect?
JP: Yes, collecting is vital to what I do. It was funny I just got back from my other trip [to Spain]. I was thinking of how well it would work in this format again. I've been collecting a lot, and I think it would work into a book format. During this trip I don't think I was really doing anything really out of my normal kind of mode. I think it's kind of the things that catch my attention in a certain way. That either look weird or silly or funny. And even on Instagram and in my drawings I'm trying to see those things. I guess it's like I'm always practicing; I'm always trying to improve. And this book is a part of that.
JT: Yeah, I think what is really special about the book to me. if I had to summarize it into just a few words, I would say that it's a book about your point of view, Jason. People are used to seeing your drawings, but it really is a book from your perspective and how you view the world through writing, illustration, and photography, and collecting. That's the coolest thing to me.
JP: I don't usually do things in color, and I don't usually do photo stuff. And I usually don't put my writing out there to this extent so I'm just really excited for people to see this. And I hope they like it.
MY: You guys were traveling through the Dakotas, Minnesota, and other places in the Midwest. I can't help but bring up the fact that all of us on this phone call are from there originally. Can you talk about how being from the Midwest influences your work? Charlie, I know you're there right now.
CW: You know Jenny and I from the beginning wanted an angle and some sort of unspoken mission statement. [We wanted] the people that we were working with to have midwestern ideals.
JT: Even the name "Parts & Labor Books" came out of a discussion that Charlie and I had about what a really simple name could be that really does embody those midwestern ideals. Parts & Labor is about getting back to the basics of the Midwest—that strong work ethic and that kind of blue collar feel. Just as a publishing company we're not interested in super fancy, high production books necessarily. It's just more about doing things that we love and doing them really simply and directly.
MY: Can you talk about how the idea of a Minnesota lottery ticket as a part of the book came up? And what the intention behind that is?
JP: Charlie and I first started off in the trip...I think we were just kind of excited and giddy. It was near the beginning. We started to get lottery tickets just as a fun thing to do. And I was kind of never a big scratch-off lottery person? And I don't think Charlie was either? We ended up getting, like, 7 or 8 of them total. It was just kind of this fun exciting moment together where we would scratch them off. I think we ended up maybe $2 ahead. I think just the idea of having one in the book was fun, and the idea that if you bought this book that it could maybe be worth $1,000 is also a fun idea.
MY: Is it possible to collect the winnings not being a Minnesota resident?
CW: Yeah, you can mail it in. There's instructions on the back. I want you to have that money! My favorite part of the book is in the back, in the notes. The first thing Jason goes through is the tally of money, and how we're doing on these lottery tickets. If you're curious enough to go through you'll find more answers to the book—what he's referencing. It adds a nice layer to it, and it's a more tactile part of the book.
MY: Jenny, since your main role in this project was as a designer, can you talk about the design of the book, and what makes it unique to the book format?
JT: Thinking about this road trip format, things happen in a sequence, and that's the way the book is sequenced for the most part. Besides a few minor things it follows the exact path of their trip. If you go to that log that's in the back of the book, and you're reading along and following along, things are going to match up for you following along with images. The sequence of them is what really merits a photo book. I think maybe these things would look strange if you saw them on a gallery wall somewhere. To me, a book is really personal, and Jason's work in general is very personable. This book is also 7 x 7.25 in.—it's not some giant, giant book. It's meant to feel kind of small. My thought with the spiral binding—it wasn't even a question. We just all kind of knew it was going to be a spiral-bound book.
CW: Jason and I were talking about that on the road trip. We were looking at the road atlas a lot, and I think that was part of where it started. Jason, remember that? Spiral-bound! We love that feeling of turning the map pages.
JP: I think my sketchbook is spiral-bound. I think I'm attracted to that.
MY: Is there anything that you haven't had a chance to talk about in terms of Parts & Labor Books or The Land Can Handle It?
JT: We just want people to come and eat pizza and drink beer with us! It will be fun!
CW: It's really interesting just setting this [launch and signing] up and timing it, and getting out there. It's this big release. I just really want people to see it. Like all my friends: "So you're doing a book thing? What is it?" You know?
JT: Yeah, I think going back to what Charlie was saying earlier about how we started Parts and Labor, because we wanted to do our own thing. The signing at ICP is just a huge culmination of those things. I'm still kind of in disbelief that it's actually happening, because its just something we talked about two years ago. It's like dreams coming true!
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