Colleen Louise Barry publishes weird and wonderful books under the name Mount Analogue. It’s not just the name of her press so much as a pseudonym; the names “Mount Analogue” and “Colleen Louise Barry” are basically synonymous, the way “Nine Inch Nails” and “Trent Reznor” can be swapped out interchangeably.
Her books have a small print run and, externally, a minimalistic aesthetic. (Barry cites low-impact press Publication Studio as an inspiration for Mount Analogue’s look.) But open those covers and you’re likely to see something you’ve never seen before. Mount Analogue has published political pamphlets and weirdo poetry and hand-crafted erasures and books that are entirely made out of screen captures from episodes of The Bachelor with the closed-captioning left on. For the rest of this week, we’re going to review one Mount Analogue title per day, in order to give you a sense of the scope of her output.
In person, Barry exudes positivity: she smiles a lot, she wears clothing fashioned from bright and interesting fabrics, and she demonstrates enthusiasm for everything from comics to physics to booksellers to television shows. She’s curious and confident and full of energy and all those other qualities you want to see in a relatively new publisher.
So when we meet at Ada’s Technical Books one afternoon, I decide to open with the hardest question in the arsenal: Why, in the year 2017, would anyone want to be a publisher?
“When I graduated from college in 2010, I moved straight to New York and started working in publishing at Random House,” Barry explains. “We would have these grand meetings every week with all the publishers of each imprint,” she says, “and I happened to work for the mass-market trade paperback imprint: George Martin and Danielle Steele and all these people. We had this money-focused idea about books.”
Barry says every meeting hinged on defending books from some invisible attacker, with questions like: "How are we going to strategize, how are we going to survive ebooks? How are we going to survive Amazon?" Everyone focused on “the nostalgic value of books and the idea of the physicality of books,” but at the same time they were publishing books that were “produced so cheaply and so quickly and so cookie-cutter.” The stuff she was doing at her day job didn’t reflect her own “really personal relationship with books and with reading.” Barry recalls thinking to herself again and again at those meetings: "Well, y'all aren't the future of books."
“These small publishers and these communities that gather around the ideas in books and the way that books populate their lives physically as objects — that's the future,” she says. The future of books is “smaller” and more personal. “So I left Random House and went to grad school at UMass Amherst and did my MFA in poetry. My parents freaked out about that,” she admits.
Barry abruptly cut one future short and embraced another “partly because I wanted to not just be constantly worried about what was dying, but to really be a part of what I felt was the pulse and what was alive — which was communities, thoughtful production, thoughtful cross-genre, ways that books become other things, can become worlds.”
All of which is a great answer, of course, but it doesn’t get to the nut of the question: why publishing? Why not just writing? “I like having conversations about things — not necessarily conversations like sitting across from a table with someone and talking.” To her, publication is a process of conversation. She points to one of Mount Analogue’s books, Ted Powers’ Manners. “If, for example, Ted has this collection of poems and this collection of collages, I want to put them together and then I want to risograph them and publish them that way, because when you put them all together like that, that makes something totally new.”
The act of publishing, Barry says, does deal in “other peoples’ art, and it is so important and meaningful to me to give a platform to that. But also I feel that it's my art, too. It's really collaboration, I think.”
So far, Mount Analogue has been built on small local grants from organizations like the Office of Arts and Culture. Barry says when she publishes a title, they start with “about 200 books a print run, with the idea that we will do second runs in the future,” although she does leave open the option of completely changing the books between print runs, in an effort to make the mass production of books “meaningful, rather than just reprinting things.”
Mount Analogue is home to a number of projects including a quarterly series called Conversations with Women, which Barry describes as “basically an excuse for me to make art with a lot of really incredible people who identify as female in my life and beyond.” The first conversation is a “wild hybrid of fiction, tarot, comics, and field guides to birds. We put them all together in this deck of cards” into a “re-arrange-able short story.” The next conversation will be titled Fumetti for the Mothership. (Fumetti is an Italian word for comics made from photos instead of drawing.)
Barry doesn’t retain any snobbish distinctions between poetry or comics. To her, it’s all art. “I love comics, I draw comics, I think comics are maybe my window into our books and how I first encountered art in a serial book form, which is pretty important for me.” That’s one way that the city has “inspired” her work as a publisher: “there are so many great publishers and artists of comics in Seattle that it was really exciting when I first got here.”
But that raises another question: why did Barry move to Seattle after graduating from UMass? Why not, say, Brooklyn? Her answer for that is pretty straightforward: “money was a big factor.” But isn’t Seattle expensive, too? Why not Portland or Olympia? Barry says “the community here is really vibrant and a huge reason why what I do is even possible at all.”
When she was publishing her first books, she immediately found a number of people who were eager to work with her to bring her exact vision to life. She published with Saigon Printing on Beacon Hill and Phil’s Custom Bindery in Georgetown, and both were eager to work with her schedule and establish payment plans. The Factory offered to host her launch party for free. “Every single part of [the publication process] is so beautiful and unique,” Barry says. “I don't know if it would be possible in other cities to do something like that.”
This summer, Barry is collaborating with curator Molly Mac on a show called “Listen” at Georgetown gallery Equinox. “The show is audio work, essentially — audio and film and lots of ideas about listening, essentially, and what it means to listen.” She’s working on a companion book for the show, which she describes as “a strange art object.” And then in the fall, she’s publishing a book titled Clean Rooms, Low Rates, which is a collaboration featuring stories about hotel rooms written by a novelist named Jeff Parker and a photos of hotel rooms by a British photographer named Brendan Barry.
In the long run, Barry dreams of opening up a space for Mount Analogue somewhere in the city, something as freeform and inventive as the books she publishes. She describes a space to buy zines and small-press books, a performance space, a gallery, and an area for people to just come and talk about art, “a place where everything can coincide and collide into each other.” That’s about as good a definition for the Mount Analogue experience as any.