top of page
Search

Minds of the Press, Vol. 12

Marko Matijašević of Amaranthine Books


This Croatia-based press was founded in 2015 by Marko Matijašević and began simply as a dream to take classic pieces of literature and give them new life with lavish illustrations and fresh designs. Starting with classics like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dracula, and Frankenstein, Amaranthine is now expanding into uncharted new territory with more recent works like Catch-22 and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Marko exudes the kind of enthusiasm and genuine passion that wins you over immediately, you can't help but want him to succeed. Amaranthine recently added a new Heidelberg Press to their facility and an in-house marbler to give their productions even more consistency, efficiency, and proper letterpress treatment going forward. The process of interviewing him has been delightful and we are so excited for you to get to hear a little bit more about his vision for Amaranthine Books.


Q: Amaranthine Books has been around for eight years now, but there was a time when it was nothing more than an aspiration. Can you describe what first inspired you to consider such an undertaking? Were there any moments that required a high level of perseverance? Who were the people in your life who pushed you to be where you are today?


It all started some ten years ago when I was looking for some special editions of the books I loved. Frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t find everything I wanted, a thought crossed my mind—why don’t I make them? Mind you, at that time I had no experience making books. I was working at an advertising agency as a copywriter, so print ads and billboards were the closest thing to printed work that I had come in contact with at the time. But I knew two things: that I didn’t want to stay in advertising and that I loved books. This odd combination drove me over the years. Ironically, working in a creative department of an ad agency taught me a lot about graphic design, typography, paper, desktop publishing and more. All this knowledge was quite handy when I finally made up my mind and decided to officially start the company two years later. It was still merely a hobby then and it wasn’t until 2018 that I started to work in Amaranthine full time. For the first couple of years, I had to freelance as a copywriter to cover expenses, which led to a lot of stress and little to no sleep. So, over the years there were quite a few moments that required high levels of perseverance, as you put it so aptly.

The "Clue Edition" of the Sherlock Collection

When the Kickstarter campaign failed, when I took out a loan to make Jekyll & Hyde but I couldn’t sell a copy for months, when I was making Dracula in batches since I couldn’t fund the full print run at once… And those were just a few of many hard moments I had to push through. A couple of times I even thought about calling it quits. All the while everyone around me (in Croatia) thought it could never be more than a glorified hobby. Not that anyone actively discouraged me, they simply couldn’t see it. And I understand them completely, because more often than not, I couldn’t either. The dream was too big. Even to this day, when I run into some people who haven’t seen me in a long while, they ask me “So what do you actually do?” But once I explain that there actually is a whole community who love fine press books, then they kind of start to get it.


I do have to say that I did have one email that meant a lot to me, because one of the greats liked my work. When Dracula was published, Jerad from Centipede sent me an email saying he loves what I’m doing with the press, that it’s gorgeous work, and that he just wanted to voice his support. That’s it, just a short email admiring my work. I was so happy! Someone who is considered one of the titans in this community actually knew about my work and liked it. It felt great and it certainly motivated me to keep working. Thanks, Jerad!


Q: That's incredible, one of the most encouraging things that I've seen within the small/fine press community is their support for each other's endeavors. Tell us a little bit more about the name. In addition to just sounding nice phonetically, Amaranthine means, “unfading; everlasting; eternally beautiful.” Was there a particular instance where you saw this word and realized it was the perfect name for your press? How do you continue to try and live up to the meaning behind the name?


Thanks! I have been in search of a name for six months since the moment I decided to start the press. I was plagued by the notion of working in advertising, which by its very nature is ephemeral, and I wanted to do something that would last. I suppose that’s the thing about books that attracted me in the first place; they are echoes of people (sometimes) long gone. So, by making these special editions, I could attempt to at least hide in the monumental shadow of these great writers and my name could live on even after I am gone. Then I realised that a collection of one’s books could tell a lot about the person even when they are no longer with us. Our personal libraries are like fingerprints, each unique and shining a light on our character. All of the books we collect during our lives can be passed on to those who come after us—and they should be—and in that way, we can reach many generations long after we are gone.

Marko Matijašević

Driven by all these thoughts, I began to research words and phrases, finally landing on Amaranthine. The logo came quickly after, because the letters “a” and “b” formed a kind of infinity sign which I deliberately chose to break, because nothing really lasts forever. But then again, we certainly wish that some things could.


As you can probably tell, I have a thing with immortality and leaving a legacy. I suppose Amaranthine is an amalgamation of all these thoughts and ideas, so I try to funnel them through the books. Therefore, each project needs to challenge me, surpassing what I made before in some way, all in hopes that the end result will live up to the name Amaranthine.


Q: What process did you go through when determining your first book? All of the books you have produced so far have been public domain titles, but you have announced future projects that require obtaining rights to be able to use them. How have you found the process of working with publishers and estates to be able to produce more recent titles?


I liked Jekyll and Hyde as a story, which was probably the biggest inspiration for the Incredible Hulk, who is arguably one of my favourite comic book characters (see: Planet Hulk comic). It was also quite short, which was also a plus, since if I was about to make a book, I might as well start modestly. But the plan was always to do licensed work as well, it just took some time to get there.


As for the process, we’re still getting there, but we’re starting to get a hang of things. It’s a long and often tedious process, which results in either ignored emails or ones containing a negative answer more often than I would like, but I suppose we’re still that new kid on the block.


Q: There are very few presses that have jumped straight into licensed work, so you are in good company there. You are a fine press publisher based in Croatia, publishing books in English and serving a client base mainly located in North America and Western Europe, competing in a space with some of the best small/fine press publishers in the United States, Canada, U.K. and the rest of Europe. What were some of the unique challenges that you had to overcome in production, shipping, and finding your audience as you started this business?


Well, shipping and audience were the big ones, I’d say. Costs of shipping to the USA are steep, especially if you are a new company with no track record. Even then, the courier companies frown upon not having a certain number of packages daily or monthly. Since we ship when the production is over, we basically have two or three big shipping lumps within a year, so they started to track us on a yearly basis. But then COVID happened and the shipping fees doubled and have not come down since. Despite all of this, we still provide free shipping, including insurance, no matter where it has to go. I’m always annoyed when I want to order something online and the shipping fee shocks me at the very last step, so I wanted none of that on our web shop. It keeps things transparent and clear. We did charge shipping at the very beginning, but it annoyed me to no end, so I eliminated it.

The "Hyde Edition" of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Finding the audience was another big hurdle. The road to the first book sold was bumpy, including a failed Kickstarter campaign and a website that was revamped about half a dozen times. In the end, I made the website we have today myself, which is incidentally also my first website ever (and hopefully last). In 2017 I managed to save enough money to make 50 books: 30 Hyde Editions and 20 Jekyll Editions, all at a horrible rate because of the low volume. But make them I did and they were gorgeous. They also sold really well and really fast. Someone posted them on some collector’s forum and I was shipping them at a blazing speed during the night, then sleeping a few hours before going to my (literal) day job. I was very motivated by this and I took out a huge loan to make about 600 Hyde Editions and 300 Jekyll Editions in total. It took months to get them made and I was scared that the hype would die down. Once I placed them back in stock, there were a few sales before it all went to a standstill which lasted for months sometimes.


Then there was a local competition here in Croatia which had a category for culture and they had financial awards. I applied with a concept for Dracula and didn’t make it to the top 10, but I shrugged it off because I didn’t really expect it could win. Then they called me about a month later and informed me that one applicant gave up and since I was 11th in the line, that pushed me to the finals. In the end Dracula won 3rd place. I was beside myself, because that money was just enough to get about 80 copies of Dracula made. I just wanted to get the ball rolling. Dracula was good, but it wasn’t enough, so I did online ads, sent hundreds of emails, everything I could think of and it slowly pulled us through. It was particularly stressful because my private life was in shambles due to my own illness at the time and my mother being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It was definitely a new low. Not sure how, but I pushed through, taking it day by day. Slowly, but steadily, the sales rose and we even got a few major resellers interested.

The "Scholomance Edition" of Dracula

By the end of 2019, I even had a first employee: Mia Pantić. Three years later, she is our production director, making sometimes impossible things happen. Production was also tough, but more because I was almost a nuisance for the big printers and binderies here. My volume order was low and it came with my perfectionism, which meant that I had to wait for gaps in their schedule where they might fit me. Over time, my appetite grew and about two years ago I realised that soon even the best printers and binderies in the region won’t be able to match it, so that’s why we started to slowly shift everything in-house.


Q: I don’t think you have ever made a book that people would call boring, there are always tons of unique elements to every production. You have done things like adding glow-in-the-dark elements to illustrations and using ink that changes when heat is applied, as well as selling editions encased in a chess board or picture frame. As you think about the elements of a new project, do you try to determine where the line is between adding creative pieces that enhance the overall work or components that may detract from the work itself or is it just about having fun with it and doing what you enjoy with the design?


It’s a bit hard to explain, so bear with me please. Essentially, I know what I have read so far and what I liked about it, but I’m also always on the lookout for interesting techniques, be it printing or otherwise. Then, when it’s all jumbled up in my head, I “forget” about it until my mind makes a connection and an idea springs into mind. By then, I know there is some deeper connection there, because I hate doing things “just because”. For Jekyll & Hyde, it was the play between black and white papers, which evolved into double-sided illustrations to represent the protagonist’s and the antagonist’s point of view; for Dracula it was the fact that he was sensitive to (sun)light and that it didn’t, in fact, kill him, which evolved into 50 crates of Scholomance edition filled with soil—the exact same number of crates he shipped to London, and so on; for Frankenstein it was about how the monster just wanted a human connection, which evolved into use of thermochromic ink and so on. Each of them were based on an insight which allowed for the creative concept to evolve from it. That is why I always strive to have an underlying theme in all our editions and if you look close enough, you’ll find many details that support this thinking.

The "Monster Edition" of Frankenstein

Back when it all first started, I was thinking about what kind of books Amaranthine should do. Especially since there were already quite a few publishers who do exquisite bindings and marvelous art, and printed letterpress to boot. I felt that the world didn’t really need yet another publisher like that. I’d just be trying to squeeze into a well-established space, trying to take customers from those excellent publishers. So, I’ve decided that I want to do my own thing, where boundaries will be pushed and concepts could be freely explored. Sometimes it means going into some obscure printing technique or building something around the book, but it’s all established in the creative concept and has a clear reason why it is there. I’m well aware that this is sometimes quite polarising, but I’m fine with that.


This deep dive into the conceptual also means that I have to give each title a lot of attention, so I’m pretty much the bottleneck of the whole operation. On the other hand, 3-4 books per year seems like a good pace to me. Maybe one day we’ll be able to make 5, but I’d rather we have fun doing it than rush anything.


Q: There have been some very ambitious projects in the past including the Bandersnatch edition of Alice in Wonderland and the lettered version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Were there any versions of past projects where you came up with an idea and realized after trying to create it that it wasn’t going to work? What other projects did you have the most trouble bringing to fruition when it came down to the logistics of realizing what was in your head?


I’m fortunate enough that I can say that pretty much everything I have ever conceived for our books we were also able to make. I’m a pretty persistent person by nature and once an idea takes hold in my head, I will rack my brain trying to figure out how to get it made. That being said, Bandersnatch definitely takes the throne. There were so many iterations of that, always resulting in a lesson and a pivot. Needless to say, the first idea wasn’t even remotely like the one we ended up with. It was far less ambitious. But there was a creative concept and I couldn’t ignore it so we worked around it until it finally got made. We had to restart the whole production at one moment, which was a huge blow to us. But in the end, we persisted and the end result was definitely worth it.

The "Bandersnatch Edition" of Alice in Wonderland

This whole experience made us realise that there are two phases to our work: R&D and production. In R&D phase, I am like a kid at a gas station during a road trip with hundred bucks in his hands—anything goes. But once we reach the final prototype, I hand over the reins to Mia and can no longer intervene and complicate things. This results in a more streamlined process with the least amount of headaches for everyone involved.


Q: That's the first time I've heard of the idea being split into two completely distinct phases, but it makes sense with the scope of some of your productions. You recently moved into a new space, hired new staff, acquired a Heidelberg Press (Heidi) and announced you will be doing marbling in-house moving forward. Obviously, all of these decisions point to being more self-sufficient as a press and having less reliance on third-party collaborators. Tell us a little bit about what went into this decision. What do you see as the benefits of giving you more control in your own process and timeline and do you see any drawbacks in terms of less potential inspiration from artists outside of your own influence?


We still collaborate outside of the company for work that requires specialists, like illustrators or some kind of metalwork. My goal isn’t to move absolutely everything in-house, but to create a workflow that could do rapid prototyping so we could go through iterations faster. That’s why we hired Filip Majcen, who does all of the prototyping, i.e. special cases, mechanisms, bindings etc. At first, he was just a contractor for us, but then we figured that we had a certain synergy and that this could result in book production happening completely in-house eventually, and so we asked him to join our little team.

Heidi on delivery day

With this in mind, I wanted to reduce the production time, while increasing the quality of our work, which in turn should allow us to introduce more special features. The purchase of Heidelberg Cylinder was just the first (big) step toward that goal. That’s why my old friend Danko Đuašin joined us as printer and currently, we’re over halfway done printing Sherlock, and we’ll probably be completely done printing by the time it is published. This still feels unreal because somehow, we are ahead of schedule. Truth be told, I always tend to err on the side of caution, but I was still surprised just how fast everything is going.


The marbling is a special case, which we honestly didn’t plan for at first. We always had scheduling issues with it, especially since we are so remote from the rest of the fine press world, so when the opportunity presented to hire the young artist by the name of Tana Marčeta, we jumped the gun. Suddenly there were so many of us and there was so much admin work, quality control and overall logistics, that I just couldn’t keep up. So, I asked another old friend of mine, Sunčica Valdec, to join our team and now she makes sure that everything is running smoothly and acts as kind of a conduit between all of us.


My hope is that this approach will still yield us outside inspiration from others, but also help us to run a tighter ship. We always did things our way, so to speak, this is just the evolution of that.


Q: So many small/fine presses have been limited by one or two particular facets of their production, so it makes sense to try and have control over whatever parts you can. You seem to be very in tune with some of the quirks and needs of the average collector. For example, you upgraded Sherlock to letterpress at the last moment, because you wanted future Sherlock volumes to match not only in style, but also quality. How do you balance the specific desires of your followers with the practicalities of running a business? Would you consider yourself a collector of books as well and if so, what was your experience before starting Amaranthine Books?


Hah, to be honest, letterpress was primarily my personal goal and I was so impatient about it that I wanted to introduce it as soon as possible. Fortunately, my own goals seem to overlap by quite a lot with the quirks and needs of an average collector, as you said so yourself. Sherlock was just the tipping point because it would annoy me to no end if one book in the collection was not printed letterpress. So, all this created a perfect storm of sorts which nudged us to do it. Again, everyone here told us not to do it, that it’s a dying technique; that there is absolutely no reason to do it. But I did the math and it checked out.

Marko examining letterpress printed sheets for Sherlock

Sure, it’s more expensive for us and it certainly affected our profits to a degree, but I can’t run Amaranthine purely from a business perspective, just as I can’t run it from a purely artistic perspective. It has to be a happy marriage of the two. There is a lot of stuff we want to introduce in the future, but it takes time to get there. At the risk of sounding like a cliché: it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Funny enough, I didn’t know that much about the fine press world when the idea for Amaranthine came. I only knew of Folio Society and bought a couple of books from them, but I wanted some titles that I liked and I had my own visions of them, so it kind of served as an inkling for Amaranthine.


Nowadays, I’m fortunate enough that I’m literally creating my own collection. I do, however, purchase books from other small presses if I like them and they happen to have the book in stock. It’s a pretty amazing community altogether and I for one am happy to be part of it.


Q: Tell us a little bit more about what life looks like for you outside of Amaranthine Books? Where do you draw inspiration from outside of the world of small/fine press publishing and what do you enjoy doing when you aren’t working on the imprint?


This is going to sound so dull, but here we go. During the work week, I get up fairly early, usually around 6am. This is the only way that I can do something for myself before going to the office. I use this time for writing, because it helps me to escape into my own world. I have never published anything, I merely share it with friends, but who knows, maybe one day I’ll give it a whirl… After that, I usually do some kind of training to keep me energised throughout the rest of the day. Then it’s pretty much Amaranthine all the way until the end of the day, sometimes literally.

The "Portrait Edition" of The Picture of Dorian Gray

We’re still getting adjusted to the fact that we moved to the new space, that the team is bigger, and that we now have in-house production as well. On top of that, we’re planning to renovate the space, so at one point we’ll have to move temporarily, which is yet another hurdle to jump. All of this is causing me to do quite a bit of juggling during the day as I try to organise current affairs and future plans.


If I have time in the evening and I’m not completely beaten, I will either read a book or a comic, or catch about 20 minutes of a movie I started to watch a couple of days ago (usually I don’t have time to watch movies in one sitting, unless it’s a non-working weekend). Occasionally, I’ll even play a game on a console, but overall, my week tends to be pretty boring from the outside, when actually I’m having a lot of (stressful) fun. All these small activities outside of work actually bring a lot of new ideas into my mind. In the end, it’s all about stories and that’s what Amaranthine does as well, after all; we build our own stories on top of other people’s stories.


Recently I made a decision that I’ll try to avoid work during weekends because it was starting to get unhealthy. So, on those days I’ll try to either tend to my plants (I have a lot of big plants in my apartment) and relax on my terrace with my friends. This is usually accompanied by a BBQ or cooking some food.


But what I really like to do in my free time is travel. Unfortunately, in the past couple of years, I have only been able to do short stints, sometimes not even that. There was simply too much work and I couldn’t be away for too long.

Interior Illustration from Alice in Wonderland

But travel is what influences my work the most because it completely unhinges me from my routine. Sometimes I even travelled solo, just to get out of my comfort zone and see how I’ll handle it. I travelled through the whole of Argentina (and a bit of Chile) like that, as well as through Thailand and Cuba. My #1 on the bucket list is a road trip through the USA. It has been for as long as I can remember and I have the whole itinerary planned out and somehow it still keeps growing. Hopefully, it’ll happen in the next couple of years.


Q: I resonate with that a lot, sometimes a new setting with new people seems to open up your mind to ideas you haven't had time to think about in your daily routine. Anytime I meet someone who has devoted their life to creating books, it was makes me wonder what inspired them early on in life. What were the most formative stories of your early years and what authors do you enjoy currently?


This question caused a really nice stroll down memory lane. As a kid, when I was about 8 or 9, I used to spend my summers mostly in the public library of my small hometown Orahovica. At first, I read books from the kid’s section, but soon I discovered Jules Verne. My mind was blown. I read through everything they had. By some stroke of luck, I read The Mysterious Island last and it was my first experience of a crossover in, well, anything and I was blown away by that.


Since I went through pretty much anything interesting in the kid’s section, the librarian kindly offered me to give the adult’s section a go. Little did she know, I was still picking books out by the looks of their covers. I picked up a book with a shiny red toy car on the front. It was the Regulators by Richard Bachman (or rather, Stephen King). I’ll say right away that I absolutely loved the book, but it did leave a mark. It was my first real horror book and I was both thrilled by and scared of Tak.

The "Mission Edition" of Catch-22

A few years later when I realised there is a “sister” book called Desperation, I immediately went to read it. Again, amazing, but probably should have waited a couple of years before reading it. Or perhaps not; perhaps it was good that I was exposed to such work so early and without any censorship. They are still probably my favourite King books, along with Needful Things. Other than these, back then I read 2001: A Space Odyssey, Starship Troopers, Childhood’s End and similar works. Anything that was science fiction, was fine in my book (hah!).


Q: If there were no limitations in terms of acquisition and rights, what would be a few of your dream books/series to try and adapt? What excites you about these particular titles and how they could be realized?


In the past couple of years, my favourite books were already adapted or are in the process of being adapted, which is kind of fortunate, because it eases the pressure on me and I have at least a couple of years before I can give them a go, probably even longer.


I already mentioned Regulators and Desperation, which I would like to make in some manner of books that are somehow part of the series but still separate. As I explained earlier, they represent a really important step in my life and I would like to tackle that and see what comes on the other end. Needless to say, I would also try the other favourite from King, Needful Things. So far, I’ve been declined for all three, but I’ll keep trying.

Handmade Marbled Endpapers in The "Monster Edition" of Frankenstein

Other than that, my favourite series is First Law, so I’m really excited to see what Anthony at Curious King does with that. Library at Mount Char is another favourite, as well as The Black Company, so I suppose Travis from MidWorld Press and I have pretty similar taste! But other than that, I would really like to tackle the Three-Body Problem, even the whole series. Those books really blew my mind with the ideas and scope of the whole thing. I know it has its flaws, but things it does right, it does right indeed. I already have a concept in mind, so it’s just a matter of working out the rights.


If I would like to dream really big, it would be going after The Dark Tower novels, doing the whole crazy thing. Loved all the tie-ins and crossovers. The whole thing is an absolute masterpiece.


Q: I believe you are the third press owner I've interviewed who has specifically mentioned The Dark Tower at the top of your list, I do really hope someone can acquire rights at some point, it really deserves a fine press treatment. If there was one word or phrase that came to mind when people think of Amaranthine Books, what would you hope that it would be?


For the ages.


Or if it has to be one word: Legacy.


Q: We know that Catch-22 and 2001: A Space Odyssey are on deck as the next two projects as well as potentially more Sherlock down the way, but is there anything else in the future that you can tease or give us hints about? Where do you see Amaranthine Books going from here?


I would tease if I had rights secured, but we’re still negotiating a couple of titles, so can’t say anything that will happen for sure, sorry. Our fans often suggest titles so we made a shortlist and then created a poll with a couple of misdirections. It was recently sent through our newsletter, so we will see in which direction it goes and how it coincides with my ideas.


I think we will stick with the mix of horror and sci-fi, with a little bit of fantasy sprinkled on top. Possibly some other random genres here and there. We also have a huge roadmap full of ideas on how to further improve our future books and keep things interesting. We’ll get there, it will just take some time.

Check out the new video preview of their Heidelberg Press (Heidi) here: Video


Sherlock and Catch-22 are currently up for sale at https://amaranthinebooks.com/


This interview was done in a series of communications back and forth between Zach and Marko and we would like to heartily thank Marko for his time. If you want to see more from Amaranthine Books you can check them out at their website (link above) and sign up for their mailing list to get periodic updates. You can also follow Amaranthine on Facebook and Instagram.


Interview by: Zach Harney a contributor to the Collectible Book Vault


*Since there are often different spellings in American English and British English of the same words, we have chosen to adhere to the spelling of the person who is speaking rather than conform to one convention for the whole interview.

1,498 views183 comments

Recent Posts

See All

183 comentários


Zach Harney
Zach Harney
12 de ago. de 2023

The winners are:


@shawnwithbooks

Lilly Winsome

Petrik Leo


Thank you everyone for joining in! There will be more coming in the near future, cheers!

Curtir

great interview, excited to see where this blog series goes next

Curtir

Would love to see some fantasy and what you would do with them.

Curtir

Speaking of traveling, this press is in Croatia and the last blog post interviewee was in Poland. I'm catching the wanderlust bug myself, want to go visit these countries myself now.

Curtir

Can we talk about how Amaranthine Books is the only press that I am aware that has been on track to finish a project EARLY in at least the past few years?!? I guess if anyone can pull that off, it's Marko. He has such a way of pulling off the impossible on a regular basis. He is for sure in the right industry.

Curtir
bottom of page