Minds of the Press, Vol. 4

Mike and Rita Tortorello of Pegana Press

In 2009, after a decade of dreaming and contemplating, Mike Tortorello launched Pegana Press with a beautiful broadside of Lord Dunsany's Rhymes From a Suburb. This would set the tone for works to come as he focused on some of the earliest weird fiction writers like H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and of course, Lord Dunsany. In 2012, Mike's wife Rita joined the team to become the binder for Pegana Press, bringing a refined sensibility to the design of their projects. If you are even a casual fan of weird fiction, Pegana is absolutely a press to follow. We are so excited to be able to share our conversation with Mike and Rita. It is an honor to have this veteran duo be a part of our series here at the Collectible Book Vault.

Q: This will be our first interview with a husband-and-wife duo, which is really exciting! What did the first conversation about Pegana Press look like between the two of you? Was it collaborative and slowly evolving or something one of you came up with suddenly?

Rita: It took a long time between the inception of the idea and the day Mike unpacked the press. We were having a random conversation one night and Mike was telling me that he had worked for the local newspaper when he was in high school. He was telling me about all the steps involved in printing a newspaper, which was his actual job there.

Dark Dreamlands by H.P. Lovecraft

Mike had been an enthusiastic collector of books since he was a kid which gave him an appreciation for the way books used to be made. We grew up in the era when the town libraries were filled with old books. There is just no comparison between a book made 100 years ago and what you will find today. It is a completely different experience for the reader.

As I listened to him talk about the printing process, I realized that it might be possible to put that experience to work making the kind of books Mike loved. It was a pretty naïve idea, but we were young, and the world was a different place. We began talking about the idea that night, but it was another 10 years or more before Mike bought the press.

In 2009, Mike and I were both starting businesses at the same time. It was not in the original plan that I would be the binder for Pegana Press. Paris was bound at Ars Obscura in Seattle, and Lost Tales Volume I was a chapbook. I sewed the chapbook for Mike based on the chapbooks produced by Roy A. Squires.

What happened next was that Mike began getting feedback from the people buying the books. They wanted hardbound books. The next book was The Age of Malygris. It was the first casebound book we produced. Mike was still working a day job, and printing books at night (which he continued to do for the first five years of Pegana Press). It wasn’t cost effective at that point to