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New Fine Press Feature: Erebia Christi

Updated: Feb 9

Interview with Artistic Director Lisa Gorla


We are very excited to get to talk to the artistic director of Erebia Christi, a Milan-based fine press that is firmly anchored in Italian culture and legacy, yet creating modern bindings that can appeal to those who appreciate fine press books all around the world. In the very near future, they will be releasing their first project, Memoirs of a Puppet, an art-driven take on the classic Italian story of Pinocchio. Working with some of the finest artisans around the country, they aim to produce works that pay homage to the historical tradition of bookbinding, while introducing art and methods that seamlessly blend this tradition with the best parts of the modern fine press movement. We hope you enjoy this conversation and we consider it a privilege to be able to discuss their vision for Erebia Christi as they begin this wonderful journey.


Q: We consider it an honor anytime that we get to interview a new and upcoming press, especially one that is bringing something fresh and original to the table. Walk us through the different stages of what brought Erebia Christi to the point of your first release. What inspired the original idea and what were the important moments that helped the idea transition to a full-fledged press with your first book in development?

Butterfly "Numbered" Edition of Memoirs of a Puppet

We are incredibly grateful for the time you are dedicating to us and the interest you’re showing in our work.


Well, I have always been passionate about books. I started collecting illustrated books ever since I was a little kid and that led me to want to know more about the art of bookmaking. After high school I spent a couple years in a bindery in Milan learning the craft of rebinding and restoring antiquarian books. Subsequently, I have been working for an antiquarian bookseller in Padua and thanks to these experiences I became quite knowledgeable about materials and techniques.


Around 2019, I discovered the wonderful world of modern small/fine presses around the world and ever since I have been studying, buying, and collecting books from several of these imprints. Some books I've kept, others I sold, but I definitely became more and more obsessed with the idea of putting something out there myself. At the beginning of the year, I met people who were very interested in the idea of creating a small press, and that already worked in the publishing world but didn’t really have the technical knowledge to start right away. So, we put our efforts together and I have to say everything came incredibly naturally. We started from a simple idea and in a relatively small amount of time we had a full project with great artists and artisans more than willing to support us and our work, so here we are!


Q: Erebia Christi is a beautiful name that originates from a species of butterfly found in Italy. Were there any reasons that you chose this name other than its obvious phonetic elegance? What does the name personally mean to the people involved?


When we first started to think about creating our own fine press one of the first aspects we had to discuss was the name. We wanted something Italian, to emphasize our roots, but nothing too obvious: Italy is usually linked to food, fashion, design, music, but there are so many other things that characterize our beautiful country that even most Italian people ignore. For example, there are dozens of species of butterflies that only live in Italy, and Erebia Christi, or the “Butterfly of Glaciers” is one of those. It is considered the rarest butterfly in Europe, and can only be found on the Alps of Piedmont. We thought it to be perfect for what we want to represent: something rare, beautiful and local, but that originates right where Italy connects to the rest of the World.


The City of Milan - Home of Erebia Christi

Oh, and some of us jokingly addressed the fact that it sounds quite like Agatha Christie, which makes it even cooler.


Q: Starting your own fine press is a laborious undertaking and not for the faint of heart. Most owners we talk to have a very concrete idea about what they are striving to bring to the small/fine press world. I know you are both well versed in the many wonderful fine presses that are operating currently. What gap did you see in current offerings that you think Erebia Christi is uniquely positioned to address using with your skill set and commitment to using primarily Italian artisans?


I wouldn’t say I saw a gap in the current offerings, but it’s a matter of fact that most small presses are located the US or the UK, and that said, presses often use European materials and techniques for their productions.


Work at Tallone Editore

Personally, I take great pride anytime I see that an Italian material (cloth, paper, leather) was used in the production of a book, but it also saddens me that these materials have to travel halfway around the world to be fully appreciated, which is why we committed to only use Italian resources, if possible.


Here in Italy, the only true fine press that we have is Tallone Editore, which is one of the best and oldest in the world. They truly symbolize the greatness of Italian typography throughout the centuries. What we would like to do is link this tradition to modern art and artists by creating something visually new but using traditional techniques. Also, we want to focus on visual art, so you will find a lot more illustrations than one would expect in our publications.


Q: Who are your biggest inspirations and people you respect in the industry both historically and currently? We know it is a defining aspect of the press to collaborate with Italian artisans, but if you were to collaborate with anyone in the world, who would be the most exciting to you?


My first inspiration was the French Art Nouveau movement that started in the last two decades of the 1800s and went on until roughly the 1930s. We are talking about the first actual Fine Presses that aimed to fight the industrialization of bookmaking that took place throughout the Nineteenth Century, and I was particularly fascinated not only by the mesmerizing illustrations that used to appear in every single page of those productions, but especially by the master bookbinders that worked on those books, such as Marius Michel, Charles Meunier, Gabrielle Leroy Desriviérè, Paul-Romain Raparlier and so on. We are talking about people that perfected the craft of artistic bookbinding, creating real works of art that inspired generations after them. If you haven’t seen their mosaic-bindings I highly recommend you look them up, they are truly jaw-dropping.


As for modern presses, I would definitely say Suntup Editions, Lyra’s Books, Arete Editions and Centipede Press were probably my biggest inspirations and also guides, as I “studied” them very carefully in these past years.


Of course there are many people that I would be honored to be collaborating with, but if I really have to pick I would say two names, for two different reasons: the first one is Marcelo Anciano, from Arete Editions, because we share the same philosophy about making books that are works of art and bookmaking as a form of art in itself; the second would be Tony Geer from Conversation Tree Press, because I think we have very similar stories, we both started as collectors and we both left what we were doing previously to embark in this adventure of starting a small press led by passion for well-made books. I think with both of them we could work very well and create something beautiful.


Q: Your first project is going to be Pinocchio, but it will be an art-driven approach that is heavily illustrated and does not contain the full text of the story. Other than Pinocchio being a classic Italian story, what were the considerations that led you to this as your first work? Why did you decide to focus on the art and not include the entirety of the text? Also, what considerations went into the states and limitations you chose?


Illustration by Giulio Rincione

Pinocchio is definitely one of those titles that don’t need any introduction, it’s been one of the most collectible titles worldwide and we thought it would be a great “presentation” title for our press, as it was important to start with a well-known Italian story. We did however realize that given its popularity it has been done and interpreted many many times, so we came to the idea that a collection of illustrations inspired by the idea of Pinocchio rather than the actual full text would be more refreshing.


It’s a project that aims to explore the darker, more “raw” side of the story, the illustrations are gonna be very emotional in that sense. On the other hand, there is philological research that brought us to choose fifty phrases from the original text, that first appeared in chapters published on the “Giornale per i Bambini” (Newspaper for Children) starting July 1881, that was then modified and published as a whole story called “Le Avventure di Pinocchio” published in 1883. In this first apparition of the text, there are many “toscanismi”, expressions from the Tuscan dialect that Collodi left in his writing that aren’t proper Italian but give the story warmth and authenticity.


That’s why we decided not to translate the quotes into English for this publication: every single word helped inspire the corresponding illustration, in a way that transcends the mere meaning, but really following the sound and the feeling that that sound helped elicit. We hope it will be an emotional journey that won’t be easily forgotten.


As for the limitation, we really wanted to make an edition that was as fine and authentic as possible, so we opted for a Lettered edition to be able to make each and every single copy from scratch in the best possible way. We also thought it was important to have another option that was more affordable, but still kept the same “spirit” of the Lettered edition, so we opted for a lower limitation than usual for a numbered, to allow us to keep very good quality materials and an artisanal production.


Also, we have no idea of the response we will get as this is our first publication, so a lower limitation is probably the wiser choice.


Q: There is obviously a rich mine of Italian literature you could choose from in the future. Do you anticipate doing other important Italian stories like The Divine Comedy, The Decameron, or more contemporary works by Umberto Eco or Italo Calvino? What other areas do you hope to expand into and would you say there are any specific genres or types of literature that you think will define the press over time?


Tools at De Stefanis Bindery

Even though we started with such a popular title as Pinocchio, we would like to explore less-known Italian titles in the future, and also a few original works. We definitely don’t exclude the possibility of doing Dante’s Inferno or Boccaccio’s Decameron, but we also don’t want to only focus on Italian titles, we are open to any foreign title that we think we can enhance with a nice production. We don’t want to fixate on a specific genre, but what I think will define our press over time will be the interpretation of the titles that we pick: since we’ll focus on the visual side, art will be the fundamental element in our productions, as well as local materials.


Q: Many press owners and artisans that we have interviewed in around the world have said that the largest part of their clientele comes from the U.S. and the U.K. at his point. Are there any unique challenges you anticipate with this potentially being the case for your press as well and how have you thought about addressing those? Also, are there specific aspects to your approach as a press that seek to raise interest in Italy and other areas that may not have historically the same level and breadth of interest in modern fine press books?


We predict this will be the case for us as well, which is why we have to try and make our productions as “international” as possible, which means trying to understand the taste of a wider clientele but trying to maintain our “local identity”.


Initial Prototypes for Pinocchio lettered edition

Also, wanting to work with Italian artisans, artists and sometimes scholars (for example for introductions and such) means you have to deal with translators as well, because understanding English and being able to write an essay in English are two very different things, so there is often that extra step to take.


I personally would love to be able to raise more interest in the fine press world at least here in my Country, and I will definitely try to do so by advertising our work among bibliophiles and antiquarian book collectors that I came to know during my bookseller “career”: I mean, if I started from only collecting antiquarian books to loving the modern fine press world, I believe others can too. What I have noticed taking a look at different markets, is that not everyone likes the same things: here the greater part of book collectors that I have known don’t really like books that are too “extra” or too “modern”, let’s say, they tend to prefer a more classic approach, while in the U.S. for example people tend to look for the “wow factor”, something unexpected and unique. It will be an interesting challenge to incorporate elements in our productions that can appeal to both type of collectors.


Of course, it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, it will take time, but I would love to have a fair number of customers from Italy, it would definitely be an honor.


Q: With art being such a central part of this first project we would assume you put some serious thought into artist selection. Pairing modern art styles with classic stories is something that I think can be really interesting if done well. Tell us a little bit more about the artist you chose and why you think they are a good fit for the project. Which was chosen first, the artist or the title?


Giulio Rincione is one of the best talents that we have in Italy right now, he’s 33, he’s a painter, illustrator and comic book writer, and he’s quite well-known among younger and older audiences. I’d personally describe his art as disturbing in a way that is also melancholic, he somehow manages to be very delicate and very raw at the same time, which is what I think makes his art so powerful.


The first thing that was chosen is the title, and once we decided what kind of project we wanted to realize, we started with a list of people we thought could fit the mood that we wanted to create. Giulio’s was definitely among the very first names that we came up with, but we tried out a couple of other people first, mostly because at the beginning we thought we could use more than a single artist. We had a very specific idea for the cover art, and we commissioned a couple artists, and none of their sketches would work for some reason.

Illustration by Giulio Rincione

After a few tries we decided to ask Giulio for the same work, and he was immediately on board. But he said “Alright, I’m going to do a sketch of the subject you asked of me, but I’m also going to do something different, how I would envision the cover for this project”, and he did.


The moment I saw what he came up with I knew that was going to be our cover art piece, so we asked him to finish it and it was just perfect. That’s the piece that you’re going to see as the cover of both editions. After this, we decided we wanted him to do the whole thing, because he really caught the spirit of what we had in mind better than anyone else could.


Q: One of the things that really excited us when you first announced the project was the use of Tallone Editore for the letterpress printing of the lettered edition. Multi-generational with decades of gorgeous work behind them, I would imagine they are the top choice for anyone wanting to print a letterpress book in Italy. Why did you decide to use them and how did the relationship evolve? Do you plan on using them for all future projects or do you foresee using other printers as you expand?


Having Tallone Editore printing our Lettered edition is truly the greatest honor we could receive as a newly established Press. I personally have a couple books printed by them in my collection, and a few years back I visited the press along with a group of fellow collectors and bibliophiles in a guided tour that they offered. So naturally when we decided we wanted a letterpress book, they were my top choice. To be completely honest with you, I did not expect them to say yes right away. I aimed very high and was ready for rejection, but I told myself I had to at least try. I called them and tried to explain our project by phone, but it wasn’t easy because everything was yet to be decided, so I couldn’t really give them a lot of details. Surprisingly, they invited me in Alpignano to have a discussion about it, and when I went there, they were immediately very welcoming of the project.


Typesetting at Tallone Editore

Again, everything happened very naturally, they gave me suggestions, showed me different types, and really helped in the process of defining the little details here and there. I still can’t believe it right now that I’m talking about it, but that’s how it happened.


We definitely plan on working with them in the future, but it’s not going to be for every production, as they have a very busy schedule, so it can’t be done on a regular basis. I think it’s quite exciting though to find new people to work with, as I love receiving input from different people and experiencing different approaches to the same art.


Q: Imagine Erebia Christi three years from now. From both an artistic and business standpoint, where would the press need to be for you to be able to define this venture as a success?


In three years from now, ideally, I’d say we will have published about 9-10 books, which is the pace I would want for the press, to announce 3 to 4 books a year once we are stable. That said, I would personally consider it a success if people were excited about our new productions, you know, if there was a bit of “trepidation” among collectors around the time we scheduled a new announcement. Also, if we sold out at least 80% of our stock each time I’d say it’s successful.


Q: If there was one word or phrase that came to people’s minds when they think of Erebia Christi, what would you hope that it would be?


Tasteful.


Q: What should we be looking forward to next from Erebia Christi beyond your first release? Is there anything coming further down the road that you can share or are excited about?


We have so many projects for the future, in fact we’re already working on the next release and there is also something along the way that I don’t recall has ever been done by any fine press, which could either be a great success or a terrible disaster. To give any hints we’ll have to wait until after we’ve opened the presale for the first announcement. After all, as I said many times in this interview, we’re Italian, therefore we’re superstitious!


Leather at De Stefanis Bindery

Memoirs of a Puppet (Nightmares Inspired by Pinocchio) is currently up for sale on their website.


This interview was done in a series of communications back and forth between Zach and Lisa and we would like to thank Lisa for the time she dedicated to this interview. If you want to see more from Erebia Christi you can check them out at their website and sign up for their newsletter to get periodic updates. You can also check them out on Facebook for more information.


Interview by: Zach Harney of the Collectible Book Vault


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Zach Harney
Zach Harney
Sep 29, 2023

Thank you everyone for entering! Our winners are:


Instagram: @the_bookwormhole

Website: John Kissane


Going to take a little break from content for a bit, the last three weeks have been crazy with all these new releases. We really appreciate everyone being engaged!

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Best of luck Lisa! So nice of you to start your journey with an act of generosity! Hope it all comes back to you x10!

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Congrats! Great interview

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Zachi Panigel
Zachi Panigel
Sep 29, 2023

Great art. Gongrats.

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Loved reading this. Hope I made it in time for the giveaway

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