Somehow I got it into my head that Wolfville, Nova Scotia was “just up the road” from Halifax. In all of my planning, I never bothered to check the actual distance in time between Halifax and Wolfville.
When I finally get into my rental (well before 5:00 am) to make my way from Fredericton back into Nova Scotia, I plug the info into Google maps and realize just how close I’ll be to making it on time. A couple hours in, I have to weigh the pros and cons of stopping for 10 minutes to grab a coffee. Con: I’ll probably be a bit late for my appointment. Pro: I’ll for sure make it there instead of falling asleep at the wheel. I stop.
Five hours from Fredericton, I get off the highway toward Wolfville. The instructions from Andy Brown about how to get to Conundrum Press were pretty clear, so I put my phone away. I’m looking for a bright yellow house. Should be easy, and indeed I spot it right away. Or not.
What I thought was Conundrum is actually a yellow greenhouse, some sort of tree nursery. Parked in my car, I scan my surroundings. Across the bridge—aha! The yellow house. I make my way there, but as I pull up to the driveway I realize the number isn’t right. Farther up the road, another yellow house. And then another. Why wouldn’t there be more than one bright yellow house? I should have remembered more of the instructions.
After pulling over and plugging the details back into my phone, I eventually do find the house. Andy greets me at the door and welcomes me in. I spy sporadic piles of comics here and there. In the dining room, leftover balloons float half-full from the ceiling fan, remnants of a birthday party. Andy and I sit at the kitchen table.
Conundrum Press began over 15 years ago in Montreal and published a mix of fiction, short fiction, and graphic novels (or “comics”—Andy uses the words almost interchangeably). While running the press, Andy paid his bills as a freelancer and a landlord. It took him nearly 10 years before he was able to pay himself for his work with Conundrum.
For family reasons, Andy—Conundrum Press with him—moved to Wolfville, Nova Scotia a few years ago. Around the same time, the press distilled its mission and began publishing strictly graphic novels. In restricting the mission, Andy inadvertently opened doors that were closed to him before. He was suddenly invited to a number of international comic arts festivals, and from there he’s found himself as one of the houses few publishing English translations of foreign works.
Andy is now publishing both Canadian and international graphic novels under Conundrum Press, all while taking care of his two sons—interspersing laundry and lunch-making with the business of being a book publisher.
We get up from the kitchen table and make our way around the house. In the 1830s the house was a boarding house for the local tannery (where people dried/tanned animal skins); the house still sits on its original foundation. The home is giant, with a parlour space larger than some bars (a space Andy has used for launches). The walls are lined with artwork from the books he’s published. Upstairs, next to the bedrooms (with hand-painted doors), is Andy’s office and an open space he identifies as “shipping/receiving”. Up a narrow staircase from there is the attic, where Andy is slowly moving in his books that are currently stored in Toronto.
My favourite room (and the one Andy admits sold him on the house) is back on the main floor. The library has a wood fireplace, a wall of windows overlooking the property, and another wall of built-in book shelves. Add his cat Dash to the mix and I’ve found myself in every writer/editor/publisher/reader’s dream space.
Behind the house is an enormous amount of land, including a pond and acres upon acres of fields. We walk around the pond and I’m stunned when he points out a row of turtles floating on a log at the edge of the water. Turtles! I had no idea those existed in Canada in the wild (naïve of me, perhaps, but I was thrilled none the less).
Andy has a ton of ideas for his company and space, from a guerilla-style airstream trailer on his front lawn to sell comics to passers-by on the way to the farmer’s market next door, to setting up one of the rooms in his house as an artist’s residency. The shipping/receiving space is even perfect for an intern. However, trying to add people to his team is difficult. While he can benefit from the students that go through Acadia University, the population is transient, and Andy sometimes feels isolated from the larger publishing community.
Andy says he is comfortable with where he is, though, and doesn’t necessarily feel the desire for the company to grow. And yet, as his boys grow, I can see him finding help and the press evolving with them. Andy describes a project one of his boys made: his own comic that “isn’t for kids, even though it’s written by a kid,” complete with blocked out areas for the author photo and description.
To me, Conundrum is the epitome of a passion press—the quintessential labour of love. When it comes down to it, it’s what Andy decides to do, how he decides to do it, and where he decides to do it. In that, I feel a kindred spirit.
After all: “What’s the point if it’s not self-indulgent in some way.” – Andy Brown.