MEET YOUR MAKERS
Presented by TIX on the Square
If you’re a collector of beautiful books and ephemera, you’ve likely heard of Michael Hingston. If not, you’re in for a treat. He’s half the team at Hingston & Olsen Publishing, an independent press known and loved for its Edmontonia Trading Cards, Short Story Advent Calendar, and deluxe boxsets. Finding stories and giving them a permanent home is Michael’s passion. As you’re about to discover, so is writing, reading, collecting, and being a big stubborn believer in paper books. Meet this week’s maker, Michael Hingston.
TIX: We’re taught to believe it’s what’s inside that counts, but it’s impossible to ignore the beauty of your books and boxsets. Tell us about your decision to not only publish books but also celebrate them as art.
M.H.: Well, thank you! When Natalie (my co-publisher) and I decided to form Hingston & Olsen, in 2015, one of the first things we agreed on was that our books would be beautiful objects in their own right. At the time it seemed like everyone was panicking about the future of publishing in the age of e-books. We decided to double down on the qualities that you can only get from physical books: the tactile feel of paper, pops of colour, and an interactive presentation that you just can’t replicate on a tablet. It’s a better reading experience, not to mention a better deal for our readers in the long term. Ten years from now you probably won’t have access to an e-book you bought today, but every book on your bookshelves will still open up like it always did.
TIX: Which of your strengths (or experiences) as a writer have helped you succeed as a publisher?
M.H.: I’d say it comes down to empathy. Publishing is an act of faith between writer and publisher, and understanding the creative process—with all its up and downs—gives me an extra level of appreciation for the work that our writers entrust us with. That’s not something we take lightly. All of our editorial and design choices are made with the goal of presenting the text in the best light possible. I want writers to love working with us, and to feel that their work is in good hands.
TIX: What’s the first thing you wrote that inspired your career path?
M.H.: That’s a great question. The truth is I didn’t start reading or writing seriously until I was in university and fell in with the student newspaper there. I remember my first few production nights—which routinely kept us in the office until past midnight—where I would frantically write something on deadline, then look at it in print the following week and think, “Huh, that’s actually not bad.” Then we had to do it all over again for the next issue, which was a big part of the charm.
TIX: Tell us about your Edmontonia Trading Cards and what inspired the idea.
M.H.: The Edmontonia Trading Cards are a set of all-ages collectible trading cards that showcase this odd, charming, mostly frozen city of ours. Each card features original artwork from one of 12 different local artists on the front, and an entertaining and informative write-up about that subject—from landmarks to urban wildlife to the four phases of West Edmonton Mall—on the back. They come in randomized packs of 8, and there are 60 total cards to collect. You can get them at independent shops around the city, or from our website (edmontonia.ca).
The idea for the cards was two-fold: (1) Thinking how cool it would be to make a set of non-sports-related trading cards, and (2) Figuring out what to do with all these odd little stories I was gathering about my adopted home. When I first moved to Edmonton, back in 2008, I kept having all these questions about what I was seeing. Like, why do all these buildings look like pyramids? What’s the deal with magpies? Sure, it’s cold, but what’s the coldest it’s ever been? As soon as those two ideas merged, I got to work, and I’m really proud of how it all turned out.
TIX: Your projects all seem to celebrate reading as an experience—combining the physical act of opening a beautiful “gift” with the pleasures of reading. What was the inspiration for that equation?
M.H.: The age of paper being the default vehicle for communication is gone. Digital technology is way more convenient, and also generates less clutter in people’s lives. But that doesn’t mean paper has no function. As mentioned above, I’m a big, stubborn believer in paper books—and I think one of the things they do exceptionally well is ground the reader in a particular time and place, having a particular experience. Throwing in extra layers, like the element of surprise in the Short Story Advent Calendar or opening a pack of random Edmontonia cards, just makes that experience a little more fun.
TIX: Far too often, the conversations around print publishing are centred around worry for it and what’s being lost. What excites you about the future of print publishing and your role in shaping it?
M.H.: As more of our lives go digital, the funny thing is that people actually become hungrier for offline entertainment. (Have you seen the internet joke about spending all day at work looking at the bad screen, then coming home to look at the good screen? I hate how much I relate to it.) We all want to unplug, or at least to stop doomscrolling for a while. This is a big opportunity for print! It’s one of the few modes of entertainment we have that doesn’t require electricity. That’s one reason H&O doesn’t do e-books. We want to give people a different experience, because we believe there’s value in it.
TIX: Your books and advent calendars have become a favourite gift to receive. What’s a favourite book you’ve been given (and who gave it to you)?
M.H.: I love books about books, and two of the chunkiest and most beloved ones on my shelves were gifts: John Sutherland’s Lives of the Novelists, given to me by my friend Jeremy before he moved away (he’s actually since moved back; hopefully he doesn’t want the book returned, too), and Michael Schmidt’s The Novel: A Biography, which was a Christmas present from my brother.
TIX: You’ve said that the retirement of your Advent Series has freed you up to work on some exciting new ideas. Can you tell us a little about them?
M.H.: We try to keep a pretty tight lid on things at H&O, but I can tell you we’re planning to release more titles in 2021 than we ever have in a given year before. That’ll include something new for the holidays, as well as our first-ever standalone novel.
Want more? Visit hingstonandolsen.com, edmontonia.ca and tixonthesquare.ca for the latest from Michael and other great artists.