canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Conundrum Press

May 2006 marks the ten year anniversary for Montreal’s Conundrum Press. To mark this anniversary, the press is releasing the massive PORTABLE CONUNDRUM, and in a TDR exclusive we have the entire introduction by editor and publisher Andy Brown!

The Portable Conundrum features work from: Catherine Kidd Andy Brown • Liane Keightley • Amanda Marchand • Peter Paré • Golda Fried • Howard Chackowicz • Billy Mavreas • Dana Bath • Lance Blomgren • Valerie Joy Kalynchuk • Victoria Stanton • Vincent Tinguely • Meg Sircom • Corey Frost • Marc Tessier • Hélène Brosseau • Marc Ngui • Stéphane Olivier • Gilles Boulerice • Suki Lee • Julia Tausch • Joey Dubuc • Chandra Mayor • Shary Boyle • Joe Ollmann • Maya Merrick • Nathaniel G. Moore • Elisabeth Belliveau • Richard Suicide • Marc Bell • Robert Allen • Jillian Tamaki


The Portable Conundrum


From my vantage point here in the smoking room at Conundrum Towers I can see the unpaid interns fixing the open sewer below. They pack up for the day and leave me to my mansion, the gold-plated door knobs, the armoury, the battlements, the inventory. I scan the property not believing my good fortune. The hobby farm in the back yard is really underway. The maple tree, given as a gift, is about to bud. The stableboys are grooming the horses, the chauffeur is on red alert.

Spring comes to Montreal in a jolt. Suddenly it’s here. Like a new traffic light on a well worn road. Unexpected. There is a moment, just a few days really, before the heat sets in, when you notice how dense the neighbourhood has become due to the winter construction of condos; when the bicycles smashed by the Bombardier machines finally emerge from the snow; when you retire your longjohns but not your gloves and wonder if the tam-tams are back. It’s that time right now.

Ten years ago I was living in a crumbling apartment not far from here, in the depths of post-referendum Montreal. Having finished with treeplanting after seven grueling years, and done with school, I was wondering what all this talk about ‘desktop publishing’ was about. After a few kind souls took pity on my attempts I was scraping by. There seemed to be something going on with ‘chapbooks’ and ‘zines’ and there were psychedelic posters on every lamppost advertising ‘spoken word’ events. I stumbled over one such group after interviewing Corey Frost and Colin Christie for an article about the chapbooks they were producing through something they were calling ga press. These chapbooks seemed pretty simple to make, or so I thought. Soon I was working with these folks and their friends writing for index which had taken to the streets as a free litzine. We distributed it by driving borrowed cars around the city. I moved into a high ceiling eight-and-a-half in Mile End with a bunch of roommates paying insanely cheap rent. One of those roommates was Catherine Kidd.

Catherine was talking into a hand-held tape recorder every time I saw her around the apartment. She seemed to be repeating herself. We shared avocados because all I ate were sandwiches. She was memorizing with that device. Soon I saw her perform what she had been mumbling all month. She wore a bloodied butcher’s apron and blew everyone away. So this is what they call ‘spoken word’.

The shiny new sewer pipes glisten in the early evening sun. Surveying the Conundrum Towers estate I observe the heli-ski returning from patrol. My drink is beginning to warm so I add more ice. Just another day selling wildly innovative, nostalgia inducing yet trendy books to the masses. Time to check on the inventory. The golf cart picks me up in front of the fountain and off we go. Ten minutes later we reach the warehouse. I give the warehouse manager an Easter bonus and send him on his way. I want to be alone.

Lying here, the boxes stacked up all around me, surrounded by the overwhelming smell of ink, I remember those days as if they were ten years ago. I approached Catherine to do a book of her writing; I barely knew QuarkXpress, how hard could it be? I came up with all kinds of elaborate schemes for the book which eventually became everything I know about love I learned from taxidermy. While I was knocking myself out cutting every page and hand printing every cover, Catherine worked with dj Jack Beetz at The Swamp on the sound. We launched the book and cassette (before cds!) at a loft and sold beer (see appendix). The book kept selling and I had to make more. Even though I figured out to adjust the size so I wouldn’t have to cut every page it was still labour intensive. On one of those print runs (on the photocopier of course) I used the excess trim and made a book of one of my own short stories. Then I thought to make it $1 and have a series. Remarkably, writers with whom I had been associating were happy to have me make their stories into little books. Soon I was drawing, cutting and folding, taking photos; it all went into the books. A group calling themselves Fluffy Pagan Echoes seemed to be everywhere I looked. I realized all those very trippy posters were by the same guy. I contacted the poster artist who turned out to be Billy Mavreas. We made a book of his posters. Then he moved into my big cheap apartment and started introducing me to comic artists. A whole new world opened up for me. Soon after, I was approached by two of the Fluffies who had done seventy artist interviews and wanted to make the resulting oral history into a book. It was with Vincent Tinguely and Victoria Stanton’s massive tome Impure that I really discovered the amount of work necessary to publish books, but I took the plunge and went into debt.

After Hollywood came calling, however, I was able to move into the Towers and expand the estate. That’s what paid for the second Jag. One simple mention of conundrum press in an Academy Award™ nominated movie was enough to get me a ticket to the big time. Oh sure, I had to hire a staff of fifty (although the cook is only freelance) but it was worth it to be able to get unique Canadian books into the hands of the billions around the world starving for the conundrum brand of culture.

Time to come clean. I only have one Jag. Actually, I’m sitting at a desk filled with empty lobster shells and the traces of

diamond dust writing this ridiculous introduction. The portable conundrum is a dream fulfilled for me. I wanted to see if I could do an anthology and get work from everyone I had published over the past ten years. Could I find everyone and get something from each of them? I think the results speak for themselves. I am impressed that this all came together and disappointed that I’m the last one to get my submission in. But it means I have had time to go over these pages again and can have the last word, which is all I’ve ever wanted.

In this anthology are essays, comics, a photo essay, drawings, a translation, and short stories. Some can not be put into any of these categories. This reflects the mandate of the press. We are now publishing fiction, graphic novels, and art books from people we’ve never met in cities we’ve barely heard of. For the complete list of every title conundrum has published turn now to the bibliography in the back of this book. The pieces here are arranged in chronological order, the order in which the contributors were published. The final few submissions come from those who have books coming out this fall, books which are being put together by the worker droids on the ninth floor of the Towers even as I write this.

Appropriately enough we start this anthology with Catherine and a story she wrote ten years ago, when I was first putting together her book and forming the press. So, a nostalgia trip right off the bat. The next thing I notice about these contributions is the frequency of the theme of becoming a parent. Times have obviously changed and ten years later many of us have new priorities but are still plugging away on ‘upcoming’ projects. This is proven by the number of novel excerpts featured here. Obviously these people are not slowing down.

Here at Conundrum Towers, where the certificates and awards are so numerous that they have become the new wallpaper in the mezzanine, we are honoured to be represented by so much talent. The contributors to this anthology are the reason for any success conundrum press may have had. They are our inspiration as we move into a new decade. Perhaps in another ten years the ‘Conundrum Wing’ of the new Super-hospital will finally be complete.

— Andy Brown, March 2006








TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.