A few years ago Rob Cordiner was an Australian designer with a passion for keeping things small. His Melbourne-based studio, Smalltime Projects, made its name working with local handymen, artist spaces, and coffee shops on top-notch branding projects, making his neighborhood a better place by design. Meanwhile he ran his own publishing house, Smalltime Books, that put out artist books and zines by some of his favorite creative talents from around the world.
But keeping things small has its challenges, and the reality of being a one man band, fronting both a design studio and publishing house, has set Cordiner into pursuit of a steady salary and marginally decreased levels of stress. After a stint at Melbourne’s Urchin studio, he now spends his days designing in-house at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, where “it’s ever-changing and there’s a lot of positivity in the air, so it’s the ideal place to be working.”
While his local design work remains on hold, Cordiner’s publishing venture has flourished, albeit under a different guise. “I’d been working on Smalltime Books when Ed Davis hit me up to see if I’d be interested in working on a collaboration with him and Todd Jordan’s online magazine, The Heavy Mental,” he says. “Call it Heavy Time. I had a Riso and they had contact with artists I really admired, so we started making publications from there. That was about five years ago. We want to contribute something to the culture; put something back into circulation.”
Currently that contribution extends to zines and photo books by cult creative talents like Jason Evans, Cheryl Dunn, and Tim Lahan, irreverent surf magazines, a little erotica, some T-shirts, and the odd piece of unusual stationery.
Although Cordiner loves the work he does as a designer, publishing offers a different type of satisfaction, not to mention a greater degree of creative freedom.
Away from the watchful eyes of clients, Heavy Time is an outlet for himself and his collaborators to publish anything they want, no matter how niche or financially contentious. “Simple as it sounds, it took me a few long years after art school to process that as a graphic designer that obviously isn’t the job. Once I was able to make that distinction and separate the two a little, I think it helped me become a better designer.
“I think often there’s a disconnect for people between the ideal that initially drew them to the creative industry and the reality they experience. There’s a need for creative people to shift and switch up. Plus there’s plenty of dopamine in novelty.”
With that in mind Cordiner is in no hurry to turn Heavy Time into a day job, and questions the viability of such a move. Currently each publication is only produced in editions of 100 to 200, meaning international distribution makes no financial sense. Wholesale is a notoriously tricky business, even in large-scale commercial publishing, and Cordiner’s books are only stocked in a handful of outlets worldwide. “We’ve got titles at Printed Matter and Family Books in the U.S., Rasen, Supply Backdoor and Commune in Japan. We also stock a few other good spots with occasional titles when there’s a link or relationship between the title and publisher. ”
For the time being at least, he, Davis, and Jordan are content to keep Heavy Time a side project, toying with the idea of scaling up some day, but conscious that the pressure might just take the fun out of their plaything.
In this they’re not alone, as Melbourne’s independent publishing scene witnesses the kind of lightning-fast growth enjoyed in European capitals like London and Berlin. “From what I’ve seen,” says Cordiner, “the interest built around the same time as London and steadily since. There’s a lot of interesting publishers in the mix, like The Blackmail (once Serps), Perimeter Editions, Knowledge Editions, Freddo Books, Ladies Of Leisure, Good Sport, No One Special—there’s too many to name really. We have lots of fairs and events throughout the calendar too. It’s nice to see the contrast of everything together at those gatherings and engage with a real audience.”
Still, the real kick Cordiner gets from Heavy Time comes from indulging his lifelong fandom, working with people who inspired him as a kid, and continue to do so today. “All my heroes growing up were people making music, photos, paintings, skateboards, videos—doing their own thing. It’s still the same. It’s humbling to be able to work with these kind of people now. To share ideas with them and be trusted with their work. Thanks heroes!”