the Familydavid Kramer, Sammy Harkham and Tahli Harkham 

Wednesday, May 16 2007
At Family bookstore on Fairfax, co-owner David Kramer shows me a poster for a music magazine he writes for. There’s a picture of a svelte Japanese girl — long black hair, almond eyes, creamy white skin — naked and doused in blood.“Yeah,” says Kramer, “she’s in a band. She works here.”“Looking like this?”“No. We have a bucket of soy sauce in the back for casual Fridays.” Family has been around for six months now, and Kramer proudly admits that he has never seen another store quite like it (“and I don’t like to put it this way”), with elements of “highbrow and lowbrow” sitting next to each other on the shelves (painted glossy black) or hanging on walls (brick, also painted black). The store is thoughtfully, exquisitely designed — in Kramer and co-owner Sammy Harkham’s word, “curated.” “There’s a miscomprehension that Borders has everything, and we’re curated,” says Kramer. “But all stores are curated. Ours is just generally more awesome.” Eventually, says Kramer, there will be a backlash. “People will push away from sameness. I’m 26 years old, so I grew up in a world dominated by chain stores. I, at least, want to go somewhere where there’s some humanity to it.”Family’s aesthetic ranges toward performances by Miranda July, Lavender Diamond, Ariel Pink and Kim Deitch. Their readings are organized by local novelist Trini Dalton. The most important thing they want to get across is that Family is not a pretentious place where only certain crowds are welcome and everybody else gets snubbed. “We want people to come in and discover stuff,” says Kramer.Kramer is geeky cute, sinewy, with dark hair that peeps out like curls of chocolate from beneath his fedora. He’s from Australia, where he and Sammy Harkham met a decade ago as teenagers. Harkham eventually married Kramer’s childhood friend Tahli. Ever since they were 15 years old, Harkham and Kramer dreamed of having a place like this. Walking around the shop, despite its diminutive size — imagine two school buses stacked one on top of another — takes a surprisingly long time. Mostly because there is a lot of interesting stuff to look at: beautiful little hand-bound books from Japan and Iceland, a rack of mint-condition Chester Brown “Ed the Happy Clown” reprints, various issues from the McSweeney’s imprint, magazines on music/design/art/culture and the overlaps between those subjects, obscure novels, a book by political-activist nun Sister Corita Kent, who silk-screened anti-war, anti-consumerism posters at Immaculate Heart High School in Los Feliz (“They’re so humanistic, and so high energy” says Harkham), Taste of Honey by Morrissey’s favorite playwright Shelagh Delaney, many pristine palm-size zines produced by Harkham and Kramer’s friends, and a wall of records from eight different local labels, every item obviously loved and carefully chosen. “All of our stuff is great,” says Harkham. “I feel like a curator in the sense that I loved the local bookstores like Hennessey & Ingalls and Book Soup, but I saw a big lack. This was a way to pull together novels, art and music, according to our aesthetic. Nothing in here sucks. There’s no filler. Everything is context. For example we carry the Criterion box set of Bergman and then put it next to a Deathdream exploitation flick, which is about a guy who comes back from Vietnam as a zombie.” He paused to adjust his hat.“Is that a bear on your hat?” I ask, squinting at the embroidery.“Yes, it is. And no, I’m not gay.”For his favorite book in the store, Harkham chooses a stark, minimalistic volume titled Book Design of Graphic Designers in Japan. “God!” Kramer calls from his perch at the register. “Why do you pick the thing that’s most non-emblematic of our store?” We go upstairs to visit the illustrator Jordan Crane, who made the store’s orange floral wallpaper, and who shares the upstairs studio with Harkham, who is actually better known for Kramer’s Ergot, a comic anthology he draws and edits. We pass a back wall plastered with a giant poster of Yiddish vigilante dudes brandishing old-fashioned guns. Crane is scrunched into a corner, drawing, looking funny with just his feet sticking out underneath a huge art table — like the table grew legs or a guy got smushed by it. Onto the wall, someone has scribbled the lyric “Will life ever be sane again?”

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