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BükAmerica If Thomas Paine were to publish Common Sense today (assuming
such sedition would be permitted), where would he distribute it? Car washes, hotels
and coffeehouses, say Gary Kornblau and Lisa Lyons. The co-publishers of L.A.’s
newest press, Bük, are relying on those unlikely literary venues to revive Paine’s
unlikely literary form, the pamphlet. Neither a book nor a magazine, Bük comes
in 16- and 32-page formats that showcase exactly one piece of writing: an Edith
Wharton short story, a Jonathan Swift essay or a collection of Lynn Davis photographs,
for instance.
“We’re trying to give a great piece of writing its own venue,” says Lyons, an independent art curator married to experimental novelist Richard Grossman. Having organized shows at the Getty and directed the Lannan Art Program, Lyons is accustomed to dealing high art; she’ll now broaden her efforts by peddling great works of literature for $1.49 a pop. At that price, Lyons hopes enough readers will pay at the car wash for what they might download for free at home. Bük’s first-edition print runs are in the tens of thousands, unthinkable figures to most book publishers.

 

Much more on
L.A.'s indie press:

Doug Harvey on
Feral and Process

Kristine McKenna
on Tosh Berman

Josh Kun on 826LA

Anthony Miller on bridging continentsand Ethiopian
dreams

 

Pursuing such a broad audience means that Bük’s content probably won’t spark many
tea parties, but former Art Issues publisher Kornblau says his industry
needs a new model to engage readers. A model like Hollywood’s, let’s say. “Bük
is not L.A.-centric,” says Kornblau. “Bük is a national publication, but the idea
of bringing great material to a mass audience is very much in the spirit of Los
Angeles.”

Perceval Press Maybe we’ve just got one too many trilogies on the
brain, but the name of this Santa Monica–based art, criticism and poetry press
(and the best-known role of its founder, Lord of the Rings
star Viggo Mortensen) suggests an urgent heroic quest. Still, of the dozen
handsomely designed books Perceval has published since its 2002 founding (which
include Weekly contributor Anne Fishbein’s Russian photographs, On the
Way Home), fewer document epic journeys than whimsical career divagations: a planned
trio of kids’ books by sociologist Mike Davis, a first book of paintings by poet
Rene Ricard, a collection of urban photos by Dennis Hopper, a few avant-garde
noise CDs, a book of horse photography from Mortensen himself. There may be a
higher political purpose to Pirates, Bats and Dragons,
Mike Davis’ tale of three kids who join a U.N. research mission to a magical
land suffering under a war on terrorism, but its polymath publisher (who, besides
battling for Middle-earth, is a poet, painter and experimental musician) denies
any agenda but quality publishing.
“Perhaps the attention derived from the publication of Twilight of Empire:
Responses to Occupation has given some people the mistaken
impression that we concentrate on overtly ‘political’ or ‘progressive’ material,”
Mortensen tells me via e-mail, referring to Perceval’s recent collection of anti-Iraq-invasion
essays. Though Twilight’s contributors are all heroes of the progressive Round
Table — anti-corporate activist and journalist Naomi Klein, historian Howard Zinn,
and former diplomat and Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson — Mortensen promises
that Perceval “will remain open to publishing new and different material as well
as points of view.”

Santa Monica Press For independent publishers of any medium,
struggling to carve out a reputation for themselves, niche marketing may be the
only safe approach. But don’t tell that to Santa Monica Press publisher Jeffrey
Goldman. “I once sat in a seminar by somebody who only published books on eating
disorders,” recalls Goldman. “I said, put a gun in my mouth if I ever have to
publish just books on eating disorders.” A brief glance at Santa Monica’s catalog,
which ranges from the prank manual Atomic Wedgies, Wet Willies,
& Other Acts of Roguery to Loving Through
Bars: Children With Parents in Prison,
to Redneck Haiku (“Wedding night fireworks/as Flo’s ex-husband
threatens/to bring back the kids”), reveals a definite eclecticism, if no books
on bulimia. “I publish whatever I want to publish,” says Goldman. “That’s the
beauty of being an independent press.”

TOKYOPOP's
publisher
and editor-in-chief, Mike Kiley




TOKYOPOP Manga may be an acquired taste for American adults, but
for many preteens and adolescents, it’s more like crack. With nearly 28 million
Japanese-style comic books in print, TOKYOPOP is hooking them early, all because
of an accident of publishing. Back when TOKYOPOP rival and Japan’s largest manga
publisher, Viz, began translating its titles and importing them to the U.S.,
it flipped its look, fearing American kids wouldn’t go for the traditional Japanese
right-to-left layout. When he founded TOKYOPOP in 1997, CEO Stuart Levy decided
to save on the costs of producing new artwork and kept his manga in the
traditional format.
The gamble paid off, and the result is a Marvel in the making: Manga is
publishing’s fastest-growing category, and TOKYOPOP has too many merchandising
tie-ins to list: T-shirts, dolls, cell-phone wallpapers. It helped, says TOKYOPOP
publicist Susan Hale, that Levy distributed his manga in malls, where the
comics found their way to some of their most fervent admirers, teenage girls.
“American comics are a dying breed for geeky guys,” says Hale. “Manga stories
are very emotional — a girl’s parents got divorced and she doesn’t know how to
cope with the separation. The characters may have superpowers, but they use them
to help with a crush on a boy, not save the world.” Hence TOKYOPOP’s most popular
title, Princess Ai, a manga serial co-written by Courtney
Love, who, like Levy, fell in love with manga while living in Japan. Hollywood
is next, Hale predicts. “Manga is nothing but storyboards,” she argues. “Manga
stories are adaptations waiting to happen.”

[

Equator Books Other local indie presses may aspire to be the City
Lights of Los Angeles, but Venice’s Equator Books is one of the few that operate,
like the beatnik mecca, as a bookstore-cum-publisher. “It’s a throwback, because
all the old great bookstores in Los Angeles published,” says publisher Michael
Deyermond, who adds that former Black Sparrow publisher John Martin provided advice
and encouragement. With only three titles in print — novel The Egotist, story
collection Happy Holly by Equator co-publisher Philip Fracassi, and a novel by
New Orleans journalist Michael Patrick Welch — the press’s literary-fiction catalog
is in its infancy. Still, the 3,500-square-foot bookstore-gallery-reading space
is just begging for a few good writers to “Howl” about.

Red
Hen's Kate Gale




Red Hen Press If poetry is dead, it’s certainly leading an active afterlife.
“We felt L.A. needed more of a literary voice,” says Kate Gale, explaining the
inspiration for Red Hen, the city’s most active poetry press (offering 20 titles
a year). “As a publisher you can complain about what your city doesn’t do for
you, or you can decide what to do for it.” Hence, the nonprofit press’s contribution
to L.A.’s poetry culture: awarding $10,000 annually in literary prizes, producing
a heavy schedule of writing workshops and publishing the estimable Los Angeles
Review.
Like many poetry publishers, Gale is hunting that elusive game, a more mainstream
readership. Unlike many poetry publishers, she’s finding poets who just might
have the right stuff, such as African-American poet Doug Kearney. “His work has
mythic underpinnings, but it’s somewhat ghetto. So when he gets up, he’s got music
in there, opera and hip-hop and rap,” says Gale, who believes publishers need
to support, not impede, a new crop of less-academic poets. Regarding this generation
gap, Gale quotes her favorite lines of her favorite poem, by Philip Larkin: “
They fucked you up your mum and dad/They may not mean to but they do;/
They give you all the faults they had/And add some new ones just for you.’
That
works for families and communities, literary and otherwise,” she says.

Gorsky Press At the next Gorsky Press reading you attend, beware
the flying bottles and chairs. The publisher, which culls many of its authors
from the zine world, often holds readings at the most seemingly unliterary of
venues, punk rock shows. “A big brawl erupted at one of them in Texas,” recalls
Gorsky’s gleefully anti-establishment editor in chief, Sean Carswell. “Well, it’s
not like Barnes & Noble is opening its doors for us.” Oblivious to the indifference
of chain bookstores, the press treads where larger publishers might not, such
as the juvenile corporate prank letters of Rev. Richard J. Mackin’s Dear Mr.
Mackin. That Gorsky author and former zine writer Jim Ruland managed
to win an NEA fellowship last year for his forthcoming short-story collection
only serves to prove Carswell’s thesis: Books are really just glorified zines,
anyway.
Green Integer Green Integer sounds like a superhero, and is, to those who lament the disappearance of foreign poets from their bookstore’s shelves. Douglas Messerli operated the highly regarded Sun and Moon Press for 35 years, publishing Paul Auster’s and Russell Banks’ first novels. After Sun and Moon closed because of financial difficulties, Messerli started Green Integer in 1997 and puts out 30 to 40 titles a year. Why then focus on unprofitable poetry translations? “It’s important for Americans to understand what’s happening outside the confines of their own culture, through the perceptions of other writers,” says Messerli.

He recently published a trio of new Paul Celan translations, an anthology of international
poetry translations, and plans on bringing forth an untranslated Balzac novel.
Balzac may not save the world, but as novelist Jonathan Safran Foer recently opined
on KCRW’s Bookworm, apropos the war in Iraq, “I wish we would send fewer
diplomats and fewer soldiers and more translators.”
Seismicity's
Guy Bennett
and Paul Vangelisti



[

Otis Books / Seismicity Editors With their independent funding, university
presses are an ideal venue for avant-garde fiction — or would be, says Seismicity
publisher Paul Vangelisti, if enough funding were there. “In the last 20 years,
literature has been suffering greatly,” says Vangelisti. “There was interesting
publishing being supported by the NEA, but when Reaganomics took hold, it suddenly
started drying up.” Fortunately, Seismicity Editions, a project of Otis College
of Art and Design’s graduate writing program, has located an unlikely source
of capital: the French government, which has paid for the publication and translation
of several works by French authors. But the press, which Vangelisti says serves
as “a suitable and dignified form of publicity” distinguishing Otis from myriad
other MFA writing programs, isn’t neglecting American writers. Seismicity recently
published Ken McCullough’s story collection Left Hand, which won
a Minnesota Writers award, and is co-publishing urban theorist Norman Klein’s
Freud, Coney Island, and Other Essays
with UC Irvine.
Baby Tattoo The plot of Baby Tattoo’s forthcoming kids’ book,
Gris Grimly’s Lemony Snicket–esque Little Jordan Ray’s Muddy
Spud, might seem based on the challenges of starting a small press.
A boy tries to sell his family’s last possession, a dirty potato, only to find
himself forced to trade it for an old sock and a host of other useless items,
never quite managing a profit. But for the publishers of Baby Tattoo, husband
and wife Bob and Rani Self, business hasn’t been quite that tough. “I’ve been
able to build a successful publishing company by treating L.A. like it’s a small
neighborhood,” Bob Self says. “If you look at Grimly’s Wicked Nursery
Rhymes, I found a noteworthy illustrator here in L.A., got a blurb
from Clive Barker and found a distributor just up the street. It’s interesting
that people see L.A. as unnavigable, when it’s all here.”
The challenge, according to Self, is having the persistence of Little Jordan
Ray. “Big publishers can afford to do some books they don’t believe in. Small
publishers have to believe in their books,” he says. To that end, Baby Tattoo
isn’t overly obsessed with genre. In addition to three children’s books already
in print, the press has published Justin Jorgensen’s Obscene Interiors,
an art book offering satirical commentary on the sometimes unfashionable
background décor of online personals ads. “All our books are of strong artistic
merit,” Self sums up his catalog — not referring, we hope, to the rubber plants
and Naugahyde couches.
Angel City Press For a town as obsessed with images as
L.A. is, classic urban histories such as Mike Davis’ City of Quartz
or Robert Fogelson’s The Fragmented Metropolis tend
to be short on pictures. Fortunately, the catalog of the 13-year-old Angel City
Press supplies the missing visual aids. Titles like Santa Monica Beach:
A Collector’s Pictorial History and Wilshire
Boulevard: The Grand Concourse of Los
Angeles belong as much on the coffee tables of dedicated L.A. historians
as on those of their California-dreaming friends back East.
That’s no accident, according to publisher and ex–L.A. Times reporter
Paddy Calistro. “The press came out of the realization that New York publishers
give short shrift to Southern California,” says Calistro, who thanks local organizations
such as the L.A. Conservancy and the L.A. Public Library for availing their
rare-photo collections to her authors’ cleverly packaged scholarship. Who was
Gaylord Wilshire? What was the District Attorney’s Office like in 1850, back
when it was a one-man operation? If you give these “high-quality nonfiction
gift books” away as suggested, you’ll never find out.

Dan
Cullinane


Alysonbooks Even after 25 years of operation, the queer press’s most
famous title may still be Heather Has Two Mommies, the
1989 Alyson children’s book that helped satisfy Jesse Helms’ curiosity about
gay families. (Helms denounced it from the Senate floor.) Despite the widespread
vandalism and theft of library copies, Heather still managed to sell
over 35,000 units. The real happy ending for Alyson marketing manager Dan Cullinane,
however, is that “the world is so different now — there’s so nothing
controversial about being gay anymore.”
Times have changed. Original publisher Sasha Alyson, who sold the company to
Out and The Advocate publisher LPI Media in 1995, now leads
adventure hiking tours. Barnes & Noble now carries such racy Alyson titles as
the forthcoming how-to orgy manual, Sex Parties 101. The
press, which now puts out a formidable 50 titles a year, is also moving into
the mainstream with such hetero-friendly titles as Party Like a
Rock Star (Even When You’re Poor as
Dirt), written by a fired dot-commer who managed to do just that,
journalist Camper English. (“ ‘A great place to score cash and loose change
is under the bar,’ ” Cullinane says, excerpting from the book.) But Alyson is
and always will be a queer press. Says Cullinane, “We’ll always do fiction,
history and erotica, though how and what we publish will reflect changes in
the community.”
Cloverfield Press Given the inherent difficulty of establishing
a new novelist or short-story writer’s reputation, few small presses dare to
take fiction as their métier, at least at first. Newcomer Cloverfield is throwing
caution to the wind by inaugurating its catalog with a New Writers’ Series of
short fiction. Cloverfield markets its limited-edition books as objets d’art,
pairing works by emerging writers (Miranda July, Carol Treadwell) with handsome
illustrations from artists at similar stages of their careers. “My wife and
I started Cloverfield for the same reasons that drew me to independent film,”
says Matthew Greenfield, producer of indie films Chuck & Buck,
The Good Girl and Star Maps, and husband
to writer and Cloverfield co-publisher Laurence Dumortier. “There’s a lot of
incredible work that wasn’t getting out there. We’ve always believed in the
single short story as its own medium, and now we’re getting a chance to test
that out.”

[

Tom
Fassbender and
Jim Pascoe live in UglyTown.




UglyTown Crime pays. That’s the lesson to be learned from the success of
crime-fiction publisher UglyTown, which, after a decade of publishing mysteries
and thrillers, has two dozen titles in print — no small number for a small fiction
press — and is launching a new kids’ imprint, UglyKids. (The imprint will specialize
in G-rated kids’ stories, not self-esteem books as the name might suggest.)

UglyTown began humbly, as many small presses do, with a vanity project. Back
in the Internet boom days, when companies needed “content,” UglyTown publishers
and former Hollywood freelance writers Tom Fassbender and Jim Pascoe decided
to create themselves the ultimate business card, By the Balls: A Novel,
publishing under the pen name Dashiell Loveless. “We had this notion that as
long as we’re making this business card, writing and printing it, we might as
well publish and distribute it,” says Fassbender. The team, who subsequently
collaborated on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic books, decided to
forgo the “content providers” title for something more archaic, “book publishers.”
“We thought what we’d like to do is offer the wisdom and knowledge we’ve learned
over the first two years to like-minded writers,” adds Fassbender, who, in his
quest for books that have “a higher purpose than straight mysteries,” looks
to greats like Raymond Chandler. “She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip
pocket,” he quotes. Maybe Chandler’s narrator was just feeling the spine of
an UglyTown mystery.

LA Weekly