Is it even worth apologizing to the handful of people who actually read this blog regularly, rather than finding it by googling “codex seraphinianus serafini surrealism” or “chicks who read mcsweeney’s juno ellen page” that I last promised updates 6 months ago and haven’t written a word since? I was going to post my reactions to the California International Book Fair For Snooty Snoots, but I decided not to, since I was kind of disappointed once it was over. I had been building the event up in my mind for months and months, and I was there with a pretty hefty amount of cash in hand ready to spend… and the rare books were incredible to behold, but the attitude from the booksellers was about as pleasant as the driving rain that began leaking through the roof on the last day. Look, it’s a recession and everyone is feeling shitty; my pockets aren’t exactly overflowing with money these days, and yet I still made it a point to spend four days at the book fair and as much money as I could afford, so why was every asshole in a blazer and wire-rimmed glasses acting like the world was ending? Maybe if more of these jerks took a page from Jeff Maser or James Musser’s book and encouraged people like me (age/income level, I mean) to explore the hobby of dumping every last penny into rare books, the industry would be able weather a recession a little better. Then, maybe the book fair would feel more like a celebration of books, rather than a celebration of snobby and condescending looks at everyone who didn’t fit the profile of a rich white asshole ready to sink whatever real estate money he squirrled away before the bubble busrt into a first edition of Joyce’s Ulysses.
So, this explains the lack of an update, in a nutshell: I felt shit on by my own hobby, and it was made pretty clear to me by the participants at the fair that these are *not* my people, and they quietly tolerate me, as long as I plan to spend money; however, we will most certainly *not* be bonding over a shared love of books, that’s for sure. (Sorry about the long sentence.) Luckily, there are alternatives, in the form of events like the San Francisco Zine Fest and the Alternative Press Expo. Obviously, these events aren’t quite analogous – the average price of something at the Zine Fest or at Ape is around $10, while that’s closer to $500 at the book fair. And most of the zinesters and small press comics people do it as a hobby, whereas it really might be some guy’s mortgage on the line if he has a bad book fair. But still, the recession affects everyone, and it might even be said that rare books are better able to weather a recession, because rich people have a nasty habit of staying rich, even when everyone else isn’t. However, if you look at the average socioeconomic level of people at APE or the Zine Fest, they’re people who make a living, but who most likely don’t have the disposable income to fritter away (if by “fritter away” you mean “invest wisely”) on various printed matter.
All this aside, the bottom line is that the book fair was dour, stodgy, and unfriendly, while events like APE, the Zine Fest, and I would guess shows like MOCCA in New York or SPX in DC are more like celebrations of creative arts. Now, maybe the key difference is that these latter events celebrate things people made, rather than things that people are flipping for profit. Again, though, I don’t buy it. I had always imagined book dealing to be a career one undertakes in order to merge hobby and profession – because you’re a book lover, you make books your career so you can be around them all the time. Otherwise, why do it? The profit margin is shit, the sales are sporadic, you’re forced to run your business on insane lines of credit in order to make meaningful acquisitions – if you have a mind for that kind of stuff and just want to make money, why not trade stocks or something that it’s actually easy to sell? I love showing people my book collection, because I’m excited about the books I have, and I can’t imagine this wouldn’t carry over into selling, if I were to make selling books a career choice. So where was this excitement at the mecca of fine books?
By contrast, walk by any table of xeroxed and stapled comics, rants, reviews, interviews, etc., and the proprietor will excitedly tell you about his/her work, even though this person probably *lost* money at the fair. I happily stumbled upon a table run by Geoff Vasile (easily the best self-published cartoonist I have ever come across, and a hilarious mean-sprited antidote to the bland autobiographical “read about my stupid life” comics that are in vogue), and as I put on my best fanboy lame-o act, I thought to myself how he’s charging me $3 for a nicely produced comic, complete with 3-color silkscreened cover and acting downright grateful about it, and when I expressed interest in a $500 book at the book fair, I was met with complete indifference.
APE, last November and coming up in mid-October this year, had a similar vibe. There’s some crossover with the Zine Fest, since APE caters to a lot of self-publishers, but bigger oufits like Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly show up there too. I had never been before, but everyone there was insanely friendly, with the Fantagraphics people profusely thanking me for buying $40 worth of books and giving me “great to see you”s and “thanks so much for coming out”s. And shit, they publish PAPER BOOKS, which is to say, a dying medium, recession or not.
Now (as per usual, nearly 1000 words in), the point of the title of this post: I wasn’t really sure what to expect at the Zine Fest (well, besides lots of staples and xerox copies). I wanted to check it out, but I didn’t realize that there was going to be so much art there – silkscreening, inkjet prints, letterpressing, etc. It really went beyond what I thought of as Zines back when I religiously read something called “The Joy of Laura” back in high school (it was a punk rock zine, not a thing about some girl named Laura). We (meaning my wife, and trusty, patient companion) stopped by Theo Ellsworth’s table and bought two signed inkjet prints and a book (which, true to comic artist form, he painstakingly signed with a cool drawing), two things I didn’t even expect to see there.
Aside from the two cartoonists/artists mentioned (that’s Geoff Vasile and Theo Ellsworth again, and you should definitely google both of those names to learn more), the highlight of the show for me was “Two Fine Chaps,” a small press/fine press run by, erm, two upstanding gentlemen. I don’t need to advertise for them (www.twofinechaps.com does well enough), but they make painstakingly crafted artist books with an insane amount of handwork, and they sell their stuff for way less than I think it’s worth, especially considering what most fine press stuff goes for these days. I ended up spending most of our money until the next paycheck on two of their books (signed edition – yes; deluxe edition – of course, dick), because I couldn’t let awesomeness like that go unpurchased.
So, in conclusion: Congrats to the organizers of the Zine Fest – it was a rad event full of rad stuff with a rad vibe, and I can’t wait for next year’s. Chance Press will probably have a table there, too, so watch out!