Or Some Lessons Learned at the Better Living Through Xeroxography Small Small Press Expo
I rarely get the chance to combine the words heartwarming and artistic community, which is why I will do so now despite having sobered up, gotten enough sleep, and recovered what I believe to be my default stance of detachment. To wit: I had a blast at Friday night’s BLTX; it was absolutely thrilling to see people come in droves with their books and comics and journals and zines in tow; that an artistic community of diverse creative interests could convene out of sheer pride and joy in Do-It-Yourself publishing efforts was nothing short of heartwarming to this skeptic-and-a-half who’s had way too much exposure to disparaging remarks about the work of self-publishers/small presses–this despite the extraordinary work, then and now, coming out of independent efforts, and this despite easy evidence of mediocrity seeing print via the machinery of mainstream publishers.
But that’s a discussion for some other time, as this occasion calls for ode and not polemic. BLTX was fun! Ilyong’s was packed but not oppressively so, there was a steady supply of alcohol, there was no program to hold the audience hostage, and the crowd was aswarm with curiosity and shop talk and laughter. And of course, there was the creative work, which came in various forms and genres, platforms and formats, shapes and sizes. UP UGAT arrived with several years’ worth of zines, UP Writers Club peddled their latest Lit App (buy four used books from their sale and you get the Lit App free!), the Atenistas gave away hundreds of copies of their Heights and a photo-finished zine, and the Cavite Young Writers Association brought along their Julugan Weekly and Paliparan. One table was host to the works of regular collaborators–The Youth & Beauty Brigade and The Quarterly Bathroom Companion Comics Compendium–plus Komikasi (whose Talecraft cards I desire but didn’t prioritize since unlike the rest of the stuff at BLTX, Talecraft is actually available in Powerbooks), solo works by Thomasian Writers Guild members, and an intriguing comic book on Weng Weng by a group called Ritual Studios. Macoy, whose Ang Maskot I love, had a table all to himself and his comics; so did the other Makoy and his book of poems Patikim, which had a flirtatious sili on its cover. And then somewhere there, in no particular place, in any conceivable space, Gelo Suarez’s s&wich was being deleted, while his materially produced and mysteriously expensive Batch ’97 Haiku parked on the same table as the comics of Gerilya and Silentsanctumanga, a table manned by, among others, a guy wearing a mask of Obama.
The hermits of High Chair emerged from their respective caves to share a table with Kubori Kikiam, Alamat ng Panget, and Aklat Kurimaw. And so Short Shorts shared space with Short Walks, Mike David’s pervy kikiams cracking one bastos joke after another next to Vince Serrano’s Potlatch-reading, Rimbaud-quoting, psychogeographic flaneur. Ayer Arguelles’s blindfolded muse in the pornography-driven poetry of Antares brushed shoulders with the eternally gulat, eyelid-less comedy crew of Alamat ng Panget. Such strange bedfellows could only mean a lot of potential information for trading, and learn we did, mostly from the lecturing of Mr. Kubori Kikiam himself, bona fide veteran of countless Komikons and a well-oiled (one-man publishing) machine, who taught us how we (of the oversized-square-shaped-poetry-books school of impracticality) should operate as booksellers in an expo by 1) overseeing the display of books on the table (only two books per title on display, which reduces clutter as well as the possibility of books getting stolen–the fewer the books, the easier to keep track of them), 2) creating prominent price tags per title for the convenience of browsers/buyers (this we failed to do, but lesson learned), and 3) replacing the first two 500-peso bills we earned with a wad of twenties and fifties plus a supply of five- and ten-peso coins (oo nga ano, kelangan ng panukli).
Which is really what I loved about BLTX. Certainly people also lived in their respective artistic bubbles, replete with running arguments with themselves and their idols about how to tell what story and what line to fashion out of which idea, but at the expo, the talk was also down to earth–concerned with good photocopying and printing deals, with back and shoulder pains acquired after cobbling together a handful of handmade books, with the price difference between special pre-textured paper and regular paper run through a texturing machine for book covers, with the perks of using paper of a certain shade and gsm over another, or with the pressures and perils of literal heavy lifting to transport and deliver books. I was surrounded by people invested in (both artistically and financially) every step of the production of their own work and the work of those they believe in–from conceptualizing it to writing it to drawing it to designing it to printing it to advertising it to distributing it. There is something utterly companionable and empowering about such a process, which, perhaps, those who deem their art (or themselves?) too precious may think of as labors beneath them. There is something to be said about the freedom gained for your art when you opt to pay for it or, at the very least, not demand that it pay for itself. Clearly others are able to discern and appreciate the integrity of such efforts, which is why High Chair’s suking printer–regular clients with multi-million peso accounts notwithstanding–puts up with this small press’s obsessive-compulsive members and their meticulous, custom-made parameters for their low print run books, even offering a print-now-pay-later scheme.
Of course all this talk about independent publishing efforts happened in the rare lulls between cracking jokes and making fun of each other and telling drunken stories about surfing on pavements and psychedelic ceilings. If you want to stay tireless in the task of publishing on your own terms, you really can’t take yourself too seriously.
See you soon (or even sooner) at the next BLTX!