One of London’s most exciting and innovative fairs takes place next week, when the fourth annual Publish and Be Damned fair opens its doors to the weird and wonderful world of independent publishing. It’s hard to explain just how great this fair is, but it’s something to do with buying a photocopied fanzine and being given five free, all of them introducing you to the fantastic work of writer and artist Harry Pye. It’s about seeing everything from screenprinted and handwritten publications to some of the most innovative and experimental print production techniques around. And about meeting all the people who’ve dedicated themselves to this alternative world of publishing.
Transition Editions publisher Cathy Lomax has been attending the fair with her catalogue, which includes art fanzine Arty and arts and culture magazine Garageland, since its inception, and loves its spirit of independence. ‘It’s great being among all those other self- publishers and people who are trying to get their voices heard without it being spun, edited or toned down,’ she says. Yusuf Etiman from Berlin-based Basso agrees, saying, ‘It offers a chance to present stuff to an interested audience in a really nice atmosphere; in the context of so many other magazines and publications it shows the diversity of the scene, but also the common bonds that give it a group feeling.’
As the fair has grown, so has the range of formats, nationalities, styles and media on display. Here are magazines that might appear as a publication one month and an exhibition the next (Starship), lo-fi handwritten magazines (Leisure Centre), magazines that use the grungy aesthetics of photocopying as design devices (Copy), posters from Donald Urquhart and John Frum Press, newspapers such as Conrad Ventur’s Useless, queer-feminist journal LTTR from New York and Berlin ‘zines Starship and Basso. It’s an always eclectic, sometimes mad selection of publications that never fails to intrigue. ‘Indie publications are inevitably inconsistent in their content – some are really banal and boring,’ warns Lomax. ‘However, because there are no advertisers that have to be kept happy – and in many cases no readers – content is truly original. This is where you will find the real freedom of the press,’ she enthuses.
Lomax’s enthusiasm is obviously shared. This year, for the first time, a selection panel was convened to deal with the numbers of titles applying to take part, and one of the titles it’s chosen is contemporary design culture magazine Copy, established in 2005 by a group of Royal College of Art students, including current co-publishers Julie Aveline and Sarah Owens, who believed Copy would ‘fit in well at the fair because we place ourselves outside of the commercial mainstream. It’s very much a personal expression and in its current form would probably not survive a more commercial approach,’ says Owens, who art directs and edits the publication. In the best way, it’s a networking opportunity that’s mutually beneficial to everyone, says Karen magazine publisher Karen Lubbock, ‘in providing a point of reference for anyone who’s attempting to self-publish, and offering a chance to see innovative magazines’.
But how innovative is indie publishing, and what does it offer mainstream publishing? ‘Indie publishing definitely influences mainstream titles, which are always looking at us and ripping things off,’ says Lomax. ‘I think that there has also been a conscious effort by the mainstream press to look more indie – because that’s what the kids want,’ she adds. Yet Owens says they’re unlikely to succeed. ‘I think it’s difficult for mainstream titles to incorporate aspects of indie publishing without seeming insincere or inauthentic,’ she says. She does, however, agree that they’re ‘definitely great sources of inspiration. They can also influence commercial publishing to a certain degree by acting as talent pools – for example, when former fanzine makers start working for mainstream publications or when independently produced magazines, like Raygun, later develop into newsstand titles.’
Ariane Müller, publisher of Starship, thinks the Internet has put paid to such distinctions between small and big publications. ‘It’s made things like size, circulation and readership meaningless,’ she says. ‘Small acts attract huge crowds. Articles on the Internet are more often read than those in The Sunday Times.’
Lomax too thinks the greater interest lies in the link between the indie press and the Web. ‘Blogging and publishing your own magazine go hand in hand. You need a certain arrogance to do both/ you have to believe that someone is going to be interested in what you’re saying. Also, despite the rise in on-line magazines and blogs, more and more publications are being printed. The idea that having something in print gives you a legacy is still a very big motivation to get involved in publishing.’ And if you’re going to do it, Publish and Be Damned is the place to start. l
Publish and Be Damned is at the Rochelle School, Arnold Circus, London E2 on Sunday 29 July, 2-7pm