Friday, May 4, 2012
EVERYONE'S GOT ONE #18: HOW PRINTING PRESSES PROMOTE CENSORSHIP (with guest Josh Filer)
So there I was at C2E2 this year, shooting the shit with Jon Michael Lennon, the creator of PRODUCT OF SOCIETY, talking about some of the books in Artists Alley. I mentioned a few books I was looking for because I’d read the first issue and wanted more. One of those was Josh Filer’s GROSS, GRANDPA! (reviewed here). Jon then told me that though Josh’s book was on sale, Josh himself was not there due to an important event in his family. Jon then told me about the hell that Josh had gone through in order to get issue two printed.
It was a horror story I was quite familiar with. Many of you remember several years ago that I was publisher and editor of TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE. What you may not know is the struggle I went through to find a printer for the first issue.
When I first came up with Edgewood Ent., the company that is listed as the publisher of TABARD INN, it was to be a pretty big venture with not just the magazine, but also bumper stickers and art. The last part didn’t quite work out, but you’ll probably remember my bumper stickers. There were three of them: CHOOSE DEATH, PUSSY SATISFIES, and IT’S A PARASITE NOT A CHOICE. A friend of mine (and contributor to TABARD INN), R.M. Tannahill actually designed images for these bumper stickers. PUSSY SATISFIES was originally supposed to look like the Snickers logo, and PARASITE was supposed to have a hanger at the end of the sentiment with a fetus stuck to the hook.
Well, I shopped these things around to various bumper sticker, t-shirt, etc. printers, and none of them wanted anything to do with this. I kind of expected this, and I went to an internet company to get them printed up (sadly, without the imagery). That was my first taste of censorship, but I thought it might happen, so it didn’t let me down too much. I expected the printed word to fare better.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the first issue of TABARD INN, it was a horror, SF, mystery, and bizarre book with plenty of questionable content, at least in fiction format. However, there were two very questionable images at the end of the issue which were supposed to be advertisements for my bumper stickers. CHOOSE DEATH actually featured Tannahill in it, but it was the least offensive of the three pictures. PARASITE featured me pointing a gun (not a real gun, but an excellent replica) at a baby (not a real baby, but a realistic doll). PUSSY SATISFIES featured a friend of mine wearing nothing but a bumper sticker across her breasts. There was no actual nudity, but it was pretty close.
I did some research. I found a bunch of printing presses in my area (printing presses online wasn’t very big just yet), and I put on a suit and tie, carried all of my material in my briefcase, and went out to make the best impression I could.
My mistake was in thinking that these companies wanted to make money. I had a bunch of it, and I was willing to give it to whoever gave me the lowest quote. I figured that there would be some competition among the companies I chose to visit, and everyone would be happy in the end.
Fuck, was I wrong! Each and every place I went to, without question, rejected me, and they didn’t even read the content. They judged this job based solely on those two pictures in the back of the magazine. It all came down to what one of them said to me: “We don’t print filth like this.” No one else put it quite like that, but they all meant it. Keep in mind, their name wasn’t going ANYWHERE on my book. They could make some easy money off of me and have ZERO ACCOUNTABILITY for all the lunacy that went into that first magazine.
To my relief, I found a place in Addison who was interested in printing TABARD INN. Not only were they willing, but the guy I spoke to was eager. He loved the hell out of the concept of an extreme fiction magazine. And the quote! My God, it was a beautiful thing to behold! For a mere $700, I could get 500 copies of the first issue. I don’t think I need to tell you that I had a huge tent at the front of my pants. I paid the man and left him with all the material he needed. By the time Monday came, he said I’d have the galleys ready for my approval.
Well, we both forgot that Monday was a holiday, so I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for Tuesday to come, excited to see what my labor of love would look like. At the time, I had two jobs: in the morning, I worked as a Public Works parts driver, and at night, I worked at the local library (the basis for TALES FROM THE LIBRARY, which appeared in two of the three issues of TABARD INN). On Tuesday, I rushed home from the city garage, hoping to have a message from the printer to come on in and take a look at issue one. (I didn’t have a cell phone back then.) Well, I had a message, all right. It was from the guy I’d talked to. He sounded kind of down in the dumps, and rightfully so. The owner of the press (who is related to who would eventually become the mayor of my hometown) took a look at my magazine and was absolutely horrified by it. (I was told he’d actually read some of it, rather than just looking at the pictures.) He told his underling in no uncertain terms that they were not going to print this magazine.
I went into their office to get my materials, and the guy I talked to glumly handed my money back to me and apologized. Discouraged, I went home and pondered what I was going to do now that I no longer had a press for what I believed would be a magazine that would blow the socks off the genre small press. (Yeah, I thought pretty big back then.)
I did what I usually do in the face of relentless rejection: I tried a few more places and was turned away a few more times. Then, I lucked out and found a place in Bensenville who gave me a positive answer. They’re great people over there, and they read the material and had no problem with any of it. However, their quote was considerably higher than the other place: just over a thousand dollars.
Fuck. That $700 was hard enough to come with as it was. How badly did I want my dream to come true? Yeah, I found a way to cough up the rest of it, and they produced an excellent magazine. The quality was very good, and over the years, I paid them to print my other two issues. However, I kept wanting to improve quality. #2 had a glossy cover. #3 had a color glossy cover. Each time, the costs increased. I’m ashamed to even tell you how much #3 cost me. (I’ll give you a hint: triple that thousand, and you’re not there yet.) I’m also ashamed to let you know that I didn’t even break even on the entire TABARD INN enterprise. Not even fucking close.
And here’s the thing: how many people could have afforded to print those magazines? I certainly couldn’t. I had to get very frugal with my living. For the last one, I had to borrow a considerable hunk of change from my father. Not only that, but I had to ditch a lot of my habits, most publicly, my boozing. Many of you will remember the Sobriety Clock updates on MySpace. Luckily, I had many friends who were willing to help me get drunk by footing the bill, so I very rarely went a week without getting shitfaced.
Looking back, everyone has been paid back. My father has his thousands back, and my friends have all been paid back in their alcohol of choice. Yet . . . I’m fortunate enough to have this network of people who can help me out. What about the others who are less fortunate? Business has effectively censored them with high printing costs.
So what’s the message? If your art has a heavy transgressive flavor, you’re going to have to pay top dollar to get your work out there. If you don’t have that, you’re shit out of luck.
Getting back to Josh Filer and C2E2, I’d been hoping to interview him this year, especially after hearing about his difficulty in getting GROSS, GRANDPA! #2 out. I asked Jon for Josh’s contact info, and I got in touch with him (figuratively speaking, you perverts), asking him to say a few words about his ordeal. His story has a lot in common, from being turned away repeatedly for obscenity to the exorbitant printing costs of places willing to do the job. Here he is, in his own words:
“It was a fucking bitch to get [GROSS, GRANDPA! #2] printed! However, I learned a lot from it, and I couldn’t be happier with the results I got in the end. Several print companies turned me down outright. I started by sending my files to Company A. When I saw an error on my charges, I called them to figure it out. They asked for my order number and name and then they got quiet for a moment, then told me (granted, very professionally), that “this goes beyond what we feel comfortable printing . . . so . . . yeah . . . we’re going to have to decline printing this.” I just responded with, “OK, so are you going to just take those charges off my card?” He said yes, and I thanked him for his time and hung up. I then sent my files to Company B, to which I was promptly given an email about it not being about censorship but about trying to keep a good face for their company as they continue to grow, but they wouldn’t be able to print this because of its content, blah, blah, blah. I tried several other print on demand companies that I could find online, to which they more or less responded with the same. What I should have done first was contact them and talk it out first before just sending files and shocking them. Then again, fuck that. If they’re a judgmental printer, I suppose they shouldn’t be in business. I almost had to go through some foreign company that prints obscene material, and they gave me a price of almost $4 a pop to print, not to mention shipping.
“Through all of my schooling and college-ing, I always completely disregarded the assignments and did what I thought was funny. A lot of teachers would fail me, then tell their coworkers so I would have a hard time next class right off the bat. But there are a handful of amazing people who I had that got me and let me do what I wanted. So for the most part, being shunned by people in position of power tells me, in a fucked up sort of way, that I’m doing something right, and it’s sort of comforting, I guess.
“This is what I did [in regards to GROSS, GRANDPA! #2]: I messaged a couple of my buddies, asking who they printed through, and they gave me a contact at this publishing company who advertised on their website as only going as far as page 13, but I sent them an email stating that I understood their policy, but I’m not looking for publication, distribution, and all that; I just need a print job ASAP. I gave him the names of who referred me to them and told him my books were just obscenity for obscenity’s sake, followed with a link to my blog and a review of me on bleedingcool.com. [They can be found here and here, respectively—JB.] I kept this first message confident and to the point. He agreed to talk to me about it, and after several back and forth emails, he gave me a really good price, and since they were going to C2E2, he would just drop them off at our booth to save me on shipping. The quality is far better than any of these predatory print on demand services and turn around was shocking, too. I realized that these POD people price their stuff so high not because that’s just what it costs, but because they know you’ll pay for it, since you’re likely a little nobody. Plus they know you’ll wait six weeks for them to come for the same reason.”
So you can see that my story is not an uncommon one. Creators go through this all the time. I’ve also talked to several writers who self-publish, and they have similar stories, too.
What can we do to improve this problem? Well, aside from convincing even the staunchest, right-wing religious folks that pussy does, indeed, satisfy (a truth even they know, at the bottom of their hypocritical little hearts), there isn’t much that can be done. People who produce questionable art will always be on the fringe of the printing world. However, I’m open to suggestions. Let me know what you think in the comments below.