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Pressin' on the Edge
AK Press Brings Unique Titles to the Bay Area
by Scott Esposito on Nov 14, 2004
A comic book detailing the United State's history of militarism. The autobiography of a criminal/hobo from the turn of the 20th century. An anthology of anarchism. A manifesto advocating the destruction of the male gender, written by the woman who attempted to murder Andy Warhol.
Welcome to the world of Oakland's AK Press, where some of the Bay Area's most unique books are being published. The folks at AK know their titles can be a little extreme at times, and they like it that way.
For AK, the challenge of disseminating unconventional and sometimes shocking books is well worth the reward of seeing these books in print, in stores, and in people's hands.
AK Press was originally founded in Scotland in 1990 by three politically active anarchists who wanted to spread their own brand of subversion. In 1994, one of AK's employees decided to move out to San Francisco for the food and the weather, and AK Press in Oakland was born.
With seven full-time employees, AK is a small press situated in one of the more marginal neighborhoods of west Oakland. Despite its size, a lot gets done. AK publishes around 15 titles per year and has hopes to double that figure. It also distributes non-AK titles, around 3,000 in total. Add to that a full-time warehouse the handles sales and returns, and about the only thing that isn't done at AK is the actual printing of the books.
Since it's founding, AK has published timely, informative titles, including many by well-known political activists such as Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, and Mumia Abu Jamal. Spurred by the buildup to war with Iraq, AK's comic "Addicted to War" (complete with archival photographs and footnotes) is a concise yet powerful history of the bond between the United States and warfare. "This Philosophy of Punk," originally "printed" at Mailboxes Etc. and bound with a drill and metal rings, has grown to become an underground classic and fans have translated it, of their own volition, to Lithuanian and Chinese (the AK edition proudly displays all three title pages).
While AK's books can be quite distinctive, national chains such as Barnes and Noble and Borders do not always embrace them. A variety of reasons keep many books that AK distributes from making it to the nationals -- sometimes the books are stapled together, lack an ISBN, or simply scare off the chains by the nature of their content. Despite these obstacles, and AK's own aversion to large corporations, AK is glad to be in the chains when it can, because it realizes that in many parts of the country chains are the only bookstores around.
For the titles that don't make it into the chains there's the Bookmobile, a loose collection of do-it-yourselfers selling AK Press books nationwide. Basically, anyone interested in selling AK's books can do so, and general Bookmobile venues include parks, universities, rallies, shows and concerts (AK even had a booth at the San Francisco gun show).
The Bookmobile has always been a part of AK and it's credited with selling thousands of copies of many AK titles that would have otherwise had no distribution whatsoever. There are hundreds of known Bookmobile events each year (AK's website keeps a current schedule) and at least as many unknown events. The concept of the Bookmobile resonates with one of AK's major beliefs, the DIY, or do it yourself, philosophy, and this idea of making it happen on your own comes through in many AK authors and titles.
There's a definite link between the Bookmobile and music. Due to common political ideals, the Bookmobile originally found fertile ground in the punk community where the first Bookmobile experiments took place. As punk became less radical, the Bookmobile has branched out toward different kinds of music such as hip-hop and artrock. Over the years the Bookmobile's popularity has grown, and it has been present at major events like the Warped Tour and Lollapooloza and has been on the road with bands such as Godspeed You Black Emperor.
So the next time you're looking for something a little different, look out for AK Press. With all their unique titles you're bound to find something great, or, at the very least, engaging.
Upcoming event: On Saturday, August 23, AK Press will be screening the film "We Interrupt this Empire" about the recent protests against the war in Iraq. Check the website for further details.
by Scott Esposito on Nov 14, 2004