Shelf Life 2 Brings The Creative Empowerment Of Small Press To USC
“Penis,” Kidd replied with a straight face.
And so went Shelf Life 2: A Big Day for Small Press, an event that was anything but the ordinary, which celebrated independent publishers, writers, artists, and designers whose work challenge popular culture and embody the humorous, idiosyncratic spirit that comes with freedom of expression.
The all-day event, presented by the Roski School of Fine Arts and Visions and Voices, predates back to 2009, during which Roski faculty member Ewa Wojciak and then-faculty Michael Ned Holte created the first Shelf Life in a response to the downturn of the economy and increased marginalization of small press.
Shelf Life 2, organized by Wojciak, design head Haven Lin-Kirk, and students Yuri Ogita and Megan Chinn addressed the same issues. “Since the economy changed, DIY has become king,” Lin-Kirk explained. “Small press is becoming more and more relevant to artists.”
The day included a speaker presentation consisting of acclaimed designer and publisher Chip Kidd, most known for his iconic book jacket designs (think Jurassic Park and Haruki Murakami) and renowned artist and cartoonist Gary Panter who created the Jimbo comic series and won an Emmy award for designing the set of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. The panel was moderated by music critic Byron Coley, best known for co-helming indie rock magazine Forced Exposure and who currently writes for Wire magazine.
Prior to the aforementioned insightful interview, Kidd had shown some of his book jackets, along with a comical snippet of a Bat-Manga! cartoon, based on a Japanese Batman manga Kidd had re-published in English, and Panter talked about his career as an artist and a musician, which had recently culminated in him buying a French horn (“It’s smelly,” Panter revealed), while Coley stood close-by, attempting to mime out Panter’s sentences for the audience but hilariously failing at it.
This mixture of talent and unfiltered humor set the tone of the day, as the workshops and bazaar vendors exhibited a similar combination of artistic aptitude and playfulness. Distinguished individuals held entertaining workshops: the founder of the art magazine Beautiful/Decay was there to lead an exquisite corpse project, the founding editors of the quarterly Slake: Los Angeles taught participants how to tell a good story, Modern Multiples, a screen-printing studio that worked with the likes of Banksy and Shepard Fairey, taught people how to pull the perfect screen-print, and the founders of home-grown advocating Root Simple showed people how to survive a zombie apocalypse while staying eco-friendly.
The bazzar was not pale in comparison, consisting of note-worthy artists such as Robbie Conal and Mear One, who amicably offered their knowledge and points of guidance to all those who asked (got me some painting tips from Mear One himself!). With a bazaar of over 80 vendors supporting small press, ranging from the likes of Conal to local art students promoting their work, Shelf Life 2 made it clear that independent publication is teeming with a wealth of creativity and promise, and embodies the very ethos of freedom of expression, social activism, and artistic enthusiasm.
In other words, small press allows creative types to be well, creative, resulting in some admittedly kooky stuff, ranging from booklets that have to be read by a magnifying glass to leaflets of screen-printed cat heads, attracting even the likes of Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who ambled around Harris Hall, almost going unnoticed.
After perusing a booklet filled with some offbeat illustrations and poems made by a pair of art school students from Otis and Art Center, I asked the duo why they made these publications. They looked at each other for a moment and replied, “Because it’s fun!” They went on to describe how they often gave the booklets out for free or to their friends. “It’s just nice to have a book of your art you know?” one of them said, simulating a book’s weight with his hands.
Although many of the vendors use small press for simply creative purposes, there are ones who use it as a means to catalyze social change. For example, the WTFIRGO Foundation, which is short for “What The Fuck Is Really Going On,” handed out dozens of fanzines (don’t know what they are? “Look it up,” WTFIRGO creator Rick Klotz commands, mumbling something about how they were hot in the 80’s) all of which contained pages filled with factual events exposing the corruption and decline of society.
Klotz, who owns clothing brand Freshjive, created the WTFIRGO Foundation a month and a half ago as a way for making customers more aware of the problems in society. The foundation sells T-shirts bearing bold statements such as “Fuck Politics,” with fifty percent of proceeds going to a local social justice system such as LACAN (Los Angeles Community Action Network). “WTFIRGO acts a conduit for things people don’t pay attention to– we make our customers aware, and then they make change,” Klotz explained.
This statement embodies what Shelf Life 2 sought to convey: individual empowerment. “It’s good to be a producer instead of a consumer,” Gary Panter stated. “We need to try to make something that would help humans evolve.”
With dozens of student-made publications, some of which were even made by USC students and alumni, and a wide array of talented guests who too, started from small press, Shelf Life 2 showed off the creative capacity of the individual and power of independent publication. Needless to say, the day was one for the books.
Reach reporter Yo-Yo Lin here.