Monthly Archives: April 2015

In Praise of Human Power: An Interview with Andy Singer

bike dreams by andy singerIn 2013, we published Andy Singer‘s Why We Drive: The Past, Present, and Future of Automobiles in America. Part history, part original reporting, and part sharp, illustrated commentary, it tells a chilling story of why the US is the way it is. There isn’t any other book quite like this one, and we asked Andy to talk about it and his other work via email.

Love what Andy has to say? Check out our superpack of his work.

Why We Drive is a unique book, combining cartoons, text-form journalism, and photographs. How did it come about?

After I did the book CARtoons in 2001, I got invitations to speak at various venues including The Village Building Convergence, bookstores and a few universities. Being a visual artist, I gradually developed a slide talk about the social, environmental, economic and political problems of transportation design in America. I used a mixture of cartoons, photographs and maps because I found it was helpful to give people real-world examples of good and bad urban design. When I got positive feedback from the talk, I became interested in turning it into a book and an interactive website. I still have to build the interactive website but Microcosm helped me create, edit and publish the book. My goal was to explain transportation design issues and politics in a simple way to college students and the general public, as well as put forward a few ideas about why I believe we’re not making more political progress at reforming our transportation system.

How did you start drawing cartoons about bikes, cars, and related issues? What was the first cartoon you made?

I use cartoons as a way to experience and understand life, the way a writer might use words or a photographer might use photos. I make cartoons about everything—personal experiences, relationships, art, philosophy, politics, religion and anything else I am experiencing or thinking about. In college and after college I was trying to give myself as much time to draw as possible so I was trying to live as cheaply as possible. Not owning a car and getting around by bicycle and walking was part of that attempt to live cheaply. 

Starting in high school I was aware that there were too many cars and our landscape was being decimated to provide space for cars, particularly in urban areas. I think I drew my first cartoons or drawings about it in college. They were the drawing the guy being overwhelmed by tiny cars that became the cover of CARtoons and the drawing of the globe surrounded by cars that became the cartoon “The road to hell is paved.” 

When I graduated from college, I sought out the cheapest rooms or apartments I could find. One of these put me next to a freeway interchange in Oakland California. The experience of living there, biking everywhere and reading the book The Power Broker by Robert Caro, changed my life and made me appreciate all the issues associated with transportation. I saw exactly how and why the freeway interchange gutted my neighborhood and how the main obstacle and danger to bicycling in urban areas was cars and drivers. This was the early 1990s when many people were waking up to these same issues. I participated in some of the first Critical Mass rides in San Francisco and the East Bay and started giving them my transportation cartoons for flyers and posters. I also discovered the (now defunct) “Auto-Free Times” and Alliance for a Paving Moratorium in Arcata, California and started sending them cartoons as well. By 1994 it had become a major theme in my work.

andy singer traffic reportMost people in the US still see bicycles as a sport or something kids do. Do you have a lot of awkward conversations about what your work is actually about?

Not really. Most of my friends and family appreciate where I’m coming from. They’ve been around me and see how I live or have ridden bicycles in urban areas and appreciate what that experience is like. Also, everyone in America has driven somewhere and understands what driving is like. Because many of my cartoons are true to that experience, even most car-drivers will acknowledge the reality of what I draw. Now days, city planners, elected officials and many people in the general public are hip to these issues and trying to figure out how to make their cities less car-dependent or reduce the amount of driving in their lives. Since 2008, for the first time in American history, Vehicle Miles Traveled (the measure of how much we drive) has actually gone down slightly, despite an increase in the country’s population. So people are trying to drive less.

Your work covers a lot of big issues like sprawl, climate change, transportation policy, pollution, economics… What can ordinary people with busy lives and not a lot of political access do to address this stuff?

You can try to address it in your own life. You can try to set up your life so you have to drive as little as possible. In so doing, you vote with your feet and your wallet. When more people bike, walk and use public transit, there is greater pressure on elected officials and government agencies to improve these modes of transportation. It thus increases the profitability of public transit and makes cities more desirable places to live. It also helps reduce your carbon footprint and reduces the amount of money going to automobile manufacturers, oil companies and highway agencies.

divided city by andy singerIn a globally connected capitalist world, cities and countries are competing for highly skilled labor—programmers, engineers, scientists, etc. To some degree, these people can live anywhere they want. So San Francisco or my current city in Minnesota aren’t just competing with other U.S. cities but are competing with cities in Europe for the best and brightest talent. Polls and statistics show that more and more skilled people want to live in cities that are walkable, bikeable and have good public transit. Also our population is aging and realizing that they don’t want to be trapped in automobile-oriented retirement communities in Florida or the southwest USA. They also want improved walkability and transit. Finally, there’s been an explosion of obesity in the USA with resulting increases in healthcare costs. Many factors contribute to this but increased amounts of driving and a lack of daily exercise are major factors. City, state and business leaders in the US are increasingly aware of all this. It is part of Gil Peñalosa’s “8-80” message (the former parks commissioner of Bogotá, Colombia) and many other leaders.

So how you live your life has an impact on the larger world. Driving less also frees up more of your time to do other things, like participate in the political process at both a local and national level—in school boards, city councils, planning commissions or even political campaigns. If you don’t have to spend two hours a day driving to work or driving your kids to school, you might have time to help organize a “safe-routes-to-schools” program in your school or get walkability or bikeability improvements to your neighborhood.

One thing you realize from trying to reorient your life and get around using your own human power is that no one is going to help us or save us but us. It’s a do-it-yourself world. If we want to prevent environmental destruction, live better lives, get campaign finance reform, peace or justice, it’s up to us to organize and take action. We are the government and we are the world.

This has been an interview with Andy Singer, author of Why We Drive. It is one of a series of interviews with Microcosm authors. The last interview was with Lisa Wilde, author of Yo, Miss. The next one is with Crate Digger author Bob Suren.

Challenging Stereotypes: An Interview with Lisa Wilde of Yo Miss

lisa wilde illustrated selfieLast month, we felt lucky and stoked to publish Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look at High SchoolLisa Wilde’s nonfiction graphic novel about teaching at an inner-city second chance high school. Since then, the rest of the world has been falling in love with the book just like we did—it’s been getting glowing reviews, and readers are quickly picking it up and keeping it close. I asked Lisa some questions over email about her road to publication and some back story and updates to the stories in the book. 

Before Yo, Miss was a book, it was a series of comics zines. What led you to start making those, and what was the transition to traditional format publishing like?

Yo, Miss is my first book. I’d never drawn cartoons before, and I turned 60 this past summer – all of which fits with why I teach at Wildcat. In many ways, what the school is about (and what I hope the book is about) is confronting stereotypes. In other words, the potential that is inherent in all of us that just needs a little help or the right circumstances to allow it to come out.

In society’s eyes, I have no credibility in terms of making a graphic book, much less getting it positively reviewed. In society’s eyes, most of our students are perceived a little like Ellison’s invisible man—either as a threat or not seen at all. What we at Wildcat try to do is to allow our students’ potential to come out, and challenge whatever stereotype society wants to place on them, along with the stereotypes they may place on themselves.

The idea for Yo, Miss was always as a graphic book. This choice may have been because I was inexperienced, but I also had nothing to lose by dreaming big. And once I started making Yo, Miss, the process was so interesting that finishing it was never in question.

Publishing was a whole other deal. During most of the process, there wasn’t time to think about anything beyond what I was doing. But at a certain point, I realized I wanted to see if I could get this out into the world in some way. I was given Microcosm’s name by another publisher, so I contacted Joe and he asked if he could publish Yo as a series of zines. I said yes immediately, and then went to the Internet to find out what a zine was. Once I found out, I was thrilled.

Joe, for me, was someone who saw my potential outside of stereotypes, and for that I am eternally grateful. And then he took the next risk, which was to publish it as a book. Having Yo come out as zines before it came out as a book was incredibly helpful for me in many, many ways. Between the performances and other promotion, I got a much better idea of how to move this book out into the world, which is something very different than making the book.

What next? Will you be drawing more Yo Miss comics? Will you continue (or are you still) teaching at Wildcat, the second chance high school depicted in the book? Other big projects on the horizon?

What’s up next? I always feel like the air space above Kennedy Airport around 7:00 in the evening – all those planes circling around waiting to land. My second book—Lacunae: a Diary in Pictures—is just about ready to send out. It’s another book with words and drawings, though it isn’t in comics form.  (And unfortunately it’s not up Microcosm’s alley. All the drawings are color, and there are a lot of them.) The images are visceral, emotional and archetypal—kind of a combination of Charlotte Salomon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Jung. I hope to get the dummy of my third book, Noah and the Boa Dance Round the World (a children’s book), completed by the end of summer. I’m not going to even mention the idea for the fourth book (but it is great!)  My biggest issue is time. I still work full-time at Wildcat – and love it, though (as I described in the book) I am almost always tired.

There’s a tug of war right now about the future of public education in the US. If you were spirited away today to Washington to give policy recommendations to the president, what would they be?

If I was asked to give policymakers advice in terms of public education, I would say three things: 1) use standardized tests as one narrow measure of success instead of the defining concept, 2) do the math and see that standardized testing and technology are not cheaper solutions in terms of improving educational performance (and recognize that their connection to improving performance is also questionable.) and 3) take some of the money poured into standardized testing and technology and use it to reduce class size, increase noncore classes like art, music, dance, school sports, etc., and provide meaningful classroom support to improve classroom teaching.

Because of what has happened with computers, the world is in a seismic shift in terms of using data to inform decisions. However, society is still in the early phases of this shift and too often data is seen as meaningful simply because it is data i.e. a score on a standardized test = what someone knows, whether the test is meaningful or not. Going along with that (and this is why I begin the first chapter with the quote attributed to Einstein) is the idea that things that aren’t easily measured must not be valuable.

If academic growth is the only value for education, society loses.

yo miss coverReading Yo Miss, it was easy to get attached to a lot of the students. Can you share any “where are they now”s with us?

As you probably know, the students in Yo, Miss are fictionalized composites. I did that for confidentiality, but also I tried to be as true to who our students are as possible, and most characters had many models. We have had many students like Danny, the boy who kept calling me “Snowflake.” One student, Joe Garcia (who called Oedipus “stupid”) is now a union electrician, making more money than me. I spotted another Danny model on the subway awhile back. There was a kid sitting across from me, deeply involved in a thick hardback book. It looked like one of our graduates, but the kid wouldn’t look up—he was so into the book—so I couldn’t be sure. Finally, when he reached his stop, our eyes met and it was indeed Keith Wooten—former bane of every Wildcat staff member. Tyrell Bramble, whose poem Life and Times of Young Rellington is recited by Will, was back visiting Wildcat a few weeks ago. He’s now a nurse. However, I don’t mean to give the impression that it’s all positive. Another model for Will—a student who we all loved who dropped out before graduation—was killed by 23 bullets in a gang hit.

Jessica De La Rosa, the model for Janis Diaz (the student who has osteogenisis imperfecta), graduated from John Jay College and on April 16th she and I are going to be at CWE, a branch of City College, talking about the book and the importance of challenging stereotypes. Jessica is an inspiration and a force of nature—foster parenting three disabled children, competing in national rowing events, and promoting disability rights. She is also a dear friend.

This interview with Yo, Miss author Lisa Wilde is part of a series of interviews with Microcosm authors. The last interview was with Katie Haegele and the next one is with Andy Singer.

The Rock & Roll of San Francisco’s East Bay, 1950-1980

“For every successful local group that ever packed the Fillmore, Avalon, or Winterland Ballrooms, there were dozens of overlooked, and much better, groups that also hailed from the City by the Bay.” Explore the primitive, rocking rhythm and blues of the fifties, the garage and psych of the sixties, and the seventies punk and new wave scenes. Spanning rock & roll’s first three decades, these were the bands left out of the history books. It is not only essential reading for music history nuts and record collectors, it is also mandatory for all Bay Area devotees.

Meet the Microcosm Staff: Jeff Hayes, Warehouse Manager

jeff hayes music studioMy quest to interview all the Microcosm workers about their work and lives and favorite things has finally reached our warehouse manager, Jeff Hayes, who has been here longer than just about anyone else. Instead of a picture of himself, he chose to submit a photo of his recording studio. For an even better picture of the soul of Jeff, check out his staff picks Superpack.

What do you do here at Microcosm, and how did you end up here?

I like to call myself a “box-pusher.” But it could also be called “Inventory Control” or “Warehouse Management” or even Shipping/Receiving..? I mostly put everything (books, zines, shirts, patches, stickers, buttons, butt-bags, etc..) where it goes, so I know where everything is. Then I constantly count them all, over and over again, to make sure the numbers are correct on the website. And somehow they still get off every so often. I put most of the new stuff up on the website. I order more stuff when it’s low. I pull most of the orders. Sometimes I ship things off. I do a lot of t-shirt folding, re-arranging, box lifting, and a million other things. And I answer a lot of the emails from our wonderful customers. 🙂 

I’m not exactly sure how I ended up here but I’m certainly glad to be here. 🙂 

Inventory management is more complicated than most people realize. What is it about it that you especially get and enjoy? Is there anything that you wish more people knew about this side of things? 

It seems so simple in theory… When we get, say, 20 new zines into the store, I enter the information into our site for the product page (title, description, isbn, price, weight, so on…) then I put the number 20 into the Quantity field. So, it stands to reason that, as our site automatically takes away 1 when someone buys 1, it will go out of stock right when we really are out of that zine in the store. And most of the time it goes just like that. But often times it doesn’t. Because sometimes we’ll sell the last one in our storefront at the same time someone puts in an order on the website, or a few of them could be at a tabling event so I don’t have them here in the store to ship off… There’s so many things that could make that number incorrect. 

I’d say one of the hardest things to keep track of is the shirts. A lot of times the women’s and unisex cuts get confused. They’re actually pretty hard to tell apart sometimes, and the shirt companies often don’t label them correctly or at all. So someone might sell a women’s ME and think it was a unisex ME and they’ll put it in the system that way. So then we will basically have one too many of one and one too few of the other when they run out of stock. I do a lot of arguing with our website. It sounds like I’m just complaining but it’s all part of the job. I actually enjoy trying to keep track of it all. I like it when everything goes according to plan, and I like playing detective to figure out what went wrong. 🙂 

What do you do when you’re not on the clock?

Mostly music. I master and score stuff for Joe’s films, and I make my own music. I have a little home studio that I’ve been building up for a while and someone has to drag me out of it every once in a while. I like to take walks, it’s always an adventure in Portland. 

Favorites! What are you most into right now?

Books: I never have time to read all the things I want to, but somehow I still manage to read most of the Tape Op magazines I get. My stack currently consists of Mad Science, Humor, Modern Recording Techniques, How to Stay Alive in the Woods, Girl in a Band, Carsick, The Infinite Wait, and more… Who knows if/when I’ll finish them. 

Music: Radiohead has been my favorite since forever, and Blonde Redhead and the Notwist are always up on the list, but currently I’ve been really into Portishead, Fenton Robinson, Benny Carter, Curtis Mayfield, and I can’t stop listening to Stephen Malkmus/Pavement. There’s obviously tons more I’m not thinking of. I really like listening to random things on Bandcamp, also. 

Movies: David Cross’s new movie HITS was pretty good. I watched this movie the other day called Tabloid. At first it didn’t look very good but I played it anyway. I thought I’d shut it off any minute but it just kept getting crazier and crazier and before I knew it it was over and I was floored. It was pretty nuts. Oh and Muscle Shoals is pretty great! 

Places in PDX: Well, I reeeeaaallly miss the Vegetarian House, but uhhhhmmm… Purringtons is pretty cool. So is Brass Tacks Sandwiches, Homegrown Smoker, Old Town Music, Trade Up, Control Voltage, The Waypost, Voodoo Donuts, Sizzle Pie, The Doug Fir, Wonder Ballroom, The Abbey, El Nutri, Townshend’s, any of the bridges I can safely walk along, Irving Park, any of the weird little neighborhoods I stumble upon, the list goes on and on and on… Microcosm! 

 Places outside of PDX: The beach. The woods. 

 Snacks: Yes, please! 

This is part of a series of interviews with Microcosm workers. The last interview was with publicist Tim Wheeler.

Memoir, community, and zine tours: An interview with Katie Haegele

The happiest photo ever taken of katie haegeleLong ago, Joe handed me a book and said “you’ll like this.” It was Katie Haegele’s White Elephants: Yard Sales, Relationships, and Finding What Was Missing. I did like it; I still haven’t really gotten over how much. I emailed Katie to ask some questions about her writing and her experiences promoting it. True to form, she replied with her trademark combination of thoughtfulness and profanity. 

You have two books out with Microcosm: White Elephants and Slip of the Tongue, but you’ve also written a tremendous amount as a journalist, writer, and zinester. Can you give us a sense of what sort of writing work you’ve put out there and what sort of themes tie together the many different topics you’ve tackled? 

Thanks for asking! If it looks like a tremendous amount of writing at this point, that’s only because I’ll be a million years old on my next birthday. But let’s see. When I was in high school and college, I longed to grow up to become a newspaper writer. I thought that seemed really glamorous. I still do, actually, and it is, sort of. In the office of a good paper or magazine, the energy is really alive and the people are excited about what they’re doing. I started pursuing that kind of work after I graduated, and I have always considered myself a non-fiction writer of some kind, never a writer of fiction. I grew to love interviewing artists about their work and writing book reviews, and these have continued to be a source of work and income for me. But at some point in my 20s I found that I had more I needed to express than I was able to satisfy with this kind of work alone. So I started making zines of what I called my “personal” writing, and have been devoted to that as a mode of expression for years. Zines are still an important component of my writing life, the place where my mind goes when I need to write something too unusual to belong to a more traditional category (like poem, essay, article, whatever). 

I guess now that I’ve been doing memoir-style writing for several years, important themes that I’ve returned to are ideas about language, memory, nostalgia, and—at the risk of sounding really pompous—material culture. I like looking at different facets of our culture, like the way we speak and the way we dress, and mining them for a deeper meaning. I never get tired of thinking about how objects, like personal belongings that we buy, inherit, or receive as gifts, can be a way to look at so much else in life, including larger ideas like gender expression, family, and home, as well as loss and grief.

You’ve gone on several book and zine tours. How did you organize those? Were they straight-up readings? How did they go?

I’ve done a whole lot of readings at this point, but I haven’t planned too many tours. I’d like to do more. Two years ago my husband (then boyfriend) Joe and I planned a road trip, just for fun, to go see David Bazan play a show in Illinois. Then I had the idea, Hey, why don’t we book some reading dates for the cities and towns we’ll pass through, and call this a tour! (Joe is a writer and zine maker too.) So we did some research online and asked folks we know for help, and booked readings at a cafe, a record store, a bookstore, etc. In Bloomington, Indiana we read at a beautiful little bookstore called Boxcar Books; this was during the summer, and we did the reading on the porch.   

This tour was one of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve ever done, and it went a long way in helping me to get over some of my terror of public speaking. We kept showing up to these different places all sweaty and exhausted and trying to find parking, so I didn’t have the luxury of spending the whole day dreading the reading. I had to find some bathroom and splash a little water on my face, then hop up and do the show. I got better at going with the flow and now have a much more relaxed and confident attitude about performing. When we find enough time and money, Joe and I would like to go to California and do a mini-tour of readings there. 

What are the best ways you’ve found to promote your books and other work? Any tips for first-time authors?

I don’t know how good I am at promoting myself, because I’m not sure how to evaluate the amount of attention any of my writing has gotten and where that attention came from. I do think that publishing my work in mainstream publications has led more people to my zines and books than would otherwise have found them, so to someone who doesn’t already write for magazines or websites, I would recommend doing some of that to coincide with the publication of your book. You can also offer an excerpt or chapter of your book to be published in a magazine or journal, with the permission of your publisher. 

Get on Goodreads, too! I was already using that site, to keep a log of books I’m reading and want to read, when I found out about their Authors program, which is free and really nice. I set up a separate Author account and did a giveaway for my new book when it came out a few months ago. Several hundred people signed up to win a copy, which I think represents mostly people who didn’t already know who I am because folks shop that website to find new things to read. The people who win know they’re not obligated to review the book positively, or at all, but it seems that a lot of them participate in this program with the idea to write about any book they win, and a bunch of folks reviewed mine. Reviews of your book, whether they’re glowing or not, are very important to getting it sold and read. Goodreads has set the whole thing up really well, too; when I log on to use my normal account, I can see a thumbnail of my book along with some information about it, but not the number of stars it’s gotten from reviewers on the site. That way I don’t even feel tempted to peek. I don’t read any reviews my books receive, for what that’s worth, but when one is published (like in a magazine or something) I’ll use my blog to thank the writer for doing it and link to it for others to read. 

Besides all that, I think doing things like selling my zines on Etsy, making my modest little DIY website several years ago, and doing blog projects that are not directly related to my writing but are a creative outlet in other ways (like Portrait of a Closet, which I do with my friend Nadine), has given me a web presence that makes me easy to find. As a reader, I’m disappointed to find some forgotten blog that hasn’t been updated for 4 years when I go looking for a writer whose work I’m interested in. I like getting to know writers a bit through their internet writing—blog, twitter, Thought Catalog, whatever. It’s a good way to get writing practice (and publishing experience, of a kind) and to build a readership. That said, if you’d rather unplug all this shit and keep your head calm and just concentrate on your writing, you have my full support on that too. 

What are you working on next?

I am scheduled to do an illustrated book with you guys next year, which I am very excited about! At home here I’m a member of a print collective called the Soapbox, and I participate in things with them. This month they’ll bring member work to the second annual Philadelphia Art Book Fair, which I didn’t know about last year but looks exciting. I’ve also challenged myself to contribute to at least one comp zine, art show, or other group project every month. It makes me feel so good to send my zines to a library for donation, or contribute a piece of writing to a themed zine—that way, I’m not sitting here by myself hoping that someone will care about my writing. I’m part of a community, and we do things together to share our work with the world. 

Anything else I should have asked or that you want to say?

Just the same thing I always say, like a broken record: If you’ve ever had anything you wanted to write, even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, make a zine! Participating in the culture of zines has brought so many good things into my life, including several dear friends, a lot of really beautiful and interesting pen-pals, my beautiful and interesting husband, even unexpected but very nice “professional” opportunities, such as interviews with major publications. Making zines is the thing that, when all is said and done, helped me to feel like the artist I always knew I was.

This is one in a series of Microcosm author interviews. The last one was with Ben White of the Snake Pit books, and the next one is with Lisa Wilde of Yo, Miss. You could also think of this as part of the Self-Promotion for Introverts series.

Snake Pit Gets Old and other tales: An Interview with Ben White

ben snakepitI’ve read my way through most of the Microcosm catalog, but there are some books that just never jumped out at me—most of them being either graphic novels or books about punk music, two genres that I’ve yet to get a handle on. But when I spent a week at home sick, trying to rest and relax, I decided to delve into the books on our list that I had deemed to be the least suited for my interests—Ben White’s Snake Pit series of comics about his life in punk. I planned to just flip through his most recent book, Snake Pit Gets Old (which comes out on May 12) and then move on to something else. But you know how this story ends: I devoured the entire book in one sitting, and then proceeded to read through the other five books in the series. Then I got sad that there wasn’t more—and worried that there wouldn’t be any. So I sent Ben a request for an interview for our blog, and to find out his plans.

How would you describe your books to a total stranger you met at a bus stop? 
Every day, I draw a comic strip about what I did that day. It’s not supposed to be funny or profound or anything other than a basic document of the day. Every three years or so, I compile those comics into a book, which usually ends up being called funny or profound by other people that are not me. I have been doing this every day for the past 14 and a half years (it’ll be an even 15 years in July of 2015)

I read your new book last week and now it’s kind of hard to write to you because I feel like I know more about you than I do about some of my closest friends, but we’ve never met. Does it ever get weird to have your everyday life just out there in the world that way? Have you made good friends because of it? Do random people come up to you and offer you life advice on the street? 

I never feel that weird about people knowing about my life, because honestly, they only know the things about me that I choose to share. There’s lots of stuff that happens to me that’s not in the books. I have indeed made a ton of friends that started off as fans of the comics and just emailed me or came up to me at a show or something and introduced themselves. A few of these meetings have developed into full-on friendships with some very cool people. Thankfully, the three-year books offer a nice time buffer, so if somebody does try to offer me advice about something, I can say “That happened three years ago. It’s been resolved by now. But thanks for caring.” Smilie face.

pensive snake pitYour drawing style has evolved a lot since you started in 2001, and of course your life has changed, but even more than those things, the tone of the way you talk about yourself and your life is much different. How have your motivations for making the comic changed, and also do you get something different out of it now than you used to?

I learned a lot from those early days. I learned what I should and should not include in the comics, often by trial and error. I’ve made some mistakes, I have hurt some people that I didn’t mean to hurt, just because I didn’t truly consider the ramifications of airing my laundry so publicly. It’s like when everyone just started using social media and they were unable to see the reach of what they would type until it was too late, then over time, they learned how to censor themselves but still share important details. I just learned it on a slower, grander scale. 

What have you been up to in 2 1/2 years since the new book ended? Are you still drawing a daily comic? What projects—musical, publishing, and otherwise—are coming up?

Still drawing the comics, I don’t plan to ever quit. The next book will (hopefully) be out some time in 2016. I’m hoping Microcosm will want to publish it (hint hint!)

Finally—could you settle a dispute we are having at Microcosm HQ: Is it Snake Pit or Snakepit? Also, how did you come by that name in the first place?

The comic is called Snake Pit. My name is Snakepit, because “Ben Snake Pit” sounds stupid. The Snake Pit was the name of the punkhouse in Richmond VA where I lived when I first started drawing the comics. The original idea was for it to be a kinda sitcom starring all of the people that lived in the house, but we got evicted a month or so after I started it so that plan went out the window.

Check out Ben’s Snake Pit books, we’ve got ’em all! This is the latest in a series of interviews with Microcosm authors. The last interview was with Anna Brones, author of The Culinary Cyclist.

Meet the Microcosm Staff: Tim Wheeler, publicist

tim wheeler communes with natureIn my quest to introduce our workers to the world, I sent some prying questions this week to Tim Wheeler, who’s been running Microcosm’s publicity operation since 2012, when he worked from a tiny desk atop a lofted platform atop ten teetering feet of stacked boxes of books. Now you can find him behind a comparatively spacious desk upstairs in our new office, barricaded behind stacks of advance copies of books that haven’t come out yet. Read here for more about Tim in his own words—and you can also scope his taste in his staff picks superpack and a list of his top ten favorite things we carry.

What’s your role here at Microcosm and how did you make your way here? Harrowing tales encouraged.

I mostly do the press and publicity type things for Microcosm—doing my best to make the world know our new books exist. I got here by way of Los Angeles. I lived there for about 6 years, spending most of my time there working in the most corporate parts of the corporate music world. I had more than enough of that and was looking for a change. I, along with my two roommates and another friend, did what most people do when they’re fed up with the expensive, stressful life that comes with living in Los Angeles…we moved to Portland.

I knew there was no music industry in Portland, so, having already been a fan, I jokingly told people I’d just work for Microcosm. After a few months of wandering aimlessly around town for no particular reason, I decided I should spend my time volunteering. I sent a volunteer application to Microcosm and got a job instead.

Can you share some publicity success stories that you’re particularly proud of / stoked about / baffled by?

My favorite type of publicity success is when I contact someone and it turns out that they not only took the time to respond, but that they’re a fan. When it’s something they’re into and looking forward to, it turns from business transaction to collaborative project. When the last Henry & Glenn came out I pitched one of the editors of SPIN, which is a big enough national publication to be a bit of a long shot for us, even for one of our most popular releases. But, as it turns out, he was already a fan, stoked to help out, and turned out to be the sort of dude I’d want to grab a beer with and grill about music and books.

Anyone who’s done publicity work or something similar knows that in between the successes there are a lot of days when it feels like shouting into the void. How do you weather those days?

It’s true, most of publicity feels like throwing books into a dark hole that never seems to fill up or shouting into the void or exercising various editors delete fingers as they ignore your emails. However you want to put it. But I can’t think of a single book since I’ve been at Microcosm that I have felt wasn’t worthy of attention. That, combined with the sheer volume of books and other media out in the world deserving of (or at least looking for) coverage, and the timing/luck required to get them into the right hands, means the ratio of shouting to response is just a part of the job. I don’t usually get discouraged because, for better or worse, the response aligns with my expectations. Sometimes a book will exceed those expectations, and then all the yelling feels justified.

You know the drill by now—share your favorites, please!

bikes bikes bikesa) Place in Portland: I feel like I need to split this into two categories, since Portland is a pretty great city surrounded by a lot of amazing nature. My favorite outdoor space is the myriad of hidden beaches, rocky outcroppings, and tree lined spots along the Willamette and Columbia rivers, but my favorite is actually a little outside Portland. Hog Island is south of Portland on a stretch of river dominated mostly (and unfortunately) by private estates with “No Trespassing” signs on their docks, but Hog Island is a small, uninhabited island close to a sheer cliff on the west bank of the river. Accessible only by boat (or in the case of my friends and I, a homemade raft of scrap wood and metal pieces with my bike strapped to the side), it’s really just a football field sized chunk of dirt with some trees and sandy beaches, but it feels like you’re hundreds of miles from civilization while floating in the calm stretch of water next to it. As far as indoor spaces, Saraveza happens to be my neighborhood bar, one of the best beer bars in the country (which I’m very much a fan of), and full of some really damn friendly people. It’s the perfect spot to hang out for a bit on a rainy day. 

b) Place in the world: That’s even tougher. I think the most I can narrow it down is to the California desert. However many endless miles it is. From Joshua Tree to the Salton Sea to Blythe to that Chinese restaurant in California City. I actually kind of hate the heat, but sometimes it’s important to feel tiny in an endlessly expansive place. 

big empty californiac) Snack food: My favorite foods are of the Mexican variety, but as far as snacks, I can endlessly shovel hummus into my mouth. All I need is a chunk of bread or cucumber or chip or finger.

d) Music genre: I’m not really sure what to call my favorite musical genre. Somewhere in the intersection of old country and new rock and dirty punk and too much booze. Things like Uncle Tupelo on the folk end and Country Teasers/Jon Wayne on the punkish end and Granfaloon Bus on the sad drunk end. But I’m really all over the map when it comes to music. It’s always been the main form of art and expression in my life and, up until Microcosm, my only profession. 

e) Craft/Hobby: As is appropriate for a Microcosm employee, my main hobby (and facilitator of most other things I do) is cycling. Whether it’s going fast, going far, on dirt, camping, freak bikes, socializing, or just avoiding having to drive somewhere, I’m into it.

This is the latest in a series of interviews with Microcosm workers. The last interview was with designer Meggyn Pomerleau.

Cooking, writing, and bicycling: Interview with author Anna Brones

anna brones reading the culinary cyclistAs I’ve been developing our Self-Promotion for Introverts blog series, one person keeps popping into my mind—our author Anna Brones, who I met years ago when I saw her give a presentation about effective social media use, in which she delivered some of the simplest and most useful advice I’ve heard. When I published her first book two years ago, I should have realized that she’d apply her formidable network and friendly powers of promotion to it, and despite not having any kind of outside distribution the book quickly burned through what at the time had seemed like a riskily large print run. I asked Anna to share some of her magic with you all, and she kindly obliged. 

A couple of years ago, you wrote a cookbook for Elly Blue Publishing (which we’re reissuing as a Microcosm title in the fall). Can you tell us a little about the book and what you’ve been up to since?

The Culinary Cyclist is a book about the intersection of a love of bikes and a love of food. What ever does that mean? Basically it’s an ode to the slow life, because if you take the time to ride your bike, and if you take the time to make your own food, then you’re living with intent. And that intent takes time. Since The Culinary Cyclist came out in 2013, Johanna Kindvall and I wrapped up the manuscript for Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Johanna did the illustrations, I wrote the text and we developed all the recipes together. It’s officially out on April 7 and we’re very excited! I’ve also been busy working as a producer on the film Afghan Cycles and keeping up my blog, Foodie Underground. And then there are some other projects in the works, but they’re secret for now!

Before you became a book author, you were already working in marketing and publicity. Was it difficult to transition between promoting other people’s work and promoting your own? Looking back, what do you wish you’d known when you made that transition?

I’ve always liked the networking aspect of marketing. Reaching out to people, putting them in touch with other people and helping people to get the word out. So for that, I really enjoyed doing marketing and publicity for other people’s work. But while I was doing that, there was always this voice at the back of my head that was telling me that I was perfectly capable of doing my own projects and marketing them as well. Honestly it wasn’t that hard to transition to promoting my own work, but there is that part of me that is pretty sensitive to whether or not I am being a shameless self promoter. Then again, a lot of people that get a lot of attention and media are the ones that promote the hell out of themselves. I think we can all find a nice balance, but I do think it’s true that most of us err on the side of too little self marketing and promotion, and we could probably all do with pushing ourselves a little out of our boundaries. 

What strategies have worked best for you in terms of promoting your books, and are there any things that have not worked as well? 

This is going to sound really ridiculous, but when I was thinking about Fika coming out I kept thinking of it as my “baby.” I don’t have children, and I would never dare compare writing a book to having a child, but there is a similar sense of ownership over this thing that you created. It’s something that you’re proud of. It’s something you want to share. I thought of all the baby photos I saw from my friends, and I figured if they could do it so could I. So started taking really silly pictures of “Baby Fika” all over the place. Baby Fika’s first coffee. Baby Fika’s first bike ride. You get the idea. Because it was such a ridiculous endeavor it didn’t feel like marketing, and because I wasn’t just posting a link every day saying “BUY MY BOOK NOW!” I think people responded well to it. However, my friends who are actual parents might hate me, I’m not sure. 
Ultimately I really do believe that when you’re marketing something it has to be a part of a larger story. A link isn’t enough. For starters, your product has to be good. But after that you want it to be a part of a bigger picture. You’re not just selling a book, you’re selling a vision, a lifestyle. That might sound like I’m an aspiring life coach, but there’s a reason that so many brands and individuals nowadays are so focused on “storytelling.” Because stories are what we care most about, and we all have one. So make sure yours is one you believe in and that you can talk about for hours again. People seek authenticity and I think when marketing doesn’t work is when it feels inauthentic. 

You’ve now had experience with publishing a book through a teeny, tiny press (EBP) and a major label house (10 Speed, owned by Random House), and soon to be a still very-small indie (Microcosm). What differences between these experiences have struck you? 

I feel so lucky to have experienced both. They are two very different worlds. Mostly in terms of time; The Culinary Cyclist went from concept to final product in about 8 months. Johanna and I did the Fika proposal in the beginning of 2012. So that’s 3 years between idea and final book. Another big difference, at least in my experience, is the number of eyes on your work, both in the editing process and on the final product. I think having my first book be a smaller print run, made me more comfortable with having my name out there, doing interviews and seeing the book mentioned, because you know that the whole world doesn’t have access to it. There’s a comfort in that, because you have the luxury of your work really being seen by a niche market that is predestined to like the subject which means that it feels more like a small group of friends getting to read it. But now I am ready to go a little bigger, which makes it exciting that Fika is coming out but also that The Culinary Cyclist is getting reprinted with a much larger distribution. 
I also feel very lucky to have worked with two publishers that so wholeheartedly believe in my projects. Obviously my experience is my own—everyone has a very different experience, whether they are working with a small or large publishing house—but I will say that the people at Ten Speed and EBP have been a dream to work with. A large part of that is that they were both so excited about the content that we were doing for them. Which is proof to me of two things: 
1. Work with people who are like-minded and passionate about the same things you are passionate about. 
2. For aspiring authors, pitch to the publishing houses that you WANT to write for, not the ones you COULD write for. 
I think so often we are so focused on getting paid/getting a book deal that we just pitch right and left to places that may not necessarily align with our own values, or be as excited about a topic as us. The golden spot is to find someone that’s on the same page as you.

Anything else you want to share?

One thing that I have really come away with from the last two years of book publishing is a reminder that everything is constantly evolving. Our personalities, our preferences, our attitudes; everything is constantly in flux. We are humans, the only thing constant in our lives is change. But when you write a book, everything is on paper, for the rest of eternity. Or at least as long as your book is out in the world. That can be a bit intimidating. 

In re-reading The Culinary Cyclist while I was doing edits for the reprint, there were a few spots that I laughed at myself, or even cringed. Because even in just two years I have changed a bit, and if I were to rewrite that book now, some things would be different. So it has all been a lesson in approaching the things that I read—books, articles, blogs—in a different way, and not making assumptions about what the writer says or what they stand for. When we create, we put something into the world. But if it’s not perfect—and it never is—we can do better the next time. And the next time. We are always learning. And we have to be flexible, and the same things go when we’re talking about marketing and publicity. Try something, and if it doesn’t work, do something different. No one has the right formula, and if they tell you that they do, they’re probably lying or want your money. 

This is a Microcosm author interview! Our last author interview was with Al Burian, and our next one is with Ben Snakepit.

Record Store Day!!

What’s almost as good as records falling from the sky? Record Store Day!!!

As one of our favorite days of the year spins closer and closer, we’ve decided to spotlight our music books in celebration! We’re offering a special deal for record stores:

We’ve got some new releases and some old staples:

New Releases

Crate digger cover

Crate Digger: An Obsession With Punk Records 

Crate Digger: The record-obsessed Bob Suren (Sound Idea Distribution + Burrito Records) tells stories of a life framed by punk records in this popular new release,








Punk USA: The Rise and Fall of Lookout Records

Punk USA: Known best as the label that put Green Day on the map, Lookout Records has been the breeding ground for hundreds of fascinating records that inspired a generation. This book, an instant hit, documents the label’s rise and fall from 1987-2006.







Classic collections

Henry & Glenn Forever

The greatest love story ever told depicts punk and metalheads Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig in their domestic life together. Together with their neighbors Hall & Oates they have myriad adventures and deal with each other’s issues as a pair!
First, there was the book that started it all:   

Then came four issues of the 32-page comic, each filled with three short stories. Each issue also comes in two different covers, a regular and a variant.
#1  #1, #2, #3, and #4

If you get a combination of 40 or more total issues (including any of the other books on this page!), we can ship ‘em with a free display box.



henry and glenn forever and ever
Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever

Glenn couldn’t understand how complicated it was getting so we released a trade paperback that collects all four issues plus 100 additional new pages.







punk in nyc

Punk in NYC’s Lower East Side 1981-1991 

Scene Histories: Framed around Reagan Youth, the second generation of punk in New York’s Lower East Side that thrived while being ignored by the media and ended like all good things—with a riot in Tompkins Square.






bay area rock scene history

The Rock & Roll of San Francisco’s East Bay, 1950-1980

Much is written about rock n roll in San Francisco, but not as much is documented about what was happening on the other side of the bay for the first thirty years. Cory M. Linstrum uncovers it all thirty years later.







Snake Pit: Ben Snakepit (Ghost Knife, J Church, and The Sword) has documented every single day of his life in three comic book panels since 2001, instantly becoming an underground classic.

Snakepit Gets Old.
Last year we reissued his first book for its 10 year anniversary: The Snakepit Book
Snakepit: My Life in a Jugular Vein covers his hardest rocking years and includes a CD of punk tracks that he listens to in the comics

We’ve got also copies of his collections from 2007 and 2008.

snakepit books






things are meaning less burn collector 14  burn collector 15

Burn Collector: You might remember Al Burian as punk’s wandering storyteller of humor and dark humor from when he played in Challenger or Milemarker or, if you’re old u’re old, Hellbender. Clearly we can’t shake the guy.

In 2003 we published his Black Flag- quoting graphic novel, Things Are Meaning Less. We’ve published two issues of his Burn Collector zine, first #14 then #15.



More underground punk classics  

Beyond The Music: How Punks are Saving the World with DIY Ethics, Skills, & Values

Featuring interviews with leading figures of the DIY punk underground, this book outlines how punks are saving the world, despite contradictions, challenges, and having to overcome cultural and social norms, as well as punk’s spotty history.








maps to the other side

Maps To The Other Side: The Adventures of a Bipolar Cartographer

Sascha Scatter (Choking Victim) spent his life adventuring all over the globe, playing in bands and starting seed libraries before founding The Icarus Project, the first member-run mental health advocacy organization. This is his story.







God, Forgive These Bastards

Rob Morton of Plan-it X Records’ The Taxpayers wrote this biography of a college baseball pitcher turned homeless street sage in a redemption tale of pain and forgiveness.

Bobby Joe Ebola: Longtime Bay Area band with a cult following, Bobby Joe Ebola has teamed up with Horrible Comics’ Jason Chandler to produce a parody of Little Golden Books (complete with a CD), Meal Deal with the Devil 
We’ve also released their comprehensive lyric books / guide on how to march to the beat of your own (or no) drum, the Bobby Joe Ebola Songbook




Scam: The First Four Issues 

Scam: Trainhopping, generator punk shows, stealing electricity from lamp posts, squatting, selling plasma, tagging trains, wheatpasting, and dumpstering as seen through the lens of a young punk. “Totally, totally essential for anyone with anything approaching a punk rock bone in their body.” —Boing Boing






Making stuff and doing things

Making Stuff and Doing Things: A Collection of DIY Guides to Just About Everything

“DIY guides to doing just about everything under the sun—from playing guitar to making toothpaste” —Last Hours Mag“If there is a book you get this year this is it…the Time-Life series for punks all in one volume, for one low-low price!” —Hanging Like a Hex  








How and why

How and Why: A Do-it-yourself Guide 

What do you do when you wake up from the dream? Get some blueprints for projects towards a better world! An all- grown-up do-it-yourself handbook with easy-to-use info on bicycles, home and garage, gardening, homeschooling your children, musical instruments, and more.






Punk Documentaries

If it ain't cheap it ain't punk

If It Ain’t Cheap, It Ain’t Punk: D. un I. t Y.

Plan-it X Records has been a vision of hope and inspiration since 1994 and this is the label’s story of ups and downs as told through the 2006 festival in Bloomington, IN








Between resistance and community

Between Resistance & Community: The Long Island Do-it-yourself Punk Scene 

“Punk’s not dead—it’s just cleaned up its act and living in mom’s basement. These well-spoken kids with creative haircuts describe their own basement-band scene as “building community-based movements.” A timely snapshot of contemporary punk’s new sincerity.” —Village Voice






Xray riots dvd

X Ray Visions: A Look Inside Portland’s Legendary X-Ray Cafe

“Accepting of almost all cultural expression or character type that wasn’t mean-spirited, the X-Ray championed a kind of inspired amateurism and a participatory environment that’s unlikely to be equaled for audacity or fun. In the words of one former regular, ‘the X-Ray was the cat’s potato.’ And so is this film.” —The Oregonian





Punk Classics from PM Press

Dead kennedys
Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years

Using dozens of first-hand interviews, photos, and original artwork to offer a new perspective on a group who would become mired in controversy almost from the get-go. It applauds the band’s key role in transforming punk rhetoric, both polemical and musical, into something genuinely threatening—and enormously funny. The author offers context in terms of both the global and local trajectory of punk and, while not flinching from the wildly differing takes individual band members have on the evolution of the band, attempts to be celebratory—if not uncritical.




Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash 

It’s the story of The Clash’s love affair with America that began  began in 1977, when select rock journalists and deejays aided the band’s quest to depose the rock of indolence that dominated American airwaves. This history situates The Clash amid the cultural skirmishes of the 1970s and culminates with their September 1979 performance at the Palladium in New York City. This concert was broadcast live on WNEW, and it concluded with Paul Simonon treating his Fender bass like a woodcutter’s ax.






The Story of Crass 

Crass was the anarcho-punk face of a revolutionary movement founded by radical thinkers and artists Penny Rimbaud, Gee Vaucher and Steve Ignorant. When punk ruled the waves, Crass waived the rules and took it further, putting out their own records, films and magazines and setting up a series of situationist pranks that were dutifully covered by the world’s press. 



Barred For Life: How Black Flag’s Iconic Logo Became Punk Rock’s Secret Handshake

A photo documentary cataloging the legacy of Punk Rock pioneers Black Flag, through stories, interviews, and photographs of diehard fans who wear their iconic logo, The Bars, conspicuously tattooed upon their skin. An extensive tour of North America and Western Europe documents dedicated fans bearing Bars-on-skin and other Black Flag iconography. Nearly four hundred “Barred” fans lined up, smiled/frowned for the camera, and issued their stories for the permanent record.


The Primal Screamer

From Rudimentary Peni frontman, this is a gothic horror novel about severe mental distress and punk rock. A diary written by psychiatrist Dr. Rodney H. Dweller, concerning his patient, Nathaniel Snoxell, brought to him in 1979 because of several attempted suicides. Snoxell gets involved in the anarchist punk scene, and begins recording songs and playing gigs at anarchist centers. In 1985, the good doctor himself “goes insane” and disappears. This semi-autobiographical novel from Rudimentary Peni singer, guitarist, lyricist, and illustrator, Nick Blinko, plunges into the worlds of madness, suicide, and anarchist punk. H. P. Lovecraft meets Crass in the squats and psychiatric institutions of early 1980s England.



Left Of The Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons

Featuring interviews with leading figures of the punk underground: Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Dave Dictor (MDC), and many more. Ensminger probes the legacy of punk’s sometimes fuzzy political ideology, its ongoing DIY traditions, its rupture of cultural and social norms, its progressive media ecology, its transgenerational and transnational appeal, its pursuit of social justice, its hybrid musical nuances, and its sometimes ambivalent responses to queer identities, race relations, and its own history.



Pre-paid orders over $250 get a 50% discount on all the titles in this post! 

Order fifteen or more books, get a free display box!
Just select “wholesale” when you order on our site (check out our terms 


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Crate Digger

In this engaging memoir, a small town Florida teenager discovers punk rock through a loaned mix tape and punk music and culture slowly takes over all aspects of his life. His new passion causes him to form a band, track down out-of-print records that he loves and begin to reissue them, open a record store, begin a record distribution operation as a public service, mentor a host of young musicians, and befriend all manner of punk luminaries along the way. Slowly, his life’s pursuit pushes him to the point of personal ruination and ultimately redemption.