The Coolest Small Presses You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of

By Richard Rosenbaum

In the world of small presses, some are smaller than others; but that just means there’s room for more of them. Richard Rosenbaum brings you six of the most unique independent publishers in Canada and beyond. Chances are good you can find your niche in here somewhere.

Soft Skull Press (www.softskullpress.com) started in 1992, when founder Sander Hicks self-published his own debut novel under the imprint fully utilizing the Kinko’s in New York City where he was working at the time. Since then, Soft Skull has come out with a dazzlingly varied bunch of titles, spanning seemingly every genre and subject. The highly charged work of Tamara Faith Berger has a home there, as does a fictional biography of poor old Branwell Brontë. They publish graphic novels such as the popular clip-art webcomic Get Your War On and the autobiography of industrial music pioneer, pandrogynous cyborg and all-around weird being Genesis P-Orridge. They’ve also got anthologies of gay/lesbian studies and a controversial biography of George W. Bush. If that’s not thematic diversity, I don’t know what is.

Loose Teeth Press (www.looseteeth.ca) only has a handful of titles to its name so far (and half of them are at least co-authored by Joey Comeau), but they’ve only been around since 2005, so they’ve just begun to achieve their potential. Judging from what they’ve already got, their stated mandate to promote “literature from the edges” is totally starting off on the right foot; as mentioned before, they publish Joey Comeau’s fiction, and his stuff is always hilarious and weird and thought-provoking. They also print collections of some of the best webcomics out there: A Softer World, which is written, again, by the ubiquitous Joey Comeau, and photographed by Emily Horne; and Zach VandeZande’s Animals Have Problems Too, which alerts us all to the serious yet adorable issues with which our furry little friends must contend. Stevie Might Be A Bear, Maybe by John Campbell rounds out the list. You pretty much can’t go wrong with anything that Loose Teeth has to offer. This is definitely a press to watch.

Are you into puppets? Then Charlemagne Press (members. shaw.ca/charlemagnepress/welcome.htm) is, without a doubt, for you. Based in Vancouver, Charlemagne is the imprint of the internationally acclaimed puppet theatre troupe Coad Canada Puppets, and they’ve been putting out books exclusively dealing with the art of puppetry for more than 20 years. You can learn everything here–how to construct puppets of your own, how to produce puppet shows, how to use puppets in an educational setting, and they even publish biographies of famous puppeteers! Wow, I feel like I’ve typed the word puppet so many times that it’s lost all meaning. Anyway, I don’t know about you, but Fraggle Rock pretty much ruled my early childhood, and you know that puppetry can be just as alternative and subversive as any other art form (just think of Peter Jackson’s Meet The Feebles or, to a lesser degree, Wonder Showzen) so maybe this is something more of us should be getting into before everyone else does, while it’s still alternative. It could happen. I mean, who’d have thought that knitting would be the next big thing, right? Puppets, I’m telling you. You heard it here first.

Long before Great Cthulhu got his pulpy tentacles into every shadowy corner of pop culture, he was but a whispered horror in the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. After the author’s death in 1937, there was a real danger that his work would go out of print and be lost to obscurity forever. To prevent this fate, Arkham House (www.arkhamhouse.com) was created. It operated in the red for decades, but it persevered, dedicated to keeping Lovecraft’s works alive and available to readers; it’s largely a testament to the success of Arkham House that Lovecraft’s stuff is still around and has gone on to influence a whole new generation of writers who certainly would not have otherwise had access to the Cthulhu Mythos or any of the rest of Lovecraft’s world of infinite creepiness. Arkham House has since gone on to publish the work of some of the literary spawn of Lovecraft, including Ray Bradbury, Bruce Sterling and J.G. Ballard.

Simian Publishing (www.simianpublishing.com) is a small press that’s trying to take chances on fiction that would otherwise probably go unpublished by taking advantage of the opportunities presented by print on demand. As of right now their stuff is only available through online booksellers, but that’s how most of the sort of people who’d buy their books would be buying them anyway, so it’s no disadvantage. Their niche is dark fantasy and horror fiction, and they’ve put out a couple of anthologies already with some high-calibre talent lending their names, with a couple of the included stories winning honourable mention in the 2006 Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror collection. They’re also trying to resurrect the novella form (which has been sadly neglected for far too long) by putting out twinned volumes of similarly themed novellas. It seems like a worthy goal.

PressPress (www.presspress.com.au) wins a spot on this list not only for its brilliantly redundant name, but also for touting itself as “probably the smallest publisher in the known universe.” They’re based in the adorably named town of Berry, New South Wales, Australia, and they publish poetry chapbooks. And there’s probably some sort of causal relationship between that and their superlatively small press status. But their whole philosophy is based on the idea that poetry is what people are interested in; pretty much everyone has written a poem or two in their lives, and so poetry must be something that people are instinctively drawn to, or at least something they unconsciously crave. They also have an annual award for the best unpublished poetry chapbook, with a prize of $300 Australian, which is pretty good for the dramatically undervalued form of contemporary poetry, even when you consider the exchange rate. It’s clearly a labour of love for PressPress, so check them out and help keep poetry alive in this time of fire.

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