Q: Headpress kind of owes its existence to the movie DER TODESKING. Explain that…
Headpress was formed in 1991 in order to release Jörg Buttgereit's DER TODESKING onto video in the UK. Myself, Dave Slater and Dave Flint, who had known each other for a few years and shared an interest in horror movies, pooled money together to submit the film to the BBFC for classification. How this works is that the BBFC has the power to classify a film, request cuts or reject a film outright. Of course, you have to pay the fee either way and it is non refundable! So we took the chance - if the film was rejected we lost our cash and that may have been it for Headpress. As it was, after much deliberation with regard to the "difficult" subject matter, the BBFC passed DER TODESKING with an "18" certificate, uncut.
We released a limited edition of 500 copies onto video, and with the money from sales we started HEADPRESS magazine that same year.
Q: What is your background? How did you get interested in publishing?
My actual background has nothing to do with publishing! I left school at 16, got a job in a factory and worked in various engineering companies over the years, doing everything from toolmaking to manual labour and selling plumbing supplies! I was never comfortable doing what I was doing, and looked forward only to getting home and my own thing. After having been made redundant one time too many I decided it was now time to make a move and so managed to blag my way onto a government funded course which essentially meant I didn't have to report to the job centre every fortnight and go for job interviews, but instead got to spend a year at home writing for fanzines for little or no cash. I have it on reasonably good authority that after me, the government stopped allowing "writers" on the scheme! In the meantime Headpress happened.
As for my interest in publishing: I always had the notion that one day I would be involved in publishing. This was never really grounded in reality but more a gut feeling. I got a cheap typewriter one Christmas as a small boy, and I would spend hours copying text from books and making small pamphlets, which I would leave around public places and stuff. Actually, I only remember ever doing that once: I copied text from a Rollerball pulp novel cash-in called Killerbowl. A sports game set in the future where two teams played against one another in a cut off area of a city, dressed as gladiators carrying rifles, who could do anything to get possession of the ball. The text I copied was a pre-match run through of the players. I left that in a park. It amused me to do so.
Q: You have two book imprints, CRITICAL VISION, which deals non-fiction and DIAGONAL, which deals with fiction. Tell us a bit about each and what their niche is.
Critical Vision as you say is the non-fiction imprint. The first book we did under this was actually called Critical Vision, a collection of the best material from the first three or four issues of Headpress magazine, which sold out pretty quickly. So, outside of "transgressive" writing, the imprint deals with essentially anything that can be classed as non-fiction: cult film, music (particularly sixties garage, prog rock, etc), true crime, studies of horror comics, forteana, pop culture…It's a pretty broad remit, but people who know Headpress and the stuff we do, will know that Headpress is of its own, so to speak. If we publish it, it will not be the same as if someone else publishes it, regardless of the in-house style we have. That might sound obvious or conceited, but it helps sets us apart.
Diagonal is the new imprint, and intends to deal with fiction of a horror fantasy nature. It's a pretty distinctive looking imprint, modelled on small pulp magazines like Magazine of Horror and the like that used to come out in the fifties. We've had two books under this imprint: Stephen Sennitt's Lovecraft/Skywald influenced Creatures of Clay, and Johnny Strike's Ports of Hell. Johnny was of course one of the founding members of Crime. His book has a certain William Burroughs feel, so I'm already expanding the horror fantasy angle of Diagonal somewhat!
Q: What are some of your favorite books that you've published?
That's a tough one. I generally get excited about each new book that I'm working on (laying out, editing, not necessarily writing myself) or that is pending. Workloads and swiftly passing deadlines takes some of the pleasure out of it sometimes, but I still do exciting about new projects. At the moment I'm very into Tom Brinkmann's Bad Mags, a book about forgotten and obscure magazines from the sixties on. Unlike other books that focus on the men's action type mags - of which there seems to have been a small flurry of late - this goes much deeper. You simply cannot believe your eyes that half this stuff even existed, let alone was often on open sale! More than once I have been presented with a cover whilst doing the layout, and sat there open mouthed. Magazines devoted to The Mob, catastrophes, kink, Manson, sex of every kind and persuasion, magazines that don't seem to have any real focus at all - they're all in Bad Mags! [For a sneak preview readers may care to check out Tom's homepage www.badmags.com]
Steve Puchalski's trash film review book Slimetime I like, having been a big fan of his green-paged fanzine of the same name back in the eighties from whence the book came.
Other favorite books include - and I have to say this as I'm so attached to it, being co-author! - See No Evil, which is about the growth of the home video market, video censorship, the so-called video nasties, and associated controversies. Given the same attachment, I do like Killing For Culture a lot too, even though that isn't a Headpress book.
Perhaps my favorite to date is The Complete Illustrated History of Skywald, about the New York based comics publisher of the 1970s, who were responsible for Scream, Nightmare and Psycho. Skywald were an enormous influence on me growing up and, as I state in my introduction to the book, were one of the most important reasons behind me getting into Headpress. The book galvanized a lot of other fans too, and it's funny but almost all of them I spoke with had the same intense feelings with regard to Skywald. A very, very influential company, which just goes to show that you don't have to be a gig cheese or necessarily have to run for years and years to make an impact. It was like a dream come true to work with several of the original bullpenners (Pablo Marcos, Gus Funnell, Ed Fedory, Maelo Cintron), in particular Skywald editor "Archaic" Alan Hewetson, who had no idea that such a fan base had grown around his work in the thirty years after Skywald had folded. Al died on the day he composed his last piece for the book.
The Skywald book was kind of me paying my dues and respect. Talk about a labour of love - that was it! Indeed, thinking about it, almost everything I do tends to be a labour of love!
Q: What are some of the new books you are releasing that are horror related?
Coming up this year we have Bad Mags, not specifically a horror book but it has a lot of horror content, and a huge section on the work that Ed Wood Jr did for sex and horror pulps. It puts the director of Plan 9 from Outer Space in a new and interesting light. Also this year we have Richard King's book, Twisted Visions: No Budget Horror Movies and the People Who Make Them. This one's a book close to your own heart, Kevin - heck, you're even in it! - as it covers filmmakers working outside of the Hollywood system. When we use the word "independent" in Twisted Visions, we mean independent. These are directors going it alone. The book has many interviews, set reports and film reviews.
Into The Unknown by Andy Murray is a book about Nigel Kneale, the playwright that has rarely been given his proper due, despite the fact that he created some groundbreaking TV work with his Quatermass series (Hammer picked up Quatermass and later turned it into a very profitable couple of films), and his adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four starring Peter Cushing. This was back in the day when plays were performed and broadcast live! Kneale was involved in film work, including Halloween III: Season of the Witch, from which he had his name removed. Many directors working in fantasy and horror as a major influence credit him: in the book people like John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg and Dan O'Bannon praise Kneale.
Spinegrinder by Clive Davies is an absolutely massive undertaking devoted to fantasy, horror, sci fi, martial arts and so on. Kind of like the Leonard Maltin of sleaze, if you will, it is over 800 in length! Given that the author is based in Tokyo the book not only covers cult movies, but Clive also has plenty of movies at his fingertips that are not widely known in the West. So lots of surprises in that one. What's more, the reviews are highly opinionated and based on single viewings only. I believe Clive wipes the tapes once he has finished watching them.
Sweet & Savage by Mark Goodall will be a book devoted to mondo films, or shockumentaries, again destined for later this year. Mark has had the full cooperation of the "godfathers" of mondo, , having been granted exclusive interviews and access to picture archives . He even has an interview with author J.G. Ballard, himself a fan of mondo films.
Monster Island: An Unofficial Guide to Japanese Monster Movies is by Jörg Buttgereit and should be out early in 2006. Not only is Jörg the director of Nekromatik, but he is also a life long fan of Godzilla and other city stomping monsters from Japan.
So yes, Headpress has quite a full and colourful lineup in terms of horror cinema related books!
Q: It seems that in the UK there's far less censorship on print than in the movies. In fact, horror authors like Richard Laymon got far more of their books published there than in the US. Why do you think this is?
I think that censorship concerns vary around the world. In the UK we had the video nasties panic back in the eighties, the repercussions of which are still being felt today in one form or another. There have been moral crusades against film violence in the US, but not quite as intensive as the nasties thing, which did actually result in a law being rushed through parliament, and films being chopped left, right and centre by the BBFC. Sometimes Britain publishes authors whose work is perhaps more restricted in their native USA, but I don't necessarily think that this equates with Britain being more lax when it comes to censorship. We have seen obscenity busts on adult comics in recent years and a high profile court case pertaining to one work of satirical fiction on the grounds that it stirred up racial hatred (c/o Manchester publisher Savoy and their Meng & Ecker comics and Lord Horror novel by David Britton).
Some aspects of mass media like television tends to be a bit more "open minded" in the UK than in the US, I guess. But I may be wrong.
Q: Where is HEADPRESS heading?
I would like to be flippant and say "the bank". I have more of a focus on the commercial angle nowadays, because the book trade is pretty lousy when it comes to publishers - publishers always come off badly. We are offering a unique product - and in the case of Headpress, more unique than most - but at the end of the day, in the eyes of most stores, it's a commodity that gets in the way of shelf space, where publishers have very little say and are forced to endure whatever terms are thrown at them. Few other businesses work in this very antiquated way.