Meet Burn All Books: Keeping DIY Print Alive and Well in San Diego

If weekly publication's tap into the pulse of a community, then the underground press has always been the blood that propels life underneath it. 

Through a do-it-yourself ethos fueled by the urgency to be heard, 'zines' – as they have come to be known – have largely provided the marginalized with the ability to quell their voicelessness. Martin Luther stamped his own over church walls and launched a holy beef with the Pope; Thomas Paine printed handy pamphlets to distribute amongst friends and incited the goddamn American Revolution; Bikini Kill handcrafted massive manifestos of grrrl power and influenced generations of femme-fronted musical acts to come. In San Diego, Burn All Books understands this power of print and fully intends on keeping the legacy alive.

Officially in operation for over a year, Burn All Books have already cemented themselves as a staple within San Diego's independent comic and print community. Whether it's printing numerous indie comics from a wide variety of collaborations, visual prints for highly-acclaimed artists, or other fascinating deliverables, BAB always executes their orders with signature style: imperfectly precise, intricately minimal, and extraordinarily vibrant because of its limitations.

With numerous events underway and the unveiling of their own brick-and-mortar space, we decided to chat with the co-founder Nick Bernal of BAB and get to know more about the team’s history, process, and the way they see the future of the San Diego creative community.

First and foremost, can you introduce yourselves and what you all do?

At our core, Burn All Books is a small press and Amanda & I are its operators. We publish zines, comics, and prints in the spirit of DIY presses before us - imprecisely & with every spare moment.

How did you both first become exposed to zine publication and printing?

San Diego and Tijuana have always had rich DIY scenes, and the zines we make carry that history. The Che Cafe is the first place I saw a zine library, for instance. My personal history started with a lot of mass-produced comics and other printed weirdo shit. I collected brochures, things posted on trees, fortunes, religious pamphlets, citrus labels, pogs, etc. It's cool seeing the inventive ways something can be made into a message - print media is an equalizer.

On the other hand Amanda grew up on alternative and underground comics - when we first got together 15 or so years ago she shared that with me.

“We publish zines, comics, and prints in the spirit of DIY presses before us - imprecisely & with every spare moment.”

I've long heard the little fact that your team is the only one in San Diego with public access to a risograph duplicator. First, can you explain what a risograph is to those who don't know, and then what about the medium makes it preferable for you?

Risograph is a brand of digital duplicator that mimics a mimeograph in process, by pushing ink through a fibrous paper-like disposable stencil and onto paper. It prints at high speed and can produce a high volume of material, though we've found the labor and troubleshooting needed to maintain them is somewhat intensive. Colors have their own designated drums that you interchange into the machine. An image is printed one layer of color at a time (due to the ink's inherent opacity you can more or less "mix" colors this way). The color palette is love at first sight. But then we found the lack of control freeing; the mess of everything eliminates the impulse to control every element. The trick is to approach the machine as a third collaborator.

Can you describe your process for collaboration with artists and writers?

 Each print job and every workshop is collaborative. We're adapting various mediums to riso so we're either walking someone through processes needed for this adaption or we're doing it ourselves. The third way we've traditionally operated is through publishing, which is an open medium – anyone can publish anyone else or self-publish. Which is to say curation in general is arbitrary and we need to be honest about how we allow others to be our gatekeepers. 

So having a press, having a gallery, having a brand, or a shop or whatever is a privilege - and these spaces should absolutely be collaborative, where possible, and that's our model. Good example of these ethos in action is Teros Gallery, [an art gallery that] operates in San Diego and have always made efforts to include others in their successes, and to put on all sorts of artists at varying stages of their practice.

With your recent one year anniversary performative celebration at Whistle Stop, it seems clear that creating an experience outside of the pages is equally as important to you all as a team. How important to you all is to find new ways to bring your work to life?

 It's a fun thought experiment to reinterpret a book spread left open as a gallery room or a sequence of images as a narrative performance. We want to expand upon this idea so we set up Left on Read, an event rooted in the premise of performative comix readings. We encouraged readers to interpret their comic or zine in an experiential way and, in the spirit of Brain Frame–a now defunct reading series from Chicago–as freaky as possible. There were costumes, video work, puppets, songs, I was put on the spot to do voices. This taps in to something exciting and we want to find new ways of expression for what is traditionally thought of as a passive act.

“Having a press, having a gallery, having a brand, or a shop or whatever is a privilege - and these spaces should absolutely be collaborative, where possible, and that's our model.”

What about San Diego do you think keeps you two here?

We're interested in seeing cool shit continue to flourish in San Diego. We've all been on a good one for a minute, organizers and operators of DIY things in San Diego are pushing themselves and each other. They also work more in the service of their community in the last handful of years than I've seen previous. But this also means we're all feeling pretty tired.

The scene can still be bigger, more people can still offer opportunities, work collaboratively, etc. There's room in San Diego for everyone. For instance I love when I see artists organizing themselves and putting each other on, and the minute I meet someone starting their own press in this town I want to hug them.

It sucks that the greater arts community is somewhat obsessed with dictating echelons among us. This dispossesses that spirit of collaboration and folks often feel lost in our scenes. So in part, we stay in San Diego because we want to outlive this trend, wake up one day, and find the towers toppled. Mostly though, we just love it here, my mom lives close.

Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming events? 

This Saturday, May 4th, Ana Carrete, Laurie Piña, Lora Mathis, and Luisa Martinez will be reading in celebration of Ana's newest zine 'Girlfriend Cosplay.’ Ana has read incarnations of ‘Girlfriend Cosplay’ throughout San Diego and we are thrilled to collaborate with her on this print edition.

We'll also have the inaugural issue of our collaborative zine, 'Sundays Quarterly: Nature/Internet' on display. 'Nature/Internet' was published over the course of one Sunday-long zine jam where 15+ artists came through our studio to produce their contributions. This’ll be hosted at our new humble space henceforth known as Burn All Books & Friends!

What vision do you have for Burn All Books as a storefront, and also in the future?

Our new space gives us the opportunity to expand the Burn All Books project. We look forward to seeing what it becomes, but at the moment it houses the starter elements of our risograph studio, a sizable blank wall, a space for a retail, and a place for friends.