Good Press is a volunteer-run organisation dedicated to the promotion and distribution of independently published printed matter. It focuses on visual arts and writing, as well as occasional music and art objects. Founded in Glasgow in 2011 by Matthew Walkerdine, Nick Lynch, and Jessica Higgins (who also make up the post-punk band Vital Idles alongside guitarist Ruari MacLean), they’ve maintained an open-submission policy since their inception, taking any self-published, small press, or independently-produced publications.
FRONTRUNNER culture contributor Clare Patterson spoke with Higgins about their tenth anniversary, how Good Press has grown in the intervening decade, and why open submissions are (and always will be) at the heart of their ethos.
Where did the inspiration for founding Good Press come from?
Good Press was founded on the grounds of one quite simple and common fact. Matthew Walkerdine (designer and fellow founder of Good Press) didn’t have a job, and another less simple tale involving the confluence of the late 2000s early 2010s artzine trend as it emerged from fanzines and artist self-publishing, collided with a desire to make physical space for those practices without occasional fairs and online networks. Shortly (very shortly) before Good Press started, we had just moved up to Glasgow from Manchester and had our own small press, Museums Press, publishing zines of drawing, writing, collage, photography and all that. We also would occasionally put on gigs and exhibitions, and collaborate with other publishers and groups.
Possibly naively, [we] didn’t see lots of that happening [in Glasgow], nor a place where those activities could live together. At the tail-end of the 2000s, an infamous illustrator and all-round funny guy, David Bailey, started a shop called Good Grief, selling comics, prints, zines, books, t-shirts and all things printed matter out of one small concession in Manchester, and then another. We’d collaborated with Dave on an exhibition before heading up the M6, innovatively named ‘Good Press’, and so it only seemed correct to continue the hybridization of the two practices.
You started in 2011. How has Good Press grown and changed since then? How does it feel to be coming up to ten years?
We very quickly found that we had no desire to be entrepreneurs, not great business noses, and that zines don’t make money. So the first fact of joblessness as a driving desire stood a firm ground, and in some ways [it] helped to guide the shop into what it is now. An open submission, voluntary, a free-for-all sort of space that welcomes with open arms any independently or self-published printed matter: visual art, writing, design & illustration, comics, music, and more. It’s a place that foregrounds the production of such material, and the communities that produce and consume it, without the pressure of profit and commercialisation.
We started off in the commodiously disused area of a Glasgow bar, Mono, up at the back with the intent that we’d occupy it for a few months before making some money and getting our own space. That took roughly four years! During that time, we enlisted the heart and hands of still-standing GP member Nick Lynch. It shifted, grew, and changed. Held exhibitions gigs and parties. Tried, failed, tried again. Moving into the unit at 5 St Margaret’s Place ushered in a new dawn of events, packing the humble shop with readings, performances, and bonkers installations that spilled over the tables and took over the high walls. We had maybe a dozen more people join the team and then move on to bigger and better.
We began to struggle, not being able to support artist projects or publish books anymore, and since the space was small, there was no room for any other types of activity that would complement the bookshop. Before leaving St Margaret’s Place, we acquired a risograph machine, which was like “Ding!” and quietly scurried away printing for people making their own publications, tapes, and posters. Our plan was to introduce it into the space as an open-access facility so that people could come in and make their own publications. But, the space was much too small and so we had to look to moving on again, which brings us (nearly) to now. At 32 St Andrews Street, we’ve established the open-access printing facility we dreamed of, have a lively event programme, and we also moved in with Lunchtime Gallery. There’s a hearty gang of us at the helm, we still don’t make “money”.
Ten years feels big!
You have an open submissions policy, taking any self-published material. Is this an important part of your ethos?
Completely. It’s really integral to us that we can offer a space that doesn’t curate, doesn’t judge, doesn’t make decisions on matters of ‘taste’ or what we think will ‘sell’. To be fair, maybe we don’t have the best taste! Sometimes we are so excited about something coming in, and then it never shifts. Or we get something in which – to be frank, we dislike – and it becomes a well-loved treasure, a permanent fixture on constant restock. Who are we to decide on what is ‘good’? It’s worth everyone having a chance to punt the publication they’ve worked really hard on. It’s great to see someone tentatively bring in something they’ve knocked together in their room sharing a shelf with a fancy-hot-right-now artist book from a well-lauded-highly-regarded institution. Then, six months later, the tentative has made a handful more zines and books.
You share a space with Lunchtime Gallery and Sunday’s Print Service. Do you find this to be a source of collaboration, influence, and shared learning? What is this relationship of sharing a space like?
Absolutely! Collaboration, influence and shared learning is practically Good Press’s bread and butter. Not only are there about 9 or 10 folks involved in GP each bringing their own practices, experience, and attentions (doing days, sharing ideas and running events), the space moves and shakes in relation to what kind of activity goes on around it. Like what books are coming in through the open submission, what events are happening, conversations that we have with visitors both regular and occasional. Sunday’s was established as an addendum to the bookshop, kind of a natural extension, that Good Press could live with. A space dedicated to making. Musho [Musheto Fernández], who joined GP I can’t even remember when, is a big part of Sunday’s and brings some real finesse, gusto, attitude and inspiration. He’s a star, and balances out our (Matt and my) slapdash approach to making books. He demands more, and both expands and grounds some of our fantasies. We’ve been able to run residencies and publish books, as well as operate the membership in a really rich way. Just like in the shop, each of us bring our own special selves both to in house projects, and in service to the membership.
Living with Lunchtime is an honour, joy and pleasure. Caitlin [Merrett King], who runs Lunchtime Gallery, was maybe going to take our old space over when we moved out, but we decided to move together. We weren’t running an exhibition programme anymore ourselves. She was keen to curate shows and run an open-call project space, and it seemed like the ideal triangle of activity! We’ll often collaborate on little things like events, or even just snacks, sharing care, knowledge, advice, gossip, like a sounding trampoline.
As artists, designers and creatives, does running Good Press interact with and influence your practice?
I can’t and won’t be able to speak for everyone directly just now, but I can say that everyone involved has some engagement with either publishing, event making, or wider DIY practices. All with a generous approach to collaboration or facilitation, as opposed to having a singular focus on their own work. With Good Press, I think everyone brings their own nuanced knowledges. In return, Good Press gives a possible source of inspiration, or a platform to enact ideas, as well as good conversation and an expansive support network.
You also stock music and artist objects. Is it important for you to take work across multiple forms?
Music has always been a big part of Good Press, as the recognisable ground of “DIY” (that is music is), and many GP members are in bands, or put on shows or DJ or engage in the nightlife in that way. Records aren’t always “music”, either. Sometimes they are part of artist projects. Same goes for artist objects. Production is an area we’re interested in, and expanding what a publication can be is an interesting avenue, really. We’re really into “editions”, but not in the fuddy, expensive screenprint kinda thing. Basically any experiments with the form of a publication is good by us.
The COVID-19 lockdown has hit all sorts of artists and artistic projects pretty hard. How have you coped with and working around the lockdown? What are you excited for when things get back to normal?
We’re working with it, not really around it. Everyone is personally slowing down, as are we. We’ve always done mail order, we’ve always had a subscription service, which is proving very popular during the lockdown. We are realising we will have to get better at being an online shop in the coming months. We recognise our tendencies toward the physical and erring away from the virtual. But, if Good Press is to survive COVID-19, we might have to tear ourselves away from the soup-and-slippers and get a bit better with online stuff. One thing we’ve always known is that Good Press needs to be flexible and responsive, recognise its flaws, act alongside them, build from them, and so we are working slowly to find ways to increase access to all that Good Press is.
We’re VERY excited for when things get back to normal, whatever that will be. We can’t wait to welcome everyone back into the shop, there’ll be coffee on, maybe a small beer in the fridge. You know how it is.