Amy Watson used to book punk bands in Ohio. Now she runs her own small press, 1984 printing, here in Oakland.  A punk ethos has made 1984 more than just a great place for perfect binding.

Carved out of a World War II munitions warehouse, Amy’s shop at 674 23rd street is the definition of creative workspace.  Broadsheets pasted on the walls archive the projects of the past decade and books in various stages of production are stacked throughout the room amongst binding machinery. Garden gnomes, large and small, are affixed here and there, overhead, like gargoyles.

Taking her company name from the title of George Orwell’s book, the books and zines Amy publishes are a form of resistance: the anti-propaganda. 1984 offers sheet fed offset printing and short run digital copying, and produces a range of books, magazines, greeting cards, comics, flyers and record sleeves. When there is space on a sheet, Amy prints up smart pink bookmarks that read: “Women Owned, Recycled Paper, Soy Based Inks”.  The business is progressive to the core, even the binding glue is animal friendly.

In the beginning, nearly ten years ago, Amy hand-collated projects in her living room and printed from negatives. A women’s studies major, Amy found how-to books on ebay and taught herself everything about the business, from building her own darkroom to operating a stitching machine.

As sole-proprietor, Amy is part curator, part designer, and part heavy lifter. One of her goals, in starting a small business was to find creative work to do with her husband, Richard Northam. They met back in Ohio when Richard was working as a roadie and driving a bus for the Primate Freedom Tour. Their partnership allows a fair division of labor. On a perfect day, Richard, a union contractor, never has to deal with computers, and Amy doesn’t have to pour concrete.

The art of bookbinding comes with dedicated machinery for cutting, gluing, stitching and binding.  The first machine Amy purchased was a big, blue cutter about the size of a small tractor, made by Challenge, which guillotines printed pages before binding with a three-foot blade.

When a local bindery went out of business, Amy negotiated to buy their machines and install them in the warehouse. Last fall, after what she describes like a crisis of the soul, Amy acquired a 29,000 pound printer, which they have named Erin Gray, after the actress who played Wilma Deering in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Ms. Erin Gray cuts production time in half, allowing 1984 to take projects twice as large and to print in full color at one pass.

Amy’s business has so far been recession proof. In 2004,  there were no eBooks but their appearance has not diminished interest in the physical books she prints.  During seasons of layoffs in publishing, 1984 flourished. “While the rest of the world was crashing, we were growing.”

Amy attributes her success to doing different business differently, “We have always been outside of the norm.”   When corporate clients were drying up, larger presses couldn’t keep up but small presses kept working. Amy found new clients who were not simply cost comparison shopping, but looking for local providers. The downturn affected the print run number, not the projects and she adjusted printing minimums accordingly.

Success means Amy can be choosy. By printing new voices, 1984 promotes the cross-pollination of the literary, punk, and art communities that she and Richard care about. 1984 just printed a collection for Creative Endeavors, a San Francisco organization that supports artists with developmental disabilities.  And on her blog, Amy posts about projects, including a book released this spring, Bikes in Space, (Elly Blue publishing/Taking the Lane Media) described as “the world’s first compilation of feminist-leaning, bicycle-focused science fiction short stories and illustrations.”

Tomas Moniz, of Berkeley City College and Rad Dad, a zine about parenting, says that back in 2004, Amy was brave enough to take a chance on him when production tested the limits of DIY. “I was spray painting and folding five hundred copies. It took all weekend! It was chaos! ” Their first issue together was Rad Dad #11.

Moniz calls 1984 an “amazing resource locally and for the zine world”  and is grateful that his two daughters count Amy as a role model.

Amy credits her clients with pushing the quality of her production forward. “ It’s one of the perks of my job that I get to meet and even become friends with wonderful people through printing their cool projects.” After ten years of building trust and working relationships, Amy finds herself in the lucky position of having to choose whether or not to expand. For now, she prefers to keep things as they are, because the press is humming along, and things are pretty perfect.

Check it out

1984 printing





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