The most talked about book of last weekend's Small Press Expo in Maryland wasn’t, strangely enough, a book at all, but rather a set of unbound pages from the upcoming "Kramers Ergot 7." A crowd consistently gathered all weekend at the Buenaventura Press table, where publisher Alvin Buenaventura gave the first ever preview of the long-awaited anthology.
The book's size -- 16-by-21 inches -- contributed to its dominance of the show, as the pages covered most of the Buenaventura table whenever they came out. And at last Saturday's discussion panel spotlighting the project, seven of the 60 contributing artists passed the pages around, repeatedly bumping their microphones with the massive running sheets.
While one of the main discussion points about the book has been its $125 pricetag, which some have called exorbitant, that contentious point never surfaced at SPX. Instead, Buenaventura and the contributors talked at length about the challenge of putting together what they termed "a behemoth."
The idea started with Buenaventura and editor Sammy Harkham even before the previous "Kramers" edition was released, when they saw the 16-by-21-inch collections of "Little Nemo in Slumberland" published by Peter Maresca. "What if we did this kind of book in the original dimensions Winsor McCay worked at?" they said.
The challenge to potential artists was to tell a comic-strip-style narrative filling that huge space. "It was a weird experience. It was a blast," said contributor CF, adding there was pressure to "make a super cool giant comic page. It's just so apparent I'm not Winsor McCay. There he is. And here I am. Fuck."
Kevin Huizenga put together one of the book's 96 pages, a large, dreamy story set mostly in the sky. He said it was inspired in part by Frank King's "Bobby Make-Believe." One challenge was figuring out the page's color, which he said required the most Photoshop layers of any project he's produced.
Several artists didn't make the cut for “Kramers Ergot 7,” and some of those who were included had to submit several times before their work was selected. "It was really hard for me and Sammy," Buenaventura said. "The work was great, but it had to justify the page size."
The stories included in the book range wildly, with none more bizarre than Matthew Thurber's inclusion, a trippy two-page piece that includes Brian Eno, a graveyard, parrots and computer screensavers. "I felt I had to rise to the occasion," Thurber said, drawing laughs from the audience.
“Kramers Ergot 7,” which was supposed to be released more than a year ago, will officially debut at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco next month, though Buenaventura said only about 100 copies will be available there. Twenty of the contributors will attend a panel there as well.
Buenaventura recently went to Malaysia, where the book is being printed and bound, to check on the complicated production process. He took the original art to ensure the pages reproduce accurately.
As for the book's cost, Buenaventura said it was a huge relief to show the pages and let people see why the book costs what it does. While people have called the publisher greedy for pricing “Kramers Ergot 7” at $125, Buenaventura said that even at that price, the 3,000 print run is "a huge risk."
Beyond the substantial allocation of time and resources in getting “Kramers Ergot 7” put together and printed, Buenaventura had to rent a warehouse to store the books, which altogether fill more space than a semi truck trailer. "If this book does tank, I might not make it," he said.
Pre-sales have been gaining steam, Buenaventura said, but he's still unsure of how the book will do. For the time being, he just wants to see it finished. "It drove me bonkers," he said. "Once I have a bound copy, it's going to be a huge relief."