That the publisher of this book is Bloomsbury Visual Arts tells us something of what we might expect – lots of magazine covers, page illustrations and a design-led publication. Overall a rather attractive, large format paperback.
The title indicates the scope of the book and is particularly valuable because of the coverage of countries we might not think of when we talk of LGBT+publications, Poland and Slovakia for example. The book does not attempt to cover everything and everywhere, comprising essays on publishing in particular countries, or strands of publishing within particular countries. Thus, for the UK, there is a long interview with Gail Lewis about material written by Black lesbians, a chapter on relevant reading for Trans lesbians in the 1970s, but no mention of Gay Times or the Pink Paper which were market leaders in lesbian and gay (well, mostly gay) magazine publishing in their day. Nor is there mention of GMP, perhaps the best selling gay press ever stocked by radical bookshops in this country.
But that’s fine, the book does not pretend to cover what it does not.
Most of the coverage is of small circulation magazines, some beautifully designed, like the Slovak Aspekt of the mid-90s, whereas Lesbians Come Together from 1972 looks mimeographed, a print technology some of those who used it might prefer to forget.
Several of the magazines came out of discontent with the feminist movement or feminist magazines – such as Histoires d’Elles which had one woman write in “I just want to bring up one topic: why such silence on homosexuality… Every month I hope to read about women whose joys and sorrows in life somewhat resemble my own, but nothing- complete silence.” Others developed out of the political left, or, similarly, out of discontent at being ignored by the left.
The content of the magazines described was as varied as the print technology. Academic articles here, contact lists there and, in the case of La Pluma in post-Franco Spain a call for autonomy for homosexuals, but also “collaboration with other groups of socially marginalised people” and opposition to capitalism and the “commercial ghetto”. On the other hand Revolt Press in Sweden published Tom of Finland male erotica and fifteen niche interest magazines, some of which would not have appeared on the shelves of any bookseller reading this, for good reason.
And bookshops generally? Sadly missing, save for one chapter. There are traces, such as News from Nowhere publishing, in 1980, Divided Sisterhood, a rebuttal to Janice Raymond’s The Transexual Empire. And an editor of the Dutch Mietje describes taking his journal to the communist bookshop in Amsterdam and being turned away by the owner, himself gay, because “… we don’t sell journals that discuss ‘bedroom’ issues, only political issues.”
But the last chapter, for those interested in radical bookselling history, is worth waiting for, a twenty page interview with Sigrid Nielson, Bob Orr and James Ley on Revisiting Lavender Menace. Lavender Menace – has there ever been a better bookshop name? – was the lesbian and gay bookshop in Edinburgh. The shop started off as a bookstall within the Gay Centre but got chucked out for being political. One of the criticisms was because the stall sold the card “The birth of a man who thinks he’s God isn’t such a rare event”, a quote from Benefits by Zoë Fairbairns (slightly misquoted in the book under review). I can claim a footnote in bookselling history here, being responsible for publishing the card at Mushroom Bookshop! But it was for the best as Lavender Menace opened in Forth Street, then a low rent area, making it the second radical bookshop in the street as the anti-nuclear Smiling Sun also lived there. And then later there was West & Wilde in Dundas Street.
The interview moves from the early days of the bookstall – Open Gaze to give its name – through to the afterlife of Lavender Menace in Ley’s play Love Song to Lavender Menace, in archiving LGBT life in Scotland, and the current iteration of pop-up stalls run by Sigrid and Bob, both now in their seventies.
Queer Print in Europe will interest anyone passionate about radical print history, but the excellent final chapter is catnip for those interested in radical bookshop history.