Pete Glover is an artist and junk collector living in Oakland, California. His first self-published book, Junk Pirate (volume one), is available online at junkpirate. Recently, I talk to Peter about his book, ephemera, and other junk.
ephemera: How did you come up with the idea for Junk Pirate? What role does the Junk Store in Oakland play in the creation of the book?
Glover: Junk Pirate was 100 percent the result of my job working in a Junk Store. The Junk Store is technically a creative reuse non-profit that takes donations of art supplies and then sorts and re-sells them to teachers, artists, and the general public. As a non-profit, donations are tax deductible. All types of things are accepted for donations: fabric, books, paper, magazines, greeting cards, posters, toys and games, furniture, photos, jewelry, office supplies, as well as reuse garbage, such as toilet paper tubes and bottle caps. Part of my job is to sort through this stuff. When you're dealing with truckloads everyday there are lots of fun, crazy, personal, and nostalgic bits that come down the line.
A co-worker and I document the stranger things--a jar of dreadlocks, a garment made from a cat pelt, preserved reptile claws--and make photocopies of the more fun or interesting ephemera. Eventually, I began to compile these photocopies of other people's photos, greeting cards, game cards, personal ephemera, illustrations, diagrams, and whatever else into an approximately bi-monthly zine called Junk Pirate. The photocopies are literally cut and glued together into each 18-page issue and each issue features about 200 or so images. I maybe print 125 copies of each issue. The Junk Pirate book is a compilation of the first 12 issues, plus bonus stuff. So the content of the zine is 100 percent stuff donated to the store. Even the title, issue number, date, and other info is typed on an old manual typewriter that was donated. And when I stop working at the junk store, Junk Pirate magazine will end. I really don't think I would have the energy or funds to hunt for content on my own. And the point of the zine and book is that every image was donated to this one place.
ephemera: You have my dream job, Peter. What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while putting this book together? How did you overcome these challenges?
Glover: The first challenge was the creative task of digitally scanning, editing, and re-arranging the images for the book. This was time-consuming but pretty fun. Working digitally was a refreshing change to just working with paper and scissors and glue. The bigger challenge I faced was learning about self-publishing a real book. I had to learn about ISBNs and printing and binding costs and options.
The latest challenge I'm facing is distribution, and I'm learning the ropes just by diving-in and going for it. I've never been very organized with distributing the Junk Pirate zine, so I'm learning to track all the consignments and calculate distributor cuts and all that. So far, so good.
As far as copyright challenges... fair use, baby.
ephemera: Copyright law brings out the pirate side of you. What were your favorite discoveries, and how did they inspire you?
Glover: The most inspiring junk donation came from a fellow who had collected lots of toys and other bits and had sorted them into large glass jars and fish bowls. Dozens of Matchbox cars in a jar, hundreds of Monopoly houses and hotels in a jar, a fish bowl full of red crayons, miniature G.I. Joe weapons in a jar... it was amazing. It wasn't so much the items but how they were collected and presented. Immediately after this donation, a co-worker and I started to collected items in jars.
This, combined with the photocopies of two-dimensional items, are what led to Junk Pirate. We still have about six or seven jars of stuff going in the sorting room of the Junk Store right now.
On a similar note, the two greatest donations to the Junk Store, but not necessarily for Junk Pirate, were a working Fisher-Price Pixelvision camera, which records video on audio cassettes, the holy grail for video nerds, and a real human skull. I kid you not, somebody donated a human skull to a reuse arts non-profit store.
ephemera: Ah, I love good junk talk. Junking is truly an artform. Tell me about the ephemera that you discovered. What surprised you the most about what you found?
Glover: My favorites are collections of similar things. Usually these are things that aren't donated as a collection, but are horded. Because each issue of Junk Pirate is published as soon as I have enough images to fill 18+ pages, these collections aren't often presented all at once. This is also why I had to do a lot of re-arranging for the book.
I love to see the subtle differences in similar items. You take one Miss Scarlet card from the game Clue and it is garbage, you get three different Miss Scarlets and it gets more interesting, you compile and present 10 different version of Miss Scarlet and it is awesome!
Some of my favorite collections like this are the three Luke Skywalker action figures (link to related eBay auction), Joker cards, play money, dice, and video game controllers. A co-worker of mine collects plastic jack-o-lanterns. It is so fantastic to see the dozens of different tooth-patterns on these things. Obviously, many of these things aren't ephemera so they aren't in the book.
The most surprising things to find are always the personal ephemera...photo albums, letters, sketchbooks, and personal documents. It is wild to get a complete encapsulation of a stranger's life in a photo album. You see them as a baby, as a teenager, partying in college, their wedding day, slowing getting overweight and bald, then with their own children, and on. It really makes me ponder the subjectivity of value. Our own personal ephemera is so irreplaceable, and yet it is someone's junk if we're lucky enough to not have it end up in the landfill. Stuff I've found along these lines are old army discharges, hand-made valentines, love letters, sex letters and Polaroids, book reports, diplomas, legal documents, expired IDs, x-rays, and scribbled notes in otherwise blank notebooks. It's crazy when you add it all up.
I think this is a good time to bring up two delightful observations: almost every illustrated book about dinosaurs features a scene with T-Rex fighting the Triceratops. Usually the Triceratops is winning by stabbing T-Rex in the belly with a horn; and, in children's alphabet books, "X" is almost always for Xylophone. The only two exceptions I've seen are "X-Ray", which is cheating in my book. I just wanted to put that out there.
ephemera: Great observations. Who is your target audience for the book? What will it tell them about Americana?
Glover: The target audience for the book is pretty wide. The books covers so many types of imagery that there is so much for everybody to connect with. From the ironic to the nostalgic to the ridiculous to the aesthetic to the personal to the historic, all with juxtapositions a-plenty. It is a great resource of images for artists to use, and it is just a big document of a small sample of junk going around this nation. There is a lot of humor in the book. I suppose I'm marketing it as an found art book. I think the theme of everything in the book is donated to the junk store helps to tie it all together. These are all items that other people deemed not worthy of holding onto.
Almost all of the images in Junk Pirate were never meant to be interpreted in anything other than their original context. Whether it is seen through an aesthetic or historic filter, these items paint a picture of America. A great example of this is some text from a Y2K pamphlet. At the time it was meant to seriously prepare citizens for the possible collapse of all computer systems worldwide; but, looking at it now, especially when paired with a vintage advertisement for Apple Macintosh (link to related eBay auctions) on the same page, you can see it stemmed from a collective fear that technology is moving beyond our control. The peripheral images and items of our time paint the picture of our society and its ideologies. But, frankly, I think Junk Pirate is more about fun and nostalgia than any obvious political or social commentary.
ephemera: It's certainly a worthwhile and wonderful project, Peter. I enjoyed hearing all about the book and your exploits. Keep up the great work!