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Boycott of Erotica Continues : Gay Topic Blamed for Printers' Refusal of CalArts Magazine

October 15, 1987|MIKE WYMA | Wyma is a Toluca Lake free-lance writer. and

It was a Saturday morning, and a weary Richard Hawkins sat in a small, cluttered, windowless room at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. The room, which smelled of beer from the previous night's party, is the headquarters of Walt, the CalArts student magazine in search of a printer.

Hawkins, a 26-year-old painter and candidate for a master's degree in fine arts, is one of Walt's two editors. His problems started in August, when Challenge Graphics of Reseda backed out of an agreement to print 1,200 copies of the magazine's September issue, the first of the new semester. An employee had read a short story in Walt and found part of it offensive.

The story, by student Tim Power, concludes with a character named John dreaming that he performs fellatio on several men. The owner of Challenge Graphics said the magazine was "not in good taste" and refused to print it.

That was the first stop in an odyssey from one printer to another, all with the same result.

Hawkins was asked last week how many companies thus far had refused to print his debut issue as co-editor.

"Five or six, maybe more," he said with the resignation that comes from frustration and a mild hangover. He tapped the page proofs of the offending story. "I look at this material, and I just don't see how it's risque. The graphic stuff isn't there for effect, it just goes along with the story."

Hawkins and Charles Field, the magazine's other editor, receive neither pay nor class credit for putting out Walt. Their writers are fellow students, and their budget comes from student funds. In keeping with tradition, CalArts administrators have no authority over the publication.

Hawkins and Field are partly responsible for their dilemma. Mindful that nothing sparks public interest in a literary work like having it suppressed, they reacted to the first printer's refusal by plastering the CalArts campus with posters that announced why Walt would be late. A reporter for the Newhall Signal happened to visit the campus, saw a poster and wrote a story.

Stories in other newspapers followed, and soon Walt became anathema to every company the editors contacted.

"I've spent much more time on it that I'd planned," said Field, 30, who had the job of contacting printers. Field's major is visual communications, or graphic design. "What we've done now is redesign the material for a small-press format. It was originally designed to be printed 14 inches high, but the more libertarian printers tend to have small presses."

To avoid a repeat of their publishing problem, the editors designed the October issue of Walt so that it can be printed on a photocopy machine if necessary.

"It looks like the October issue will come out before the September issue," Hawkins said last week.

Walt was started in 1981, taking its name from CalArts patron Walt Disney, and has published mostly fiction, poetry, photographs and drawings. The editorship changes yearly.

Dick Jenney, director of student affairs and psychological services, has been at CalArts since its founding in 1970 and has seen every issue of Walt. He was asked whether earlier issues contained profanity and explicit sex.

"Oh sure, that's what's on students' minds," Jenney said.

Like nearly everyone on campus, Jenney was waiting to see the September issue.

"The thing that surprises me is that this subject matter, which doesn't sound significantly different from material in the past, is being challenged," he said. "I think there have been incidents of difficulty in getting work done, but not because of the subject matter. Maybe the time schedule was a problem. I remember one year the students were shocked when they got the bill. Another time there was an argument about expenses that came up in the middle of the process."

The September issue of Walt, however, does differ in that its raciness is homosexual. Jenney said that this may explain the problem in finding a printer.

"I have a tendency to think that way, although I don't know I can justify it," he said. "Is it because there is gay content and there's an AIDS backlash? Is it a trickle-down from Reagan's morality? I'm not sure."

Content No Accident

The gay content isn't there by accident. Hawkins and Field said they volunteered to run Walt because they wanted a vehicle to publish information that might prevent AIDS.

"We wanted to take the homophobia out of AIDS," said Hawkins, who added that he is "pretty much openly gay."

"We wanted to get information to people who might not see it otherwise," he continued. "There are magazines that will have good information inside, but it will have a guy's crotch on the cover. Walt has more legitimacy."

Field said he is "happily married and happily heterosexual," but that "one of the things that has to be said is that AIDS is not a homosexual issue, it's heterosexual, too. People at the school just have to be told to be careful."

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