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by: Badly_Drawer_Boy 27 january 05
From its humble beginnings as an underground magazine to becoming a publishing company with arguably the most interesting titles in literature, Edinburgh based Rebel Inc has come a long way. Founded by Kevin Williamson, Rebel Inc. launched its first issue in April 1992. Inspired by the DIY attitude of the punk ‘fanzines’ of the late seventies (i.e. homemade magazines, photocopied by the thousands and distributed by mail), Williamson realised the same simple principles could be used to create a ‘counter cultural’ literary magazine. Scotland’s first literary fanzine was to feature fiction consisting of sex, drugs, language, politics, violence and attitude. Its objective, as Williamson so delicately put it, “[to take] the sledgehammer to the literary establishment”.
The time and place could not be more right than that of Scotland in the early nineties. According to Williamson, Thatcherism had politically and culturally marginalised Scotland for over a decade. This proved to be the exact foundation needed to motivate Scottish writers to stand up for their own language, dialects and culture. Additionally, Rebel Inc benefited from the emergence of a group of talented young writers that flocked around Edinburgh in the early nineties. Stirred by the Glaswegian writers James Kelman and Alisdair Gray they set out to create their own ‘wild urban realism’. The first editions of Rebel Inc drew heavily on this group and provided a platform for the then unknown Duncan McLean, Alan Warner and Irvine Welsh. In fact, the first edition of Rebel Inc featured part of a novel Irvine Welsh was working on about a group of heroine addicts in Leith written in their own dialect - a novel which would of course later become Welsh’s much acclaimed “Trainspotting”.
Over the next few years, Rebel Inc. would grow into an underground hit, even going so far as to organise readings in clubs. However, the success of Irvine Welsh’s novel “Trainspotting” ended the underground status of Rebel Inc and in 1996, Williamson concluded that the magazine had run its course and pulled the plug on it. The logical continuation of the magazine was to go on in book form, the idea being to “establish a strong publishing base in Edinburgh that would stop writers having to go to London”. At the time, local publisher Canongate was already well into alternative literature via their “Payback Press” imprints, so it was not all that strange for Rebel Inc to carry on under Canongate’s wings with its strong distribution ties.
In October 1996, Rebel Inc’s first imprint “Children of Albion Rovers” was published, comprising of six novellas from Edinburgh writers including Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner and Laura Hind. This release would be followed by many other works of fiction as well as some non-fiction works from writers from Europe and America. The year 1999 saw the advent of the Rebel Inc Classics, which was meant to introduce the reader to the so-called ‘classic’ literature that influenced the writing of contemporary Rebel Inc authors. The series questioned the mainstream’s perception of what constitutes a classic and rejected the academic notion that classic literature should be praised and admired by both general readers and academics over a period of several generations.
The Rebel Inc classic series features a wide range of underground literature some of them being out of print or very difficult to get - a case in point being “Snowblind”, Robert Sabbag’s informative insights on the cocaine trade in the seventies (hailed by Howard Marks as “the scammer’s Bible”) . The series also includes some previously unreleased or specially commissioned work from authors such as Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs and Howard Marks, amongst others. Currently, Rebel Inc continues to offer a diverse selection of titles in both contemporary literature as well as classic literature, with a “commitment to publishing books that provoke, intrigue, enlighten and entertain”, Kevin Williamson explains. He also assures us that although being slightly more subtle, the “original DIY, sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll ethos of Rebel Inc magazine” is still present.
In “Rebel Yell - A Century of Underground Classics” Duncan Mclean explains how sometimes he went through one of those manic phases where he just had to read and needed a constant supply of good and thought-provoking books. One of the methods McLean used to find such books was by choosing a publisher whose style he really liked and then sticking to it. Picador was his preferred choice of publisher in the seventies and when he visited second-hand shops or jumbo sales, he would be on the look-out for that distinctive white spine of Picador books. Many of the books he found would become his favourites. Nowadays, it’s perhaps not entirely unimaginable that a whole new generation of readers scours through bookshops, on the lookout for that distinctive black and gold spine with the Rebel Inc. logo near the bottom of it.
Quick on the Draw – Rebel Inc Classics, Dazed & Confused, Vol. 56, July 1999.
Rebel Yell – A Century of Underground Classics, Edited and Introduced by Kevin Williamson, 1999.
Introducing Rebel Inc by Kevin Williamson on www.canongate.co.uk, 05-05-2000
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