J.C. Gabel — Hat & Beard


I knew about J.C. long before I met him. Growing up in a small town, I did not have access to much art or culture. However, there was a Barnes & Noble, and eventually I discovered J.C.’s Stop Smiling magazine, which I followed religiously. It was a portal into a world of counterculture figures such as Hunter S. Thompson and David Lynch, people who I found endlessly fascinating. So, in 2010, when my friend Jim Heimann suggested that we have lunch with “the Stop Smiling guy,” I was more than happy to meet him. J.C. was living in Chicago at the time, but after lunch that day we kept in touch. Several years later, J.C. moved with his family to Los Angeles, where we have worked together on a number of book projects, including one for his current publishing venture: Hat & Beard Press.

This interview took place over email between September and October 2018.

How did you get into publishing? 

I fell into it accidentally, starting with “zines” I was making with my friends, in my teenage years. One of those zines became Stop Smiling, “The Magazine for High-Minded Lowlifes,” which ran for almost 15 years as a quarterly magazine. Somewhere along the line, I realized print magazines and newspapers were doomed as viable businesses and moved into books, thinking the physical medium would last longer and could perhaps be a business one can grow steadily, even in our post-digital-age malaise.

What does your day-to-day look like as a publisher? 

It’s all over the place, in part, because I have so many other side-hustles unrelated to books. Like most small publishers, I can’t just work on my own books to carve out a living… yet. But in some ways, this is healthy, because the diversity of all the projects I work on makes getting back to the original books more exciting. The books never become a drudgery. 

What is your favorite art book of the last year?

I think it may be a tie between these two in the last year or so:

Intellectual Property 1968-2018 by Allen Ruppersberg


Mastry by Kerry James Marshall

Why does print matter? 

The Internet is a short-attention-span theatre that can be manipulated by bad actors… print is also a testament to elevating certain books to objet d’art.

What is your favorite part about making books?

First and foremost, researching each title. Also, proofing the books the first time in final layout when you can see all the efforts come together on the page.