interviews with zinesters – julie halpern

Note – I am slowly going through and cleaning up my folders on our hard drive. I just came across a bunch of old interviews I did with people while I was a journalism student at Columbia College Chicago. I think this interview is from an article I was working on for a magazine writing class. I am not sure. I only vaguely remember working on this project. You can tell from my repeated questions that I had some thesis that I was trying to cover, but I can’t remember what it was specifically. I think they are from 1999. At that time, I was a dumb kid, so I probably didn’t appreciate the time that these people took to answer the questions. But I do now. Thank you very much to Andrew Scott, Dan Sinker, Matt Cordell, Karl Erickson, Gretchen Larsen, Julie Halpern and Katherine Raz. If you are one of the interviewees and want your interview taken down, please let me know. I am putting them here for posterity and nerdy archival reasons.

Julie Halpern – Cul-De-Sac

Why did you start doing a zine? What made you decide that you wanted to put a zine together and all that? What were your goals? What was your mission?

Liz went to college in Oregon, and I went to Madison. She sent me a copy of The Scaredy Cat Stalker and I thought it was hilarious. When she moved back to Chicago, we talked about how we should do something creative. We’ve known each other since we were five, and we always did lots of kooky, creative shit together. Since we were both done with school, we wanted something to do that was still somewhat intellectually stimulating for us. At the time, I was dating a guy who wrote a really crappy zine, and when we broke up, I thought it would be the perfect way to one up the dude. Not like he ever saw it, or anything. I felt very proud to have created something, though.

How small did you start? Print run, circulation, sales. And how far have you come? Is circulation and size and cost important to you?

We are pretty much just as puny in circulation as when we started. We make 200 copies each issue and more once they run out. The Zine Guide seems to increase our mail and orders, especially since they put a picture of one of our covers. Liz and I both have contacted people and stores in other cities, so the zine gets sold in other places besides Chicago. We have some in a store in Australia, and we’ve already gotten a few letters. People actually recognize the zine’s name sometimes, which is like mini-stardom. The cost is pretty important to me and Liz, since we have no money. Office Depot used to be really cheap, but they doubled the prices. Still, we do some shifty dealing here and there. And the infrequency of our printing makes it easier to save up.

How long does it take you to put an issue together? Is it fun? A chore? What distracts you from doing the zine?

The actual issue doesn’t take so long, especially at this point. We know what to get together and how to do layout and clip art, so it’s getting less painful. We start by thinking of a theme, and then we give each other assignments and brainstorm. We set a due date for the rough drafts, we read them, we make final drafts, then do the layout. But it takes us fucking forever in between issues these days because we’re busy. Distractions include school, work, boys… I’m getting my masters and working full time; Liz is in school full time and student teaching.

Do you think of Cul-De-Sac as a personal zine? Something else? An outlet?

Yes. It’s a personal zine, but it’s not like I wouldn’t just tell those stories on an everyday basis. I’m a pretty open person, but I’ve gotten to the point where I know I can’t be as open as I once was. People don’t deserve to know every bit about me. It’s weird. Matt [Cordell, of The Plan] and I are dating, and the way we hooked up was through him reading my zine. So he knows all these things about me, like sexual things and stuff, before I know dick about him. But in a way, that’s good, because he already knows I have some of these issues. We haven’t really talked about anything in the zines. It’s almost like the zine us are different from the real us. I never really thought of that before.

You live in the suburbs, right? Is that a hindrance? A help? Does it inspire you? Do you hate it? Do you identify with it? Why don’t you live in the city?

Actually, we both live in the city. That address came when I was living with my folks for 3 months after I got back from living in Australia. I had more time on my hands, so I opened it. Plus, Chicago mail sucks ass.

Do you feel like there’s a sense of community among Chicago’s zinesters? Do you feel like you’re a part of it? If there’s a community, is it strong or weak and how would you improve it?

No. The thing is, you can’t tell if someone writes a zine just by looking at them. Plus, being an indie venue, I’m sure a meeting between zinesters would be like going to a show where everybody tries to out-cool each other by how different they are. It would be fun if we tried to do a zine fest again, but that one a few years ago was shit cause no one came. Too cool, I suppose.

Are you happy with Cul-De-Sac? Would you improve it? How? Where do you see yourselves and Cul-De-Sac in five years?

I’m very happy with Cul-De-Sac. We get so much nice mail, it’s hard not to feel good. I wouldn’t improve it cause I don’t like to improve things. In five years, I’ll be a librarian. Liz, who knows? We’ll probably be doing the zine still. What the fuck else are we going to do?

Can you take us step by step through yr zine making process from start to finish?

Big question. Here goes: The easiest thing for us to get started is thinking of a theme. That way there’s some sort of focus. Otherwise, we have trouble thinking of what would make sense. Also, it brings that issue together. Then we give each other assignments. We talk to each other about things that go with the theme. Since we grew up together, we can remind each other of things that have happened.

Then we choose a date where the rough drafts are due. We meet with typed drafts and exchange. We edit and make suggestions. Then we set a date for the final drafts. On that date, we come and exchange finals to make sure it’s all good. Then we go through these clip art books we buy and get from the library. We pick the clip art and mark them. The next time we meet, we photocopy all the clip art and place them correctly. We don’t use any computer programs for this. We are so good at it by now, it doesn’t take that long. Plus, we don’t have the resources, such as scanners and Photoshop.

The next day we take the finished product to Office Depot. We choose a color for the cover, have the office dudes make a copy and check it. They fuck up and we check it again. This happens several times. Then they start printing, and as they go, we take chunks and staple them. It takes a few hours.

Distribution: we take bunches to Quimby’s, Reckless, Earwax, etc. Then we mail them to various zines that we trade with. Then we find zines that review, and we send them there.

Do you have any horror story type experiences making your zine?

Once, Office Depot’s machine broke, but they gave us a bunch of free copies. No, I don’t really have any horror stories.

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