Note – I am slowly going through and cleaning up my folders on our hard drive and found this document from around 1999. The second comics issue of Flotation Device wasn’t going to be a comics issue originally. I wrote the entire issue about how I got into zines and sometime in my editing process I decided it wasn’t working. So I put it on hold until the time came to revisit it a couple years later in comics form. Part of the original idea was to intersperse my experiences with zines with a few brief stories of how other zinesters got into making zines. Only two made it into the final comics version – Jon Resh and Travis Fristoe. Some of the people I knew and some people were beyond generous to give answers to a dumb kid. I apologize to everyone else who took the time to answer these questions only to be excluded from print. Thank you very much to Owen Thomas, Emily Larned, Abby Koch, Jon Resh, Andy Godzilla, Joe Biel, Rita Brinkerhoff, Katherine Raz, Eric Nakamura, Dustin Krcatovich, Mark Maynard, Jeff Wiesner, Jake Austin, Alex Wrekk, and Travis Fristoe. 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.
Owen Thomas – Ten Page News
When I did Gloat magazine with Andrew McGarrell in 1968, we didn’t know we were making zines – but I’d sure count ’em as such today. Gloat was produced on a spirit master machine (better known as a ditto machine) at school and distributed mostly to our math class. It ran for four issues. A few years later, I made the first issues of the Ten Page News (but only one copy of each issue, which circulated among a small set of my friends; it’s not so clear that this should be called a zine). The first zine I saw that I knew was a zine was Steve Romilar’s Tussin Up which ran from 1985 to 1989 in my home town of Bloomington Indiana: this billed itself as a magazine promoting constructive and wholesome alternatives to illegal drugs because they encouraged the kids to use cough syrup containing dextromethorophan recreationally (e.g., Robitussin; hence the title). From then on, I always enjoyed reading about zines in publications like Ivan Stang’s High Weirdness by Mail but, for no very good reason, never sent for any. When Factsheet 5 hit the bookstores (the Friedman era), I picked up several issues and browsed ’em avidly, but again never sent for any (for which I kick myself now). Finally, I just sort of up and decided to make one in fall 1996 and there was no going back. I like making my own for what I suppose is the usual reason: unfettered self-expression. And I like getting ’em because they continue to surprise me. You never know what the heck is gonna show up in the old p.o. box next. Plus I get to correspond with, and now and then to meet, some of the hippest people in the whole country. What’s not to like?
Emily Larned – Memory Town / Red Charming
[I learned about zines] through Sassy magazine, actually: they had a feature Zine of the Month. I never got it though; I thought zines were still magazines. So it wasn’t until I got Mike Gunderloy’s (of Factsheet 5 before Friedman) book on zines that I got very excited about them and wanted to do my own – before, actually, I ever saw one in person. I’ve always been equally engaged by writing and art, so that was a big part of it. But what was most compelling was the complete autonomy of zines from the corporate world of slick magazines, television, and my high school, where I was, of course, miserable. The variety and the enthusiasm miraculously manage to make up for the mediocrity.
Abby Koch – Chatty Pig
I got into zines at the ripe old age of 29 when I went to Quimby’s one Saturday. I guess I knew about zines already, at least I had heard about them in the context of punk lifestyle and riot grrrls. I already read indy-type magazines like Bitch and Bust, but I had never actually run across a zine before. I bought a bunch from Quimby’s that day (including yours) and then just kept going back for more. I like to read zines because I’m a natural voyeur and I’m drawn to the little glimpses of other people’s lives that I would otherwise not know about. I tend to read perzines more than music or poetry or any other kind of zines, although I have read and enjoyed zines of all genres. I guess I just like to read what people have to say about their lives and how they feel about it. I started doing my own zine because I wanted to put my own voice out there, too. I like to write and it seems like I’ve always got a running commentary going in my head, so why not put some of it on paper? It’s cool to have something to trade for other zines. I guess I have also used it to work out some of my lingering teen angst-type stuff. I’m currently working on Chatty Pig #4 and contemplating a new project. I’m thinking of doing a low-tech (no computer) mini that deals a little bit more with my life now instead of stories from my past. Chatty Pig has gotten to the point where my parents and coworkers expect to see it, but this would be for a different audience (i.e., an audience that won’t be offended if I’m not as nice as I am in Chatty Pig). I’m thinking of calling it something like Yuppie Bitch, but I haven’t really gotten going.
Jon Resh – Viper Press Presents / Amped
The first zine I saw immediately changed my perspective of the world, and I guess the reason I still read them heavily is because they have continued to shape and enrich that perspective. And in creating my own zines over the years, I was afforded the opportunity to express myself in any way that I chose – total freedom of communication, total art and action. I’d say a great deal of my education has come from zines, and some of the most brilliant and wonderful individuals I’ve yet met was through a shared love of this amazing, vital medium. Essentially, reading zines and creating them is among the things that, from my standpoint, simply makes life worth living.
Andy Godzilla – That’s Like Fighting Godzilla with a Squirtgun
my friend King Anal (not his real name) passed on to me copies of Underdog Zine and Retrogression Zine. I thought they were the best zines around, big, fat newsprint mothers of invention, brilliant and informative. And I still think so. Retrogression has since passed on, but Underdog Zine is still alive and well, and strangely enough, I now write for them. After reading their work for so long, they invited me to become one of their writers, which really meant a lot to me because they were one of the zines that inspired me to do my own. Initially my curiosity was sparked by the massive amounts of information they contained. Albeit, most of the zines I ended up reading were crusty-punk-hardcore-political types and that wealth of knowledge kind of called out to me. Look at how much I dont know about whats going on in the world. And interviews with stupid punk bands I idolized at the time (and now think are worthless) were simply supplemental. Some of the smaller, indie-emo-personal zine things I originally thought were cool in how they played with a closer level of intimacy in the writers life, but I now think emo-personal zines are shit. I don’t want to read the diary of some boring kid’s life. I love it when zines cover topics that no one else wants to touch. Transgender, satanism, religion, ufo’s, the history of the Third Reich; weird little snippets of history and information that probably only old people would care about. But then again, I’ve been going through quite a history kick as of late. I mean, seriously, as long as the author knows what he/she is talking about, and makes a clear effort to bring their knowledge from them to you, as long as they’re without pretense, its’ worthwhile. What I want from a zine is to read a few of the articles, learn a little something, and then want to do my own reading on the subject. What I don’t like about zines is when kids use them to whine and rant about how their parents suck, or why they dumped their boy/girlfriend. I can understand how aspects of those things would influence one’s work, but, when you have the power, the opportunity, to spread your words like a media virus to an audience, why would you want to clutter up your writing with references to when your mom threw out your Green Day albums or when your girlfriend cheated on you? Needless to say, I don’t read many zines anymore.
I got into zines when the local crazy kid, Jake started doing a great zine called Summer. I had never heard of the idea before but I loved his zine, every new issue I would bring to school with me and share with all of my friends. Jake is still crazy and still does zines but not so often anymore. The underground networks were very appealing and the ability to have a voice and vehicle for my messages and concerns received by people that were truly receptive to them was incredible as a teenager. In my opinion some of the best writing is in zines, there is no red tape involved. You get, pure uninhibited writing from caring, honest people looking to share and connect with other people. What’s not to love?
Rita Brinkerhoff – Terrorist
When I was 13 (1994), a friend from Nebraska brought a box of zines to a unitarian church youth conference in my town (Kansas City). I read Girl Germs, WAD, Goddess Juice, and a few others. I was into the punk rock by then; listening to Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, The Tourettes, you know. I knew what zines were, but that was the first time I actually saw one. I was so psyched that people could just get up and do something by themselves, without anyone’s approval. I’d made half an issue of a “newsletter” called Code Blue Bitch when I was barely 12, and when two of my friends saw zines, we made up Majjik Marrrkerz, which lasted for three issues, and that was more than enough, believe me. When they lost interest after 6 months, I was doing one called Estrogen Terrorist, trading with people, etc. People were really supportive when I sent our little 3 page Majjik Marrrkerz out – all constructive criticism, people sent me trades even though ours was fuckin ridiculously tiny. So I’ve done zines ever since; I just put out the tenth issue of Terrorist. But punk and friends got me into zines. Going to rock shows. That I could say whatever I wanted, as a 13 year old, and there was a whole community of people who were interested. Being challenged and challenging. Learning to stick up for my work. It’s totally shaped who I am, at this point (almost 21). I’m a library lady now, and I go into schools in Kansas City, KS in the inner city, and these kids (around age 13) are seeing that they can speak their minds and people will listen. That might sound super-saccharine, but they are awesome kids, and being able to work with them and get them to think and express their ideas effectively is so fucking great. Meeting people I admire, trading, etc, is also always awesome. Long live the Underground Publishing Conference!
Katherine Raz – Retail Whore
The first zine I ever saw was The Scaredy-Cat Stalker, which was done by Krista Garcia out of Portland I think. I went to school with Nicolette Liebermann, Jonie Liebermann of Psychoholics Unaminous‘ daughter, and she brought it to school to show to me because she thought it was right up my alley. I was way into celebrities at the time. So anyway, I thought it was pretty cool, and after a few experiments, I came up with a zine of my own – Apple Scruff. I’m not too sure why I decided to do it. I guess I’ve always known I could write, and I love attention and that seemed to be a good way to get it. Apple Scruff folded when I moved to Chicago because I couldn’t afford to do it in the city. But, if you have the bug to do zines, and you spend tonnes of time reading other people’s zines (as I did: whenever I went into record stores I skipped the music and went straight for the publications), you have a compulsion to keep publishing. So I started Retail Whore. What attracts me to zines? I guess the fact that anyone can do them. It sounds simple, I know, and I could launch into a big First Amendment thing and Freedom of the Press and all that, which is important, too, but what I really like is that anyone with a decent narrative skill and access to a copy machine can achieve this cult status. Also, in all the time I spent at Columbia reading magazines like Magnet and Rolling Stone and Time, whatever, I never really got into reading until I read zines. They suck me in, I don’t know why. They can really be about anything.
Eric Nakamura – Giant Robot
I think I saw one at a record store, and thought they were cool. Actually the zine that got me thinking that it would be cool to do one, was Ain’t Nothing Like Fuckin’ Moonshine. I met Brandon Steppe at a show in SF, I saw the raw energy in his publication. It was an awesome feeling. It made me think my life could change.
Indie ability to do anything you wanted. Plus, some have a great aesthetic. It’s great to see some zines look great. That’s always a bonus. Zines are just cool. Websites are an easy way to make a zine. But I think when someone digs into their pockets to make something with paper, it’s just better. I think if a zine is good, it can be entertaining. But the downside is that there’s not enough good zines out there. And another downside is that there’s a lot of zines who say they’re the best out there. It’s not a contest like some publications make it. It’s just doing it that counts, sometimes. I’m also guilty of high expectations with zines, which is unfair. That’s like expecting someone to be a good athlete. But trying does count and some don’t.
Dustin Krcatovich – Shuttlebus Zine
I actually started with “minicomics”, which is a fine line to draw, but I started when I was 12 going on 13. There was a thing in my local newspaper about these local comic guys, and one of ’em, Robert Lewis, used to be pretty prominent in mincomics. He started teaching classes at the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts, and he kinda mentored me. So, I started with that, which is pretty much like it would be with zines, just a different “network”. I got into zines in a more proper sense because of my friend Randall’s high school zine Scapegoat. Pretty much the fact that most mainstream media sucks. I have my beefs with zines, actually, and I think eight outta ten of them are bad, but it’s like communism: it’s good in theory. There are no constraints, and you can do whatever the hell you want with them. And that those two out of ten are really, really good.
Mark Maynard – Crimewave USA
I don’t really remember. It was over a dozen years ago. I was in college, in Michigan, living with friends. We were drinking a lot and we were bored probably. We did a few issues of a zine back then. We spent our own money on it. Then, years later, when Linette and I were living together, I got a job at a copy shop and one thing lead to another. I started by publishing a short autobiography and then Crimewave happened. That was about seven years ago now. Having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder doesn’t hurt. I liked the fact that they were honest, the works of people who cared about something quite a bit. I like self-taught art and DIY music, so this the written equivalent. People do zines because they have to. I like that. If we didn’t lose money on Crimewave, we’d probably lose it somewhere else.
Jeff Wiesner – Double Negative
I got into zines because of kids I met growing up who put together zines. Two in particular influenced me, neither of which are still in publication – Wonder Rolling News, and Media Locals. I was attracted to the idea of creating something to share with friends and strangers, something to distribute and have some means of communication. I like the opportunity to put together writing, artwork, illustration and design. I love the fact that zines give you an opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t meet otherwise, and share artwork and ideas with people who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to see it. I also enjoy being able to publish work by othertalented artists, give them a chance to get some exposure.
Jake Austin – Roctober
I always read zines and xeroxed comica, and made a few small ones when I was a kid (one compiling Mama Jokes, e.g. Your mama is so…) and the others just comics. The reason I began seriously doing my own regularly published zine was that some punk kids were putting one together when I was about 20 and I did a great interview with Sleepy Labeef for them. When it became apparent they weren’t ever going to do their zine I put my own together and it was rewarding enough that I kept it up. By being available at only stores that sell the best stuff (punk 45s, underground comix, etc.) they inherently seemed like they must be worth checking out. I like the voices of the writers seeming so undiluted and direct.
I read a few local mags and a few poetry type things then my boyfriend’s dad actually was getting zines from people off the internet back in 1993. I read some of his. We started putting stuff together for our own zine that we didn’t put out till 1994. It was called Fun in a Bucket and by that time it was just my little sister and I. I saw them and thought I can do that . And that I can make connections with people and keep in contact with people who are always moving around. The community that surrounds it. And how I can say what I want in the way I want to say it. The only editing is up to me.
Travis Fristoe – America?
This kid Erik Grotz, who I sort of looked up to in high school in Dumfries, Virginia did a zine called Action Time. It focused mostly on the D.C. hardcore scene and it blew me away. I was on the newspaper staff, but a self-published zine was unthinkable to me until I met Erik. Zines were part of the punk rock mystery to me, but they weren’t as scary as leather-jacketed thugs asking for cigarettes at shows. People with glasses wrote zines but they weren’t as passive as me and my comic book / AD&D friends. Zines tapped into something that I very much wanted to know about and become a part of. Too many things to put in a short answer, but the writing is way more relevant to my life than the New York Times or Details or The X-men. Of course, the bulk of zines (like any art form) can be trite, banal, predictable, etc. But stuff like Doris, Scam, King Cat, Cometbus, Scenery, etc. Ranks up there with my favorite hardback books. Zines are a tangible embodiment of d.i.y.