Zines in the Crescent City

by Alisha Rae

I made my first zine, a mini-comic, at the age of 30. I didn’t start drawing until a few months before that, mostly about the eccentricities of working at a 24-hour coffee shop for 6 years. I thought I was drawing for catharsis and that I would never publish my scribbles. But one day, when I was visiting my family in Miami, I just did it–I made my first mini-comic. I had the idea for a year, and had been waiting for the right moment to get it done. A lot of people who read it related to it. Having art that people relate to is fulfilling for me because it informs me that I am not alone. I often feel like I’m not alone when I read other people’s zines.

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Anyone can make a zine, so zines are made by real people. Because of this, they are honest and have integrity. My favorite zines are perzines (personal zines). They reveal people’s personal truths and vulnerabilities. They are honest in a way that only a true friend is. I like that because vulnerability created through art is something I value and hope to achieve with my work.

A couple of my favorite perzines are:

Doris by Cindy Crabb is a zine published since the early 90’s. I met Cindy in Chattanooga a month after making my first comic and traded my mini-comic for the new Doris zine. Doris was the first perzine I read and related to. She writes about gender, introspection, the need for challenge and change, mental health, family dynamics, and her own life stories. I feel less alone knowing other people feel the same way I do. And sometimes that’s all I need to know–that those feelings are out there, and that they are valid.

Telegram by Maranda Elizabeth. Maranda has been writing Telegram, a perzine, for almost a decade along with other published zines. In Telegram: A Collection of 27 Issues, they answer the question of “Why I write zines: for Survival and Revenge,” which means to write as a means of self-care and support. This is a way of surviving that I can relate to, especially in hard times. Publishing zines is a way to show all the haters that you survived the harsh world. Also, Maranda chooses to use the gender neutral pronoun “they,” which I respect because it challenges social norms about gender. All in all, they value weirdness and I have identified with that ever since I was eight years old and haters called me weird too.

New Orleans has a strong history with zines. Here are some zines from people who live or have lived in New Orleans:

Shotgun Seamstress, by Osa Atoe, is a music fanzine by and for black punks, but is also relatable to allies, queers, feminists, DIY artists, and musicians. I’ve discovered a lot of music through this zine, and even more that is indicative of the culture of POC (People of Color), DIY, and New Orleans. Osa includes essays, interviews with muicians, reviews, and historical portraits of important artists and scenes. A collection of these zines was just completed and published through Mend My Dress Press.

Chainbreaker! by Shelley Jackson is a zine I always refer to when working on a bike. My copy of Chainbreaker (now made into an anthology) is covered in grease and dirt from all the times I have referred to it while working on my bike. She often writes about being a female mechanic and cyclist, which I relate to as a volunteer at Plan B New Orleans Community Bike Project.

Not Your Mother’s Meatloaf is a project to challenge hetero and gender normative practices in sexuality education through comics. Topics like safer sex and consent from an LGBTQ-friendly stance are examined through submissions, primarily from young people. Each issue has a different theme, like firsts, bodies, and health. If there was any zine worth relating to, it’s this one. Exploring and discovering one’s own body and sexuality can feel very isolating. These comics give a new perspective on these personal issues and make you feel supported, but they also are funny and entertaining. A book compiling all the issues and some new content will be published in August 2013.

Invert is a comic zine made by and for queers in New Orleans. It is a tribute to radical queers that came before us and is an outlet for us to tell our stories in the face of heteronormativity. As written in the introduction, “This object exists because queer narratives are important and underrepresented.” There is currently one issue released. A call for comic submissions will appear soon for the next issue.

New Orleans eccentricities have been chronicled in zines for years. Stories Care Forgot is an anthology of zines from and about New Orleans before 2005. A collection of zines saved from Katrina by Ethan Clark, this anthology is a testament to a time in New Orleans when punk zine culture flourished. Clarke writes, “These zines tell the story of a time, a place, and a group of people who were struggling to follow their ideals and figure out their place in a troubled and magical city.” Reading through these stories, I relate to many of them. I have written several weirdo comics about bicycle delivery, and I see in Stories that some things never change. John Gerken and Happy Burbank were writing zines about their bicycle delivery jobs in New Orleans almost a decade ago. Additionally, I find in this anthology that observations about gentrification still hold true, just in different neighborhoods. The neighborhood written about in older New Orleans zines is well through gentrification, but it’s encouraging to hear thoughts from a previous time that parallels with my present. Also present in Stories Care Forgot is a history of Treme (did you know Claiborne used to have a park before they built I-10 over it?) and personal experiences in the sex industry, which is an integral part of this city.

Since moving to New Orleans, I have been drawing more and more. All the inspiration from bizarre encounters to magical life changing events have provided ample material for zines. New Orleans is very different since the storm, but its diversity and charm hasn’t changed. People will still travel from around the world to visit the city care forgot, and our zines will continue to chronicle the personal struggles and important issues the city faces that we don’t want anyone to forget.

 

Alisha Rae lives in New Orleans and harnesses magic through drawing, singing, dancing, baking, and bicycling.

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Paper Blog

by Clark Allen

I was a pretty stupid kid. I’m arguably a pretty stupid adult too but I can thankfully say that that’s a debatable matter. Good and ill, I have my moments both ways, and while I hope public opinion of me leans closer to the former it still remains to be seen what will be engraved on my tombstone (I’m vying for “stick a fork in me”). My childhood incompetence however, was generic, likely relatable to millions of other Americans similarly raised in the working class suburbs of the eighties and nineties. School sucked. Adults were boring. Radio hits were largely “alternative” misanthropic croons. The internet hadn’t taken center stage to vacuum our attention spans just yet, and television was more focused on what was in the president’s pants than The Gulf conflict. If your family wasn’t too poor or too rich, by the time the Clinton era was in full swing the chances of living that time in life adrift in some state of American ennui was mighty high. Out in the suburbs, man, it was a real snooze.

I was in the California Bay Area as a teenager, sleepily growing up in the city of Napa. By my early teens MTV had made me vaguely aware of some percolating counterculture out there, but I definitely hadn’t put any meaning to its purpose yet. Everything happening on the television from Sonic Youth live on The Late Show to the LA riots was equidistant, that is to say, out of reach and unreal. I’d cut school but kind of missing the point of it I’d take to the public library, although not in any smart way. I was engrossed by crappy sci­fi, monographs of Frazetta prints, and those crazy machines that let you wind through old newspaper articles. On some recommendation I tried Jack Kerouac but he seemed like a douche and I never quite managed to finish On the Road. So listlessly, I wandered the aisles of every 7­11 in town. What else was there?

Once the time came that I was old enough to get a little work and a little spending cash, just a little more of the town opened up to me. Of specific note, a floundering local bookstore that specialized in used mass market paperbacks. I think it was called Volume Two, but I’m not sure if I’m remembering that right. In any case the place is long gone now, its unimpressive selection likely scattered to thrift shops, and its only legacy that I know of being the accumulation of used periodicals kept in a small box in the back, a pile of withering old paper that ultimately made a huge impression on me although I was oblivious at the time. I spent a summer there just before the shop went under, sitting on a milk crate next to the box. Amidst back issues of LIFE and National Geographic I’d pull errant copies of Heavy Metal Magazine, gaping agog at illustrated buxom women and their lascivious fornications with bizarre sea creatures or what have you. There were old copies of Colors Magazine, Fangoria, Maximum Rock n Roll, The Onion, Zyzzyva, and off relics of UC Berkeley quarterlies that probably never made it past their first volume or so. Even an issue of Playboy had made it into the mix, and from the disinterested old lady behind the counter, consistently immersed in whatever Danielle Steele novel happened to be nearest, I was able to pick up anything from this selection for a buck apiece. All I had to do was tell her how many I had. Uncensored. She wouldn’t even look up.

Soon I was home rummaging through this mess, transferred from the bookshop to my bedroom, and it wasn’t long after tearing through it that I began tearing it apart. I wallpapered my room with the images from these magazines and with what remained I stapled together my favorite bits.

You could’ve called them zines I suppose, though I wasn’t sure what I was doing at the time. It was my own personal cornucopia of style. A sloppy stapled and pasted mass of fantasy comics, horror film stills, punk photos, and pornography. There was no attempt at direction. It wasn’t anything really, but in my stupid, adolescent naiveté, it was a visceral explosion of everything I was hoping to find. A homemade compass. I made photocopies at school and handed them out to people I liked, and before long I found a couple other kids similarly on the edge of their seats, equally curious what life might be like outside of a town that called for lights out at six p.m.

I was fourteen when I got to take my first real unsupervised trip away. A friend of mine had just turned sixteen, acquired a rattling, hand me down hatchback, and it had just enough life in it to occasion us down to Berkeley. There I was hooked quick. The anarchist bookstore, Revolution Books, the punk club, 924 Gilman, and seemingly just about every other community oriented local business had all manner of hand bound pamphlets, each one impacted with it’s own unique set of ethics and private philosophy, and each one giving me a little something new to digest. The punk fanzines were my favorite at first, and once the moral altitude of the bands I began listening to made an impression, I moved to the literature that had stronger sociological viewpoints. I learned about the Class War and Situationist International, why to go vegan and why to quit veganism forever, how to build bongs and how to build bombs, how to midwife in a psychedelic manner… endless guides to alternative living. I read terrible, terrible poems and short stories by kids exactly like me right alongside Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, a pamphlet was essentially and historically a zine itself.

I was in love. I’d found this medium with infinite flexibility. A place with its own already sustained subculture open for my perusal and contribution. The internet was around, sure, but still reserved for the kind of household that had two TVs. The zine world seemed so massive, was abrasively tactile, and in my personal teenage universe information was being rapidly traded in that form. It’s an interesting time in my life to reflect on now. These random personal writings of people I’d never know were welcome porch lights illuminating vast and shadowy suburbs. They provided some sense direction. A way out that that public school, television, and even the most well meaning of adults couldn’t pitch across the gap to my generation.

Now I’m nearing thirty and I hardly produce the things like I once did. Maybe one, sheepishly, every year or so in a small run. I still read them though, and my collection stacks high. I’ve even somehow managed to fall into a funny career as a used book buyer, and as such have found myself in a paid position oddly similar to where I was as a kid, digging through dusty old crates, hoping to find something that piques my interest; a window to out there. And while I’m worried a bit about the future of reading sometimes, awash in the din of a constant conversation about the death of the printed word, the rise of the blog, the demise of the bookstore or the library as a place, one thing seems certain­ no matter how many hilarious gifs or informative Chomsky quotes you can cram onto a Tumblr account, the curation of a real, physical manifestation of your own personal landscape will be drawn from the world around you. Its resonance begins in the hand and that won’t change anytime soon. Grab some paper, some ink, staples or thread. It’s still cheaper than a URL.

Clark Allen is an artist and book buyer from the CA Bay Area currently living in New Orleans, LA. He lackadaisically maintains a couple of blogs, infinitestockade and sinkstuart.
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When Zines & Artists’ Books Converge

by Cody Gieselman

When I think very long about zines, I get bogged down in what that term means or what I think it’s supposed to mean. For several years I made cheap little books every month that I considered zines, or more specifically, mini-comics. My comics were a simple journal based on my observations and intended to share the experiences of my life, as it oscillated between simple and complicated. Occasionally, I would make other zines that were more instructional, always involving something going on within my immediate community. The appeal in making and sharing zines was consistently about the ability to proliferate information on a local scale. Instead of taking to the Internet, the fact of holding a book had a satisfaction that has always felt more congruous with my content. As in Awkwardly Put #14 the tactile nature of making walnut ink was echoed in the physical book, a tangibility lost in digital form.

 

The book form has been directly or indirectly the foundation of most of my work for the better part of the last decade. Even in my time-based, interactive installations I see an intertwining relationship to the codex: the engagement required of the viewer, the realization of moving through a space, the pacing of time, and how the viewer completes the work by being involved in it. The bicycle-powered Planetarium Ad Infinitum demanded a high level of dynamic involvement from the audience and provided haptic feedback reminiscent of a reader’s relationship with a book.

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This undeniable attraction to book objects led me to the University of Iowa Center for the Book MFA program, where I am in my second of three years. I have cranked out more artwork in the past two years than I ever thought myself capable. I am in the process of developing new skills and refining my craft. My experience at the UICB has been nothing short of amazing, but like most makers of things I continually struggle with why I’m doing what I’m doing. As my abilities have grown and my conceptualization of the book expanded, I have also experienced a blur in seeing what I do now as related to the zines I used to make. Since toeing my way into the world of book arts, I tend to think more in terms of artists’ books.

The objects themselves don’t seem all that different. What has changed for me as a maker is the context in which I’m showing the work, the audience viewing it, and the more formal critical analysis I’ve received. The intent behind the work has been part of the continuous transformation. Up the River is an eight-fold, single-sheet book, laser printed on ersatz vellum, diagrammatically representing the prison system in terms of the water cycle. Similarly, Indefinite is a pamphlet bluntly telling the story of Adnan Latif, the ninth person to die in Guantánamo Bay prison. It is inkjet printed on tympan and Mohawk Superfine. Even while simple, cheap, and easily reproducible, both of these books were made in an artists’ books class and have been a part of the UICB Open House as well as a local gallery walk event.

When I was making books that I strictly regarded as zines, I was primarily sharing anecdotes with only some concern for craft. As my focus on content shifted to social and political issues, craft became a more important component, not because I strive to be a gallery artist or a fine press printer, but because making an object worthy of the often dire story within became requisite. This refreshed attention to craft involved an improvement in materials and development of production skills, which is probably most evident in my version of Art Bears’ The World as It Is Today. This slotted tape, letterpress printed work is probably as far from zines as my books have gotten in the past few years. Nonetheless, it could be argued this book still falls within a definition of zine, even if more suitably described as an artists’ book.

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In some ways my experience with zines has translated smoothly into the artists’ books I currently make. In other ways I never shifted away from zines at all, my approach to making has simply deepened in form and content. This definitive non-definition speaks to what most artists contend with regularly: the struggle to be true to the work, to know where it fits, and to do all this without cheapening its meaning through the hollow severity of a commodity system.  There is a healthy, growing overlap between zines and artists’ books. The boundaries are ever shifting, and when I can remember to relax within uncertainty, it’s perfect.

Cody Gieselman can’t stop messing around with books and bicycles and obsessing about doom. She lives in Iowa City, IA.

The Social Nature of Zines (No, Seriously)

by Mary Tasillo

Because I host a zine library in my living room, I find myself in discussions about zines with non-zinesters on a regular basis.
“I thought zines were dead.”
“I thought that was a thing of the nineties.”
“What is a zine?”
“Zines are irrelevant in the age of the blog.”

You can see why it seemed like a good sign when my date showed up with a stapler for The Soapbox last week.

I am constantly explaining to people that zines are alive and well, that there is a large community of people making, exchanging, and reading zines who would be interested to be informed of its death. That I surmise the spread of the blog has changed the look of the zine a little bit – that someone making a zine is likely concerned with its tactility, beyond the distribution of information, and thus we may be seeing more zines with handprinted covers and strange packaging. This is really the same argument we make about books with the growth of the eReader. A long accordion of Anne Carson’s poetry would not likely have been published 10 years ago in that format.

I’m interested in the social interaction that comes along with the production of zines and related ephemera, whether creators are handing out broadsides on the street, constructing social reading spaces to house a zine collection, or trading and talking shop at zinefest. An ethics of barter in this community tends to lead to other types of exchange and I witness friends and communities grown as an outgrowth on a regular basis.

I’m blessed by the enthusiastic community members who have contributed to The Soapbox: Independent Publishing Center, a zine library and print studio that Charlene Kwon and I run out of our West Philadelphia house. Charlene & I were motivated by our interest in community-accessible letterpress printing to open The Soapbox, but the library was the easiest piece of the puzzle to get off the ground as two shoeboxes of zines (zinefest trades) rapidly expanded, thanks to donations, into an estimated 800 titles. The archive exists partially to support the printing & binding studios, providing reference points for the creative process, particularly as zine structures and materials can diverge quite a bit from the traditional half-letter-sized fold-and-staple. The Soapbox has benefited from volunteers cataloging the collection and organizing events, the conversations that occur as people work together in the studio, and the community partnerships that have formed in planning readings, participating in neighborhood open studio tours, and in hosting other types of interactive art events. Charlene and I put a lot of our blood, sweat, and tears into the project, but it still would not be what it is without a community of support.

As both a zine maker and book artist, zines give me the opportunity to loosen up and to solicit feedback from others. I learned a lot about my book art community when Katie Baldwin and I solicited lists from our fellow MFA Book Arts Grads: Top Ten Things You’ll Do if this Book Arts Thing Doesn’t Work Out. Everyone’s “back ups” were equally impractical. As Katie and I hashed out layout and set type for the covers while trying to keep the project casual and fun, we kept repeating the mantra: “it’s only a zine.” When Johanna Marshall and I introduced the first issue of our manifesto on communication in dating, “How Not to Flirt,” we solicited questions and feedback from many friends. We learned so much about the average number of underwear owned by our community, as well as our shared anxieties about communication. And we continued the conversation with others through zine readings and by soliciting advice column questions and comics for future issues at our Zine Fest table.

I overheard a man at Philly Zine Fest one year, arms loaded down with publications, saying, “I like to know what people are thinking.” Zines function as not just a vehicle for making one’s own voice heard, a soapbox if you will, but also as a way to learn about each other.

Mary Tasillo is a Philadelphia-based art maker, cake baker, and trouble maker. She is also a teacher, writer, and independent scholar. Mary makes zines, artist books, and other types of (usually paper-based) art. As part of the Book Bombs collaboration, she brings zine, print, and interactive papermaking to the streets. She also exhibits her work nationally and internationally and her books and zines can be found in libraries around the country.

As co-founder of The Soapbox: Independent Publishing Center, Mary runs a zine library and DIY print studio out of her West Philly rowhouse, collaborating with individuals and organizations around Philadelphia. She also works with and writes for Hand Papermaking. She has written about zines for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Zine World. She really likes the pamphlet stitch.

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What Did You Call Them?

by Turner Hilliker

Last year I had three subscribers to my zine, Holiday Pay. More people probably read the email you sent your coworkers this morning than have read any of my zines all year.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, I can describe what a zine is through a conversation with a girl I had recently dated:

“What kind of art do you make?” she asked. It was a basic date question. No sweat. I was used to answering stuff like this.
“I make these things, they’re called, like, zines.”  Of course you would think this was my first time answering said question.
“Hmm. Okay.” She seemed slightly intrigued.
“They’re books, but I make them myself. They mostly have jokes and drawings in them. Writings too.”
“What did you call them?”
“Oh, uh, zines. Sorry, I must of mumbled.” Maybe she was more interested than I first thought.
“That’s a stupid word,” she said.

That’s the moment when I flipped over the table we were at, flicked off everyone at the restaurant, and strutted my ass out the door.

I didn’t actually do that. But it’s these types of stories that make up my zines. That’s the point. Making a book that’s all you.  I mentioned earlier that I had three subscribers last year for Holiday Pay. Three subscribers is really just icing on the cake. The real audience is the zine itself. No matter what you have to say, it has to listen to you. AND it has to keep a record of what you said. When taking the route of mainstream publication, you have way too many hoops and hurdles to jump over. Yeah, you made a book (which is still pretty impressive), but there’s at least one other person’s say in its creation besides yours. The story I just told, it probably wasn’t even that great. But it doesn’t matter. If you produce a zine, it will get published.

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Turner Hilliker is a Virginia based artist and designer. He received his MFA in Book Arts and Printmaking from the University of the Arts. In 2010 he created Holiday Pay, an ongoing zine series documenting his personal experiences and ruminations. He has a day job in retail.

www.turnerhilliker.com
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Hello, won’t you come in.

Welcome to SIFT’s new blog! This will be a space for us to talk about the moments where sequence, image, form, and text collide in interdisciplinary arts. The content on these pages will often coincide with our programming efforts. In the next few months we have invited several guest bloggers to talk about different aspects of making, collecting, and reading zines and comics. We hope to stir dialogue within our community that pushes conversation forward and helps us to understand our place within a larger community of makers.

Please stay and check out our new and improved digital space and be sure to visit us often to see what’s happening here at SIFT.

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