Christopher Wilde is one of the folks behind the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP), an effort to build a free online collection of zines by queer people and about queer subjects. A zine is a self-published booklet or magazine, and QZAP preserves digital copies of these works. I’m Dan Copulsky, and Chris answered my questions in November 2010.
QZAP launched in 2003 with a couple dozen scanned zines. Where did the idea to start the project come from?
The basic idea for QZAP came about when my partner, Milo Miller, and I were part of the collective organizing effort for Queeruption 2001 in the San Francisco Bay Area. After a particularly challenging meeting, we went home and were discussing what happened and I casually said that one of the issues that came up in the meeting I’d already read good information about how to overcome in an old queer zine. I went to the box labeled “zines” in my closet to prove the point, but it was obvious that this was a rather inefficient way to share the wisdom of this particular zinester.
This sparked between us an ongoing conversation about how we could bring past and present queer zines to a more broad audience within the spirit of how these zines were originally created. We knew of libraries and institutions that archived queer zines but did little to make them publicly available. Since Milo and I are both Mac tech heads and grew up along with the Internet age, it was natural for us to think of starting a website and seeing what we could do from there. I contributed my personal zine collection that was based on trades and zines I’d purchased, and Milo threw in the zines he had saved, and that kicked us off with about 300 zines at the time, which has grown to about 1200 zines today, seven years later.
What’s QZAP’s physical collection like? Where is it, how’s it stored, and is it publicly accessible? If it isn’t, would you want to make it?
Our physical collection is kept in standard two-drawer file cabinets, and we recently added two more to the other three we had for a total of five. The fronts of the cabinets are decorated with posters, graphics, stickers, and in one instance, the front of the package from when one of the largest zine collection donations was sent to us from the Czech Republic (the sender purposefully put an assortment of colorful and gorgeous stamps on the box). Drawers have magnetized alphabet letters to denote the letter range of what is in each drawer, or in the case of zine collections the collection title is spelled out with the letters.
These file cabinets live in our dining room in our flat in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Our house, built mostly by hand in the 1890s, is of a style native to this neighborhood called a Polish Flat. The house originally would have been a one or two story house, and then much later in time was jacked up to have a basement foundation of Cream City brick, a creamy yellow colored brick exclusive to the Milwaukee area. We are currently in the process of making minor renovations to this brick basement area so that the QZAP collection can be moved there and at that point we can determine how to make the zines more publicly accessible. It is likely the space, a former two bedroom apartment, will be a work space in addition to having a reading room style area in the front room.
QZAP uses a fairly broad definition of queer zines, including any zines written by queer people and a wide definition of queer. I’m curious where the margin of that is. Are there zines you’ve turned down or considered leaving out? Are there zines you can imagine that you wouldn’t be sure whether to include or not?
We set the definition to be as broad as possible so as not to exclude people from telling their stories and sharing their work. On rare occasions, we do receive submissions that seemingly do not fit with our curatorial mission. In these instances, we attempt to contact the creator to clarify the reason behind their submission. In one case, because we reach out to and collect zines in all languages, there was a language barrier issue that “queer” was translated by a Russian zinester to a meaning that did not have an element of sexual or gender identity. They applied a meaning nearer to the British English meaning of “odd” or “outsider” and when we explained what we mean by “queer” they completely understood why their work would not appear online, but we did keep the copy they sent for our physical collection of non-queer zines.
It may help to pause for a moment and explain that we adopted “queer” right from the start as representing the reclamation of the word as a slur and as a denigrating term to be a positive representation of the diversity of sexual and gender identities. Our collective members identify under a wide range of terms, and some even would define themselves as “straight” (meaning heterosexual) but that they acknowledge the right of people to self-identify, especially when there is pressure from hegemonic gay and lesbian mainstream people to subscribe to a single way of being gay or lesbian. This is problematic to us, as it leaves out the lives of folks who identify as bisexual, transgender, pangender, or asexual or other identities that are fluid and ever evolving. Each of those groups has their own struggles, their own cultural traits, and things to share with other sexual minorities, which is why we embrace a term like “queer” that has a flexible meaning.
Who are the people behind QZAP and what do you do when you’re not working on QZAP?
QZAP is a loosely affiliated collective that consists of a core of about five to seven people in the Milwaukee area and many others globally through contact via the Internet and email. All collective members are zinesters themselves and typically produce work outside of QZAP. We’re also big fans of alternate methods of printing, such as letterpress, silk screening, stenciling, and graffiti style street art.
Most of us do a fair amount of traveling to other cities and other countries and speak or at least read one or more non-English languages. Many folks, including co-founder Milo Miller, are avid chefs and share their talents with the collective via meals they prepare for “QZAP night” once a week where we gather to work on various projects, such as scanning and cataloging.
The QZAP collective also joined forces with other local Milwaukee zinesters to help organize the Milwaukee Zine Fest. We’ve benefited from attending zine events around North America and felt that we could create an event here in Milwaukee that brings attention to the amazing zinesters and comic artists that live here in town and around the Midwest. We also have a long history of sponsoring a late-night film at Milwaukee’s LGBT Film and Video Festival where we work with Festival Director Carl Bogner to bring work that ties into queer zine culture.
All QZAP members are also politically active or community minded, participating in neighborhood watch groups, helping to launch efforts such as alternative currencies, promoting art shows and gallery nights, and doing other efforts like community gardening. Many of us also utilize bicycles as a primary source of transportation.
Do you have any plans or hopes for the future of the archive, QZAP:meta (the project’s queer zine about queer zines), or related projects?
We look forward to the day when QZAP moves into its own flat and can become even more of a hub for creative endeavors and a place for researchers and queer zine fans to come and visit and look through the physical collection. We’ve also thought that once we complete a catalog (currently the collection is only partially documented) we might also be amenable to loaning zines.
The call for submissions for QZAP:meta #5 is out in the world as of October 2010 and will be produced in early 2011. We’re soliciting content that explores the connection between queer zines and queercore, the music movement that parallels the advent and rise of the queer zine genre. There are quite a few movers and shakers from the queercore scene who have already said they are excited to contribute and we’re curious to see what other submissions will be sent to us. The queercore scene has never had a truly representative narrative written about it, and this issue of QZAP:meta should be the catalyst to get people thinking about how we can create an inclusive, authentic, and inspirational history.
Is there anything you think queer zines need more of? How about less of?
As I present workshops and lead discussions on queer zine history, I find that two things which were key in early queer zines don’t often exist these days and likely should be revived. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, without the Internet as the go-to reference for just about everything, queer zines often contained both a letters section from readers and fans (and sometimes detractors!) and the zine editors would often have a zine review section. Even though Larry-bob’s stellar “Queer Zine Explosion” documented the bulk of queer zines produced from 1990 to the present, there are always queer zines out there that he or we at QZAP haven’t heard of, and to stumble across zine reviews by zinesters really helps not only to see what’s out there that we missed, but also give vital clues to the networks that exist between different queer zine titles.
I, personally, also miss the now traditional “cut and paste” style layouts punctuated with Sharpie markers! I don’t think they are superior or more authentic, but they do speak to the urgency of the message contained within the pages of a zine. I’m all about computer aided graphic design, primarily as I made a living through this field, but honestly there are times where I know my work would probably get done a lot faster with my old Royal typewriter, an X-acto knife, a glue stick, correction tape, and several cups of strong coffee!
Lastly, I think there also needs to be a lot less energy spent on the “zines vs. blogs” debate, both from outsiders commenting about the two genres, and also from us zinesters defending ourselves and our work. Zines are a physical craft with a longevity and a rich history that can be traced back in time over a couple of centuries, whereas blogs are a fleeting ghost of flickers on an electronic screen that can be generated mostly at ease and without much thought given to overall structure and how components fit together. Of course, in terms of the content of each there exists some degree of overlap, and I think this is why the debate gets out of hand. So instead of looking at the messages, we need to look to the physical media and be clear about zines having a rightful and respected place in this history of publishing as well as continuing to be a driving force into the future alongside technological advances in communication.