Entries Tagged 'Interviews' ↓
September 22nd, 2011 — Art, Interviews, Movies
Sebastian Sommer makes street art and movies. I think we had a nice conversation about art, its value, and taste. I’m Dan Copulsky, and this interview is from September 2011.
You’ve been doing a lot of street art lately entitled Crispy Toes/Punk Ass. What is the value of this street art, for yourself or those who encounter it?
The whole point of street art, in my opinion, is to get people to stop and pay attention to their surroundings. After a while, particularly in the city, you get into this groove and everything just starts to blur. Some could argue that street art is supposed to be a social commentary… which is true if you look at guys like Banksy and Shepard Fairey. But then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum, where you have street art like Jim Joe and Dick Chicken, and while they’re both amazing, the social commentary aspect becomes muddled. So I create this artwork in hopes that it will get people to stop their busy schedules and notice what’s around them. “What is this gorgeous artwork in front of my eyes?” they might ask. While viewing my street art, its normal to feel confused, shocked, and strangely aroused. I create the art myself, but I work with a group of people known as the “Punk Ass Crew” who help spread the art. They wish to remain anonymous.
I generally find myself bored by street art that I don’t perceive as doing something “new.” Do you think this is a fair criteria to judge street art by, and how do you think your work holds up under it?
I think it all depends on taste. If you see a piece of art and it tickles your fancy then that’s cool. I don’t think you should force yourself to like something you don’t care for. Having said that, you should also be open to try out new things. See if you like something, if you don’t, then move on.
You recently finished a short film based on the short stories of Tao Lin. This seems to be the way you generally describe the piece. Do you think the film can stand on its own?
Totally. I mean, it obviously helps to market the video if it has a “selling” point. People like familiarity. And it helps to reel the audience in. But there is an audience for every type of art. Somewhere, in this big world, there is a person that actually enjoys watching good films and doesn’t care about who’s playing in it. Weird, right?
If you imagined a person who did not know of or care for Tao Lin, is there a way you could describe your film to them without reference to him or his work?
I would describe it as the first “surreal” mumblecore film. Mumblecore films are known to be these low budget, reality based stories, about people in their 20s. I wanted to keep the basic principles but make it less about reality and more about the subconscious. Plot wise, it is about a man who wakes up to find that a weird family is robbing his house. But it’s so much more than that. The film is very metaphorical and each family member represents something unique in the main character’s life.
You like mumblecore. I don’t care for the mumblecore I’ve seen, but I think some art is much better appreciated when it’s intellectual context is understood. I started liking modern art a lot more once I read up on what the artists and critics were actually talking about and trying to express in their work. Is there anything you can say that might help me appreciate mummblecore?
I wouldn’t say that I’m the biggest fan of mumblecore, but as a filmmaker I do find it interesting. When I watch movies like Tiny Furniture or Hannah Takes The Stairs I feel so inspired afterward. I feel like I can make those kinds of movies! As opposed to when I watch some huge ass blockbuster with a 200 million dollar budget and enough special effects to make my dick soft. And when mumblecore films are done right, they can be very good. I’m a huge fan of Dance Party USA by Aaron Katz. Its so lo-fi but so genuine. Plus the ending is brilliant. But it’s true some of these films are boring. I would say that I like the movement that came before, Dogme 95, a lot better. At least the films within Dogme 95 were fucking crazy. Julien Donkey-Boy? Werner Herzog should have won the Academy Award.
You also really like the color green. I don’t like green much, and I don’t think anything someone said could change that. Maybe taste is sometimes just taste?
Taste is always just taste. But I feel like some people are scared to like new things until society says its okay for them to like it. There have been times where I’ve sent a song to my friends and they won’t listen to it until it becomes popular on the radio. What is that bullshit? I don’t know. I’m not going to try to convince you that green should be your favorite color, but you shouldn’t hate it. It’s a nice color. It didn’t do shit to you.
I feel bad about it, because I have nothing against you, and you seem nice and sincere about your work, but I don’t find myself particularly moved by your art. Do you think creators can be each others’ allies even when they aren’t each others’ fans?
Just because you don’t like the artwork doesn’t mean you can’t respect the artist for creating it. There are a lot of artists, especially the ones working within the “ready-made” movement that I don’t particularly like. But I understand what they’re trying to say and I respect that. If artists don’t like each others work, then they shouldn’t collaborate. But I don’t see why they can’t be allies.
Sebastian’s Blog – sebsom.com
Sebastian’s Videos – vimeo.com/sebastiansommer
July 7th, 2011 — Interviews, Sex(uality)/Gender, Zines
Max Mandax has a couple of zines in an art show opening tomorrow. I also think he has some interesting things to say about gender. I’m Dan Copulsky, and my friend Max answered my questions in July 2011.
You have a couple of zines in a show at Woman Made Gallery. You aren’t a woman. How do you feel about that?
I feel weird about it. Sort of proud, even kind of validated by it, but also apprehensive about my inclusion in the show being challenged. The call for submissions said the show was “open to women, transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people.” I feel included in that, but people generally see me as a man. So I’m scared someone will look at me, look at the name on the gallery door, and have an issue with that.
What is your gender identity?
I don’t really consider myself a woman in any sense. At least in some senses I do consider myself a man. But I also consider myself genderqueer and gender non-conforming. I think a lot traditional ideas about masculinity and femininity are silly and harmful, and I don’t fit a bunch of stereotypes about men. I also aspire to look more androgynous. In some ways that makes me feel like a man who challenges what being a man means, but in some ways it makes me feel like something other than a man. It’s sort of a recurring theme of my identity that I don’t feel like I’m enough. I feel like I’m seen too much as a straight man to claim a queer or genderqueer identity, and I feel like I don’t have enough experience to call myself poly. But I think that’s kind of dumb.
Do you think the gallery would see your gender identity as one they intended to include in the show?
I sent the gallery three zines. The first was a glossary zine of words related to sexual and gender identity. The second as a glossary zine of words related to non-monogamy. The third was a zine about my own identity, using some words from the first and second zines and brief explanations of how I feel those words fit me. I thought these zines addressed gender in a way that would really let them decide whether I was someone they wanted to include in the show. They only accepted the first two zines though, which makes me a little nervous. Like maybe they decided my gender identity was adequate for them but they weren’t sure it would be adequate for the audience in their gallery.
What do you think of gender inclusion policies?
I think they can be pretty problematic. Sometimes I think they exclude people to detrimental effect, and sometimes I think they reveal sexism and transphobia. But sometimes I think they do help create positive, comfortable spaces, even as I hope social change makes it easier for those spaces to be comfortable and positive while also being more inclusive. I also think it’s important policies are clear and accurately represent the organizers’ intents. I prefer the ones that include me.
Why did you make the glossary zines?
They seemed like a small and direct way to make people more aware of some things I’d like people to be more aware of, like what it means to be genderqueer or polyamorous. I think even a really concise definition can hold a big idea, though, like the definition of fidelity holds in it the idea that being committed to someone isn’t the same as only being involved with them. I didn’t realize how educational it would be for myself to try to put them together. I thought I knew what all the words meant, but I really had to think about them and how they are used to find definitions that seemed clear, satisfactory, and consistent with the other definitions. I think some of them could still be improved.
Why did you release the zines under a Creative Commons license, particularly one that grants other people permission to use and adapt your work, even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you?
I hope the zines can have a positive effect, and I want to help make it easy for other people to help make that happen. I’d prefer people cut me in if they are going to profit off my work, and I’d prefer people not adapt my work in a way that goes against my goals, but I think it encourages more people to use the work in ways I’m excited about to just release them under a permissive license. I also think Creative Commons is really cool, and something more creators and consumers of culture should be aware of and make use of. I put the zines up for sale on my website, but I also posted the files so people could print their own copies, and then I included an option to just donate money too. I guess the ideal is that this results in more people reading them and in people giving me more money, but more people reading is definitely the priority.
What are you working on now?
I haven’t been doing as much writing lately as I’d kind of like to. I’ve been prioritizing my job and social life, and I’m okay with that. But I’d like to make a glossary zine about kink and BDSM, and I’d like to flesh out the non-monogamy zine some. I’ve also been thinking about creating a more extensive, comprehensive glossary of sexual identity called “Asexual, Bisexual, Cissexual.” And I have some fiction I want to work on, and I want to do some more writing on communal living, and I’m sure there are other projects I’ve been thinking about that are slipping my mind right now. But I hope my website will start having some new stuff posted to it a bit more regularly.
Max’s Blog – maxmandax.com
Woman Made Gallery – womanmade.org
June 16th, 2011 — Interviews, Miscellaneous
I’ve been trying to cut non-seafood meat out of my diet for the past year. I’ve managed for months at a time sometimes, but I haven’t been consistent. I’ve been trying to cut down on seafood lately too. I thought it was interesting that two members of my immediate family, my brother Ben and our Mom, have been moving in a similar direction, despite us living in different places. I’m Dan Copulsky, and I’ve been piecing this piece together for too many months.
Dan: You’ve mentioned off-hand a couple of times trying to eat less meat, but I honestly can’t remember what exactly you said. How long have you been eating less meat and what exactly have you been eating?
Mom: I’ve been eating less meat in a non-deliberate way for a long time for a few reasons: I don’t cook, Dad doesn’t cook that much, when he does cook he doesn’t often make meat, and when I go out to eat I usually prefer seafood over meat. However, it has always bothered me that I eat meat, and over the past four or five months I’ve been much more deliberately avoiding it—although I haven’t made the step of completely renouncing it.
Dan: A couple of months ago you stopped eating meat, but then after a month you started again because it seemed to be affecting your health. What’s your diet been like since?
Ben: I’m not sure how much it was really affecting my health. I generally felt more tired when I wasn’t eating meat, and as soon as I started again I felt better, but it could have been coincidence or psychosomatic. Now I’m eating meat, but less than I used to, and I’m trying to mostly eat free-range.
It seemed like my Dad’s diet and perspective on eating meat was an important piece of all this too. I’d been kind of surprised how totally unsurprised he was when I told him about the change in my diet, and I really didn’t know what his feelings were.
Dan: What are your diet and cooking habits like these days?
Dad: I haven’t been cooking much at all but hope to get back to preparing two to three dinners a week. Now, typically one meal a day will be a lettuce/greens salad which once in a while will have a slice or two of salami. The second meal either a sandwich (which may or may not be meat) or else restaurant or take out which usually ends up including meat.
Two of the three people I live with are pescetarian. My partner Kat doesn’t eat meat because of moral objections to factory farming and our roommate doesn’t eat meat as a health decision. They’ve certainly influenced my choice, at the very least in that it makes sense to cook pescetarian when we eat together, but I find it interesting that my own motivation comes much more from a moral issue with killing animals at all. I was curious if my family might be more on the same wavelength about why we want to eat less meat.
Dan: Why do you think it’s better not to eat meat?
Ben: I think it’s better to be a vegetarian for moral reasons. I think meat-based diets and vegetarian diets can both be healthy. I don’t have major moral objections to eating animals, just to the way the animals are raised and treated. Even meat that’s marked as free-range can come from some pretty inhumane conditions. Animal farming also tends to be bad for the environment.
Mom: Although I do care about the health aspect, that plays a much smaller role than the moral issues, with factory farming being the single biggest reason to not want to eat meat. I am not completely morally opposed to killing animals, although I don’t think it’s something I could feel comfortable doing myself. I am morally opposed to animals suffering for my sake. I struggle with the knowledge that of course some animals kill other animals in the wild, so it’s “natural,” but it still feels like we humans could hold ourselves to a higher standard of not causing suffering so easily. I feel repulsed by the idea of any creature being tortured for sport, but where animal populations are too great to sustain themselves and they would otherwise starve, I see hunting them as the more humane option. When I think back to the local farmers where I grew up in rural New Jersey, and remember the chickens running free all the time, I don’t have a moral problem with it. It’s sad to me that it’s hard to assure that quality of life for animals today. Another factor is the “cost to the planet” as far as the use of resources to raise meat, so even if it’s humanely raised it seems more earth-friendly to still not eat meat.
Dan: And what do you think about eating meat?
Dad: When I first started to regularly cook, I was living in a house with several vegetarians and we all took turns making dinner, so I got in the habit of cooking and eating non-meat dishes. I’ve never felt that a meal needs meat to be complete. I’m not too troubled morally/ethically by eating meat, although I prefer to eat animals that are theoretically less self-aware than those that are more so. I tend to not eat a lot of beef for a combination of reasons—taste, health, and environment.
My Mom’s sister, my Aunt Peggy, was one of the first people I knew who didn’t eat meat. She used to be a vegan, but now she’s a vegetarian. Their sister, my Aunt Colleen, has also been vegetarian for a while. My brother’s high school girlfriend Magda was the first vegetarian I considered a close friend. Being around these people never consciously affected how I felt about eating meat, but I’m sure knowing them helped make it a choice I considered changing.
Dan: How have other people influenced your decision? Did Aunt Peggy and Aunt Colleen play a role?
Mom: Other people have certainly influenced my decision just by being in my mental landscape. Aunt Peggy has played the greatest role for that since she has been either vegan or vegetarian for going on twenty years. Then having Aunt Colleen make that choice has made it even more on my radar, as well as many other folks who cross my path, such as Kat and my friend Fran. I’ve also been influenced just by the green movement in general, and have just become ever more conscious of the fact that every choice I make does matter.
Dan: How did Magda influence your feelings about eating meat?
Ben: I don’t really know how to answer this question because I just can’t even remember high school that well. I know I tried going vegetarian for a little while in high school, which presumably was somehow influenced by Magda, but beats me how.
Particularly since our motivations for eating less meat aren’t the same, and even our goals for our diets are different, I found it interesting that we’re all moving in this direction now. I’m curious if we played a role in each others’ decisions or if it’s just chance.
Dan: Do you think it’s a coincidence that three of us are moving towards eating less meat now, or do you think we’ve influenced each other?
Ben: I think it’s mostly chance, but I might have been subconsciously inspired by you. I’m really not sure why I’ve decided to cut down on meat now when I’ve been eating plenty of it most of my life.
Mom: Well, at the very least, it is a coincidence, but I don’t know whether or not it’s just a coincidence. Possibly not since we were all exposed to some of the same things both in our smaller circles as well as in society at large over the same time frame. Another factor in the timing for me was visiting my step-cousin’s organic farm in New Jersey. My step-cousin Jack and his wife Cheryl have other full time jobs and raise organic chicken and steer part time.
I’m eager to start keeping a pescetarian diet more consistently and to move towards eating less seafood and keeping a stricter vegetarian diet. I’d also like to eat more that’s locally produced and maybe even have my own garden. But with how much my feelings on food have changed in the last five years, it’s odd thinking long-term about what my diet might look like.
Dan: Do you have any predictions on what our family’s diets will look like in a decade?
Mom: I don’t know if I have predictions so much as hopes. My hope is that it will get easier and easier to get vegetables and fruits and nuts and grains and everything else that is good for us, in a form that makes it easy to buy and eat. I know that this is not difficult for other people, but it is for me since I can’t cook. I think by ten years from now it should be easier to order organic foods in restaurants. And I think that our family’s diets will be affected a lot by what is available for us “without a lot of trouble.” My other big hope for myself, and for the rest of us, is that we get rid of most of the sugar in our diets, because that is the biggest challenge for me right now. I know I would feel and be so much healthier if I could stop eating all the things with sugar.
Ben: I have no idea what our diets will look like in a year, let alone a decade.
Dad: Ten years from now Mom and I will be eating a similar diet, ideally more frequently meals cooked at home. You’ll be preparing vegetarian meals using home grown produce to feed you, Kat, your seven kids, and the rest of the commune members. Ben, I don’t know.
January 6th, 2011 — Interviews, Miscellaneous
K.C. is in the second year of medical school at Rosalind Franklin University and answered these questions about being a med student in January 2011. I’m Dan Copulsky, and K.C. is my partner. We are both bored of the question (and all its variations) “what kind of medicine do you want to practice?”
How long does medical school take? When do you become a doctor?
Medical school is traditionally four years long. The first two years are mostly spent in the classroom taking graduate-level science courses that are relevant to medicine. There are also some labs, and different schools offer different amounts of exposure to real patients and/or “standardized patients” (paid actors who we practice physical exam skills with). The third and fourth years are spent in hospitals and clinics learning more about different medical specialties.
After passing those four years and the standardized U.S. Medical Licensing Examinations, we get M.D. degrees, but we can’t practice independently until we’ve gone through a Residency program in the specialty we’ve chosen. Residency is intensive, supervised, on-the-job training, which is three to seven years long depending on the specialty.
How often do you have class and how often do you go?
My school usually has three to four hours of classes per day five days a week, often with a few hours of lab every week.
If there’s a lecturer I think is really good, I’ll go to most of his or her lectures. I think most of our lecturers are pretty terrible, so I only go to class for a few hours every week. If I don’t understand something in the notes, most of our lectures are recorded, but the notes are usually more thorough than the spoken lectures, so that’s unusual. My labs are all required.
Do you get grades? Have tests? What about homework, projects, or other assignments?
This varies a lot from school to school. Lots of med schools are Pass/Fail and some of those will also give honors. My school gives A, B, C, and F. No plusses or minuses or D’s. Grades for most classes are determined by block exams which happen every 3 weeks (this also varies a lot from school to school).
We don’t really have homework. Most people need to study for a number of hours every day to pass the exams. We have a handful of classes that require posting to an online discussion board or doing a write-up of a patient interview, but assignments like that are pretty infrequent.
What’s your impression of medical school’s ability to prepare students to be good doctors?
I can’t really answer that yet. The first two years provide a good knowledge base, but a lot of the students spend most of their time holed up in the library, and I think a few too many of them forget how to interact with other people. Since most of us are going to spend a whole lot of time interacting with people as doctors, it doesn’t seem like very good preparation to me. I guess, if nothing else, we’re learning stamina.
I’m assuming that third and fourth year will be better for learning how to interact with patients, and we’ll definitely learn more clinical skills.
I’ve heard that despite all this, we’re going to start residency and have no idea what we’re doing for a while. But I’d imagine it would be much worse without the basic introduction that medical school provides.
What’s the discussion of health care reform like inside medical school? How much do people talk about it? Do opinions tend to go in certain directions more than in the general public?
It’s a fairly common topic of discussion. Professors make comments alluding to their opinions on the issue and student groups invite speakers who talk about reform from the point of view of the medical community. It seems to come up in casual conversation fairly regularly, depending on who you hang out with. We’ve had lectures in our clinical reasoning class and our preventative medicine/patient safety class.
I think the focus of the discussions tends to be a little different from in the general public. People talk about how reform will affect our ability to pay off our student loans, how it will affect residency program openings in different specialties, how it might affect malpractice insurance, how Obama’s plan is expected to change the model of patient care, etc. But most of the out-of-class discussion isn’t that different from the discussion going on everywhere. Students disagree about whether healthcare should be considered a right or a privilege. We talk about what we like and don’t like about the imminent changes, we talk about what we think will work and what we don’t think will work.
Most medical schools, mine included, have taken a general pro-reform stance and supported more radical reform than what’s now been approved. We have a few professors who have made it clear that they oppose reform, but most of our professors seem to support what’s happening.
What changes do you think we need to make to be a healthier country?
Plain and simple, everyone needs affordable access to preventative care. Catching and treating common problems like hypertension and diabetes early helps stop them from causing devastating complications later. Patients are more likely to follow through with lifestyle modifications and take their medications if they’re regularly checking in with a health care professional.
Going along with that, we need to learn to eat smaller portions of healthier food and to exercise. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s really important—obesity and sedentary lifestyle have caused rates of diabetes to soar, along with death from heart disease, stroke, and many cancers. A few quick tips we’re told to give patients: prepare food from scratch at home whenever you can, eat slowly and wait twenty minutes before getting seconds if you’re still hungry, park at the edge of the parking lot so you have to walk farther to get to the store, shop mainly around the edges of the grocery store (fresh fruits and veggies, raw seafood and meat, low-fat dairy, fresh bread), and start exercising gently by walking thirty minutes three times a week instead of making unreasonable goals that you can’t live up to.
Do you have any suggestions for what people can ask to start conversations with medical school students other than what kind of medicine they want to practice?
I like being asked about interesting topics I’ve recently learned about. And about my professors—there are always good stories about professors.
Also, we shouldn’t give advice about your medical problems, but we learn a lot about normal processes and diseases, so if you want a thorough explanation about why something happens the way it does (e.g. How does ibuprofen work? Why do bruises turn green? How do vaccines work?), a medical student is a good person to ask.
What’s it like to be a medical student and visit doctors for your own health?
I feel like my doctors have more respect for me and give more thorough explanations about what they’re concerned about or why they’re giving me a particular medication. I think they’re also more upfront about it when they don’t know what’s wrong.
I always kind of feel like a hypochondriac when I go to the doctor now though—I worry about weird rare things that could explain all my symptoms and the doctor needs to remind me how much more likely it is that I have something common.
What do you tell people who ask for your medical advice or say something about their health that suggests they’d benefit from it?
I try to keep medical advice at a minimum, since I’m really not in a good position to be giving it. I can list off a bunch of things that might be wrong and ask some questions to make sure it’s not an emergency, but after that I usually tell people that they should see a doctor if it continues.
If a person with no medical training gives other people medical advice that’s blatantly wrong or controversial, I’ll say so and give an explanation. If someone gives other people advice that’s just a little off, I usually leave it alone or throw in a comment that nudges them in the right direction. I don’t like correcting people or pulling the medical student card, but so many people like to give medical advice and have no idea what they’re talking about. I draw the line when someone gives advice that could be dangerous or discourage someone from seeking treatment.
Are colds and flus sexually transmittable?
Not in the strict sense of “sexually transmittable.”
Once you’re sick with a cold or flu, other people catch it through your respiratory secretions. Every time you sneeze or cough or wipe your nose on your hand and touch something, you’re giving your virus a chance to find a new host. You won’t catch a cold or flu from sexual fluid, but being in bed with someone who has one of these very contagious viruses is a good way to catch it. If your partner coughs or sneezes, the virus is in the air, ready to be breathed in. If your partner hasn’t washed his or her hands since blowing his or her nose and touches your face, you’ve been exposed. If you’re really determined to avoid a respiratory virus, your best bet is to not spend time around someone who’s got one.
Send K.C. a message through Dan – email@example.com
December 9th, 2010 — Interviews, Writing, Zines
Joe Biel is one of the folks behind Microcosm Publishing, a collective that prints and distributes zines, books, shirts, stickers, and more. They sell online and through their store in Portland. I’m Dan Copulsky, and Joe answered my question in December 2010.
How many hours a week do you all work, and do you have any other jobs or sources of income?
There’s nine of us. I work about 80-100 hours per week. Adam and Jessie, who manage our press, work well over 40 as well. At this point Nate, who builds our databases and updates our website, is very part time. But Sparky, Chris, and Dylan, who pack orders, work about 30 hours per week each. And Rio, Matt, and Corey, who staff our store, work around 30 hours each. Since we are working in an “industry” where there is no money, we each can only get paid up to 32 hours per week. I do video, odd jobs, and construction for money, as do about half of us. Matt does illustration for hire pretty much full time. Sparky teaches art to kids at after school programs. Jessie is a farmer. We’re a mixed bunch. Everyone has their passion hobbies as well.
Is someone in charge? Are decisions made by consensus? What’s the organizational structure of Microcosm, and how’s that fit the project’s values?
We have three tiers of hierarchy. There are temp workers, volunteers, interns, people on their trial hiring basis, and part time people who work for Microcosm and have stated bosses. They are encouraged to state their opinions and express concerns but do not have the ability to stop a decision from happening. There are collective members, who manage the daily operation, have the ability to make policy changes or prevent the presented policy changes of others. While we don’t use consensus—on a good day we operate in a way that takes into account the concerns of everyone to make a decision that no one is opposed to, even if they don’t think it’s necessary. This is how we rewrite our policies, in monthly meetings for administration discussions and changes. And then bi-weekly for submissions. We also have monthly financial updates and publishing updates with projects that are already approved and in motion. On top of this, people can buy in as owners, but currently since we don’t turn a profit and aren’t seeing one in our future, there is no incentive to do this and we are re-writing this role. Being an owner has no authoritative powers that being a collective member does not.
Honestly this came about because this is how it was done before us. There’s no money to be made doing what we do so a way to distribute personal investment is to put people in control of their own lives at work. I think it’s also a good lesson of learning what’s involved in running an organization and what it’s like to have to make those hard decisions.
I’ve tabled at a couple of zine fests and lost money doing it. I’ve learned that I should have a wider variety of stuff and that covers are really important, but I also figure that there are things that make doing a zine fest worth it even if I do lose a bit of money. What’s the business of tabling a fest look like from the perspective of a bigger and more establish group like Microcosm?
We pretty much break even at events—if that. When you take into account travel, the cost of the table, the cost of shipping everything, and the cost of the stuff you are selling, we are often lucky to break even. We’ve had to cut a lot of events in the last year because we were losing so much money by doing them. It’s sad. But you are right, you don’t do these things for financial reasons. You do them for a warm reception, meeting people, and having fun. But sadly, we simply can’t afford to lose money on having all that fun.
Are there any zines you feel like you’ve been waiting for someone to make, like a topic or perspective that someone really ought to tackle?
You know, when I think about that, I often realize that I just wasn’t looking hard enough for them. It’s embarrassing but the public library in Portland now does a better job than we do of finding new zines. And that’s truly amazing. You go to the library and they have zines I’ve never heard of. And in the cases where the zines don’t exist yet, it’s very often an issue of an emerging cultural matter and the zine comes out soon thereafter. Patience is the important virtue when dealing with zines
Aside from particular zines, what do you think the zine world needs more of? How about less of?
Ten years ago I started the zine that I publish now. I’ll be frank—I wanted to say “you can do this” and maybe even try to shift culture. Zines at that time were emerging from the Riot Grrrl era and moving into a very introspective, personal realm. It seemed that everyone’s favorite muse was themselves and it didn’t do a lot for reading as much as it did for writers. So I put together six issues of a zine entirely based in research. Ten years later things are evolving and shifting but there’s still a lingering problem—the most basic skills of investigative journalism is lost. The issues are cast in the culture as didactic and there’s a fence where you have to take a side. If I was writing a story about Eliot Spitzer, for example, I would talk to lots of people involved with differing perspectives. People are going to have contradicting statements but the narrative will emerge through these conflicting statements. Whereas it seems that people making zines have trouble with these analytical skills in their writing. I would like to see zines having the same kind of standards of journalism and ethical integrity that I would expect from anything else. And I don’t intend this as a dis to anyone. I did exactly the same thing when I started out. Before I made zines I was part of a DIY school newspaper. I thought ours easily had better writing than the one run by school but there was no point in any process that sat me down and said “Things are always more complicated than they seem.” And that sticks whether I’m writing about my own life, the actions of the Portland police, a character portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald, or how to compost effectively, ya know?
Is Microcosm an evolving project?
Yes, we’ve very much evolved over the last fifteen years. Just looking at the last five or so, we’ve been able to adapt and do “real” books where we take on an editorial role, do design work, and produce something as a group effort. Even five years ago we were simply doing production work—scanning, digitizing masters, sending to print, and distributing. I think that’s our biggest accomplishment of late. We’re now able to make a book better and work like an artistic brain rather than just a production brain.
How do you think the project might change in the future? Are there any particular new things you’d like to try doing?
We’ve lost at lot of money on certain projects over the last four years and as a result are toning and shaping our efforts to focus more exclusively on zines and books about how to do something in the 128-160 page range. We decided this at our annual meeting last May but it takes many months to implement.
For the sake of maintaining our own interest, there are many things we’ve tried or would like to try. We had a big push towards more books with original content instead of reprints, like we used to do. At certain points there have been pushes to do books about current events issues like American Apparel or Suicide Girls and their inherent contradictions. But because we are unable to pay a standard book advance, we have to work with people who can afford to be paid incremental royalties across many years instead of a lump sum in advance.
Microcosm Publishing – microcosmpublishing.com