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
December 2nd, 2010 — Interviews, Sex(uality)/Gender, Zines
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.
QZAP – qzap.org
November 18th, 2010 — Interviews, Miscellaneous
As Laird’s going to put it in a bit, intentional communities are “groups of people who live together on the basis of explicit common values.” Laird Schaub’s been living in intentional communities and working with the Fellowship for Intentional Community for decades. He answered my questions (I’m Dan Copulsky) in November 2010.
You’ve lived in community since 1974. How did you get interested in intentional community?
I greatly valued my experience of dormitory living in college (Carleton, 1967-71). It offered a combination of peer stimulation and support that I thrived in. When I lost that upon graduation I sought community as a way to recapture that. In the winter of 1973 I stumbled across an excerpt of Kay Kinkade’s A Walden Two Experiment in Psychology Today and that led me to examine intentional community as an option. I’m still there today because I found what I was looking for.
One of the purposes of the Fellowship for Intentional Communities (FIC) is to connect communities to each other. What do you think the most important things are that communities can offer one another by being connected?
Moral support (you are not alone) and technical assistance (it’s highly likely that other groups have already faced the same challenges you’re facing and it can be enormously helpful knowing what they’ve already learned).
In addition, community-to-community connection helps with new member recruitment. The best pool of people to get new members from is ex-members of other communities. They tend to know better what they’re getting into, and most people who leave communities are not rejecting community, it’s just no longer working for them at that community.
FIC’s website and magazine, Communities, are resources to learn about community. Is living in community something people need to study, or is it something that can be learned just through experience?
People learn about and approach community in many ways, and no single way is best. I recommend that serious seekers both read all they can about their options AND set aside time to visit groups that are offering what they think they want. Often, people will find that their visceral experience helps refine their intellectual preferences. You’ll find that things you thought were important may not be so much, and things that didn’t matter suddenly do. All of this makes you a more savvy shopper when it comes to knowing what will be a good fit for you.
Do you think the number of people living on or interested in intentional community is going up, going down, or staying the same?
There was a surge of interest in community around 1990, followed by a plateau around 1995. We went through another surge around 2005 that continues today. I’ve been involved in community networking since 1980, and interest in intentional community (at least in the US and Canada) has never been stronger in those 30 years than it is right now.
FIC experienced a 25% jump in visits to our website 2009 over 2008. In the past year we saw an additional 12% boost. Today we get 2200 unique visits daily. Three-quarters of these are to our online directory, where the visitors are requesting an average of seven pages. That’s a lot of interest.
Do you think other aspects of the intentional community movement, like the kinds of communities people want to live on or the way we talk about community, are changing?
As near as we can tell, all segments of the movement are growing. The concept of cohousing has only been around for the last 20 years, and the term “ecovillage” is new and exciting, but a lot of this is old wine in a new bottle. That is, there are plenty of groups that predate these labels who fit the models.
That said, there is one noteworthy demographic shift: there are a bunch of people over 50 years old who are trying community for the first time. Back in the surge of 1965-75 there was very little of that. While folks in their 20s and 30s are still the bulk of those experimenting with cooperative living, now other age ranges are joining the party in significant numbers.
I have a hard time when intentional community comes up in casual conversation. I don’t know how to explain the idea simply, and I’m worried it just sounds kooky. Any suggestions?
I define intentional community as groups of people who live together on the basis of explicit common values, which could be economic, social, environmental, spiritual, psychological, or any combination of the above. Generally communities own land together (or control a lease), though not always. The key thing is people wanting to live with others who share their core beliefs or values.
So long as groups are accurate in the descriptions, and don’t advocate violent practices or attempt to interfere with an individual’s right to freely leave if dissatisfied, FIC is happy to help disseminate information about what communities are doing and letting people sort out for themselves what’s a good fit.
Are there aspects of community you’re still trying to figure out or understand better?
Always! Community is essentially a social challenge (rather than architectural or economic) and there are always mysteries around why some groups fail (despite abundant advantages) and others succeed (despite endless challenges).
Laird’s Blog – communityandconsensus.blogspot.com
The Fellowship for Intentional Community – fic.ic.org
November 11th, 2010 — Comics, Interviews, Sex(uality)/Gender
Tab Kimpton writes Khaos Komix, a series of comic stories about queer kids. When I found Tab’s comics, I read the entire archive in two days. Tab was kind enough to answer my questions (I’m Dan Copulsky) in November 2010.
Where are you in school or work? Does making Khaos support you at all now? Is making comics potentially a career?
I work full time as a costume maker: you can see my work over at KhaosKostumes.com. I attend anime/sci-fi events in the UK and sell a lot of steampunk items as well as promoting my costumes. As Khaos Komix has recently been published I’m now selling that at events along with T-shirts and badges. I’m self-employed, so I pretty much do anything that will earn me money, so my stall is a mishmash of things.
Khaos Komix has earned me a fair amount of money, but I know I’ll never earn back the amount of hours I have put into it. I’m really just doing it because I need to tell these characters’ stories, I never even expected to get published. Also I’m far better at making costumes than I am at drawing, so comic writing was never really a career goal for me.
Since Khaos is so heavily about sexual orientation, gender identity, and relationships, is it appropriate to ask your orientation, identity, and relationship status, and how this has affected the work?
I personally identify as queer, but that’s because saying I’m a poly, pan, trans man with a male and female partner tends to be a bit of a mouthful.
My personal story has affected the work because in ways I’ve been each character. I’ve tried out most orientations in that quest to find myself, so I have a lot more understanding for each character’s viewpoint than the average person. It’s made the work better, and to be honest, if I wasn’t the way I am then I probably would have never written Khaos in the first place.
Each of your stories starts years back in the character’s childhood. Were childhood experience particularly important to your identity? Is there something else about childhood that makes it compelling to include in the stories?
For me much of the important stuff only hit in early teens, so no, I wouldn’t consider childhood to be that important. However Khaos is about everyone’s personal story, and I know if I were writing a biography I would start at the beginning.
How often do you work on Khaos? Do you try to keep any regular update schedule?
I try to update at least once a week, but with commission work this gets pretty hard. Writers block can also hit pretty hard sometimes, but I’m lucky as I have to write out pretty much all of the script in advance to avoid plot holes, so it isn’t as bad as it could be.
After Charlie and Jamie’s stories are finished, is that the end of Khaos Komix? What other comic projects are you working on or planning?
Yes, that’s the end. When writing Khaos I decided I wanted a solid ending instead of a pandering out that many webcomics do. I’d tried that format before in earlier versions of Khaos and it just led to plot holes and horrible retcon.
I have a comic sort of planned for after Khaos, but it would be slightly more mature so I’m worried I’d loose teen readers. Not that you can’t stop teens from reading porn on the internet, but that I’d feel bad for letting them read it.
What comics do you read?
I read a lot of webcomics, specifically queer ones if I can. Unfortunately there’s a bit of a lack of them, especially other trans comics. When it comes to print comics my favorite author is actually Jhonen Vasquez.
Khaos Komix – khaoskomix.com
Tab’s Costumes – khaoskostumes.com
August 19th, 2010 — Comics, Interviews, Sex(uality)/Gender
Erika Moen’s no longer publishing a weekly strip online, but there are years of her hilarious and moving comics available in her archive, and she’s working on new projects. Erika answered my questions (I’m Dan Copulsky) in August 2010, by email.
After six years creating a weekly strip, DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary, you stopped the project at the end of last year. What are you working on now?
I’m working with two different authors on two different graphic novels! One is a dick-and-fart-joke murder-mystery with my studiomate Jeff Parker and the other is a young adult fantasy story with Brendan Adkins. I’m hoping to start serializing one of them in the winter of this year, but I’m probably jinxing that by acknowledging it aloud.
How do you schedule your time and organize your projects? What determines what you work on and when you work on it?
Scheduling is something I struggle with very much. The level of importance and the immediacy of the due date is what determines when I work on something. I try to block out specific days and times when I’m working on a certain project, but that rarely goes according to plan because I’m also running my own business and when things come up (which they do every day) they need to be taken care of NOW. The one thing that has helped me schedule enormously was setting aside Fridays as my day to fulfill the orders that come in through my online shop, that frees up a LOT of time during the rest of the week for me.
In Drawn to You, you described creating comics as a way to process your life. Does changing the pace at which you create and share comics have an affect on how you understand the events that are happening to you?
No, it hasn’t really changed that. I feel like my process of perceiving and interpreting life is always evolving, so the stage in which I had to document my life into comics is something I’m ready to move on from for the moment. I will come back to it, as I still have some autobiographic stories I want to turn into books (my relationship with my family, the process Matthew and I went through for immigration, etc.), but for right now it’s not what I need in my life. I’m really enjoying just experiencing life without constantly picking it apart to turn it into a comic.
Drawn to You was created collaboratively with Lucy Knisely. Is collaboration something you’d want to do again? Is there anything you’d do differently if you did?
Oh yes, I looooove collaboration! The times when I’ve collaborated are when my art and storytelling have improved the most. When I’m working on my own projects, I’m doing what I’m already comfortable creating—but when I work with someone else suddenly I have to push myself to think outside my normal box and interpret somebody else’s work and make mine work with theirs. It’s challenging in a really great way and I ALWAYS come away from those projects a better comicker. There’s so many ways in which to collaborate, too, and I’m open to trying them all. Drawing and writing with a cartoonist who is drawing and writing simultaneously (Lucy Knisley), drawing from someone else’s script (Sara Ryan, Jeff Parker), coming up with a concept and working with a writer to create the script for it and then drwing it (Brendan Adkins), writing a script and then having someone else draw it for me (haven’t done that one yet)… so many options!
As a queer women who has settled down with a man, and written a lot about your life before and through doing so, do you feel like you still have things to write about being queer?
I think I still have a few more comics left in me about that subject, but overall I feel like I’ve presented the meat-and-potatoes of my personal experience. If I never had the opportunity to do another comic on that subject, I could die feeling happy with what I did share.
DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary – darcomic.com
Erika’s Livejournal – erikamoen.livejournal.com
Erika’s Twitter – twitter.com/erikamoen