Answer­ing for myself

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David Hogan, a media student in Ireland, inter­viewed me about zines for his disser­ta­tion. I’ve answered quite a lot of people’s ques­tions for media disser­ta­tions over the years, but I’ve never really kept track of it very well. I was in some Dutch docu­ment­ary about zines too, but again I didn’t both­er to find out exactly what it was, so I have never seen it (although I really hate seeing or hear­ing any record­ings of myself). Here’s my attempt to keep better track of this stuff.

Can you tell me a little bit on why you star­ted produ­cing zines? What was it that drew you to the zines?

I think I was always aware of zines being a thing. I was a teen­ager in the 90s, and caught the end of grunge/​riot grrrl, so I knew about zines. By the late 90s there didn’t seem to be a huge amount around though. Around 2001 I star­ted making mini zines of silly collages to swap with a friend who lived in NZ. I kept mean­ing to do a prop­er zine with articles and so on, but never quite got round to it. It tends to take me a long time to get round to things. Cham­pi­on procras­tin­at­ing.

In 2006 I finished univer­sity and got an office job, because I needed the money and didn’t know what to do with myself. I hadn’t gone to univer­sity because I saw it as the step­ping stone to a respect­able career, I enrolled in a Clas­sics degree because I’m genu­inely inter­ested in the Greeks and Romans and I was good at exams at school, so it was the best way to get out of Medway. I ended up study­ing at Read­ing mainly because there was a mixup with my place at Bris­tol, then it turned out if I went the follow­ing year I would have to pay tuition, where­as that year I wouldn’t, there aren’t many Clas­sics depart­ments in the coun­try, and they were a good univer­sity and had room, so there I went. I enjoyed the course, and it was ok being a student in Read­ing. I met good people, and we had fun.

Living and work­ing there is a differ­ent matter. It’s the most aver­age place in the world. I once described it as like “a beige cush­ion”. You can get a job some­where like an insur­ance company, and all the shops etc you need are there, but it’s very, very bland. It turned out I hated office work too. I pushed myself to do as much creat­ive stuff as I could in my spare time in the hope that it would stop my brain drib­bling out of my ears. I star­ted making zines prop­erly then, and star­ted having a stall at the London Zine Symposi­um. I’d always been writ­ing letters to people, and here I had some­thing to include in the envel­ope.

I think I managed to take about 8 months of office work in Read­ing, then I went to Budapest and then Brighton, places I liked much more. I really stepped up making zines in Brighton, because I met other people who made them and who lived nearby, and we organ­ised the Zine­fest and monthly events, so it wasn’t just me in my little bubble.

What sort of produc­tion meth­ods do you use?

The guide I made can be found under popu­lar posts

What kind of role, if any, does the Inter­net play in the produc­tion of your zines? Promo­tion or publi­city? Distri­bu­tion? Research? Online shops? Online distros? How big a role do these play?

How do you as a produ­cer choose between using the Inter­net and using zines as a medi­um? What kind of draw­backs or bene­fits do you see to those medi­ums?

I have had inter­net access since 1997, so I never produced any zines pre-inter­net. A lot of people buy my zines online, or contact me after receiv­ing flyers in their orders from distros that sell online. Outside of zine fairs, that’s how I tell people I have a new issue- by making a blog post.

I have a blog as well, but I use it for differ­ent things to my zines. Obvi­ously there’s the fact that the zines are b&w photo­cop­ies, and the blog is elec­tron­ic and can have as many colour pictures as I like. Often I tend to use the blog more for images, and save long-form articles for the zines. People get annoyed if you duplic­ate content, because why buy the zine then? The good thing about zines is that you can feel bolder in what you write, because it’s not googlable, and you have to be some­what in the know/­like-minded to have it in your hands. That said, it’s also a disad­vant­age of zines, because I’m sure there are large amounts of people who would love to read them, but have no idea they exist. You come in for far less abuse putting things in zines though, people have to go to the both­er of look­ing your email/​postal address up in the zine and contact­ing you if they want to be nasty, rather than just click­ing in a box. I still don’t feel too comfort­able putting anything really person­al in either my zines or blog though. I have friends in real life I can safely tell that stuff too, and I’ve never had the confes­sion­al urge.

I’ve always had an urge to docu­ment things though. As well as what I actu­ally put in the zines and blog, I have so many scrap­books and note­books and folders on the computer with refer­ence photos. I usually have a small camera on me. I like to wander and look at things and spot details, so I end up with folders of pics called things like “chim­ney pots- march” that I don’t know what to do with until I think of some use for them a few years down the line. I’m not much good at doing things in a timely fash­ion. That’s one of the nice things about doing zines, there’s no pres­sure. I just make one when I feel like it, and people are pleased to see it turn up.

People always complain that I’m “elusive” or that I “disap­pear”. From my perspect­ive of course, that’s not really true. I know where I was and what I was doing. I prob­ably just forgot to tell other people. I don’t like repeat­ing myself. I have moved around a lot though, and it’s prob­ably hard to keep track. Anoth­er good reas­on to keep a blog, to prove that I still exist and haven’t disap­peared into the ether, I’m just some­where else, doing some­thing else.

I do use face­book and twit­ter. I wish I didn’t use face­book, or had never star­ted using it. I did disable my account for about 6 months, and it was great, but people complained so often that I was “uncon­tact­able” that I gave in and react­iv­ated it. It’s not like I was demand­ing to only be contac­ted either via pigeon or tele­gram or some­thing. Twit­ter is some­thing I mostly use on my phone when I’m bored on the train. I think I the idea of what you can do with these things is often so much better and excit­ing than what people actu­ally do do with them. The ease of access to inform­a­tion that the inter­net provides is fant­ast­ic, but every time I want to lose my faith in human­ity I only have to look at the comments on news­pa­per websites or youtube.

Do you produce your zines at a profit, a loss or do you cover your costs?

I think anyone who goes into making zines hoping to make a profit is only going to be disap­poin­ted. I roughly break even on my zines. I sell a fair amount, but I also give away and swap a lot too. I don’t think there would be any point doing it if it were only for money. I’m equally happy to for people to pay in UK first class stamps as I am money, because I get through a lot of stamps. Giving people a copy of my zines after an inter­est­ing conver­sa­tion is far more satis­fy­ing than an email from payp­al, or a brief hand­ing over of coins. I try to keep the produc­tion costs very low (24 pages, shop around for deals on coloured paper etc) so that I can afford to give them away or sell them for a very low amount of money. If you try to charge too much money you will just piss off all the zine people. They know how much print­ing costs.

Do you feel like you give more atten­tion to the  design of your zines or their content? Or both?

I delib­er­ately don’t agon­ise about the design of them at all. I spent two years as a post-gradu­ate art student, and I could faff about with the visu­als all day and never get anywhere, and tie myself up in mental knots want­ing it to be perfect. I do more than enough of that. Making them with basic cut and paste and simple pritt-stick, which is non-repos­i­tion­able, means that I have to accept the first way I did it unless it’s terribly wrong.

Do you feel like you parti­cip­ate in a community through your zines? If you do, has that commu­nic­a­tion been through the inter­net or zines them­selves?

Yes, defin­itely. I’ve met so many fant­ast­ic people through making zines, often people I would never other­wise have met because they live in other regions of the coun­try or abroad. I try to go to every zine fair I can in the UK, usually tabling and some­times running work­shops, and I was part of the collect­ive that ran the Brighton Zine­fest.

You always meet a lot of inter­est­ing people at zine fest­ivals. A lot of anarchist/​syndicalist prin­ciples tend to oper­ate at zine fairs, not just in terms of overt polit­ic­al writ­ing in the zines them­selves, but in there being no hier­arch­ies between read­ers and writers. I’ve never truly got the concept of fans, or ever really under­stood the appeal of things like auto­graphs. Even if I think someone’s work is incred­ible, I still want to inter­act with them as an equal. Maybe that shows some kind of arrog­ance on my part, but the fact that zines tend to oper­ate like that suits me. If someone comes up to me at a fair, or contacts me via email or letter saying they like my zine, it’s not as just a pass­ive read­er, they have their own inter­est­ing ideas and things they do, and often a lot of inter­est­ing two-way conver­sa­tions are the result.

Zine people are often good at stay­ing in touch too, which is nice. It’s a medi­um which tends to attract intro­spect­ive people who like to express them­selves via writ­ing. I write and receive a lot of post­cards and long letters. Every­where I visit I tend to send a fist­ful of post­cards. I also do keep in touch with zine people via face­book and twit­ter, but that’s on more of a super­fi­cial basis, the meat of it is via letter and people’s writ­ing. You can get to know people pretty well through their writ­ing.  I also like read­ing other people’s perspect­ives on events that we both exper­i­enced. Zines are not really the medi­um for fame, fortune or money making, as I’ve said before, so the people who make them (or at least, stick with making them) tend to be look­ing for a genu­ine connec­tion.

I’ve also made a lot of good female friends through doing zines. Obvi­ously zines attract a lot of femin­ist/left-wing types. There seems to be a preval­ent idea around at the moment that because women have the vote/it’s not illeg­al to be gay any more/​you can get gender-reas­sign­ment treat­ment on the NHS/it’s illeg­al to discrim­in­ate against people based on their race/​etc etc that some­how everything has been fixed and is ok, and people should stop their complain­ing, despite the fact that so many people’s daily exper­i­ence of life proves other­wise. The main­stream expect­a­tions of how you should be, what you should like, do, etc, as a woman can still be so stifling and alien­at­ing, and so all-pervas­ive no matter how you try to avoid them, that it’s nice to meet like-minded people who feel the same.

There are also a lot of people involved with zines who put on club­nights and gigs, like Girl Germs, Riots Not Diets, Girls Get Busy, Bloody Icecream etc with an upfront feminist/​queer focus. They pay more atten­tion to the diversity of the acts they book, so it’s not just the same old thing of the stage being filled with white males all night, and the nights are desig­nated as safe spaces, so it’s great know­ing that no-one there is going to get harassed. It’s just a relief to be in a social/​drinking envir­on­ment without having to put up with the same old crap.

Do you feel like you’re produ­cing some­thing that is miss­ing from main­stream magazines or web public­a­tions?

I think it would be a bit arrog­ant to claim I’m provid­ing some miss­ing view­point. If I stopped writ­ing anything I doubt the world would be any differ­ent. Most main­stream magazines are pure bull­shit, it’s true though. Read­ing most of the crap like Cosmo or Heat aimed at women makes me want to hurl it across the room. I do like Oh, Comely however. One of my pet hates is the way places like W.H.Smith file music and photo­graphy magazines as “Men’s Interest” like there’s some sort of correl­a­tion between want­ing to look at naked orange women and want­ing to see reviews of studio light­ing. A lot of blogs have become just as bad now so many of them are sponsored. They deserve all the mock­ery they get.

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