This is an interview I did with the magazine Maximumrocknroll. I forget which issue number; I think it was in 2007 or 2008 but I’m not sure. Read it below, and check out MRR here.
Zines often have a reputation for being selective windows into people’s lives, only revealing what they want or feel is appropriate. In contrast your zines feel extraordinarily honest. Do you feel your run of zines as a whole as truly reflective of yourself? Do you hold back to not expose things about yourself?
Well, my zines are definitely selective too, but it’s for the purpose of making the end result more entertaining. I mean, if something interesting happens to me on Monday and then I trudge through some boring bullshit on Tuesday through Sunday, I’m just going to write about the Monday. So in that sense, I think having a zine function as a selective window is a very good thing, and the zines that don’t do that tend to be ones I don’t like. Like, being “personal” doesn’t in and of itself make for good reading…. If you woke up and ate a bagel, did some laundry, and then read a book, I don’t really give a shit. Well, maybe that’s too harsh but I definitely don’t give enough of a shit to want to read about it.
Are you happy with the things the zine community have provided for you over the years? Are you happy with the role that you’ve played in that community?
Yeah, I’m happy with what’s been provided for me for sure. The community of distros/review mags/etc has been pretty… well, I don’t want to use the word “inspiring” cuz that’s a bit excessive… uh… “cool”? That’s a little better. It’s definitely provided me a way to get my writings read, and also to check out some good zines I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
However, other than writing zines (which thousands and thousands of people have done) I don’t really think I’ve played a role of any significance in that community.
I hear a lot of people frustrated that the volume of books collecting zines is destroying the validity of the zine as a medium on their own. Obviously, this is not the point of compiling them but it made me more conscious and I decided not to compile issues of my own zine, just keeping the back issues in print instead. As someone who has taken the plunge of compiling their zines, how do you feel about this with a few years of perspective?
Nah, I love that stuff. I totally prefer the “bunch of zines in a book” to a single zine. There’s something really satisfying about a bound book, and for some reason putting out a full book just feels more rewarding than releasing a zine.
If it really was destroying zines in any sense I might feel differently, but I don’t think that’s the case. The two formats seem to coexist just fine as far as I can tell. If anything is destroying zines, it’s the “blogosphere”, not books.
Who are the contemporary zinesters and artists that most impress you? What kinds of zines are you reading these days? What excites you?
The ones that I’ll make sure I have every issue of are mostly the older ones that aren’t published that often anymore… Cometbus, Burn Collector, Murder Can Be Fun, I’m Johnny and I Don’t Give a Fuck etc. I’m definitely forgetting some but to be honest I haven’t run across that many new zines lately.
Can you talk about the motivations for putting together “zine street”?
Well, at one point I was trying to get my zine distributed by as many places as possible, and it was tough finding any sort of comprehensive list of what was out there. So, I decided to get a list going myself and then I figured I’d put it on the web so other people could use it too. It ended up being more work than I expected, though, so I got lazy and quit updating it. I still think it’s a good idea and maybe I’ll get it going again someday in a format where people other than me can keep it up-to-date and relevant (ie, a Wiki or something). The current one, if it’s even still up, is probably hopelessly out of date.
Most of your zines are about humor. Why is this? What motivates you to publish thes things?
I dunno, I guess on the one hand it’s simply easier for me to write that way, and I think on the other hand it can be more effective. In You Idiot I try to point out and goof on various absurd things, and to take a dead-serious, non-humorous approach to that would be ill-fitting and make for a boring zine. If I wrote a serious, well-researched article about the ineffectiveness of anti-drug cartoons—talk about a snore-fest! Much better to just hurl insults at the subject.
Will “the punks” ever understand “the art”? Why not work in fine art? Why not find out where the mythical big bucks are? Why not just put your work all over the internet? Did you find that punks at Rivethead shows were interested in your zine? Did it mix at all?
Yeah, it mixed a little bit. I still sell zines next to CDs and t-shirts at shows and they tend to do OK.
How has your own definition of “success” evolved over the lifespan of your publishing?
Initially, I was just in it for the stamps. Now, it just basically boils down to writing as much stuff as possible that I’m happy with, and having as many people as possible read it. Note the word “basically”—if some company was like “we’ll publish 200,000 zines for you but half the profits are going to go towards melting the ice caps”, then obviously I would think about it harder.
So overall, I guess it really hasn’t changed that much—if I get a bunch of people to read my zine, and they enjoy it, I consider that a success. And that’s the same thing I was thinking when I started putting out Pick Your Poison.
What new projects are you working on?
Well, I’ve been doing a lot of music stuff over the last 2-3 years. I play bass in Off With Their Heads, Banner Pilot, The Gateway District and The Pyongyang Metro, and used to play in Rivethead. That’s stuff always been a lot of fun.
Writing-wise I’m finishing up a full book that compiles all the old You Idiot and Whiskey Plus issues plus about 60-70 pages of new writing. After that I’ll put out the Pick Your Poison book, which will have the first 4 issues plus two or three unreleased ones. I’ve also been writing a blog on and off but I sorta hate that shit so it’s updated very infrequently. I want to try doing it more though just because, despite how stupid it is, it is easy.
Even if I shift more towards books and blogs, I’ll always still put out zines. Typically here I would say “It’s in my blood” to cheesily end the interview, but that’s not true so instead I’ll end with “because it’s always easy to fold eight pieces of paper together”.