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Feature Fri Mar 25 2011

DIY Refuses to Die: Chicago Zine Fest Year 2

DIY Refuses to Die is a weekly feature by guest writer Taleen Kalenderian that will run in the weeks leading up to the Chicago Zine Fest, happening March 25th and 26th at various locations throughout the area. Each week, we'll feature an interview from a notable in Chicago's zine scene, and exposition on an aspect of the landscape as well as their role in it. This week is the final installment, capping off with Liz Mason. Thanks for reading, keep self-publishing, and see you at Zine Fest!

Aside from her blog and her zine (Liz's Masonic Lodge and Caboose, respectively), Liz Mason has been working at and managing Quimby's Bookstore for nearly a decade. The independent bookstore is way more than one of the Chicago Zine Fest sponsors. For 20 years, Quimby's has helped paper works by zinesters, writers and visual artists find homes on its shelves and window displays.

Now that Chicago Zine Fest is finally here (!), many of those zines -- among hundreds of others, hailing from the Midwest to New Zealand -- are going to get some serious airtime outside of bookstores. It all starts this afternoon, with readings at Columbia College and 826CHI. From 9-11pm, Quimby's will be hosting Zinester Karaoke, provided by Mason and her husband Jo's very own Shameless Karaoke.

Tomorrow's zine exhibition and workshops will have Columbia College's Conaway Center packed with zinester tables from 10am-5pm, complementing the 2011 Revenge of Print challenge. All CZF events are free and open to the public, so grab a tote bag and start poring through those zines. Or just show up and make one.

What was the first zine you made?

It was called Cul-de-sac, and I made it in 1997ish with one of my friends.

Was it about cul-de-sacs?

It wasn't really about anything, it was about the ridiculous things we were writing at the time.

Have you seen any shifts or patterns in zine topics during your time working at Quimby's?

I do see sometimes there'll be things that seem like vibes or particular motifs that sort of serendipitously emerge. For awhile there seemed to be a lot of zines about this existential angst of animals. This anthropological quirkiness, I guess? The idea is that there's an animal who has these passionate feelings of ennui that humans do. There'll be a bird with philosophical ponderings, or an animal that's really sad or doesn't feel good about itself. The word balloons and captions will say things like "I'm overweight!". That seems like a theme that's going on lately.

One that immediately comes to mind is Adam Meuse. He did a comic called Sad Animals which was one of our best-sellers for awhile, although full disclosure: best-seller means you sell 3 or so of them a week. Then Anders Nilsen does Big Questions, which is not a zine, it's more of a comic. It's actually getting compiled into a book by Drawn & Quarterly. I did a parody of it, a comic called Fat Animals: An Obestiary. It was a spoof of animals that were really fat.

Speaking of which, I noticed your zine, Caboose #7 Britney Spears 101, had 145 pages! Why Britney Spears?

Yes, the new issue of Caboose is really long. It's all about me having cancer and then Britney stuff too -- she was kind of at the tail end of her meltdown while I was going through treatment -- and then there's other stuff in it too. The length just got longer and longer and the next thing I knew it was this book. It took me a few years, but it wasn't necessarily related to Britney the whole time -- kind of a long story. I have a fascination with her, but really just the period of her third album until Circus.

In terms of putting content on the web vs. print, do you think moving between both worlds is important as a self-publisher?

I don't think that print and digital media need to be mutually exclusive. Lots of people who do things in print also do things in the digital world. Pick your favorite living author that's published a book and they probably have a blog and those things can feed into each other. Presenting yourself as a brand, is a stupid word, but let's pick some random zinester name that I'll make up like...

Our new friend zinester Tom?

Yeah! Punk rock zine Tom guy. Maybe he's got this zine angle where he publishes it himself and the graphics are cut n' paste -- but maybe he also has a blog where he reacts to things he sees on the Internet. My position has always been, instead of us freaking out and worrying about what form the media is taking, we need to worry more about the ideas that people are communicating. Which I know sounds weird coming from someone who runs a bookstore, but that is the bigger picture.

How do you feel about some of the self-publishing tools available online, such as Lulu, Blurb and Magcloud?

I think anything whether written, in cyberspace or in print, which is helpful in getting your words on paper, can't possibly be bad. People make this assumption that the cyber world and the print world are polar opposites. They're not -- they're complimentary. A lot of writers write books, but then they also have a blog. Either way in the bigger picture, isn't it mainly important that we're intellectually stimulating ourselves with ideas and writing and art, and soul enriching material? Does it really matter whether it's on paper or online? The cultural critic Douglas Rushkoff, said when the printing press was invented, the people who were writing out stuff all the time weren't like, "Oh my god you heretic!" There was excitement about wanting to get your ideas out there.

It's Christmas every day here. Print is not dead. So are those online sources helpful information, are those good in making other publications and writing effective communicators of ideas? Definitely. We've got books, zines, mini-comics, lots of little things people have written up about helpful information. There's the Whatcha Mean, What's A Zine book, Stolen Sharpie Revolution. The more the better!

Do you think writing a zine means saying something that can only be said in a zine?

In terms what I do, the stuff that I say on my zine is the same style as the stuff I have on my blog. It's a little bit more proofread and I'll try out ideas first on the blog sometimes. Going into print is stuff I've pulled out as being gems. I know a lot of comedians try out new material on their blog and when they go tour they'll take how people reacted on the blog and use that to further perfect the work.

That's the direction magazines moved into as well, where the bulk is online and they commemorate the most popular content in print.

Lots of publishers are known for taking things from the Internet, too. Chronicle Books does this. They'll take websites that already have perfected stuff on it and make it into a book, like Awkward Family Photos.

Where do you see the self-publishing culture going in Chicago in the next couple of years?

People talk about the independent self-publishing scene as if it's a scene. I think there could be little moments where lots of people who do publishing come together do something. Is it really a scene? Is it more of an imaginary community? I don't know. What's great though is that even though I don't know whether all these people know each other, people bring in stuff to consign all the time.

I have noticed that the longer the zine fest is around, it seems like it has pulled in a lot of people, has sort of engendered a community for new work. The Revenge of Print campaign has done a lot too. I see more people coming out to the zine fest fundraisers and events, so I'm guessing that might give the impression that there's definitely some love out there for the printed word.

-By Taleen Kalenderian

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Milissa / October 24, 2013 1:32 AM

Self publishing is a tricky thing: of course it is convenient for young and inexperienced authors, but there is prejudice against those who use such resources: unfortunately it is believed that such authors are good for nothing... here is the interview on this topic

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