MONDAY, MAY 20th, 2013
Herd, a local Ottawa-centric magazine, interviewed me and a bunch of other people involved in Ottawa zines through the years about zines. I probably could’ve found a way to write that last sentence without saying “Ottawa” and “zine” as much, but I don’t feel like it.
Since the article was a brief overview of three decades worth of stuff, they could only use a bit of what people told them. So here’s my full over-the-internet interview if anyone’s interested.
Describe your zine or your involvement with zines.
Well, my main involvement with ‘zines is with STANDARD ISSUE. STANDARD ISSUE was (is?) a punk rock ‘zine I started, and the first issue came out in April 2007, and the last issue came out in December 2010.
The content was equal parts punk rock (band interviews, album reviews, scene reports, punk concerns, etc…), funny bullshit (knuckle tattoo ideas, a Mad Libs suicide note, comix, etc…) and interesting real-life stuff (a Thai Hell Garden, snakehead fish, olde-timey street gang-style firefighting, how to shrink heads, etc…).
It was basically everything I wanted a ‘zine to be: no lame shit, tons of awesome shit. A focus on punk (mostly hardcore and garage) and gnarly, fascinating, real-life shit.
How did you get involved with zines?
STANDARD ISSUE started out as an online thing, but I never wanted that. I ALWAYS wanted to be a print ‘zine, before I even knew the (half) word ‘zine.’ I was influenced by THRASHER, BIG BROTHER, MAD and even NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. None of those are ‘zines, but, like I said, I’d never seen a ‘zine at this point.
I got sick of waiting around to figure out how the hell to make a print ‘zine, and decided to just jump into it. I laid the first issue out with scissors and a glue stick. (After that, I got my brother Adam to do the layouts in Indesign. Not much later, Adam Begin started sharing layout duties with my brother.)
We started out by stealing everything we could: photocopies, paper, one of those giant staplers, stamps, mailing materials… anything that would help us. By doing that, we got to the point where we were printing 2000 copies per issue, and distributing them (for free) to multiple cities in Canada and the States. The last three issues, we actually paid for printing, but we covered our costs through ad sales and benefit shows.
There were about 14 people who consistently contributed or helped out behind the scenes. After my first kid was born, though, I just couldn’t keep it up much longer. STANDARD ISSUE took a LOT of my time.
Now, my involvement with ‘zines is WAY more low-key. I do cartooning, and every once-in-a-while, I’ll release a limited edition ‘zine with my stupid drawings in it. I’m even back to stealing materials and photocopies. Full circle.
What do zines do that other media (blogs, for instance) can’t do or don’t do as well?
‘Zines grab your attention WAY better than something on the internet. Anybody can throw their stupid opinion or their shitty art or whatever up on the internet — and everybody DOES. It’s part of the reason the internet’s turned us into such a low-focus, distracted society.
But if you actually take the time, and make the effort to put your words and pictures into a physical format, it grabs people’s attention. It’s much rarer than a blog post or a status update. I think when people see something physical, a lot of them go: ‘Man, maybe this person genuinely gives a shit about what they’re saying. I’ll flip through this for five seconds and see if I do too.’
Another thing ‘zines do that the internet doesn’t, is get people out in the world. One of the things I liked most about making a real live blood ‘n’ guts ‘zine in the everybody-has-a-blog age is that, if you wanted a copy of STANDARD ISSUE, you had to LEAVE YOUR HOUSE AND GET ONE.
And where would you get it? At rad places where you do rad things! We’d leave them at record shops! At skate shops! In tattoo parlours! In independent galleries! At punk shows! At house parties! And that’s awesome! To get a copy of STANDARD ISSUE, you’d have to haul your carcass from the warm computer glow of your mom’s basement, and go someplace FUN, whether you like it or not.
‘Zines rip people’s eyes off those damn computer screens every once in a while. Also, I’d MUCH rather read paper than a screen. ANY day.
Now, none of this is to say there are no good blogs out there, or nothing worth reading on the internet; there ARE. I’d just rather read them in a physical format.
What do you know about the history of zines in Ottawa?
Not as much as I should, probably. But here goes:
There was NO CAUSE FOR CONCERN, back in the early-to-mid ’80s. Classic punk ‘zine.
And it should be mentioned that all three dudes who started VOICE/VICE were from Ottawa; no matter what you think of VICE today, that’s a BIG deal.
DIRTY DONNY, the Ottawa-raised lowbrow artist now killin’ it in San Francisco had DIRTY ZINE back in the ’90s.
And then, I’m pretty sure Jo from GERM ATTAK/IRON DOGS/SCHIZOPHASIA/BLUE CROSS had a ‘zine in the early 2000s called BORN TOO LATE? Or 20 YEARS TOO LATE? I think. Jo’ll let me know if I’m totally wrong.
Ian Manhire from the WHITE WIRES put out a couple issues of his GOING GAGA ‘zine as part of his Gaga empire (the record label, the fest, the line of colognes). He started it when he was living in Calgary, but put out at least ONE more issue after moving back to Ottawa.
More recently, Spencer Allmendinger had a ‘zine called WE ARE PRETENTIOUS ASSHOLES that were packaged with 7”s, which is awesome.
And then Matt Finner and Sterling Healey started up the BLANK STARE ‘zine, in conjunction with their hardcore record label of the same name. That lasted at least two issues, maybe three… I don’t know if they’re still gonna keep it up. Good shit, though.
Those guys are also running PERMANENT SLEEP outta Toronto (Matt moved there). It’s an off-shoot of BLANK STARE, where they’re publishing books and ‘zines and releasing some tapes as well. They published the Way Bad book.
Craig Proulx and Pierre Richardson are putting out a monthly newsletter called SMALL TALK; it’s a collection of reviews and interviews of bands that are on their cassette label, BRUISED TONGUE.
That was off the top of my head, so I guess I knew a fair bit. I know I’m missing a TON, though. Mostly from the ’90s, I think, from what John Birdman’s told me.
What would you say about the current state of zines in Ottawa, and why do you think it is that way?
There aren’t as many ‘zines in Ottawa as I think there should be. It’d be easy to say it’s because no one’s willing to put in the time and effort, but that’s a pretty dumb thing to say about a city (and a punk scene) where every guy I know is in five bands and running record labels and promoting shows and organizing fests and printing pins and designing flyers and offering their basement as a venue.
I think it’s just not where people’s priorities lie.
If Herd wanted, would I be able to reproduce a page of one of your zines for this article?
Yeah, go nuts.