Friday, 24 December 2010

Interview 19

Matt Sidebottom is producer of Snap - a short story and literature zine out of Manchester, UK. Here he talks about his time at University, literary magazines and the role for print. Oh, and he wants you to know that he is travelling across America between February and April 2012 and is looking for new writers and project collaborators.

Tell us a little something about yourself and why you decided to publish a zine called 'Snap'?

Hi, my name’s Matt Sidebottom and in my spare time I’m the editor and art director of SNAP, a short story and literature zine. I studied Design and Art Direction in Manchester. While I was there, I found myself surrounded by a lot of artists, photographers and designers who were very interested in books and zines. Everybody was making little one-offs for their projects. I made a few at the time, but my work focused on Pulp, the student magazine I art directed and designed. I loved doing it, and got us nominated for a Guardian Student Media Award. After I left university I didn’t really have another output like it, but I was constantly looking around for one, but never finding another opportunity like it.

But about 9 months ago me and my little brother went to London. He had a university interview, so I had a few hours to kill. I went to The Tate Modern and saw the Van Doesburg exhibition. The whole exhibition was great, but what got me was this little exhibition case focusing on publications of the time. There was a copy of Merz. Reading the information explaining the contents in the case, I realised that this legendary publication was only ever produced in extremely limited runs. It was then I decided to put together SNAP. It was only three weeks later before SNAP Zero was released.

Where do you see 'Snap' sitting in relationship to traditional literary 'little magazines'?

I’m not really sure, to be honest. I know of them, such as McSweeney’s and Popshot, but I haven’t picked them up. The zines and magazines that I read and that inspire me are totally different from what I produce. The only exception is The Ride, which is a huge influence on SNAP. Its short stories are easy to digest in one sitting, which was the aim of SNAP. Saying this, I am completely surrounded by books. I have hundreds.

The magazines I do read, such as Esquire, Dazed and Confused, and Little White Lies have all interestingly taken to running literature sections, Esquire having a regular short story and Dazed have had a literature review section in the back. I like to think this has been influenced by its readership becoming more interested in reading fiction.

'Snap' also has an online presence. How do you see print zines and digital spaces operating in self-publishing?

SNAP’s online presence is constantly evolving. At the moment, SNAP is a print zine, with no true plans for the final product to go completely online. I like actually putting together and producing final copies to hold, and I know that my audience likes this too. But this might change, if the right platform comes along. I’ve dabbled with Issuu for other projects (see We’re Growing Up, Wearing Shirts, Getting Haircuts) but I don’t think it’s the medium for SNAP.

I’m really interested in making a more immersive project, using technology to create a short story based, multimedia ‘zine’ project. We’ll see where this will get us in the future. I do feel like moving online will be the way forward. I just don’t know how to quite yet.

Is there a zine you would recommend us to read? And, please tell us why.

I’ve three, actually. There’s Tourist Magazine, an online only magazine. It’s a hybrid of a website and a magazine. The content is always interesting. The page has been beautifully designed throughout all of its incarnations, and definitely worth a look, if just to see how an online only ‘zine’ can succeed. Then there’s the work of Mandi Goodier. She’s got loads of brilliant zines, and they’ve been a huge source of inspiration for SNAP. She’s helped me out a lot over the last 9 months, and has contributed stories and illustrations to both issues. Finally,Pull Yourself Together is simply brilliant. A music zine in its truest form, I always pick it up when I see it. It’s got great writers, and with Teacake Design art directing it, it always looks great.

The current issue of SNAP has just been released.
Find it at

I'm always looking for new writers, too. Anybody interested in writing for SNAP, please contact me at,

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Interview 18

Mike Nicholson is an illustrator, educator, comic artist, zine producer and publisher of Ensixteen Editions. Here he talks about his publications, teaching and small press fairs.
Please tell us something about Ensixteen Editions Imprint and your work as a comic artist.

I came to the point of creating my own books/comics/zines after parallel careers as illustrator (clients like Penguin Books, Time Out, Guardian Weekend) and storyboard artist (lots of work within British Comedy – primarily TV and some film – 'The League of Gentlemen', 'The Armando Iannucci Shows' etc.) This was around 1999, and I first exhibited the work at the London Artists' Book Fair at the Barbican in 2000. At this point I used the name 'Stokey Comics''Ensixteen Editions' came later with the 'bio auto graphic' series (both draw from my location in Stoke Newington, London N16).

One factor, above all else, tipped me over into wanting or needing to make these things: my earliest storyboarding experiences within advertising. Though ridiculously lucrative in comparison to editorial illustration, the work became very demoralizing in its inanity over a few years. (Find anything the magnificent Bill Hicks ever said about advertising on Youtube and you’ll get a snapshot of how I grew to feel about it all.) I needed more than anything to vent some steam (I’d also always aspired to write), and the first A4 size comics I made (benefiting from the excellent quality of simple laser-copying) were almost incomprehensibly dense and self-referential. This vast brain-fart, lasting about six issues, starred a mouthpiece alter-ego in the shape of 'Ron', an antic little character that had stumbled from my subconscious back at school.

Ironically, the years spent storyboarding reshaped the way I worked, taking me from my colour pencil illustration style to a stripped-down black ink line on white. I liked the hard choices its’ minimalism forced me to make on the page, and –being from the pre-Mac generation of Art School graduates, trained in what you might call a 'traditional' process of (often observational) drawing – it was like coming home.

I still only use the computer as a means of disseminating the work, not in any way as a means to create the images themselves. I plan/plot pretty thoroughly – what will come where as the pages progress – in thumbnails, then move to original artwork in pencil. Inks follow, and the only real margin for spontaneity in the final making is in the writing – I'll have a broad idea of what the text will say on a given page, what it will contribute to the overall theme of the narrative, but the actual wording is only phrased as I write it down. What I come up with in the moment can suddenly introduce surprises that are exactly what's needed.

Illustration is often an interpretation of a text that's not your own, storyboarding a way to visualize the imagination of the director. The former is an entirely honourable tradition/craft that I am proud to be a part of, the latter at least in theory an interesting practical and intellectual challenge. . . But neither allowed my own voice to speak. Making my first issues in my late 30s, I think I was ready to say what I needed to say. The medium seemed a good fit, I just needed to work at the message...

How did your comic zine 'Bio Auto Graphic' (2004 - ) come about and what is it about an autobiographical narrative that you find so appealing?

I switched to a more forthright way of addressing the reader – replacing a character with myself – after a friend, Charlie Higson (writer, comic, telly guy), threw down a gauntlet: Why didn’t I tell my own stories in my own voice, through something more autobiographical? The idea crawled under my skin and stayed there. While it was obviously daunting to step into the shadow of luminaries such as Crumb, Pekar and Eddie Campbell. . . I have since grown to relish it.

The series – which the author Phil Rickman has called ‘the new social journalism’ (a definition I liked) – shifts in tone as I see fit, and, while I try new stylistic details as I go (perhaps collage or photography), the bedrock remains the drawing. Each edition – or short arc within the bigger series – is usually driven by a specific theme, always hosted by my avatar, addressing the reader directly. Themes can be as simplistic as a season of the year, or as specific as discussion of the relationship between the US and UK in our shared time of war. Certain motifs have recurred; identity, the individual and their community, the oppression of political or religious systems, the toxic values of ‘celebrity’ culture. . .

I finally feel qualified to suggest the pattern I think I see beneath the world and how we live in it. I’m setting out my stall at a time when I feel anxious that humans are forgetting their humanity and as a society our moral compass is spinning.In a sense, the series is my belief system as a part-work.

And it's also occasionally funny.

You have been involved in many small press fairs over the years. Do you think the UK comic/zine community has changed any and, if so, in what ways?

As mentioned above, my experiences only date back to the turn of the millennium. Prior to that my appreciation of what scene there was – any sense of a 'community' making and consuming small press/strip/zine work – is minimal. I suspect you’d find my comic reading tastes rather mainstream (the big US imprints, characters and genres), and I'm not by nature one to be drawn to overtly proselytizing or agit prop material. I'm delighted that people use the medium to channel their own passionately-held beliefs – as a means to 'shout' about what drives their hearts. I just don't necessarily choose to read the results. I didn't feel that zines I happened upon with 'challenging', anarchic ideals at their root had much relevance for me. It all looked a bit shrill.

Or is that just the arrogance of the male, white, heterosexual for you, perhaps? Actually, more likely the voice of the only child who always avoided groups, clubs, movements, inward-facing communities, and distrusted agendas which seem rather too strident.

I find myself more emotionally drawn to material that speaks rather than shouts, if that makes sense. This doesn't mean I'm not interested in people (read my stuff and you’d see that’s not the case at all) – I just realized quite some time ago I don't necessarily
feel like they do. The role of the observer is one that's very important to these books, yet the clarity that comes with getting older - knowing what's really important to you – has finally made me want to comment on what I see. This is propaganda from a community of one. And, if some random book fair punter with whom I fall into conversation buys into it by taking an issue – well, that's a bonus.

Interestingly, when I began to put this heartfelt stuff down, in a format that people apparently called 'zine' (I’m happy to call them that, though I’m actually not sure what they are), there was definitely a snobbery from certain fellow exhibitors at the book fairs. The low production values (I'm less interested in fine materials than I am that the work is just accessible) I think offended those strongly involved in the traditions of fine binding and other crafts of making.

Of course, since then there's been an explosion of book arts activity and events and it's become much more common to see comics and zines for sale – it's a much broader church. Ultimately, I think I'd still probably choose to exhibit at these more eclectic events rather than 'zine-specific' ones. I like the diversity and wouldn't want to be drowned out in a sea of superficially similar work.

Along with my illustration and storyboarding, making my books – the zines – has involved me in notions of narrative, the way that a thing of sequential parts (pages read and turned) can come to contain a greater, cumulative idea when appreciated as a whole. I often refer to notions of storytelling within my work with BA Graphics students; broadly (in getting them to consider their creative process as a narrative), but also much more specifically (when we address their growing interest in book arts and zine-making through workshops).

Are comics any more popular nowadays with students? There's a passive enjoyment of computer gaming culture and Manga, but interestingly there’s a ground-swell of narrative activity, too. While, until recently, I can't say the students I meet expressed much awareness of gender or any other politics (though our Eton-clone Coalition Government has unwittingly triggered a real sea change in that), there’s definitely a real surge of interest in the means to transmit a message. Where they once visited as observers, they now take tables themselves at book fairs and zine events and sell their simply-made work at affordable prices. Good for them.

Please Recommend a comic of a zine which we should all be reading and tell us why

As you may have guessed from the above, I speak from a point of relative ignorance when looking at what you might term the 'world of zines' (my reading material and storytelling inspirations come just as much from novels, comedy, serial television and the news media). However, I collect – and am always captivated by – the book work of John Bently, an English book artist whose 'Liver and Lights Scriptorium' imprint is based in Brixton. This freewheeling series embraces very personal expression in text and image, as well as music and film content. It has a very human heart to it, the work, and – despite John's impeccable punk history – rarely shouts. It talks straight, looks you in the eye, occasionally whispers and can even sigh. See for more.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Interview 17

Bastian Fox Phelan is creator of Ladybeard and lives in NSW, Australia. Here they write about the perzine and the importance of zine fairs.

Please tell us a little something about your recent perzine,
Ladybeard, and how it came about.
Ladybeard is a zine about how I decided to grow my beard. I am a person that was assigned female at birth, although these days I identify as trans. Thanks to my genetics I have the ability to grow a sweet moustache and beard, but for many years I removed my facial hair and hid the fact that I could grow a beard. Then I moved cities and decided to grow it out and see what it felt like. And my whole life changed. So I wrote a zine about being a bearded gender-variant woman. After great deal of gender questioning my identity shifted again and I started to identify as transmasculine. So I wrote another zine. The Ladybeard zines are personal stories about surviving bullying and heteronormativity but they also present a critique of the gender binary and medicalisation of difference and a celebration of diversity.

What has your zine allowed you to do that other forms of artistic or written practices may not of?
Ladybeard covers a lot of taboo topics: bearded female bodies, queerness, transness, intersex bodies, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, gender questioning, shame, breaking sex & gender binaries, the way medicine reflects social values rather than being objective and scientific. There's a lot of hostility towards bearded women and anyone who doesn't fit neatly into the categories M or F. Writing my zine allowed me to speak from a point of view that is rarely heard and acknowledged. It allowed me to share and connect with other people who have similar experiences of their bodies, and with a whole lot more people who have been moved by my story. Because of the highly personal nature of my writing, zines are an excellent format for me. I love being able to slip my family a copy of my zine after dinner, post a few to a zine maker overseas, have piles of them sitting on my desk when friends come to visit. And because there are no restrictions on my zine making practice (apart from time & money) I get to be the ultimate authority on form & content, and that's very empowering.

What other plans do you have for zines and/or any plans for extending the discussions emerging out of Ladybeard into other projects?
I've been wanting to write another Adventure Time zine - it's a zine about how to have fun in everyday life. I plan to make a radical trans health care zine to give to doctors so they can think about how they interact with trans folk and talk about trans bodies and identities. I want to encourage medical reform where doctors talk about and treat the body part rather than the sex or gender commonly associated with the body part, ie. cervical health rather than women's health, prostate health rather than men's health. I'm also thinking about the next Ladybeard and how I want to go into more detail about PCOS & intersex and the privileging of hair in transmasculine communities. I want to start conversations about the potential for a radical PCOS movement that questions how doctors 'treat' people with PCOS. I also think that hair and size are similar in terms of the experience of oppression and medicalisation of 'hirsutism' and 'obesity.' I've been inspired by fat-positive and body-positive activism so I'd love to start discussions with people about hair-positive activism. I also want to collaborate with a person from the United States who makes a zine called Femme a Barbe.

You are also involved in a broader zine community. How important do you feel zine fairs/symposia are to fanzine producers in Australia?
Zine makers in Australia tend to keep in contact about zine fairs around the country and I know people who are willing to travel long distances for the pleasure of sitting behind a table for five hours. A lot of folks travel to Newcastle for the zine fair at This Is Not Art festival. The mailing list correspondence from Sticky zine shop is a
good place to find out about interstate zine fairs, and Bird in the Hand zine shop/distro have a well-maintained blog. At a lot of zine fairs, especially ones that are part of a larger festival, such as Format Festival in Adelaide, there will be workshops and related events that zine makers put on. But we don't really have zine symposiums like in Portland. Zine fairs in Australia are usually one day only with a few workshops on the side, rather than a big zine-centric event that goes for a few days. I was lucky enough to get myself to San Francisco Zine Fest and Portland Zine Symposium earlier this year. I like Australian zine fairs more but maybe that's just because I get to see a bunch of really awesome folks I don't get to see very often.