1. How did you hear about Microcosm?
It was about 8 years ago I think, too long to remember! I might have discovered them by searching the internet for places to distribute a zine I had published back then, it was about sexuality and gender and queerness and was called Girl/Boy.
2. Did you just send in a zine, coverletter?
I sent in the physical zine with my return address and how much money I needed to get from each one if they decided to distribute it. I photocopied and stapled it myself, with a cardstock cover. Years later I stopped making copies of Girl/Boy and Microcosm requested that I send the originals in so that they could make copies and sell it. I was happy that someone wanted to keep it going and found it valuable. I didn’t want to spend any more time producing an old zine, I wanted to focus on making new things, so it worked perfect.
3. How long after sending it in were you notified that they wanted to publish it?
Microcosm has a policy that to publish your zine, they must already have been distributing a zine that you made yourself. Microcosm recently published a zine I sent them called Shut Up & Love The Rain, it was the first time anyone else had published a complete work of mine. I guess it was a month or two before they gave me the full thumbs up. Everything goes thru a collective process at Microcosm, it’s not just one person with the ax and rubber stamp of approval.
4. How much editing was done to your zine?
There was quite a bit of editing done! Shut Up & Love The Rain started as about 112 pages and went down to 64. The final cut became highly focused on sexuality, gender, and queerness. The things that were cut were good, but didn’t really fit into the focus of the zine. At first I thot, my god, what have I got myself into. Then looking thru the final cut I saw that it was much more powerful after having been pared down the the solid core. Thru the editing process it became a zine that you could start reading and not put down until you finished, there was no brick wall that you hit in the middle. I kept getting reports back from my friends, saying, “Damn you Rob! I missed my train stop because I was reading your zine!” or “I didn’t get much sleep last night because I was up all night reading your zine!” My response was only maniacal laughter.
I never would have cut my zine in half to make it a sharp tool like that. The editors did that. I can use all that stuff that was cut and make a zine on my own, or reform it into another zine for Microcosm to publish, who knows. My experience with the editors at Microcosm was great, I’m excited to do another.
5. How did you get into zines?
I used to write cheesy poetry and sci-fi and would spend all this money sending manuscripts to corporate magazines. Then I got tired of wasting my time and money doing that with no results, so I decided to publish my own stuff. I didn’t even know what a zine was! At the time I had not been liberated from the goofy american dream lifestyle i was living. So i stumbled into the self published sci-fi zine world. Later when I quit my job and hit the streets living in my car I ran into some punks, and they invited me into their world, which was full of Do It Yourself stuff like zines. It was much more vibrant and hand-to-hand than the independent publishing of the poetry/sci-fi zines I had encountered, which seemed to be a clone of the corporate model, only nobody was really buying their stuff. The Anarchist punk world of zines was all about getting the copies cheap and putting the zine into someone’s hands, directly, for free if possible, just to get people reading what they were writing. That was amazing to me. To actually hand my stuff directly to someone without a mediator like a review zine or the postal service. I was totally hooked. It was a euphoric feeling to have people I met tell me how they felt about the things they had read in my zine, and even to request the next issue. Those requests were the fuel that often inspired me to make another issue.
6. How succesful has your zine been/how many people have bought copies?
That’s not easy to quantify in the zine world. As far as distributing things thru Microcosm, I get a check every so often for a few hundred bucks, and I go, whoa, cool, it’s working! I’m sure I’m nowhere near to breaking even, as far as money and efforts I have put into zines during my life, but what else would I be doing if not zines?
I would measure success in a different way tho. People have told me that the things I created and shared with them had changed their life. Damn, changed their life. Made them think, caused them to realize something they had not realized before. That is powerful to me. That is inspiration to keep going and strive to do it better. This is my activism, my attempt at social change for the better. Sharing my truths with people, just as others have shared their truths with me and changed my life. We all keep adding on to this project of discovery and examination and learning, it won’t ever stop until I die!
7. Did the acceptance of one zine lead to Microcosm requesting other issues of yours?
Yes, Microcosm wanted to see all the “Boy/Girl” issues, and the zines like “The Strange VOyage of the Leona Joyce” which was about a punk shanty boat river trip on the Mississippi, but not so much the fiction zines I had published. They are more of a non-fiction zine publisher/distributor.
8. Has anyone who has read your zine ever contacted you? I.e., thanking you, etc.
Yes, they have. Those letters make my day and often keep me going thru the bad times. Someone recently sent a letter to me in response to the Shut Up & Love The Rain zine thanking me for the interview with my parents in it, which was about my dad coming out as transgendered. The letter writer said that interview made him understand the experience of being transgender better than anything he had read or watched before. That’s great, that’s the main reason I wanted to do that interview, to show people what it was like, help people understand, because not everyone in our family understands!
9. Did you make any income from the zine that went over the costs of producing it?
My new zine “Shut Up & Love The Rain” only came out a few months ago so it’s too soon to tell. In the past with things I have published myself, I think I rarely broke even. Like most other artist types I know, I am terrible with the business stuff. Getting better tho, paying attention to the toll it takes on me. You can’t keep dumping money into a black hole, it’s a bummer! I’ve always been happy to get near breaking even. It feels like I might be at a point now of actually making money, and that is a strange feeling. I feel fine about making money off this work, after 18 years publishing zines, I feel like I have something to offer and it’s worth the money. It’s worth twice the money! Self confidence is good for an artist to have, otherwise nothing would get created and we would just be bummed out all the time.
10. What is your motivation in making and publishing your zine?
To share my experiences with other people and make them realize how good it feels to express yourself, the laughter and tears and healing you can get from telling other people about the things that have happened in your life. To make people think about things in ways they never have before. To expose secrets, to peel back the layers and get to the center of the onion. Also I make zines to be cool, who doesn’t want to be cool? I was a geek that got beat up in school, a total outsider. It feels good to do something that people enjoy and to be accepted by them. I’m human. I want people to like me, right? Well, certain people. Recently I read this article about the Spotted Bowerbird that builds an elaborate structure on the ground, complete with artistically arranged pieces of colorful flowers, bugs, and trash, all to attract a mate. After I read that article I remembered this theory I had about human behavior, and i wondered about my own behavior. What is my motivation in making a zine? Maybe part of my motivation is that I am trying to attract a mate. I’ve always thot that a lot of human behavior was about attracting a mate, sometimes not even a flesh and blood mate but possibly a spiritual or metaphysical mate. We’ve got pretty fat heads, proportionate to other animals on the planet, there’s a lot going on up there that we don’t understand yet.