Monday, 26 September 2011

Zine Culture: The Inner Swine Interview

Issue 2.2 of Rhubarb Bomb features an article about 'The Inner Swine', a Zine created by Jeff Somers based in New York City. Here is the full interview, minus my attempts to twist his words to fit my own blinkered view of the world. For more info on TIS go HERE

Where are you / is TIS based?

Hoboken, NJ, the unofficial sixth boro of New York City. Also, the New Jersey City with the most bars per city block, birthplace of Frank Sinatra who escaped as a kid and never came back not once, and home of the Cake Boss.

When did you start up TIS and has it run since relatively consistently since that date?

TIS was originally conceived by me and three other people in 1993. My friend Rob Gala and I were talking one night and I expressed impatience with the whole publishing thing, how long it takes. So we both sort of said, hey, let's start our own magazine! We got 2 friends and had a planning meeting, and then did a lot of wheel-spinning for 2 years. The other 2 guys dropped off, me and Rob tried to put it together as a duo but we were too different in outlook and politics and vision. Eventually Rob gave up. This was 1995 and I just took all the material I'd created, the cover our artist friend (Jeof Vita) had created in 1993, and put out issue one with no fanfare or production values.

At that point, I just wanted the first issue out. Little did I know that "no fanfare or production values" would become the general philosophy of the zine.

Tell me a little bit about yourself i.e. the neighbourhood you live in, do you have a full time job, do you have an ‘office’ where you ‘work’. Just a little bit of a picture.

Born and raised in northern New Jersey (Jersey City, where I was mugged several times as a kid). I live in Hoboken. Married, 4 cats instead of kids. Day job, sadly, but I work from home. I drink scotch, don't smoke, play guitar and post songs on my blog until someone pays me not to, and sometimes humiliate myself by playing chess.

Thinking WAY back… what inspired / motivated you to start up a Zine?

It's above - I'd never heard of zines at the time. We just suddenly thought, why spend all this effort trying to convince folks to publish us, why not just do it ourselves? It was only years later, when I started putting out the issues, that I realized there was this thing called zines, and I'd started one.

My whole life is like that. Ignorance, smug self-certainty, half-assed execution.

As a fanzine editor / writer I often experience the crushing ‘what is the point of this again?’ lows and the amazing ‘I can do whatever I like!’ highs. Is there a practical method of keeping yourself moving forwards? Or does it take a specific kind of person to do what we do?

Personally, we're talking about endless wells of self-centeredness. I don't actually care much if anyone else likes or enjoys the zine. It's for me, really. I enjoy doing it, and I entertain the hell out of myself while writing it. The fact that a few dozen/hundred/thousand people around the world enjoy it is just icing on the cake, really.

So, I've never had much trouble with motivation. The zine itself has gone from almost total obscurity to having a pretty wide distribution (back in its heyday when both Tower Magazines and Desert Moon Periodicals carried TIS) to its kind of semi-obscurity today, where a lot of people know of the zine but the actual paper readership is modest.

I think if I ever hit a point where absolutely *no one* is reading the zine, I might fold the tent up. But as long as I have some folks interested, I'll likely continue. Maybe as a digital-only kind of thing.

Your tenure at TIS has seen the arrival and dominance of the internet. How easy was it to accept the changes and what importance do you give to the physical format and why is it still relevant?

I never thought too hard about the changes. The Internet was always exciting and interesting to me, and I was super eager to get a web page up, and I remain excited to post old issues on the web page and allow anyone, from anywhere, to read the zine in some form.

The paper format is still the best. This might change. I like e-readers and I like the idea of eBooks, as long as they are DRM free and once they get into a standard format (in other words, fuck proprietary file formats). For the moment, paper still rules. It's the only way to guarantee 100% accessibility (b/c not everyone has an e-reader but everyone has eyes, natch) and the only way to guarantee that the zine you bought at Quimbys in 1998 is still usable, because your paper copy will never run out of battery life or crash and wipe your hard drive or any shit like that.

It could, of course, fall in the tub or catch on fire. This I stipulate.

Some folks wax on poetically about the hand-crafting of a zine, but I don't. Making a zine was always and remains a fucking chore. If I could hire some neighborhood kids to collate, fold, staple, and stuff these motherfuckers for pennies, I would. I would lock them in a room with unsafe working conditions and put on a sash that says EVIL CAPITALIST OPPRESSOR and laugh and laugh as they begged me for food and water.

"Keeping folding!" I'd shout. "If you get 500 done by midnight you each get to look at a glass of cool water."

And the children would cheer.

I’ve noticed a lot of (music) fanzines nowadays really taking hold of the ‘DIY’ tag and bending it to their corporate means i.e. Fake DIY. They are magazines disguising themselves as Fanzines. Although your perspective is a little different, is the line, morally, for you? (example; receiving advertising monies to cover certain issues)

That's been going on forever; advertising/marketing folks are always sniffing out trends and co-opting them. Back in the mid-1990's there was a moment when zines were "cool" and you saw a bit of marketing using the zine/DIY aesthetic.

I shrug at that stuff. I never messed with advertising precisely because I didn't want to have to worry over anything like that. For me, the zine was always meant to be a fun way to get writing out into the world. But then this is why I will die poor and miserable, because I've been losing money on the zine since day one. It never paid for itself. And who cares?

As for a moral line, eh, I don't worry about shit like that. Fake stuff gets found out and left behind. I let the universe sort stuff like that out. More and more these days I think people feel that as long as they are entertained, they don't care about issues like whether you're getting paid to write something with a certain slant. Used to be people got up in arms when artists "sold out" etc, but today advertising is seen as a vector to promote yourself. The culture has changed.

Where does Fanzine writing sit in relation to ‘Art’ and ‘Journalism’?

That's a trick question. "Art" is totally subjective. You can call a zine art, and who can argue? "Journalism" has guidelines and techniques. You can be trained as a journalist. Most zine writers are not trained as journalists, but that doesn't mean their writing can't approach the standards of journalism - and sometimes do.

But, of course, I've used this trick my whole life: My zine is a personal project meant for fun, so if I get anything wrong, if I am woefully misinformed or just plain stupid on a subject, I just laugh and say "Zine!" and I am excused. This allows me to say the most fantastic things and get away with it.

If you want your zine or DIY project to be taken seriously as journalism, you have to be up front about it and adhere to some basic principles. You have to own your ignorance and mistakes. If a zine does that, sure, it can be journalism.

What weight do you give to the aesthetic of a fanzine, as opposed to the content?

None, as a rule. Have you *seen* my zine? It's hideous. And when I come across zines in the wild, the ones I like are the ones filled with text.

That's personal, though. I am a word guy, not an image guy. I have seen some gloriously beautiful zines, visually speaking, in my time. It's just I value words over images and design. Part of this is my inability to create something visually beautiful. Since I can't do it, I don't value it.

Do you feel that The Inner Swine is tied geographically to where you live? By that I mean, if you lived elsewhere, would it be radically different; could it only come from the mind of someone who lies in Hoboken?

No, but of course it *is* a product of a man who has lived his whole life in this area, so of course there are cultural things in there. They're largely invisible to me, of course.

Where else has the fact you produce TIS taken you in life?

Anywhere you would otherwise have never got to? Nope, but that's a product of me being generally antisocial. I always rejected the idea of "community". When I started putting out TIS and I connected with other DIY publishers, there was some sentiment that I had joined a "community" and had resultant privileges and duties, which I always ignored. As a result I don't go to any gatherings or get involved with any zine-related things. I am a rock. I am an island.

I do get quite a lot of letters from prisoners as a result of giving TIS away free to prisoners. This has been universally entertaining, I have to admit. And I wouldn't have done it otherwise.

What has been your proudest achievement since TIS began?

You mean zine-related? Probably a tie between keeping it going for 15+ years and putting out the collection, "The Freaks are Winning". Getting that collection out (with the help of the awesome clint johns at Tower Magazines) was pretty cool!

Dean Freeman

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