Today I’m hosting an interview with Alex Wrekk, author of Stolen Sharpie Revolution, a D.I.Y. book on zine making. (If you don’t know what a zine is, it’s a handmade, self-published magazine.) Zines are important to me as they were my first independent foray into self-publishing. I published Greenwoman zine for a couple of years before tackling a more traditional magazine form, and it was the perfect way to test the waters. It was also empowering and thrilling to produce something “real”—a publication that I could hold in my hands, holding stories written over the years that hadn’t found a home in traditional publishing. I first heard about zines through Ariel Gore’s book, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead (great title, don’t you think?). In essence she told writers, “Just get your work out there, make a zine!” I didn’t know what zines were, so I researched, read many of them, and learned about their history. I am still fascinated with this personal, authentic art form.
Wrekk’s book was one of the first I sought out to help me with the nuts and bolts, so it’s a pleasure to have her on this blog. In my research, I learned Alex is an avid gardener in Portland, so of course I had to ask her about that, too. I hope you enjoy the interview!
Since 2002, Stolen Sharpie Revolution: a DIY Resource for Zines and Zine Culture has been the go-to guide for all things zine-related. This little red book is stuffed with information about zines. Things you may know, stuff you don’t know and even stuff you didn’t know you didn’t know!
Stolen Sharpie Revolution contains a cornucopia of information about zines and zine culture for everyone from the zine newbie to the experienced zinester to the academic researcher. Stolen Sharpie Revolution consists of thoughtful lists and step-by-step how-to guides on everything from definitions of a “zine,” where to find zines, why they are important, how to make them and how to participate in zine culture.
This book has everything you need to get started creating your own zine, or to figure out what to do with the zine you just made. Stolen Sharpie Revolution serves as both an introduction into the wide world of zine culture and as a guide to taking the next step to become a part of it.
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Flora’s Forum Interview
First off, Alex, congratulations on your latest edition of Stolen Sharpie Revolution: A DIY Zine Resource. I am so impressed with the success of this book—26,000 copies, and on it’s 5th printing—it’s a huge success! I was thinking about how many writers and artists you’ve helped through the years, taking that first step in expressing themselves through zines. That has to be incredibly gratifying.
Now, on to the questions!
Flora’s Forum: As you’re a veteran in the self-publishing industry (zinesters were self-publishing way before Amazon and other companies made it easy for the mainstream) I guess I’d like to start with—what are the big changes you’ve seen in around 20 years of self-publishing zines and books?
Alex Wrekk: In general; technology. Digital layout is more accessible, photocopiers print crisper, and the internet has changed the way zine creators and reader can interact with each other. There was this whole “blogs killed zines” thing that people kept saying and it really bothered me for awhile. Blogs and zines aren’t mutually exclusive. If anything, I think blogs have made zines better. The people who wanted the quick outlet to say something could use a blog. Those that wanted to sit down and craft something physical could make a zine. If you really want to make a zine you have to spend time to do it from the writing, layout, getting yourself to a photocopier, and finding people to actually read it.
I’ve also seen a growing connected zine community. It is easier to find distros and new zines. There are also a lot more zine fest and it is easier to find out about them. [Ed.—I highly recommend Sweet Candy Distro as a great place to buy zines.]
Flora’s Forum: Making a zine is a very tactile experience. It’s a craft and an art. Even if you design and print out a zine on your computer, you still have to put them together with folding and stapling. If you’re artistically inclined, you go a lot further, with collages, drawings, and other artwork, special bindings. Can you talk a little about how this experience differs from, say, sharing your art and/or writing on a blog?
Alex Wrekk: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I just see them a different medium or vehicles to convey ideas. I can’t exactly explain how I come to the conclusion that something is meant for a zine page or for a blog page, it just seems like the idea is already settled when it comes to me. I know that when I write something for a zine I think if it like a letter where I’m sending it to a person and that person is going to hold it in their hand and read it by themselves in their own space. It creates a direct line from creator and consumer, often that line is blurred because the reader is also frequently a writer of zines as well. Who knows how many people could be reading a blog at the same time and if they will ever even touch the same handrail I have touched? I just love the tangibility of zines. Sometimes I even see layouts before I have the words for zines.
Flora’s Forum: How has putting out over two dozen issues of your own zine, Brainscan, through the years formed you as an artist and entrepreneur?
Alex Wrekk: I actually put out issue 31 of Brainscan last year and I’ve done dozens of one off zines. I can’t stop making zines! I think the DIY spirit leads me to do things myself. If you keep doing that, you’ll find your style and hone your version of the craft. I have a weird mental distinction between my zines and my book. My zines are my hobby, my book is my business. Strangely, the same sort of things goes for my shop. I’ve made custom buttons since 2000 but I opened a brick and mortar shop 3 years ago where I press buttons like a workshop, sell my own button designs, and I also sell zines and books. You can’t make a lot selling zines and I sort of think of that part of the store as my hobby and the buttons as the business.
Flora’s Forum: What are the best things about zines? For yourself? For readers?
Alex Wrekk: Getting a glimpse of someone’s world and then, when you keep reading new issues of their zine, you get to revisit that world. That’s why I like to read zines, I’m not so sure about everyone else.
I also love the connections I have made through zines. I was hanging out the other night with some friends and one of their friends who I had never met before asked how we knew each other. My friend and I looked at each other and at the same time said “zines” These were people that had just moved to Portland 6 months ago but I had known the, through zines for years. Through zines I’ve let strangers stay in my basement and they have become some of my best friends. I started a band (with songs all about zines) with members from 3 different countries. I’ve been flown to France to be on a panel to discuss zines. I got a free ticket to Coachella because I helped with a zine workshop at the festival. I’ve been on cross country zine tours, one of them was with 5 friends from the UK. I’ve met some of the most amazing and intereesting people through zines. It almost feels like zines have been the backdoor into a lot of really cool experiences for me and for others.
Flora’s Forum: Are there any drawbacks/pitfalls to zine publishing?
Alex Wrekk: We all cringe at our early issues. Also, it’s not really something that will ever make you much money if you keep to zines. I’m ok with that. I see it as a hobby for me.
Flora’s Forum: Will you tell us about your garden? I read about it and enjoyed the Facebook album of your beautiful cottage-style garden. You have ornamentals, herbs, vegetables, a hummingbird garden, a compost pile—it’s obvious you have a lot of passion for many aspects of gardening. What do you have planned for the upcoming year? And how are the arts of gardening and zine publishing alike?
Alex Wrekk: I feel really bad because after opening the shop I haven’t has as much time to spend in my garden. When I worked at home I’d just let myself get distracted for a bit of gardening when I had a few minutes. This year I plan to do better, I’ve already been looking at seed catalogs and I have a friend who wants to help out. This year is a year of judicious pruning. I have a wisteria that is trying to eat my house and cedar tree and needs to be taught a lesson. There is a shrub that seemed to grow a few feet while I wasn’t looking that could use a lesson as well. Once spring comes around I’m going to take stock of the hummingbird garden and see what made it through the winter and figure out what needs to be moved or added. There’s a honeysuckle that has gone a bit wild over there as well. I think a lot of my garden need some firmer borders. We’ve been talking about taking out our chain-link fence and putting in a wooden one.
Hrm, I suppose gardening is a lot like writing. You just look at all your beautiful words/flowers and think you want them all, but that foxglove really would be happier at the back of the house and sometimes there is such a thing as too many daisies. Sometimes as beautiful as wisteria is, less would be more.
Flora’s Forum: Are there any gardening zines out there you could recommend?
Alex Wrekk: Off the top of my head I can only think of one that I have in the Portland Button Works shop called Growing Things that is good, especially for beginning gardeners.
Flora’s Forum: Thanks for sharing, Alex. It was a pleasure.
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Alex Wrekk’s Bio
Alex Wrekk’s life revolves around making things; primarily zines, custom pinback buttons(badges), vegan food, travel plans, and space for a cat in her bed.
Alex Wrekk has lived in Portland, Oregon since 1999 and has been creating the zine Brainscan since 1997. Brainscan zine has grown and changed with Alex over the years with stories ranging from travel, reproductive health, love and loss, emotional abuse recovery, zine culture, and even fiction all wrapped up in text and photocopier art. She also wrote the book Stolen Sharpie Revolution: A DIY Guide for Zines and Zine Culture that is now entering its 5th edition.
When Alex isn’t doing zine things she is doing other zine things like organizing the Portland Zine Symposium, establishing July as International Zine Month, commiserating with Zine Event Organizers around the world, updating the zine event listings on StolenSharpieRevolution.org, hosting the podcast Nobody Cares About Your Stupid Zine Podcast, fidgeting with her Risograph printer, reading from her zines out loud on zine tours or singing in a zine themed pop-punk band called The Copy Scams.
Alex has been making custom pinback buttons since 2000 under various business names. In 2012 Alex opened Portland Button Works and zine distro, an online and brick and mortar shop in Portland, Oregon selling zines and books and making custom buttons, bottle openers, and magnets in 4 different sizes. She also maintains an Etsy shop with the same name.
Alex Wrekk twitter http://twitter.com/alexwrekk
Stolen Sharpie Revolution Facebook https://www.facebook.com/stolensharpierevolution
Stolen Sharpie Revolution.org http://www.stolensharpierevolution.org
Portland Button Works Website www.portlandbuttonworks.com
Alex is giving away 5 print copies of Stolen Sharpie Revolution + a Custom Stolen Sharpie with each one. This is an international giveaway! Please click the link below to enter.
P. S.: I couldn’t resist showing a couple of covers from my Greenwoman zines. I went from full-color to a more traditonal, much less expensive b&w cover over the course of the two years that I was a zinester. It was a great learning experience and a whole lot of fun.
P. P. S. I just discovered that Comments was “off” on this post. I fixed that but it looks like it won’t change it for previously posted work. Sorry about that!