Zine Making in the Blog Age

Before I succumbed to the "glamour" and reach provided by the Internet blog – Secret Transmissions began as a handmade, print zine. There were several reasons I went in that direction and I still believe in them all.

The first thing that jumped out to me is just how much content in the form of blogs, podcasts and web groups, already exists. When I consider how much of this content I alone consume, it makes my head hurt. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the accessibility I enjoy to odd, controversial and underground information. My life has literally been transformed because of what I've been taught by dispersant individuals from around the world due to streaming content. I don't go a day without reading a blog or listening to multiple podcasts or YouTube videos. Granted, I still read a lot of printed books and frequent bookstores and libraries as well. Like most of us, I've become an info-junkie, jacking in and uploading hard drives of data to my consciousness. I consider this to be course work in my continuing education as a curious, sentient being.

I've been into strange ideas since I was a kid. It started off with movies, comics and music. Coming of age in the last pre-interent generation, I feel in love with the physical quest for media. Riding my bike with friends after school to the record shops, comic spots and video stores, was a pilgrimage. Not only was getting out of the house important, but being the guy in the group to dig up that ultimate record or pull that magic comic out of the bin was a badge of honor. I took pride in being able to intuitively discover great new bands or B-movies. The visual and physical act of pushing and pulling through stacks of shit was akin to an archeology dig. Sometimes I got nothing. Timing and synchronicity were everything. There was always the nagging thought that some body could have just sold off some incredibly rare punk records that day. If you weren't there to nab it as it hit the shelves, you missed your chance. Who knows when another copy of The Exploited, Horror Epics would show back up. To today's kid, that sounds like a total pain in the ass. Perhaps it is. Anything you could every want to hear, read or see can be had in no time at all. I don't know that I would go back. I like to live in both worlds. I still love going to a disorganized occult bookstore and rearranging stack after stack in order to find that hidden gem. When it happens, it literally feels like it was put there just for you to find it. That feeling can't be replaced with a keypad. There is something important about the act that I'm afraid my own kids will never understand.

There's an aura and an ambience to an independent shop, no matter what it carries. The presentation of the material, the decorative ephemera. The personalities of the staff. Conversations you can have with them. The great shit they end up recommending to you if you show them your earnestness. That's to say nothing of the power of chance that puts things in front of you when you put yourself out there. It's more than nostalgia working me over. Specifically with used material, you're dealing with exchanges of crossing interests coming to pass. Someone is ready to let go of something that at one time, meant something to them. Then there's the other person, who gets to have the emotional and intellectual enrichment for the first time. Don't most people tell you that life is about being at the right place at the right time? Does that happen online? Sure, but don't kid yourself. It's not the same thing. Not even close.

All that background brings me to why I started a print zine instead of the blog you're reading now. On one level, it had everything to do with the previous paragraphs. I wanted to assemble bit size chunks of weird content and drop them into the physical world, letting chance decide what happened to them. It's a romantic notion, yes. A notion that in my opinion, is sadly dying away. With a limited number of copies to distribute, I had to make decisions about where to place them and how many copies to leave behind. Those decisions changed reality, in a very small way. If I dumped them all at one spot would have created a different reality instead of scattering them around different cities. That was a fun idea to think about. So, with each issue, I got into my car and made the treks to various comic, music, coffee and metaphysical shops. The handful of those kinds of places that still actually exist, mind you.

The other reason I was drawn to a zine format had to do with the creative process. I work on a computer everyday for work, making "creative" things. I've been doing it for 15 years, factoring in college. Truthfully, I need a fucking break from this machine. When I started making art as a kid, there was no computer involved. It was film cameras, paper, pencils, paints, etc. I started to miss that tactile process in a serious way. I started drawing with more commitment a few years ago as an outlet. I figured I could continue that work and use my graphic design background to design the mag the old school way like a paste up. Collage was always something I was into, the project allowed that style of design thinking to come back into my life.

I remember picking up weird zines, and handmade fliers all the time as a kid. Especially when I was really into punk and hardcore music. The stuff went hand in hand. I love the DIY ethic and being creatively untethered to any sort of commercial concern. In order to make money I have to put all my dark humor and youth-culture influences on the shelf. To say I was getting pent up and frustrated would be an understatement. Every creative person needs to do work that is purely of and for themselves without worrying about making anyone else happy. It become necessary for my sanity to reconnect with myself in this way. It was the best decision I had made in awhile. I was sick and tired of letting corporate interests control my creative expression.

When I decided to go ahead with the project 100% on my own, I had to do a little homework. I had never made a zine before and learned there was a trick to the page sequencing assembly. So, I went to the local library and actually found a zine making "how to" book... in the kids section. Whatever, I was geeked to find it. The book, Whatcha Mean, What's a Zine? by Ester Watson, gave me all the basics I needed to get going and it was beautifully illustrated and fun to read.


I won't explain the whole process here but I'll just explain the stages of my own personal process. The cool thing is that you can go about it however you want. The first thing was a cool title. I brainstormed for awhile and came to Secret Transmissions for the symbolic value and that it's a fairly accurate way to sum up the content themes. I knew I wanted to make it a vehicle for decimating in on paper, all the topics and ideas I was encountering on radio shows, podcasts and blogs. My section called Mind Expanding Sources over on the right rail has links to just about all of them. This was my way of interpreting the material in a way that was just not regurgitating the material that is already out there. it takes an internet search to get to this info. I wanted to infect non-suspecting citizens with occulted history and provocative ideas that they may never have though to find in the first place.  

After I had the right title, I had a clear path forward on what content was going to drive the project. Everything I have a current interest in would fit in. The paranormal, extra-terrestrials and UFO phenomena, conspiracies, the occult and esoteric and anarchist philosophy. I had another agenda that motivated the project as well - short fiction writing and poetry. Just prior to starting the zine I took on the self-assignmet to start writing the weirdest sci-fi and fantasy stories I could think of. The zine allows me to bring it all together under one roof, so to speak. 

I start each issue out with my journal and a pen. I get an outline of the topics I want to feature and a possible flow from beginning to end. The central piece of content will always be a work of short fiction. In some instances I make collage spreads before anything. One issue started with a cover design. The first time was all about having a written story first. It can be fluid as well. I can be in the middle of a story and decide to set it down and do some drawings or putting collages together. It's good to be the boss! 

Obviously, gathering all the right images to work with is critical. Some zines are primarily text based. I wanted to have a lot of visuals to communicate ideas with, even my fiction. This was when the Internet was a gigantic source of help. I gathered all most al the pictures from online. In most cases, there's no way I can support the stories visually without it. Once I gather enough pictures I create a PDF collection to take to the printers.  Next, comes the painstaking task of cutting out every picture, most of which I extract from the original background. After I have the separate pieces, the real playing starts. It's a great feeling when a composite really comes together, and elements fall into place. 

The creation of the pages is the most creative and hands-on phase of the work. My essential tools and scissors, glue, markers and pencils. To save money and keep the look more punk, I work in black and white. Unlike working on a computer, there's only so many "undos" you can expect before you ruin an image or collage. I think a lot about the layout and try every arrangement i can think of before I commit to gluing. 

There are several techniques folding pages to get the size you want. I go with the simplest way possible that also happens to give me bigger individual pages. A standard letter size pages folded in half. The trick is pagination, making sure everything stays in sequence. This confused me at first but was no problem once I started doing it.

I end up with a large stack of original single sided collage layout pages. This is what I take to the printers to make all the copies I need. As long as I take care of my original set of pages, I can always go back and print new issues. When I go to Fed/Ex Office, I make sure to secure a table and a saddle-stich stapler to work with. The final phase of the project has to do with collating all the pages into issue piles. That ends up being a small project by itself. I do up to 50 issues usually, amounting to upwards of 500-600 prints. 

Once every issue is in an ordered stack, the folding and stapling can begin. Another boring job but it's the signal that I'm getting close to having finished issues in hand. After the last issue is stapled up, I hit the streets, making deliveries. 

All the creative freedom comes at a cost though. I can spend over $100 easily to produce a small run of 50 issues. Some zinesters charge money for their work or they make trades for other zines. I can't bring myself to charge. I just want people to flip through, hopefully read it and maybe learn something new. The other downside is not knowing who has them and what they thought about it. I placed my email at the back of every zine but have never received a message. That kind of sucks. On the other hand, when I did one drop at a comic shop, a guy working there chased me out into the parking lot to tell me he had all the issues and loved what I was doing. That was pretty damn cool. 

I have to retract my statement about never getting an email. I did receive one email from the proprietor of a different comic shop. It amounted to a cease and desist notification. One spread about occult ceremonies in the second issue had a topless female in it. The shop owner said he didn't want to be getting angry parents hassling him with complaints. He was at least kind enough to give me the chance to retrieve the issues. You don't always get the feedback you're hoping for after busting your ass to make these things. 

The main reason I created the blog was partially as a means to get the zine seen by a wider audience without having to invest a bunch more money. Also the blog is opening up the door for me to do things I haven't been doing in the zine for lack of space. I've expanded my purpose considerably with the blog format, conducting interviews, writing B-movie reviews and posting more poetry and personal art stuff. Once I set the blog up, it was natural to start a Facebook page as well to support the efforts. With the Facebook page I have the opportunity to share all the other cool content that inspires Secret Transmissions and hopefully draws more people to it.

It's going to be tough to keep up blog and the print zine but I don't want to give it up. I still really believe in putting real objects out into the world in this digital age. The tactile experience of a book or zine to flip through will always be something I'm attached to. It's not easy or cheap but the experience is not something that can be replicated digitally. The process is fun, creative and the product is something rare that might just stand out because of it.

1 comment:

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