This is a modern world, and if the technophiles had their way, we'd print our art off Myspace and show our appreciation for street performers through Paypal. In such a point-and-click culture, it's rare to come across souls still committed to more tangible, homespun forms of art and entertainment. Some disciplines that have been kicked to the wayside include independent publishing and filmmaking, storytelling, and the all-but-lost art of the zine (photocopied magazine).
The word zine, in fact, had barely found its way into the popular lexicon before the blog swooped in to replace zines as the goofily named, populist communication medium of choice. The fine folks at Microcosm Publishing, however, are doing all they can (which it turns out, is a hell of a lot), to ensure a future where piles of dog-eared zines will still perch atop our toilet tanks.
For 10 years now, the Portland-based publisher and distribution company (www.microcosmpublishing.com) has championed DIY culture by offering more than 1,800 independently published titles by mail order. Whether focusing on bike repair or polyamory, cooking or conspiracy theories, these black-and-white, often hand-bound booklets still capture enough imaginations to keep authors slaving away over hot photocopiers and long-arm staplers. (Full disclosure: I'm one of them, having published three zines which are distributed by Microcosm.)
Why, when you can bust out your laptop at any cafe and immediately relay to thousands how rude your barista just was, are zines even still around?
"Paper, like anything tangible, is a golden medium," says Microcosm co-founder Joe Biel. "There are just certain aspects of print media that cannot be replicated digitally. I find that the kind of writing and art offered on the Internet is not anywhere near the quality that can be found in zines or books, or any kind of small-press print medium. Try reading a blog in the bathroom."
Surely there are people out there who read blogs in the bathroom, but for the rest of us, Biel and friends are going on the road with the Thinkin', Stinkin', Rarely Drinkin' tour, a three-month, multi-state road trip in support of the photocopied art form.
"This tour was prompted when Dave Roche proposed the notion of touring the entire English-speaking world with our zines and related projects," says Biel. "We're about halfway through this goal. [Roche] has toured Australia, the U.K., about 80 percent of the U.S., and bits of Canada."
Asheville gets checked off this list next week when the tour stops at Bookworks in West Asheville. The stop will feature readings from Roche's long-running zine, On-Subbing, which was recently published as a book by Microcosm.
"I think it's more of a zine that looks like a book," says Roche. "It's about my experiences as a substitute in special-education classes -- how awesome the students were, how much fun I had and how unpleasant and unsupportive the administration can be. There's also bits about getting kicked in the groin, changing diapers, getting drooled on and how -- no matter how old you are -- if you're a nerd, talking to a PE teacher is always awkward."
Biel will also be showing four short films which take a "no-fi approach to documentary filmmaking," and cover topics from board games to bike lanes. Plus, patrons will even be fed, thanks to traveling vegan chef Josh Ploeg, who will be whipping up a gourmet meal that's included with the price of admission.
Mary Chamberlain, who runs the zine distribution group Tree of Knowledge, will be there with a smattering of the zines, books and films from Microcosm's catalog.
When asked why touring is important, Roche replied, "I think seeing some dorky guy like me stutter through my stories can make people think, 'Hell, I can do that!' and hopefully they will. There can't be too many people making zines and telling their stories. Everyone should get writing and let it be known they're out there. Then, they should send me a copy of their zine, we should become pen pals, and the next time I come through your town you should let me crash on your couch and I'll make you biscuits for breakfast."
[Freelance writer and cartoonist Ethan Clark is a regular contributor to Xpress, and is editor of the collection Stories Care Forgot: An Anthology of New Orleans 'Zines (Last Gasp).]
Microcosm Publishing's Thinkin', Stinkin', Rarely Drinkin' 2006 tour stops by Bookworks (428 1/2 Haywood Road) on Tuesday, Oct. 3. 7 p.m. Suggested donation $7. 255-8444.