I Accidentally Made A Popular Zine

Last year, in the summer of 1993, I read a quote from Evan Dando, lead singer of the band the Lemonheads. It was about how he’d rather be more like a woman because “men have proved that they really can’t get it together, they can’t be cool.”

Oct 1 2009, 12:00am


Last year, in the summer of 1993, I read a quote from Evan Dando, lead singer of the band the Lemonheads. It was about how he’d rather be more like a woman because “men have proved that they really can’t get it together, they can’t be cool.”

My loathing of self-loathing males conspired with my unproductive but well-paying job, and I created a zine in response to Dando’s quote. It was a small, anti-Dando, pro-dude decree called Die Evan Dando, Die. In it I quipped that Come on Feel the Lemonheads was actually a milestone for the music industry, “as it marked the first time that an album had been marketed exclusively on the merit’s of a band member’s cheekbones.” I also pronounced that Dando may not watch any sport with the word “ball” or “race” in it, or hockey either, without my permission.

A local shop said they would print my manly, mirthful 18-page manifesto, but the smallest print run they could do was 200 copies. This was four times more than the biggest run I had ever done for a zine. (My previous zine, a dumb parody of punk zines called Maximum RockNRaoul, was hardly a must-read.) I thought I’d sell maybe 25 copies, give away another 25 to friends, and the rest would surely wind up as a makeshift end table or ottoman.

But I didn’t care about overprinting. This was just a lark. So half-assed was this endeavor that I didn’t even want to pay $10 to have photos converted into halftones so they would print decently. “Just shoot ’em. Whatever shows up, shows up,” I told the printers.

They asked me if I wanted heavier stock for the cover and I scoffed at this idea, too. That was money that could be applied to something more vital—such as my student loans or a case of Natty Boh. Hell, I didn’t even put a price on the cover. Why would I care what weight paper it was printed on?

The final product came back very much to my liking. Production-wise, I would put it somewhere between a church newsletter and a program for a school play—and only slightly more interesting than either.

Unlike all the Xeroxed zines I had done previously, on this one I didn’t have to spend grueling hours leaning over a fickle copier, praying for mercy from St. Ricoh, the patron saint of recurrent paper jams. I didn’t have to collate and staple them myself, either. In my mind, this made me Andrew freakin’ Carnegie. My fellow commuters on the trolley would surely forgive me for repeatedly asking if they had any Grey Poupon.

While I was pleased with the outcome, the quantity I printed still made me feel like this was a literary albatross that needed to be moved out the door, pronto. I gave copies to friends like they were bottles of off-off-off-brand Guatemalan soda left at my house after a party. “You only want one copy? What if it gets wet? Better take two. Keep one in your car. Give one to a friend at work. Pay it forward—karma. Hey, your kitchen table is wobbly. Put four of these under one leg. That should take care of it.”

I shipped review copies to a bunch of punk-rock zines. Doing this always drums up a respectable number of mail-order sales (and, as a rule, ten times as many requests from moochy, spiky-haired dad haters, trying to scam a copy for free). I also included a professional-looking press release, honed with the skills I learned in a few college PR classes. (It even had “###” at the bottom, although I must admit that I have no idea what function that serves.)

About a month later, my mom called me and said that she had read about my “little magazine deal.” That seemed like a pretty quick turnaround for publicity. Especially in the world of punk-rock publishing, which typically has a lead time between six months and infinity. And I honestly wondered where my mom might have seen the copy of Flipside or Factsheet 5 that it got reviewed in.

She told me that she had seen the write-up in the current issue of Time magazine. I was sure she was mistaken, but when I went to the newsstand, there it was. As out of place as Bella Abzug at a Meatmen show, my stupid little zine was in the country’s best-known newsweekly.

You see, another thing I had learned in my PR class was to aim high. Make a list of the ultimate publicity targets, no matter how seemingly outrageous, and send them a release. So I had sent review copies to writers and editors at the biggest national magazines like Time, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Spin, Us, and Newsweek. It was a move that I considered a goof at the time. But every single one wound up writing about my snotty little zine. Even Sassy, despite being Evan Dando sympathizers, named it their zine of the month. I have reprinted it six times so far. That’s about 3,000 copies.

I’m now part of a press feeding frenzy about zines, especially anticelebrity ones. The anti-Shannen Doherty zine The I Hate Brenda Newsletter had come out just before mine and had really started the whole thing. MTV News has been trying to start a pseudo-feud between me and Evan Dando. Alternative Nation VJ Kennedy came up to me at a Rocket From the Crypt show and gave me her number, saying she wants to write something for the next issue. And one person at MTV even talked about developing a weekly pop-culture smackdown show for me to host. It sounds like easy money, but truth be told, I am not interested in becoming the Mr. Blackwell of the alterna-cool set.

Most of the current press about “the zine explosion” has declared that zines are going to revolutionize print journalism and kill the big magazine. My zine is fun and is a good example of what a powerful punch the small press can deliver. But unlike other zine publishers, I don’t actually believe zines are the wave of the future. I just did mine for a kick and it took off. In fact, I believe the emerging pathways for information will be electronic. In the near future, I predict that we will get all of our news, information, and personal mail solely via fax machines.

As the media frenzy over zines continues, I have actually gained some sympathy for Dando and all the other blathering celebrities. When reporters keep asking your opinion, it’s tempting to keep giving it to them. The hard part is knowing when your 15 minutes are up and gracefully moving on.

So be sure to look for my next zine, Nancy Kerrigan Had It Coming, available soon at an alternative bookstore near you.
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