You are talking to one bummed dude. All week long I’ve been looking forward to attending Saturday’s ZineFest at the Firehouse Theatre, sponsored by Chop Suey Books. But now it looks like a family matter will force me to go out of town. Drat, double drat.
As a former publisher of two ‘zines, I was so looking forward to being one of those wrinkly, ink-damaged oldsters strolling among modern, baby-faced “Do-It-Yourself” indie creators, waving yellowed copies of the pubs I used to crank out back in the day. I was even planning on taking my false teeth out at some point and gumming out something like this: “You kids today - you don’t know from ‘zines. We were grunge BEFORE Kurt Cobain. We used to publish our zines in kilns…,” etc.
The old guy routine is no act. W-a-a-y-y back in the day, I published a thing called Catharsis Monthly. This newsprint tabloid — covering new and local music, art, pop culture and politics — began in May 1989 and ended five years later with issue #31. As you can tell by doing the calendar math, Catharsis was rarely monthly. But it was a catharsis, inspired by my brief time helping out Richmond’s long-running ThroTTle ‘zine. The issues would usually consist of 12-20 pages with an occasional satiric pullout section. The normal print run of the free ‘zine was 5,000 but — when advertising dollars started coming in — it would sometimes be double that. We distributed statewide, but our primary coverage area was the Hampton Roads area and Richmond. This was so long ago, kids, that very few people had things like computers in their homes or even instant desktop publishing! To do “layout,” I rented space in the offices of a small-town newspaper in Yorktown that allowed me access to their equipment after hours when they closed up — and boy, were they sorry! Believe it or not, we actually used things like pica poles, glue machines and Zip-a-Tone to put our ‘zines together in those days. I’m taking my false teeth out while I write all of this.
I was thrilled to hear about Saturday’s gathering because I’m ecstatic that published ‘zines still exist in the age of blogs — several of Richmond’s most distinguished bloggers were originally small-press publishers, like John Sarvay and F.T. Rea (the latter STILL gets the word out on paper — whatta man!). Even though I’m a full-time “professional” writer (definition: I’m used to getting paid for it), I still take time out to contribute my services to small-press pubs because of the generosity that was afforded to me when I was a publisher. Ah, those wonderful contributors! I’m proud to say that the magazines were always extremely readable and endearingly unpredictable — and that had almost nothing to do with me. The staff of unpaid writers, artists and editors were the ones who helped to make the magazine, as one national music mag put it in a review, “an oasis of cool in a redneck desert.”
There are too many names to throw out, but here are just a few who helped Catharsis grab some attention during its run, many of them ex-VCU-ers like myself: Brian Greene, Dave Harrison, Charlie Olver, Kyle Hogg, Sue Smallwood (now Sue Van Hecke), George Paaswell (as “Clark Street”), Phil Pegg, Pat McGeehan, David Middleton, Tim Lee, Kirk O’Brien, Dale Brumfield, Rickey Wright, Kirk Saville, Alex Marshall, Greg Schneider, Scott Seymour, Brooke Saunders, and Steve Guion (who was responsible for this great interview with the now-deceased Bryan Harvey). And let’s not forget legendary singer-songwriter Michael Hurley, who contributed three stellar cover illustrations and the occasional column on country music.
In 1996, I had a ‘zine itch relapse and started up again, this time in Charlottesville. The magazine was called Grip, but you could’ve called it Catharsis II because it was pretty much the same format, with many of the same writers, columnists and cartoonists. This incarnation. published out of C-ville but distributed statewide, lasted only three years, but we picked up some cool new voices and visions. These included provocateur D.R. Tyler Magill (who still self-publishes in Charlottesville), Stephen Head, Jeremy Berlin, Vitamin Eli Lake, Mark Leta, “Parker” Paul Wilkinson, Steve Richmond, Marjan Shirzad, Josh Krahn, A. Thom Crawley… and Dan Poarch, who won most valuable player for being akin to a Yoda on the ol’ QuarkExpress. With a press run of 5-7,000 per issue, Grip published 22 issues before calling it a day in 1999.
One of the mainstays of both magazines was “brother” Dave Harrison, a VCU graduate and journalism lifer who started several of the magazine’s better columns and running features, including the Meandering Surrealist (more on that creature here) and the “Marky Mark Trail” strip (see above). On the occasion of the 1998 Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville, we asked strange cinema archivist Dave to write something on the art of film for Grip. Without hesitation, he dove into his vast library of celluloid and produced a fun and definitive list of The Greatest Movie Party Scenes.
You can read the entire article, “The Deviled Eggs are Delicious,” right here.
And in honor of the ZineFest event, there’s more to come from the archives…