Con Artist Collective
While we have been experimenting with print and digital formats here in the Culture Crush studio, we also have been working on our continuing series focusing on independent publications coming from the next generation of creatives. Just as the explosion of ‘80’s independent magazines (‘zines) was a response to “yuppie” over commercialized consumer culture, we have a feeling that what seems like a 21st century resurgence of ‘zines and DIY culture is a similar response to the tech dominated, over digitalized lives we are experiencing now. To get a real sense of the scene, the Culture Crush sat down with Brian Shevlin, founder of Con Artist Collective, a creative co-working space, gallery, and general gathering place for independent artists on New York’s Lower East Side. We spoke about his personal experience with ‘zines as well as his take on this new generation's self-publishing rebellion.
CC: So tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved in the world of ‘zines?
BS: I actually have a really fun and neat background with ‘zines. I grew up in California in the ‘80’s and had no idea that ‘zines even existed. So I really didn’t know much about them or the culture. Coincidentally, my grandparents owned a small printing press that they had had since the ‘70’s. So when I was a kid, I worked in the printing press.
My grandma would pay me like 20 bucks to collate and staple, and I didn’t really think anything about it besides that this was just stuff that people made, for whatever reason. It wasn’t until I was making t-shirts as a kid that it suddenly hit me. I was like “Hey grandma! How can we make our own little t-shirts or our own booklets and drawings? Can you show me?” So then my grandma was like, “Sure!” Basically, I just started doing ‘zines because of access and coincidence. And being a kid working at a printing press and learning how to use some of that stuff, I knew how to do saddle stitch stapling. I was just a kid playing with a printing press!
CC: So, how did you eventually find yourself in the ‘zine community?
BS: My real strong step into ‘zine culture was realizing that (at the time) it was a mail exchange thing. “If you send me your ‘zine, I’ll send you mine.” I ended up sending my ‘zine to a magazine called Heckler, a skateboard magazine. It was like The Village Voice, but a ‘zine. I got a letter from them, saying “We love your ‘zine! Would you ever be interested in interning for us?” So I interned for them and then ended up working there for 4 years.
CC: That’s awesome! So were you still involved with ‘zines and 'zine culture after Heckler?
BS: I opened up my own graphic design company called Asterix Studios. ‘Zines were a huge part of all that. One of the things we wanted was to have access to design equipment. I wanted to utilize spaces and create relationships with creatives. Now here at Con Artist we take this creative community and provide them access to design equipment as well as give people opportunities and tools to create ‘zines, through ‘zine making parties.
CC: So, based on all of your personal experience with ‘zines, what’s most interesting to you about ‘zine culture and what does that represent on a larger cultural scale?
BS: What’s really cool about the ‘zine thing is what it represents, and to me, and that is DIY culture. And DIY culture now wonders, “So how, how do I compete with a magazine? I think Adbusters is cool! I think Cosmopolitan is cool! But how do I make my own? So once the playing field was leveled by Kinkos, suddenly everyone devoted to DIY culture realized, "We can do it ourselves! I can do it my own! I don’t need a publication, I can do it on my own." And a ‘zine really represents your own interest or your own culture! So that ‘zine is sort of the truest seed to what we are today.
‘Zine culture also shows that everything doesn’t have to end up on the internet. Things can just exist in their own format. And so I think that right now there is a resurgence into the object again, just that thing being that thing and it doesn’t need to be anything else. Because while it feels like everyone is thinking “I’m going to make that ‘zine, then I’m going to put it on the internet or I’m going to put it on Instagram and get tons of likes. I should maximize my efforts. If I’m going to make the thing, why not maximize the demographic?” I think all of the sudden we are starting to see that there is a new trend to minimize.
CC: Could you talk a little bit about today’s ‘zine culture and how it differs from how it was in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s?
BS: What I think is really interesting today is that technology makes it possible for anyone to do anything. So now in that context, the Millennial generation, to me, could be the truest realization of DIY. Not only because they are into their own thing, but also because they feel like they can do anything. “I can make my own magazine, I can make my own clothes, my own album.” Since they don’t have the limitations that every generation had before them had.
I grew up pre-cable, pre-cell phone. For me, growing up in that generation makes me think now about how ‘zines were a part of this DIY late ‘70’s early 80s, punk culture. And making DIY magazines and fan-’zines, was part of the whole idea of punk. Punk culture is, "I rebel against anything. And I don’t need to consume your culture, I can do it on my own. I can be a creative person on my own."
CC: But today, everyone has a camera and there is too much content. How does a young creative make themselves heard?
BS: So standing out and being an individual and being truly unique, especially now, when anything can be duplicated and repeated and copied so easily, I think creates the struggle with authenticity. It’s forcing this human struggle to play itself out in a unique way for Millennials. They are asking the questions like “how do I really standout and really be different and be authentic?” But the answer I give them is “you will always be authentic, because you will always be you.” This is what happens with anyone who’s a creative or a creative person, they’ll say, “man, I really wish that I was less afraid to be my own individual self.“ Which is what this whole authenticity talk really boils down to, which is DIY culture.
So to sum it up, I feel like the biggest thing with Millennials is about standing out, and really being the projected version of themselves. And that’s really what I think people are striving for. So I feel like ‘zine culture is having a resurgence because it is the act of standing out and in their way, politically rebelling. It also represents the ability for information to actually be passed from one person to another offline, allowing us to live and create in the physical world. And this way of communicating through ‘zines will always be powerful as long as people have the ability to pass things from one person to another in this way.