Fight Boredom Distro Interview

Critical Breakfast/Telgram split (2015) by Amber Dearest & Maranda Elizabeth

Fight Boredom Distro was founded in 2009? Can you tell us a bit about why you decided to invest a huge chunk of your time to running and maintaining a zine disto? What/Who served as inspiration?
I had made close to thirty zines at that point, and I’d been writing zine reviews for a couple of years. I looked at zine reviews as a means of sharing my finds with even more readers, and running a distro seemed a further step to take. All the times I’d said to friends, “You would love this zine!” I guess I just wanted a bigger way to say that. I’d dreamed for a long time of running a distro, and in 2009, I finally found myself with the free time and a bit of cash to do it. I moved to Montreal in January of that year, and at the time, I imagined I’d get a day job in a call centre or something, and study French at night, but then I enrolled in a government program that pays people to learn French, so I spent my days in school and my nights writing and working on my distro. I used to order a lot of zines from Learning To Leave A Paper Trail Distro when it was still around, and I’m still really into Stranger Danger Distro, which has been around for over a decade and has traded hands (and cities) a few times. I’d also recommend Brown Recluse, Mend My Dress, No Shame (all based in the US), Take Care (Australia), and Femme Crimes (Montreal)… A lot of beloved perzine distros have disappeared in the last few years, because the work can be time-consuming and costly.

Although you are based in Montreal, you travel frequently participating in many zine fests and book fairs. What are a few of your favourite events to participate in, and cities to visit?
Chicago is always the first to come to mind. I tabled at the Chicago Zine Fest for the first five years of its existence, with 2015 being the first year that I skipped (due to conflicting plans and an empty bank account). The organizers work on planning and fundraising year-round and the zinefest has grown exponentially. I have a lotta really special memories in Chicago, like meeting pen pals in person and making new friends, and my first-ever sober karaoke night. Two of my favourite bookstores – Quimby’s and Myopic – are there, and there is so much incredible food to be eaten.

The Toronto Queer Zine Fair holds a special place in my heart. My twin (and favourite writer) Maranda Elizabeth co-founded it with Eddie (Doom Clouds and Not Trans Enough) in 2013 as a direct response to the various inaccessibilities of Canzine. The collective has grown and Maranda is no longer a member (but still an attendee) and it’s been getting better and better every year. It’s the kind of event where you can really feel how much hard work and how much love goes into organizing and making the space as accessible as possible (wheelchair accessibility, ASL interpretation, scent-free policy, gender-neutral washrooms, active listeners, free food, etc). Plus it takes place in October and often coincides with my birthday!

The Halifax Pop Explosion Zine Fair is another fun one. It’s small, probably no more than fifteen tablers in the space, and everyone is incredibly friendly and attendees are so stoked to be there. It’s the only zine fair that doesn’t leave me feeling stressed and overwhelmed at the end of the day. I’ve jokingly referred to Halifax as my City Of No Responsibilities because it feels like such a vacation when I’m there. The city feels really cozy and friendly to me.

And there’s what I call the Montreal trifecta: The Anarchist Bookfair in May, Queer Between The Covers in August, and Expozine in November.

Your catalogue is filled with a selection of some of the best perzines we’ve ever read. As we mentioned, visiting your stall at the Toronto Queer Zine Fair is one of the highlights of our zine reading year, how do you choose which titles you are going to stock?
Thank you for the kind words! When I first started my distro, I wrote to my pen pals and my favourite zinesters to ask if they’d be into having their zines distributed by me. I wrote a quick little list of my favourite topics and posted it to my website, along with my mailing address. My submission guidelines have remained similar since then, though the focus shifts a little every year or so. I quit drinking in 2011, and this propelled me to seek out more resources on addiction and recovery, for example. And where I used to order 5-10 copies of a given title at a time, it’s now something like 20-50 copies at a time. I still get a lot of zines in the mail for distro consideration, and this is how I’m introduced to a lot of great new titles, though it’s sadly sometimes a source of wasted postage on the zinester’s side and wasted time on mine. Distro proprietors have a joke about how zinesters love to read zines but refuse to read any info on distro websites, and this means that I get a lot of zines that fall nowhere near within the scope of my submission guidelines. Even worse if they’re accompanied by the dreaded form letter. Usually those ones will wind up in a freebox that houseguests are welcome to dig through, unless they’re truly offensive, then I’ll recycle them. I count also on zinefests and word-of-mouth to find new zines, and I’ll do online searches when there are specific topics I’m looking for. I can fall pretty behind on new material, partly because I don’t use Tumblr and rarely use Etsy, and maybe also because I’m getting older, so not only are my interests changing, but so also is the zine world. Generally, I distro zines by queers, feminists, anarchists, witches and weirdos, and there is a more specific list of topics that I’m interested in under my Submission Guidelines.

Fight Boredom also runs a Zine Residency Program. What an amazing idea! How did that come about?
Well, the simple answer is that the idea came from the Anchor Archive in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They’ve been running an artist residency for something like ten years, and a lot of really cool projects have come out of it. I was lucky enough to participate in 2012, just before they were evicted from their Roberts Street location and still had the sweet little shed to house residents. At the time, I’d proposed to work on the final issue of Culture Slut (the perzine series I’d been writing for nearly a decade) before publishing an anthology, but re-reading my old zines was much more mentally taxing than I’d imagined. All these themes emerged that I hadn’t spotted at the time of writing, or that simply hadn’t changed in those ten years. It threw me into a kind of depression. In the end, I wound up writing a zine about my first year of sobriety, and about learning how to spend time alone. Alone-ness vs. loneliness. It was called The Triumph Of Our Tired Eyes. I threw a launch party where I served a mountain of donuts and played The Smiths on a loop. And I never published the anthology. But the point is that I needed that two weeks of solitude to explore my feelings about my past work, and to get those words out of me.

I think a change of scenery can be beneficial to the creative process, and because we have a guest bedroom in our apartment, and access to things like cheap photocopies and other resources, I wanna share those things. Also, I’ve done so much traveling for zinefests, and I wanted to give myself the chance to stay home, but also invite people to see the city I live in. I’m really proud of the zines that have come out of the residency, and I’ve made some good friends out of it. Still, it’s only available to people who are able to essentially drop out their daily life to spend a few weeks here, and while I’m able to cover the costs of travel and supplies for now, my source(s) of funding are always shaky. It’s a perpetual work-in-progress.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start their own distro?
Start a distro because you care about zines and because you love words and you love art and because you want to share these things. Do it because so many voices are underrepresented in mainstream and alternative media. Do it because self-publishing is empowering. Ask yourself what you feel is currently missing from the zine world, or from your hometown, or your social milieu, and what you can bring to it. Create a cohesive theme with your catalogue. Answer your emails and keep track of your finances. Treat your postal workers well. Talk to others who’ve started distros. Explore the different ways there are of running a distro, whether it be tabling-only, mail-order, running a zine rack in another shop (like the ones at Dep Le Pickup in Montreal and Pressed and Gabba Hey in Ottawa, for example), or some combination thereof.

If you’re dreaming of starting a distro because you wanna “make a living doing what you love,” then I wouldn’t recommend it. Running a distro takes more time and energy than you’d think, and it is definitely not profitable. If I was working full-time, I don’t know if I’d be able to continue running it. If I didn’t have access to cheap photocopies, my distro would look a lot different. I’ve spent the past few years living off of research studies and clinical trials and generally avoiding having a boss, which is the only way I’m able to travel as often as I do, to have the time to welcome guests into our home as zine residents, and frankly, to take breaks when I’m feeling anxious or depressed.

What zines are you currently reading? What recent zines have really resonated with you?
I just finished reading Home Body by Aja Rose Bond, which is one of the most thoughtful and beautiful zines I’ve read in a while. It’s about being a femme witch, about things like time and labour and capitalism and magic and makeup, and it’s full of all these fantastic illustrations and smart writing. It’s really helping me think about how I manage my time in this weirdo world, among things. I’ll have it in stock at Fight Boredom Distro in the New Year, alongside a compilation that she sent me called Cultural Appropriation In Spirituality.

One that I keep coming back to is Queer Sailor Moon Fanfiction Saved My Life, which is almost always the first zine that people excitedly pick up when they see it on my table, and then I hafta warn them that it isn’t as lighthearted as you might think, reading about childhood cartoons. The author writes about growing up in a family that is hostile, homophobic, and abusive – so they seek solace in the secret queer culture of Sailor Moon and Spice Girls fanfiction via a slow internet connection. It’s a zine about trauma, and comes with resources and recommended reading on the topic.

Fashion Zine: Coming Out Of The Closet is this really cool zine whose simple title does not say enough about how absolutely perfect Estelle’s writing is. In short, it’s a zine about femme fashion and about coming out as a trans woman, with writing that is powerful and funny and maybe even sometimes leans into the surreal. I’m going to excerpt from the intro here, because she articulates why fashion is so important:

“Maybe I wanted to try and make some really bad jokes in this introduction as an attempt to point to some of the ways that writing a zine about fashion immediately makes me feel bad, ha. There is this general idea that fashion is vapid and vain, or, at its worst, that it is little more than a leisurely pursuit for rich people. To talk about fashion or dress in a crowd often elicits serious groans as if the subject has no political or cultural implications whatsoever. As if fashion somehow exists in a bubble separate from our social world. As if it is not constructed, valued, and informed by the very same power structures which influence all other aspects of our lives. As if nothing is at stake when we speak about fashion or when we dress ourselves. As if it is not a site of both oppression and resistance. As if fashion has nothing to say about bodies, race, gender, sexuality, disability, desirability, or class. As if it has no personal merit. As if one person’s experience wearing clothes is translatable or universal. As if it is not incredibly important to everyone whether you care about fashion trends or not.”

The last few pages are comprised of a comic by Rose Ghostly, who is a really fantastic artist and makes great weirdo punk comics. If you’re into this, you’ll also be into Vanity Zine, which was compiled by my roommate Timmy and also available through my distro. I also really love On (trans) Masculinity by Sadboy, a zine on unlearning toxic masculinity culture, and imagining positive forms of masculinity and manhood.

A few months ago, Amrit Brar put out Take This To Your Grave, a miniature wooden coffin that opens to reveal flowers, a matchbook, a couple of pinback buttons, and a mini-zine on the theme of death. It is really, really special.

I’m also really into the first issue of Tire Swing, which was written when the author had just hit ten months of sobriety. There was this bit that really resonated with me, that I don’t recall having read much about before, which is that sobriety can bring with it bodily changes that take some serious getting used to, and that unlearning what we are taught about how bodies “should” look is an ongoing process. I know I’m not the only one who replaced alcohol with soda and snacks, ha. They also write about feeling conflicted as to how to write about their negative experiences within Muslim spaces as a queer trans Muslim Iraqi person without unwittingly stoking the flames of Islamophobia, and about navigating the punk scene as a survivor of assault. This issue is available through From The Margins, and I still gotta get my hands on subsequent issues.

Outside of zines, I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels lately. Current favourites are Witchbody by Sabrina Scott, Photobooth and Long Red Hair by Meags Fitzgerald, and Mélody: Story Of A Nude Dancer by Sylvie Rancourt. Twice since October I’ve read M Train by Patti Smith, and I’m currently reading In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction by Gabor Maté. One thing I love about the winter is that taking public transit instead of riding my bike provides me with more time to read. My roommates and I have been passing a lot of books around between each other this year; most notably, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, and Redefining Realness by Janet Mock.

Do you notice any general trends or themes emerging in zine culture at large over these past few years?
Well, zines cost a lot more than they used to! Copy scams are getting scant but they still exist. Postage rates are outta control. I’m in shock when I visit other cities and see how much people are paying for their photocopies, which is why I offer to work with master copies when I’m distributing zines – sometimes it just makes more sense to photocopy zines here for half the price, and avoid the cost of postage altogether. I wondered to myself recently if my attitude toward zines has to do with the way I was raised (I’ve always lived below the poverty line and I dropped out of school when I was fourteen), and the fact that I didn’t start making zines in order to create art, but rather to make friends. I don’t know if I’d consider it a trend, but I’m seeing a lot of five- and ten-dollar zines around, and zinesters talking about getting paid for their work, and I think it’s totally fair, but at the same time, it’s not my world. I don’t want to pay myself an hourly wage to fold and staple zines on my bedroom floor, nor can I afford to pay that wage to anyone else. But I see this attitude more often with university students / graduates, trained artists, whatever, and maybe they’ve learned to see their zines as work, or as a stepping stone toward professional art and publishing, but I don’t see my own zines that way.

My zines are letters, or maybe they’re resource guides (like when I’m writing about mental health or winter survival or sobriety). I also see it as an issue of accessibility – like, maybe you’ve written or compiled a really incredible text on gender identity or surviving sexual assault or what-have-you, but if it’s written in academic terms, or it costs a lot of money, then it might not reach some people who could really benefit from it. Though I guess that’s an obvious reason why zine libraries are important, because then those zines can be made accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them. I dunno, I’m a small-town broke queer high school dropout recovering alcoholic bla bla bla and that’s where my heart will forever lie. Talking about money is tough and complicated, but I’d like to dream of new ways to fund our projects beyond crowdfunding among our broke friends. Perhaps it comes down to the many varied reasons that people make zines. I’m finding it difficult to articulate, but suffice it to say that my priorities vis à vis zines are broke queers and friendship, though I understand the desire/need to prioritize other things. I’ve been talking about this with my sibling, whose feelings differ greatly from mine, and on that note, I’d love to talk to more high school dropouts in general. Where are you?? It was over half my lifetime ago that I quit school, and I have no plans to ever do the college or university thing. It’s been hard to find people who chose a similar path, and I think it’d be really helpful to have these conversations.

There’s also the issue of the exchange rate. The Canadian dollar is somewhere around .75 cents to the US dollar right now, which means that I’m actually losing money on some of the zines that I stock. Once they cost more than two or three dollars, I can’t afford to order them in anymore. Sometimes I think about breaking down the finances of my distro and posting it online so that people understand how it works. I think that it’s easy to see the 50/50 wholesale rate that I generally pay for zines and assume that that half is actually a profit. It’s not.

And I think I’m in a perpetual conversation on the relationship of zines with academia, with archives, with the internet.
On a more positive note, I’m seeing friendship as a big theme in zines right now, lots of great writing on accessibility (Telegram and Deafula come to mind), self-care and healing, and so many resources on sexuality and gender that weren’t available to me when I was a teenager and just getting into zines… Also, distros like No Shame and Brown Recluse that specifically focus on zines by people of colour, so rad.

Are you working on anything else right now?
In October, Maranda and I finished working on a split zine together, just on time for our thirtieth birthday. We each agreed to write about our Saturn return, which happened a little over a year ago. Maranda also wrote about using tarot and astrology as methods toward healing, and reconnecting with their teenage self, and I wrote about a particularly rough time when my ceiling caved in due to the negligence of my landlord, an auspicious tarot reading from a stranger, and a little bit about being a lab rat. It was the 38th issue of Telegram, and the first issue of my new series, Critical Breakfast. You can get it through Fight Boredom Distro, and at Maranda’s Etsy shop. I’ll write more about being a participant in research studies and clinical trials in the future.

I’m also working on transcribing a conversation that I had with Chris and Milo (and Mara Williams, another resident) at the Queer Zine Archive Project about hosting and participating in residencies, and writing my submission for their annual zine by residents (I was lucky enough to spend ten days at QZAP in Milwaukee in the summertime), and I’m co-organizing Fun-A-Day with a few friends. I’m forever updating my website and adding new zines to the catalogue. I’m getting back into a gym routine (which is so key to beating the winter blues, for me), making more time for coffee dates with friends, spending many nights in karaoke bars, and daydreaming about whatever 2016 might bring.

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