How did you first become involved with zines and diy culture?
I first became involved in zines through the Melbourne all ages scene in the early to mid 1990’s. I fell in love. I was fifteen years old, excited and ready to create. There was a great scene of all ages gigs happening in Melbourne at the time and zines would be present. I remember attending a launch of an issue of Woozy zine at The Punters Club in Fitzroy where all the zines were piled on a table when you walked into the band room. It blew my mind. I thought the art was amazing and the work was so politically engaged. I could not understand why there was only 30 or so people there instead of a few thousand. The scene was friendly and I soon found myself working on dumb collaborative zines with my flakey friends. My friends were happy to draw dumb drunk drawings but when it came to collating and distributing the zines they were nowhere to be found. I found I loved the production side of zines and left my flakey friends behind and started working on my own projects. My partner and I got together through making zines together and I have made zines with pretty much everyone I call a friend today.
Sticky Institute was founded in 2001 and you have stocked, 12,000 zine titles in the last 15 years. What are a few really unique zines that come to mind and still resonate with you years after you first read them?
The shelf price of a zine is always dictated by the zine maker. We had a cassette zine a number of years ago that came with a $10,000 price tag. It was $10,000 or trade and someone traded it for a chocolate bar. I am a huge fan of free zines so it warms my heart to see the free section of the shop overflowing these days. There is plenty of action in the free weekly zine movement at the moment with YOU, Friday Night In West Ealing, Knees Up, Rut and Meatloaf Headache appearing every week. Risograph zines are flowing off the shelf at the moment. I still get a kick out of calling someone up to tell them their zines have sold out straight away and we desperately need more of their zines for our shop. Discovering the work Ashley Ronning, Vanessa Berry, Gemma Flack, Iain McIntyre, Ianto Ware, Bastian Fox Phelan, Steve Larder, Clod and just meeting zine makers from around Australia and around the world kept me going.
Could you briefly explain for our readers, how Sticky works? i.e., memberships, classes, events?
Sticky Institute is completely run by volunteers. The model we work to has changed every four of five years throughout our history. The genius of Sticky is that it was set up inside another organisation’s space (Platform Artists Group) so for the first seven years of the project we survived rent and bill free. This allowed the project the time to develop and establish what we were, what we were not and what we wanted to do. We separated from Platform in 2007 and started applying for arts funding. Because we had a proven seven year history we were wildly successful with all the first arts grants we applied for. We received funding from City of Melbourne (local council), Arts Victoria (State Government) and The Australia Council (Federal Government). But all the funding completely dried up in 2011. We found the funding bodies would fund us to do anything other than what we do, and actually do really well, which is run a zine shop. We didn’t fit the categories and they always wanted us to grow and do exhibitions and run workshops when what we actually do is run a zine shop (and run it really well) and anything we do outside of that takes us away from running a zine shop.
The current model is that there are usually around 15 volunteers who run the shop in any given week. Three of those volunteers work as coordinators. There is then a Management Committee made us of Responsible Adults (a legal term) who over-see the project and who meet once every three months to discuss the running of the shop and plan for the future. Our main game is keeping the shop doors open, making sure there is someone to work in the space, open up and close up every day. Our main event for the year is the zine festival we run every February called The Festival of the Photocopier. The main event of the festival is a zine fair in the biggest room of the Melbourne Town Hall. It is free for zine makers to have a stall, it is only zines and we are expecting over 200 stalls at the 2017 zine fair. Other zine events we coordinate are regular zine launches every other week at Sticky and there is a reading group that meets at the store once a month called “Compulsory Poses: The Bodybuilding Biography Book Group For Men”. We break the day up into two shifts, 12 noon to 3pm and 3pm to 6pm and we try to have two volunteers present in the space at all times.
My job as a coordinator is to make sure people are going to be at the shop to open up and deal with all the bizarre problems that arise when you bring together a group of zine misfits for a common cause. We offer memberships which allow members half price photocopying and a say at the Annual General Meeting we hold every year. Memberships start at $20 a year or you can pay more and receive zines in the mail every month.
Running a successful collective for a decade and a half is a supreme accomplishment. What are a few of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome to keep Sticky going?
Sticky is more a group of volunteers rather than a collective. We have always operated with a structure of coordinators who over-see the project. We were really lucky (or really smart) to develop a structure where we did not have to pay rent or bills for the first seven years of our project by piggy-backing on a friendly organisation. This is always my advice to The Kids when they ask about starting a project. I tell them to find like-minded people and hold on to them tight. By the time we had to stand on our own two feet we had a large and supportive audience and an income source from regular sales. The main issue is keeping the door open from 12 to 6 every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and 12 to 5pm on Saturdays. We currently have an over-supply of volunteers and the space is really small so there is not the time or space for everyone who wants to work to have a shift in the shop. The project could have shut down literally every three years of our existence and we have managed to come up with a creative way to keep the doors open and survive. For the first three years I literally spent my whole life handwriting letters to zine makers asking them to send their zines to us for us to sell for them. These days that side of the project takes care of itself because we have been around long enough that the word has spread. But I still get a kick out of handwriting a letter to some kid who has just made their first zine and telling them that I think it is great and I want copies to distribute for them.
Sticky recently celebrated their millionth photocopy with a party. What an amazing idea! Can you elaborate a bit on this event?
We realised we had made 1,000,000 photocopies on our in-store photocopier so we decided to have a party to celebrate. It is literally the cheapest photocopying in the Southern Hemisphere – 3 cents a copy black and white if you are a Sticky member. We had a huge zine launch where 25 zines were launched simultaneously and we cut a symbolic typewriter ribbon over the beautiful photocopier. We got our first photocopier in 2008 and debated whether to buy a crappy machine or rent a fancy machine. We rented a fancy machine from a big photocopier company which means a photocopier technician comes and fixes the photocopier immediately when it breaks down and it is super reliable. Our new machine is named Calvin after the technician who installed it.
There’s a great short history on the site that was written in 2011. Could you briefly walk us through the subsequent years? What types of changes, or general evolution has occurred from 2011 to 2016?
At the end of 2011 we decided to no longer apply for arts funding and to pay our rent and bills through zine sales. We have always given 80% of the sales of any zine straight back to the zine maker and taken a 20% cut to pay our rent. We paid two coordinators through the arts funding between 2009 and 2011. In 2012 we returned to an all-volunteer structure with three volunteer coordinators and fifteen volunteers. The new model has worked and we are now in the fifth year of this model.
Where should zinesters mail their zines to be stocked by Sticky?
We will take 10 copies of any zine. You name the shelf price. You get 80% of the shelf price once all copies have sold. Mail the zines to Sticky Institute, P.O.Box 310, Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Victoria, 8009, Australia. We will put them straight out on the shelf for you and get them to The Kids. You can find a stockist form on our website here: www.stickyinstitute.com. Fill out the form and send it in with your zines so we know how to pay you! To be clear we only stock zines. We do not stock magazines. We do not stock cd’s. We do not stock posters. We do not stock t-shirts. We really really really really love zines and we run a dedicated zine shop.
Festival of the Photocopier is a well-attended and well regarded zine fair organized by Sticky Institute. What advice would you give aspiring zine event organizers and planners who wanted to mount a zine function in their community?
The Festival of the Photocopier is a four day zine festival we run in February each year. The Festival of the Photocopier Zine Fair is the main event of the festival. We started by running the zine fair in the corridor outside Sticky in 2008 but it outgrew that space so we moved the fair to the biggest room of the Melbourne Town Hall. My advice to people wanting to start a zine event is keep it small. Like-minded people will find you and everything will grow organically. We started with 15 zines on our shelves when we opened in April 2001. We are now approaching 14,000 individual zine titles stocked from all around the world in the 15 years we have operated. We have adapted as we have needed to through those years.
While zines have been a staple of independent culture for nearly a hundred years, (longer depending on how you classify them), there does seem to be a resurgence of interest in zines in the last few years. Where do you see zine culture evolving in the next 5,10, or 20 years?
I have worked at Sticky since the day we opened in 2001 and I reckon zines have become “hot” every four to five years during that time for six months at a time. Every four years the mainstream media gets the great idea to run an article on zines then they just ignore us for another four years. But we are always there. We are always here. We have seen a number of zine makers returning from internet-inspired zine retirement over the past couple of years after finding that the promise of digital publishing wasn’t all they thought it was going to be. The zines that tend to flourish are the zines that respect the medium. If you want to write about music and link to video clips of the bands you are writing about then maybe the internet is the place to do that. If you want to make a zine about toast on 60gsm newsprint using 120gsm 100% recycled post-consumer waste paper with an actual piece of Adelaide garbage stapled to the cover then there are a whole army of zine readers out there who are going to get excited.
What’s next for Sticky? Any upcoming events or projects you’d care to highlight?
The Festival of the Photocopier 2017 will run from February 9th to 12th 2017 with the zine fair being in the biggest room of the Melbourne Town hall on Sunday February 12th from 12 to 6pm. We will be taking stall bookings from December 1st 2016. We have had zine stalls this year at the Canberra Zine Fair, The Other Worlds Zine Fair in Sydney, Fresh Prints in Perth and we will be at the Zine and Indie Comics Symposium in Brisbane later this year, Sticky will be open from 12 noon to 6pm every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and 12 to 5pm on Saturdays for as long as we can fight for it to be.