Guest Column: Ayun Halliday

dirtysugar.jpegThis week, writer Ayun Halliday contributes a column on zines. Halliday is the founder of the quarterly zine The East Village Inky and the author of four self-mocking autobiographies, most recently Dirty Sugar Cookies: Culinary Observations, Questionable Taste. She is BUST magazine’s Mother Superior columnist and has contributed to a vast array of low-paying forums. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, playwright Greg Kotis, and their two well-documented children. Here is what she had to say about starting her own zine:

Long before I had kids or book contracts or Internet access, I was struck by something Spalding Gray said in an interview with Tricycle magazine. Asked what motivated him to start performing his autobiographical monologues, he replied that he got tired of waiting for “the Big Infernal Machine to make up its mind” about him. I never met him, and have long suspected that he might be one of those charismatic, neurotic handfuls best worshipped from afar, but he was one of my heroes, and those words meant a lot to me. At 31, I was loathe to relinquish my dream of a life in the arts, despite overwhelming evidence that, should I ever be tempted to offer myself up for serious consideration, the Big Infernal Machine would drop my resume in the shredder without even opening the envelope.

These days, blogs provide an excellent forum for those looking to claim a piece of the action without first securing the big infernal machine’s approval. Even a cavewoman like me can figure out how to publish (and promote!) on the Internet. Still, there’s something to be said for a good, old-fashioned print zine, the kind that gets stapled up on a dining room table and then stuffed into an envelope whose flap will be moistened by the publisher’s own tongue.


Good mail begets even better mail. Every three months, I lay a couple thousand copies of my zine, The East Village Inky on the United States Postal Service. In return, my PO box is regularly stuffed with letters, photos, and other ephemera from subscribers who feel like they know me, which indeed, they do, far better than they would have had the hours I devoted to my zine been spent trying to get an article published in the mainstream press. As the sole employee of The East Village Inky, I’ve never had an editor tell me that a joke is too off-color, a reference too obscure, or a two-page, run-on sentence too long. I might have made more money if I tried playing within the parameters established by the Big Infernal Machine, but I doubt that readers would have been swayed to send unsolicited plastic cocktail monkeys, fresh mint and a Bar Mitzvah present for my cat.

Once, I got an email from someone who’d found an issue of The East Village Inky in a café in Romania. I was kind of surprised she wasn’t writing from Tulum, Mexico, as I’d recently slipped a copy behind my guest house’s complimentary guide to the Mayan Riviera. Obviously, blogging is not subject to international boundaries, but can a blog wind up in a used bookstore twenty years from now? Can a blog be discovered in an attic or tucked, Pippi Longstocking-style into a hollow tree? It’s immensely gratifying to think of The East Village Inky riding the subway to people’s crappy day jobs, waiting with them in line at the DMV, and keeping them company on the porcelain throne. It’s pocket-sized for a reason. (Those cell phones that can download everything from videos to The New York Times are just copying.)

I spend so much time hunched over my keyboard, it’s hard to remember that not everyone is courting a dowager’s hump via constant connection to the web. The handwritten nature of my zine means that I can work on it anywhere, as long as I have a pen and paper. I could knock out a page in the middle of a pasture! I’m not fettered by electrical outlets or wireless access, though I do rely rather heavily on correction fluid. My natural tendency toward sloth could only spell trouble when coupled with the one-click ease of publishing half-baked thoughts on a blog. Since I have to go over the East Village Inky’s final pages, anyway, checking that I’ve laid them out correctly, there’s always a checkpoint for realizing that the way I’ve stated something makes me sound like a total ass-bite. (When you write your own zine, you can use idiosyncratic words like ass-bite, a beauty that was lost on the large-circulation editor who attempted to change my characteristic “heinie” to the generic, and to me much less descriptive, “butt.”)

And, no promises, butt – sorry, make that ‘but’ – after you’ve published a few issues, you might find that your zine has attracted the attention of none other than the Big Infernal Machine. Apparently, it’s not immune to the outlaw allure of those who actively reject it.

Want to know more about zines? Visit: The History of Zines, Zine World Guide to the Underground Press, and Stolen Sharpie Revolution, a DIY Zine Resource.

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