16 December 2010

The Zinester’s Guide to New York City

Ayun Halliday is the author of a number of books, from The Big Rumpus, which chronicles the real life adventures of her family, to Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo, a children's book featuring the art work of a personal favorite of mine, Dan Santat. One of her many books, Job Hopper, is about her "diligent avoidance of hard work, regular paychecks, and anything remotely resembling a dress code." That is clearly something that speaks to me and I'll be referring to it often for inspiration.

For her most recent magic act, Ayun edited The Zinester's Guide to NYC, which I picked up a few weeks ago at one of the readings she set up around the city. The guide is an amazing piece of work as it features contributions from a variety of long time New York zines makers, and shines a light on tons of spots that a non-local like me would never even know about. The ZG2NYC covers so many things, and a small listing includes: museums, walking tours, classes, craft fairs, bookstores, 99 cent stores, flea markets, parks, scenic views, and even tips on the best public restrooms. Is this a book after my own heart or what? There's even a section that features anecdotes about the grossest things the book's resident correspondents have experienced in the city. I carry the ZG2NYC with me everywhere and it's been like having a personal guide through the city. Reading all the entries are fun and did I mention the illustrations? This Zinester's Guide is just 250+ pages of incredible stuff.

Along with all of that, Ayun's also been writing The East Village Inky, a zine about living in New York, and it's up to issue number forty five and features the type of witty, engaging, and hilarious writing that I absolutely adore. Ayun was kind enough to stop by for an interview with me, and I'm super grateful because I think she's just absolutely the coolest and I've yet to even actually meet her in person -- which will just double my admiration I'm sure! So thanks to Ayun for taking the time out to be interviewed and go scoop up a copy of The Zinester’s Guide to New York City like right now. Okay, maybe after the interview. Then go.

(1) I read that you started the East Village Inky about twelve years ago because you needed an additional outlet for your creative side, as you were raising your first child, and still performing with the Neo-Futurists. Why did you choose the zine format and what other zines were you a fan of at the time? And was that initial issue your first zine ever?

That's the origin story, all right. I chose the zine format because it's cheap, has a quick turnaround, doesn't cost much to give away and/or promote, and is far better suited to my meager talents than anything involving music, film, dance, or the sort of visual art that isn't easily photocopied. Back then, I wasn't too well versed in what zines were out there... Some of my early faves were Global Mail by Ashley Parker Owens, the Assassin and the Whiner by Carrie McNinch, and of course, Fact Sheet Five, which I pored over, amazed by the quantity of listings!

East Village Inky #1 could probably be legitimately described as my first zine, though back when I used to write letters instead of emails, I had a habit of illustrating whatever I'd been up to, and tuck that in all outgoing personal correspondence. I'd also made about twenty copies of a one-shot about my time in a deserted writer's colony in New Hampshire, a two week period in which I was freaked out by everything from the wind in the pines to the dead baby bunnies and bats my absent benefactor's cat kept dragging in. It was called "Nature".

(2) I'd love to hear how you transitioned from writing zines to writing books, and what sorts of things you feel like you'd separate out for the zine and what things you'd save for the books. Clearly you've done all sorts of books, so I guess I'm talking a bit more about the personal anecdotes and stories that fill your earlier stuff. What's the line -- either subject matter or even process -- that separates zine writing and memoir writing for you?

It's all pretty improvisational to tell the truth. The zine has a more immediate turn around and no editor. The books have more pages.

I don't have much of a hold on what sells in 'today's competitive marketplace', to use the phrase of a condescending, British publishing professional who called on a long ago birthday to say she had no interest in publishing an anthology of my 'rather darling little pamphlets'. I go through manic periods where I throw all sorts of book ideas at my agent. I was all het up to write an autobiography that would tie periods of my life to whatever costume I happened to have been wearing at the time. My agent's response was, "I think we need to find ways to make you MORE accessible to the mainstream, rather than less."

The zine is the place where I get to be the mainstream. Microcosm-wise, I'm practically the boeurgoisie compared, but they gave me near total reign over content. It was refreshing to not have my stranger edges sanded off for mass consumption. (That said, I do hope the book will be consumed on massive levels!)

(3) Since I am always pushing my friends and associates to blog, even going so far as to physically sit them down in front of a computer and making them one, I was curious what your take on blogging was, especially as it's grown over the years. Do you think a lot of the people who would have made zines before have now turned to the internet and blogging? Also, were you ever tempted to go entirely online with the East Village Inky?

I've blogged about food and traveling in the former Yugoslavia with my family, but I'm far more inclined to make something that ends in a tangible artifact.

I buy into that belief that one writes differently on a keyboard than in longhand, and the East Village Inky is entirely hand written. It's nice to have a written project that doesn't involve the computer, a device which exerts an unwholesome, addictive power over me. I get a bit jangly and snappish when I've overindulged. Whereas the East Village Inky is often a pain in the ass to get started, but once I'm in the groove, I find myself able to focus in a much more meaningful way. I'm not driven to check my email every five minutes. Also, any editing of the East Village Inky involves white-out, an interesting creative challenge in and of itself. What phrase can I come up with that is approximately the same length as the one I just blooped out?

There are a lot of blogs I enjoy reading, but I am repulsed by the way the comment sections so easily turn unnecessarily mean. Why provide another forum for people who don't know me personally to say nasty, inaccurate things about me (and/or my kids) when Amazon's already doing such a great job of that with its Customer Review section for No Touch Monkey? Readers who give feedback on the East Village Inky tend to write letters, which is wonderful. I love getting actual mail. I love it when it seems as if they picked out the stationery especially with me in mind, or when one of their kids draws one of my kids the way I draw them in the zine.

(4) When did your kids start reading the writing about themselves? Was there a concerted effort to show them -- or to keep it away for awhile? I'm curious because I feel like having all this literature and work about them must be the coolest thing ever, like a personalized history. And have they expressed interest in making their own spin off zine?

They've grown up with it laying around. There's really no hiding anything in this cramped little apartment, and even if there was, Inky, in particular, is now of the age where snooping the adults' bookshelves is both educational and appropriate, a necessary rite of passage. Whether or not people realize it, I've always tried to be mindful of the children's feelings when depicting them. It's helpful that their father, Greg, is an essentially private person. If I feel like I'm about to cross a line, I just imagine him frowning in disapproval. Sometimes that expression eggs me on, but never when I'm about to write something too personal about our children. Then it's a good safety to have in place.

Still, there are misfires. Milo has recently started to that certain things in recent issues were insulting. They're almost always in the Advice to the Fathers comics Greg writes and I illustrate... Milo really loves comics so this is possibly the only part of the zine he reads in depth. Usually the part he's taking issue with turns out to be a verbatim quote in a word bubble issuing from his own mouth. We're like, "Milo, that is an absolutely accurate depiction of the point of view you so passionately argue!" And usually, he'll be like, "...Oh." Mystifying.

Ultimately, I think both of them are pleased to be the main characters in this ongoing serial, or they are 85% of the time. Hopefully the percentages will grow. You really made my day with your comment about the personal history aspect being the coolest thing ever. I leave it to them to correct the parts I didn't get quite right, and fill in all the private blanks.

As far as making zines of their own, Inky is a wonderful artist. Her style is far more developed and satirical than mine. She has amazing stuff in her notebooks. Hopefully someday soon, she will choose to share some of it with the public in some sort of organized way. She's in a playwriting workshop, and recently completing a Moth storytelling workshop for teens. She is definitely exploring her options as far as ways to get her creativity out there in front of people.

Milo has a mule's iron will when insisting that he hates to write. On the other hand, he is an awesome storyteller, and a huge fan of graphic novels. The jury's still out, but I would not be surprised if he eventually gravitates to some sort of public, creative enterprise.

(5) What do you use to write and organize all your projects? Just a word processing program, something more special? I can only imagine the amount of organization and detail that had to go into ZG2NYC, how'd you keep it all straight?!

Straight up text edit, son, but only because Microsoft Word crashes every time I open my laptop. The Zinester's Guide to NYC was a hornet's nest of emails, all of which were lost to history in last month's desktop crash. (It's okay -- that sucker's published now!) The East Village Inky's bookstore accounts are all in a little yellow notebook decorated with this character named Cong Cong, who looks a lot like Inky did when she was younger.