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Interviews with some of our favorite independent publications / by Chris Lee

It’s been one year since The Phoenix closed, eight years since I moved to Boston, and six months since I moved away.

When Liz and Faye first brought up the idea of starting an ad-free alt-weekly, I felt totally present in the process, knowing full-well that it was going to be really difficult and really fun—and knowing, also, that they were capable and weird enough to make The Media real. I was on board, then, not just because I’d trusted their considerable talents, but because I’d trusted our existing friendships, thinking back on bike rides, shared meals, and large, cheap bottles of wine.

Not that much has changed in a year.

One change is that I’ve been ‘promoted’ from contributor to contributing editor, but even that’s sort of a bad joke. Promotion would presume hierarchy or pay-grades, when in reality The Media has neither, and being an editor means staying up late on Thursdays (more than I do already), and texting Faye and Liz (more than I do already). Like most jokes, though, the idea of ‘promotion’ has some truth to it. It means I can feel more engaged with The Media, and feel a greater sense of belonging in its anti-corporate and ad hoc agendas.

But caring collectively also means forgoing the idea of personal ownership. Hoarding cultural capital can happen with or without the exchange of currency, and shaking that dangerous possibility means ensuring that things can be democratically experienced and cooperatively produced, despite the normative values assigned to uniqueness and singularity.

The first issue of The Media showcased its own share of alternative and underground press, featuring various publications in Boston that had already been putting out creative content. By bringing attention to those other projects, The Media made its mission collectively-driven from the start, not indulging in its own specialness, but, rather, recognizing that what it does is historically and horizontally connected to publications in the same vein. And embracing that connectedness, refusing the logic of exceptionalism, is subversive in its own right.

That’s what I love about The Media, and what I love about DIY publishing in general; we have nothing to lose from working with one another. There’s no profit or reader share to be ceded through collaboration; the competitive stakes are absent, or simply too gross to entertain. We can revel in each other’s accomplishments, catch each other’s errors, and continue existing.

The mutual relationships developed out of DIY publishing aren’t incidental, nor are they totally intentional; they just are. These connections come out of friendships, physical or virtual, and out of a shared understanding that we are all trying to do something cool, something tough, and, potentially, something radical. Writing for an ad-free publication is gratifying in this way, and yet, because we are conditioned to think of work in relation to money, it can also feel completely thankless—which makes it even more important to tell each other when we’re doing okay, when we’re doing great, and when we’re doing so great that we forget we were supposed to be bummed.

In celebration of the one-year anniversary of The Media, and in recognition of the work done by other artists, activists, and the occupationless, we’re featuring three of the publications that we think are doing great: Hum Journal, The Le Sigh, and Recaps Magazine. Part of honoring a community of alternative press means admitting that you don’t know what the right answer is, and that the definition of an ‘alternative’ will always be contingent and contested. In the spirit of this shared uncertainty, we’ve asked our friends and collaborators how they define DIY publishing, what’s missing, and what’s next.

What initially inspired you to start Hum Journal?

Escapism! Which is funny because the novelty of Hum is it’s rootedness in the city of Boston, where it was created. We didn’t want to escape the city, we wanted to re-discover the city. We were looking to escape the drudgery of our office jobs by way of finding inspiration and levity in a project that we could collaborate on. The art journal was kind of a “duh” when we were throwing around ideas. We were part of an alternative arts and music scene in Boston and the desire to capture, organize, share, and archive the talent surrounding us is what brought Hum to fruition. Publishing a print journal and building a website seemed best suited to our skills and interests, and also there was just a massive void in that kind of exposure for artists in Boston. Cities like NY or LA are overrun with independent art publications,but that presence definitely seemed to be missing in Boston. We wanted to fill in the gaps and also to leave an imprint on the city. Hum is curated by the two of us (best friends!). It’s for everyone to enjoy, but ultimately it is work that we find exceptional or intriguing by some measure and it has our spirit & style running all throughout it.

What void do you see your publication filling (or hope it fills) in the bigger picture of independent media?

A lot of the feedback we got from Hum leads us to believe that the journal doesn’t really come off as a DIY publication. This is interesting to think about and was admittedly intentional. When people think of “DIY,” I think they imagine a lot of cut-and-paste, and collage, and just general abundance. Our hope was to produce a sincerely DIY publication using the ethos of do-it-yourself along with the look and feel of something that appeared a little more “sophisticated.” We did this by building a really slick website (designed top-to-bottom by Holly) and by putting a lot of white space in the actual journal. I think in the bigger picture of independent media, it’s important to remember that those websites and publications that appear so untouchably professional could be made by YOU if you have the desire and motivation. Holly and I built Hum in our jammies, after 5pm, when our day-jobs let us out. We had a “vision” for what we wanted, and we figured everything else out as we went along.

How do you define DIY publishing?

DIY publishing is anarchic, and beautiful, and hopeful, and dangerous, and --- Do-it-yourself publishing is really less about the doing-it-yourself and more about leveraging the talent and expertise of those around you. With the first issue of Hum, we solicited friends to submit their work. All fifteen artists were hand-picked, asked politely if they would offer their art to a project that hadn’t happened yet, and trust that it would be a cool product. The art journal would obviously be impossible without their work, so collaborating with them was essential, and incredibly rewarding. And so many other people helped us along the way… That support and camaraderie is the most empowering aspect of DIY.

But what I really really love about DIY publications are the surprising communities that grow around them. Bringing people together is my greatest joy and seeing what values and ideas unite a group of people is so absorbing. From my experience reading DIY publications and talking to friends who have started their own pubs, it seems to be a very democratic economy. The “vibe” is non-hierarchical, non-competitive, supportive, welcoming. There’s a lot of cross pollination between writers, artists, content, etc. I like that too. It’s not about YOUR publication, it’s about celebrating the radical freedom we experience when we do-it-together.

Something we think about a lot with The Media is how our publication started as a local Boston thing but is now de-centralized, and what that means in terms of its purpose and goals, and whether its possible to still be a “locally-minded” or “multi-local” publication even though our contributors are all over the country/world. How do you see the role of local media changing? Can publications embrace both of those approaches simultaneously?

I think so! But for Hum at least, we want to keep the publication tethered to the city we happen to be living in at the time. I think a lot of what is important about art is encountering it. Experiencing it out in the world. We were able to connect with our artists bc we were noticing their work in our community and it resonated with us and we wanted to share it with communities beyond…

What alternative publications do you read/take inspiration from?

Anything that our friends are putting out! The Media, Boston’s Counter Cultural Compass, RECAPS Magazine, Guts Magazine out of Toronto, Grey on Grey out of Montréal, The Editorial Magazine out of Montréal. I really love Rookie and all things Tavi too.

We love leafing through artist’s self-published books at Aviary Gallery in Jamaica Plain, where we live and drew a lot of inspiration from those encounters.

Do you have any big plans for the next issue of Hum Journal?

Big plans? Trying to keep a BIG, OPEN ATTITUDE. This is an experiment! But, practically speaking… hopefully a bigger format journal if we have the money for it. More interviews with artists, definitely. Maybe getting more people involved in the actual production and curation of it. I (Anna) am moving to Los Angeles. We know that the second issue is going to remain Boston-exclusive, but we’re thinking of opening up the 3rd issue to bi-coastal submissions. Still, it would remain LA-Boston. We need some restrictions and I think we want to keep the work localized to whatever city we are living in!

What initially inspired you to start The Le Sigh?

Diana Cirullo: The Le Sigh kind of happend by accident. I had just moved to New York and my long distance boyfriend broke up with me over Skype. I was feeling very lost and like I needed a creative outlet so I asked Emily if she would start a blog with me. In the beginning, it wasn't necessarily "female-only" but eventually we found that it was an area we were naturally gravitating towards. It's been really inspiring to run this type of thing; especially when it seems like no one else was taking the time to highlight women in the underground music and art scene.

What void do you see The Le Sigh filling (or hope it fills) in the bigger picture of independent media?

Emily Thompson: I think our goal is to fill the void of fair coverage of female-identifying artists. Women are often put down, whether intentionally or not, in mainstream media. I feel like every week my eyes are rolling about another article that just gets covering women wrong. I didn't even start thinking about this and realizing it until we were like, already working on the site. Also, I wish I had something like The Le Sigh when I was younger – a blog or site that showcased all the cool shit women are doing. It's so important for girls to discover all of these cool bands with girls in them too, not just dudes, and realize what they can do.

How do you balance being locally-minded or ‘multi-local’ while acknowledging that your contributors live in all kinds of places?

ET: I know that we definitely embrace not being "local" – whenever people write about The Le Sigh they say we're based in Brooklyn when in reality it's like literally all over the world. We have writers in Australia, the UK, and more. But it never feels like we’re that far off culturally. For example, one of our writers from Australia loves Philly bands even though she's thousands of miles away. I guess it would be cool to have a lot of Brooklyn writers but I also love the idea that we're super spread out. It's almost hard to be exclusively local when you exist totally in the digital sphere, and I think that's okay. Local media definitely has a place in journalism but for a site like us it's so much easier to be non-local.

What alternative publications do you read?

DC: We all read different things but a few that come to mind are The Bushwick Review, Sad Girls Guide, Illuminati Girl Gang, Impose, Rookie, Shabby Doll House, and of course The Media.

What’s next for the The Le Sigh?

DC: Like Emily mentioned, we exist almost entirely in the digital sphere right now. I think going forward, we hope to establish more of a physical presence in our local community. More events, panels, exhibitions, showcases, are definitely in store for us. Last November, we released our first zine and tape compilation with the help of Brooklyn-based label Birdtapes and that was a great way for us to connect with our readers in person. We're planning to release another zine and tape later this year, and in general, collaborate with more folks in new and interesting ways.

How was RECAPS founded?

RECAPS started as a way to dream virtual community into relationship with embodied activism. It became a platform for conversation between a porous group of friends, collaborators, and comrades at around the same time Occupy encampments were being boarded up. We wanted to make a space for reclaiming culture, art, politics, and sexuality (R.E.C.A.P.S) without having to set a specific agenda for what that would look like.

What void does RECAPS fill or (hope to fill) in the bigger picture of independent media?

RECAPS takes an affective, aesthetic, and abstract approach to-- for lack of a better shorthand-- new-new-new left politics. I (Martabel) see RECAPS as being a weird, artsy sister to projects like Jacobin-- creating an ‘archive of feelings.’

Why is DIY publishing important to you?

We can't enact new political possibilities without getting our hands dirty. Radical ideas need to be handled, embodied, and tried on. I value how the hand is visible in DIY publications. Typos, ready-made themes, and provisional content hep situate our identities and our imperfections, in ways that can empower us to take on daunting questions without the pretense of proposing a perfect response.

How do you negotiate staying locally-minded while exploring decentralized approaches to writing and editing?

Our editorial collective was founded as a decentralized experiment in community. We are currently all over the country (and Cora is now living in Italy!). At the same time, we are invested in fostering local engagement with events such as Reclaim Pride and the recent Rethink Environment happening in LA. Physical and virtual space, while not mutually exclusive, produce very different sorts of interactions. Part of what we are playing with is how to translate these interactions from one sphere to another and back again.

What are your favorite alternative publications?

Our editorial collective has seven members right now, so our interests are all over the place! Some of our favorites include Velvet Park Media, Heresies out of New York, LIES Journal, BlackGirlDangerous, The New Inquiry, and Hyphen Magazine-- and other publications that feature queer, materialist, and critical race reflections.

What’s next for RECAPS?

We are currently working on the second part of the Rethink Environment issue! It’s going to include reflections, documentation, and responses to the three-day happening we hosted in Los Angeles, as well feature additional new content. There is so much collective processing happening after the event, and the next issue promises to reflect that in some really provocative and political ways.

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