Who are you? Where are you based?
Ayun Halliday, Chief Primatologist of the long-running zine, the East Village Inky, reporting from NYC.
What are zines to you?
Unedited expressions of creativity, almost always fueled by a need of one sort or another. A small potato endeavor that the majority of the populace might find childish, lumpy, or odd. Also, a slim candle of hope that perhaps print will endure.
Vice just interviewed Scott Walter, who wrote a graphic novel I’m reviewing (Wendy, Master of Art). One of his remarks – about making zines and mini comics as a high schooler – really struck a chord, and seems germane to your question:
“It was a way for me to retreat into my own world and at the end of it have something to disseminate that expresses what that world was.”
What was your first encounter with zines?
When Ashley Parker Owens, with no prior warning, dropped a big stack of her mail art zine, Global Mail, at our theater, The Neo-Futurarium in Chicago. It was sort of like the Factsheet Five of mail art projects. I guess this would’ve been around 1992. I was immediately taken by mail art, but also the idea of publishing something yourself as a way of forming a creative community, conferring authority on yourself, and creating a potentially long-running project for public consumption.
Tell me about your zines. What kind of zines do you make?
The East Village Inky is a handwritten, hand-illustrated chronicle of whatever’s going on in my life at the time. Some hallmarks of East Village Inky quality include epic run-on sentences, teeny tiny footnotes crammed into the margins, and essential elements that get whited out of illustrations and never replaced (like, uh, arms…eyeballs). When my children were really little, it was a popular baby shower gift for a very specific type of pregnant woman, but now it’s more of a grab bag. Every now and then, I’ll mix things up with a special theme issue. The next issue, #63, will be the All Star Sports issue, as recounted by someone who was terminally picked last in gym.
What inspires you to create zines?
A quote by the late Spalding Gray, who said in an interview that the reason he started performing the original autographical monologues for which he was eventually celebrated, was that he ‘got sick of waiting for the big infernal machine to make up its mind about (him). It’s worth noting that I have never been able to find this quote online. I think it was in the Buddhist magazine Tricycle. Obviously, it struck a nerve.
What’s your favorite thing about zines?
Working on the zine approximates the long hours I spent as a child, playing with my dollhouse, or creating worlds with my stuffed animals or puppets. It’s like having complete control over a creative effort, with very little anxiety about how it’s going to be received or expenses or promotion. It’s so pleasurable, I don’t know why I haven’t put out 1000s of issues! As a reader of others’ zines, my favorite thing is the mailbox joy when the next issue of one of my favorites arrives…
Do you recall your first zine ever, what was it about and what inspired you to create it?
Well, there’s some internal debate about that. After discovering Global Mail, and later, Quimby’s bookstore in Chicago, I was on fire to make a zine myself. One of my fellow Neo-Futurists got me a part time job in the extremely under-utilized business center at the Swiss Grand Hotel, so I had copier access, and used it to put together a very murky little booklet called Cheshire – a collection of poems and some monologues I’d written for Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. (I called it Cheshire b/c the cover was my attempt to blow up my driver’s license photo, but the copy was so dark all you could see was my toothy smile – like the Cheshire Cat. But I dunno, maybe that’s more of a chapbook.
I made a little one-shot called Nature when I was on a writing retreat on top of a mountain in New Hampshire. It was born of my terror at being stranded up there by my lonesome. Usually, there would’ve been a half dozen or so other women in residence, as well as the founder, but it was just me, and this academic named Peggy whom I hardly ever saw, presumably b/c she was tending to real work with deadlines and research. The founder, a friend of my friend’s older brother, said she’d let me stay for free if I fed her cat. I thought I had been selected for a writing sabbatical. She thought she had scored herself a pet sitter. Every day of my extremely nerve-racking stay, this massive, furry tortoiseshell brought me a present in the form of a dead baby animal – moles, mice, bunnies, a little wingless bat. The whole thing felt extremely ripe for a horror movie starring me as the freaked out victim. I think I maybe made 20 copies of Nature, and true to form, I didn’t lay it out properly.
My wedding invitation, mail art submission calls, and massage therapy brochure all had zine-ly elements – little booklets, bound with staples or thread, illustrated with rubber stamps, clip art, found photos, and my chicken scratchings…
The one that stuck was East Village Inky. I finally found a subject that could sustain multiple issues. The first-ish came out in the fall of 1998, following the summer of my major creative identity crisis, which, surprise, surprise, just happened to coincide with my first child’s first birthday. Prior to giving birth, I’d spent every weekend performing as myself in front of sold out Off-Off-Broadway crowds (not as impressive as it sounds, but also more impressive than it sounds – I never take an audience for granted.) Her arrival put an end to my late-night theatrical doings. Thank god it dawned on me that I could make a zine. It was a travelogue of sorts to the East Village, couched in personal experience, which at the time meant being joined at the hip to a baby, 24-7.
I had a party on our building’s roof to herald that first issue and invited all the adults and children I had met hanging out in Tompkins Sq Playground. Half of them thought it was my daughter Inky’s birthday. I was like, “No, it’s my zine’s birthday!” Amazing that no one toddled off the edge of the roof.
The rest is history, I guess.
Tell me a little about your zine-making process.
I procrastinate like a royal melon-farmer, and then eventually, I wander out to the park (or in pre-COVID times, and hopefully again in the future, one of NYC’s many cafés.)
I am armed with a few sheets of printer paper, a non-photo blue pencil, a tube of Japanese White-Out, and some badly treated Micron pens, though halfway through the last issue, I started using a lovely Japanese fountain pen that was recommended to me by the cartoonist Mimi Pond.
I write and draw the same size as the finished project, and after all these years, I have figured out what the layout should look like – I get four East Village Inky pages to every single-sided sheet, though I still suck at margins.
After burning through about 10 pages in pure stream of consciousness, I realize that I am wasting way too much space on what is essentially a prologue, and try to stay on topic. My chronic failure to do that is another sign of East Village Inky quality, or so I tell myself.
If I make a boo boo, I calculate how many words can fit in the whited-out space, and hopefully jot the replacement down on the back of the page, so I don’t have to wrack my brains when the White Out is dry and who knows how many weeks have elapsed.
Once it’s pretty much done, I do a final read-through, making notes of facts to be confirmed or illustrations that require a visual reference in order to be properly drawn – like a particular celebrity or a specific building or landmark. (I pride myself on my inability to draw hands and horses.)
Then I take it to Wholesale Copies, a wonderful, now-struggling NYC business with whom I have a long-standing relationship, and they work their magic on my margins, after which it’s up to me to staple, stuff, and get the word out.
What do you hope people get out of your zines?
It’s evolved a bit.
Used to be, I hoped people would discover offbeat things to do in NYC, and not discount me because I was saddled with a baby or a couple of little kids.
Then I hoped that women who felt isolated by some combination of motherhood, geography, and liberal sentiment would find relief in its pages.
Then I hoped everyone who read the zine would buy my books.
Now I hope people who are inclined to view middle-aged women with very little interest will say to themselves, “Hmm, she’s kind of funky and funny and does a lot of cool-sounding things – I should rethink my ageist ways.”
Naturally, I am never without hope that whoever buys it will feel the zine merits their three dollar expenditure, and if they somehow secured a free copy, I hope they will like it enough to subscribe.
Name two of your favorite zinesters.
Tough one, especially since I’ve recently discovered the work of some younger zinesters that I really like. I’m gonna go with fellow travelers – mature women who’ve been in the zine racket for a long ayes time: Carrie McNinch and Marissa Falco.
Do you have any advice for new zinesters?
Ditch the devices for a bit. Even if your intention is for the finished product to be a digitally rendered, graphically accomplished package. Temporarily absent yourself from the headspace that has you constantly monitoring social media, or the news, or someone other than yourself. Let your zinely thoughts come together organically, using pen and paper.
And speaking as a reader, humor is always welcome, as is couching your thoughts or any socio-political beliefs in personal anecdote. I always feel more invested when I learn something substantial about the zinester as an individual.
Is there a zine website or resource you would recommend new zinesters to check out?
The Barnard Zine Library is a great starting place… and has lots of visuals that you can access even though the library remains closed at present:
Interview conducted by Solansh M.
Photos provided by Ayun H.