Meet this Zinester: Michael Rogers

Who are you? Where are you based?
My name is Michael Rogers. I am an artist living in NJ. My day job is an electrician. I have always cherished underground art and culture.

What are zines to you?
To me, zines are a completely pliable way to express yourself with no rules or limitations. To me, zines are a perfect example of how cutting edge art and culture can survive any sort of degradation or selling out. Zines are a way to experience The truest form of art that is totally original and real without any preconceived notion of what it should be.

What was your first encounter with zines?
Honestly, I don’t remember exactly when it was. I was 16 in 1988, and I probably saw zines at the Detroit record stores that I often frequented. I do have a faint memory of starting to layout a zine, but it never went anywhere back then. I did make a few hand-drawn flyers for my band’s gigs and Dj gigs.

Tell me about your zines. What kind of zines do you make?
My first zine is called PERSONAL BEST. I just completed issue number 3. I spend many hours with scissors, tape, and glue making collages that are sometimes abstract or minimal. Issue 1 took me a year to complete it is 50 pages in total—Black and white with a color centerfold. I asked several friends to submit art and writings. #1 is a mixer of my collage and writings and my friends drawing, paintings, and writings. For issue number 2, I used the same style, but I did it in color. And I am very happy with the progression of the quality of issue number 2. I learned how to work more efficiently and had a better-looking layout because I learned from the challenges of number 1. Now for issue 3 of Personal Best, I went back to black and white. I made #2 and #3 while in lockdown for Covid-19. I was struggling with anxiety and depression, and working on these issues was a very good way to stay busy during a hard time. I asked even more friends to submit, which took some pressure off of me to produce content. I’m waiting for one last friend to submit her piece before I print. She and two other friends have work in all 3 of the Personal Best issues. Her story is amazing. My wife and I have a dear friend named Alice, who my wife went to undergrad with 20 years ago. Alice has been living in Italy for the last decade. She submitted her beautiful stories via the web from faraway. When the Covid crisis hit Italy very hard, she moved to the UK and waited out the crisis there. Now she is visiting family and will submit her next piece ASAP. I’m not rushing her, considering the circumstances, so I’ve reserved 3 pages for her when she’s ready.

In the meantime, I have begun laying out a new larger format zine (I will fold an 11″x17″ sheet in half and make a master that way). This new magazine titled “RUBALCAVA” will have amazing photo treatments from another childhood friend named Jonathan, who I haven’t seen since the SWERVEDRIVER concert in Ann Arbor, MI 1992. So look out for that.

I have sold my zines in my Etsy shop and hand to hand for 3 years with number 1. I only printed 50 copies of number 1 and sold enough to break even on the printing at Kinkos about $150. I bought a black and white toner printer that I use at home to print images I have taken photos of or embellish art I’ve found online or in magazines. For issue number 2, I only printed 10 copies! (Because it’s all color and expensive to print at kinkos) And I sold them all for $20 each. I’m amazed I did it, but it worked out thanks to my dear friends and family’s support.

One great story is I gave a copy to a dear friend, and he accidentally left it on top of an atm, then the same day a man picked it up and emailed me about it. I ended up using his photo treatments in issue number 2, and he donated money to help with the cost.

I had always wanted to make a zine but never did. For 5 years before I made my first zine, I struggled with passing an electrician’s exam to join a union. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and was treated, and that helped me pass the exam. Then one day in Manhattan, I was working near this gallery. I fully experienced a huge show that was basically 1000’s of pages of underground publications by the artist John Giorno dating back to the late ’60s. After seeing this show, I decided to start working on my zine. So after I passed the electrics exam, I had free time so, I dove into the process. But I was working a hectic schedule on the filming crew for the CBS tv show called THE BLACKLIST. I did have time at work to use the talk text to write for my zine during downtime between long takes and camera set-ups. And I started working on finishing our attic at home, so for the next year, I spent night and weekends trying to finish a big carpentry project at home in the attic and, oddly enough, working on my zine in the basement.

What inspires you to create zines?
What inspires me to make zines is an obsession with underground culture derived from my early youth in the Midwest. I am always seeking out flyers and zines for punk shows and gallery events. I may have OCD. I meticulously create collages for days purely out of therapeutic value. I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. In March 2020, no doubt brought on by the pandemic, and it dredged up past trauma. So I spent months in my studio making PERSONAL BEST #2, which is mostly collage.

What’s your favorite thing about zines?
My favorite thing about zines is that they, in my opinion, seem to be the polar opposite of mainstream media. I love zines that are less accessible and abstract in their form and function. I love zines that are outlets for people who would otherwise be unable to express themselves.

Do you recall your first zine ever, what was it about and what inspired you to create it?
The first time I attempted to create a zine was my teen years, I remember laying out an article and writing a few sentences, but I did not continue. My first zine was PERSONAL BEST #1. I created it over a year in 2017-2018. I learned from the challenges of making that zine to work on my following zines more efficiently.

Tell me a little about your zine-making process.
For my zine-making process, I use scissors, glue, and tape. I cut up old magazines to make collages and layout borders. Or I will print art and photos from the web and manipulate those. I also like to print pics from the web and then embellish them with a pen and pencil. Kind of like sample culture, you know? I reach out to friends and family to submit content to help fill the pages. I have a black and white toner printer to help with the process. I like to make ransom note style text and fonts for headers and banners. I have made a few black and white copies with a color center. I print on regular paper but use card stock for the covers.

What do you hope people get out of your zines?
In my first zine, I laid out a manifesto describing an idea that my zine was following in the footsteps of so many before us; An underground DIY punk rock agenda Rooted in the extreme left ideals of independent art and culture. And I explained that if you are some sheep who feels that CNN or Fox News is a good source for information, then you should close this book now.

Name two of your favorite zinesters.
I’m new to the zine scene, So I’m heavily into Stephen, who runs Quimby’s in NYC. They sell zines and create very interesting booklets and zines celebrating zine culture. And the gentleman who runs Desert Island Comics in NYC, Gabe Fowler, has an amazing store with tons of local zines and prints. I’m pretty sure he makes zines too, but he championed zine culture, so I consider him an ultimate zinester

Do you have any advice for new zinesters?
My advice to new zinesters is just to start making art, whether it’s drawing collage or writing. I could say come up with an idea first or a cover. Use your imagination to create whatever you want. That’s the good thing about zines you are your own editor. Try to learn from each issue you make. I’m learning to edit my own material. Try not to put everything you create in one issue. Save it for the next issue.

Is there a zine website or resource you would recommend new zinesters to check out?
I didn’t choose any specific website, but I did do basic browser searching. Such as how to make a zine, Layout ideas, and border ideas. Taking influence from other zines and books helped me. I often look at texture images and art period books like Bauhaus and Werkstätte.

Instagram: @personalbestpublishing

Interview conducted by Solansh M.
Art by Michael R.

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