The Zines of Moe Bowstern
A Five Minute History
What are zines? Most zine people agree that zines emerged with the rise of science fiction. Early enthusiasts of this maligned genre found that they could keep abreast of new publications by networking. People circulated small newsletters that eventually became ‘fanzines.’ These first zines reviewed new sci-fi books and authors and helped readers connect to what was then an underground literary scene. I’ve never seen an example of one of these.
In the late 60s and 70s, the wild and wacky music culture picked up the practice and zines became a bigger phenomenon. The Do-It-Yourself ethos of punk culture became a foundation of zine philosophy, and by the 90s, one could find a zine detailing subjects as specific as making a living as a experiment test subject (Guinea Pig Zero) to a philosophical examination of an alternative life (Doris Zine.)
The first zine I ever saw was The Pushcart War by Frank Bosco, who now teaches at SUNY at Albany. His zine was a beautiful love letter to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, full of interesting interviews and tidbits that detailed the everyday history of his overlooked city. My friend Alisa Dix, who has letterpress printed every zine cover of mine since Xtra Tuf #3, showed it to me in 1992, “Look what my friend Frank made!”
My anarchist and info shop friends in Chicago put dozens of zines in my path. Initially I vowed to never do a zine. I thought there were plenty out there and I could just write for other people, and for a while I did. Mudflap zine by Greta Snider of San Francisco influenced Xtra Tuf tremendously, and she published my first story. I wrote a few things for Wind Chill Factor, and I contributed to Nosedive!, Crude Noise and Verboslammed, all retired now, all buried treasure now.
I changed my mind and began publishing my own zine when I realized that a zine could be an extra-dimensional place, the land where I could be both deckhand and artist. In Alaska, people saw only the deckhand and in Chicago, the summer migrations that shaped me were just an echo. In the zine, I had feet planted firmly in both regions. Brenda Susan Murphy helped me come up with the name, which was inspired by the company that makes our fishing boots; other choices were Attitude Makes The Difference and F is For Fishie.
To me, zines are about self expression in every way, from the content to the design and everything in between. There are several zine libraries and they pulse through stores occasionally, and if you’re lucky maybe you can get one off someone you meet at a show or on the bus, for a dollar or two stamps, or a slice of pizza.
And it’s pronounced zeen.
XTRA TUF No. 1:
I fished my first 6-month season in 1995, and developed the idea that if I made a zine with my friends over the summer I might not go completely insane. It’s the only time I ever rented a house and I kept an art box in the tiny entry way. All visitors to the house were asked to either take a piece of art with them or leave one. At the end of the summer, I took the contents home with me. Though a lot of the ideas for the zine were created and developed with Brenda Murphy, Sonya Hymer and Warren Byrom, in the end it was just me alone in Chicago. I sifted the art in the box, got help on layout, learned how to wrestle a copy machine (with Sprite’s help) and handed it out on my way north for the 96 fishing season.
XTRA TUF No.2:
Half legal, 30pp. 1997. Having a zine to hand out put me directly in touch with other zine editors. I met Pete Jordan of Dishwasher zine when I stopped by Reading Frenzy in Portland, Oregon, to consign Xtra Tuf, and that led to countless conversations about zines and introductions to other zine editors.
I made this one in Portland, during my first winter in the city now my home. I had a lot of help in the form of riding and walking in the rain discussing zines and art, looking at zines and art with Icky Apparatus, (Nosedive! zine, www.blackoutprint.com.)
XTRA TUF No.3
Half legal, 84 pp. 2001. I carved a linoleum cut for this cover, and Alisa Dix of Third Termite printed 300 covers in her garage, with the optimistic date ‘1999’ on the front. When the zine finally came out I had to change all the dates to ’01 with a stamp pad, and I never dated a cover again. Number three is the first issue with a theme. This issue chronicles the beautiful summer I spent beach seining with a small family in Kodiak’s Uyak Bay, and also features a hilarious story by Nicolas Johnson, author of Big Dead Place and editor of the zines Shark Fear, Shark Awareness and Burning the Ancestral Chi. The only computers used for this issue are the copy machines. (Lots of typos)
XTRA TUF No. 4: HOW I GOT SO XTRA TUF
¼ size, 48 pp. 2001. The fourth issue specifically addresses the question, How did someone from Upstate New York end up in the commercial fishing industry? It tells the story about my summer as a miserable 18-year-old boat cook, and includes another miserable cook’s tale from a former pen pal who moved before I published her story and as far as I know she has never gotten a copy. It is the first issue with a subtitle, and the first time I changed the size. I copy 6 pages, fold each page twice, put it in order, staple it and cut the pages open with a knife. Made entirely on a typewriter, featuring plenty of typos.
XTRA TUF No. 5: THE STRIKE ISSUE
5”x7”, 192 pp. 2005. Tells my version of three different “stand downs” I experienced in Kodiak, two salmon strikes and a crab strike. Microcosm Publishing published this one; it’s the only issue so far with an ISBN number and the first to be perfect-bound (it has a spine) at a printer. I tapped four of my fellow Fisher Poets—Dave Densmore, Pat Dixon, Toby Sullivan and Jon van Amerongen--for stories and their versions of strikes. Number 5 reads the most like journalism, and it won the 2007 Lilla Jewel Award for Women Artists. It also features an awesome comic by Eric Isaacson depicting a strike meeting, and original illustrations by Mirabai Scholz and Jess, and Alisa’s letter pressed covers with a linoleum cut by me.
XTRA TUF No. 6: THE GREENHORN ISSUE
Half legal, 160 pp. 2010. A greenhorn is someone new to an industry—it’s often used in cowboy culture as well as commercial fishing. It’s a time of initiation and it’s a trial both for the greenhorn and the rest of the crew. Number 6 compiles greenhorn stories from over 25 contributors from the North American commercial fishing industries as well as a mailbag of letters from readers. This issue strays the farthest from the DIY—I got a lot of help, with John Isaacson on layout, Jess providing illustrations, printing by a Michigan company called Malloy Printing and Alisa Dix of Third Termite again printing the covers. I did do the linoleum cut featured on the cover, however, based on a drawing by Joanna Reichhold.
SECOND SET OUT
Half legal, 48 pp. 2003. A collection of stories, fishing and otherwise that I wrote for other zines in the years 1993-2003. Forward by Ursula K. LeGuin and beautiful covers designed and letter pressed by Icky A, reprinted by Charles Overbeck of Eberhardt Press. Dwayne Hedstrom did the lovely layout, all by hand.
THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE: NOVENAS FOR YOU
Matchbook style, 8 ½ x11. 2002. A collection of pen and ink drawings with tiny stories. Each drawing represents a kind of wish or prayer; the idea is that you color a drawing, cut it out and wrap it around a tall ‘novena’ candle, the kind that is a glass cylinder filled with wax, common in Roman Catholic churches and Mexican tiendas—you know, the ones with the Virgen de Guadalupe on them. Examples include ‘Accelerate Through Danger,’ ‘Compass,’ ‘Lucky luck’ and ‘X-A-Way.’ Some fishing stories.
2 ¾” x 3 ½”, 16pp. 1996. This is a tiny little zine that was originally kind of a love note about how it’s hard sometimes for a woman to be called, ‘man,’ even by someone who loves her a lot. It’s all wee color drawings. I made it while I was herring fishing in the middle of a three-way boat feud, where things on the boat where I worked had completely deteriorated so no one really talked to anyone else. It’s an exquisite example of art and love squeezed out of misery. It’s precious. First time ever available.