For the last 25 years, I’ve identified myself as a “screenwriter,” but in 2020, I’ll spend most of my creative energy on zines, handmade books, and original artworks, all printed or painted on paper. You may have already gotten some of them in the mail.
Why would I do such a thing? (Besides my ongoing campaign to become Your Most Eccentric Friend?) I have the sense that text and imagery, especially when hand-drawn and hand-lettered and sent via snail mail, gains a peculiar emphasis and potential intimacy. Posting the same “content” on Instagram, Facebook, or Tik Tok would be simpler, quicker, and less intrusive. But “likes” are not what I’m after.
This next part is where I start sounding pretentious to some people, so if you are one of them, take this as a trigger warning. I’m after the peculiar intensity of someone sitting alone with a zine, reading in closely, perhaps bewildered, and asking, “Why would he spend the time and effort making this and sending it to me?” With a zine, I’m not just sharing a random thought or selfie; I’m going through the catalog of mundane ideas, images, and experiences that flood my brain and throwing away 99.99% of them. I’m saying that THIS, this thing on paper that I’m sending you, is especially meaningful, amusing, or important to me. What conveys that intensity is work that went into drawing, printing, and binding it on paper.
My favorite response to the zines or artworks I send is getting sent something in return (an essay, a song, a doodle, a long, thoughtful email, a book, music, or movie recommendation.) Old school “engagement.”
My “office” has looked like a Screenwriter’s cave for 20 years, shelves filled with books on filmmaking, walls covered in movie posters, and corkboards papered in index cards, outlining acts and sequences. Now my “office” looks like a studio, with paints and pencils, glue and cutting boards, brushes and sprays, hitting the Venn diagram intersection of aging cartoonist, hobbyist-bookmaker, and sullen, adolescent riot grrl.
I am still a storyteller, but I’m telling different stories about different things to different people. I have a spreadsheet with the names and addresses of people I am sending these zines and artworks to. Right now, it’s about twenty names long. (See What is An Undergrid?) If you are reading this blog, you are likely on that list, or you are about to be on it very soon. I’m open to expanding and selling my work to the public on Etsy, or publishing in a traditional way, but I’m content if the work never extends beyond what I send to 20-30 people. The number of screenwriting classes I teach will increase, and I’ll introduce myself as “a professor” at cocktail parties, but I feel like this – small and insignificant as it may be – is my real work.
I love the slow depth of crafting a booklet, writing unique sections for each recipient, and then dropping that physical object in a mailbox. Needlessly difficult and entirely without economic value, making zines is something I’ve always wanted to do. I was just too busy rewriting cheesy horror sequels or swords-and-sandals flops to do it.
So, I’m doing it now.