Friday, 9 March 2012

Interview 32

Zine Columbia (2003 - present) is a collaboration between the design and illustration students in the Art + Design Department and students in the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago. Design Director and Faculty member Craig Jobson (CJ) and Columbia Senior Graphic Design students Andre LeJune (AL), Susie Capithorne (SC) tell us more about the ongoing project and what the collaboration means to them.

Please tell us a little something about the history and background to Zine Columbia, how and why it came into being.

CJ: Most of the students currently working on a recent issue of Zine Columbia were still in middle school when the zine first began publishing. Then it was a little closer to a “traditional zine” in that the students provided their own copy around a given theme, provided design and art work to support the text, and finally pooled their own finances to get a collection of visual essays published.

SC: Zine Columbia is a student publication whose concept and execution is driven by Craig Jobson. The purpose of the Zine is for senior-level students in either graphic design, illustration, or fiction writing to take their finely tuned art skills and beat them into a pulp and then barf them back onto the page in an energetic, exhaustively backwards way, which usually toes the line between reckless abandon and creative genius. It’s just an exercise, really...

AL: 1. I don’t actually know the history of Zine Columbia, but I gather that it began because the faculty recognized that Zines are one of the last remaining bastions of print publication, and that students should be introduced to and instructed about creating work for a Zine as part of a broad view of publication design. Additionally,I believe it started because of Craig Jobson’s tremendous dedication to being sure his students have access to as many real world experiences in printing and publishing as they can get.

Each issue produced is presented as dual themes (the publication is divided into two halves) such as 'Carnie Milk/Dank Fever'; 'Pickle Stitch/Butter Bound'. Could you say something about the rationale behind this duality and about the process students undertake in naming.

CJ: Two different sections (18 students each) of my Publication Design class meet on different days at different times. Each member of each section is assigned a cover, a TOC and a two page feature. The cover and the TOC are separate design competitions where lone winners are selected by majority vote in each class. Before a cover can be designed each class does a word matrix exercise that can generate over 3,000 names in less than two hours. Each class then votes on a winning name for the semester project. Incidentally, though each feature has it’s own art director, the class must vote the feature into the semester publication. Though each half of the issue is named there is no theme other than the whole publication being “An Anthology of Graphic short Stories.”

SC: Naming the magazine is an illogical process but I think people get the most emotionally invested in it. I actually saw a girl tear up with rage because we weren’t going to call the issue “coconut-flavored fireworks”.

AL: I believe the duality comes down to providing both sections of the class with an opportunity to experience the process of naming a publication of business, and to discuss the practical legal considerations that need to exist side by side with the creative considerations. I think the layout also augments the feeling one has when reading the zine of not knowing quite how or where to begin to tackle the content of “dark human experience” each piece of fiction portrays.

In terms of the content, two terms are used to introduce the style of stories which are contained within the publication. Could you explain what is meant by ‘flash fiction’ and ‘visual stories’ and why Zine Columbia takes this as a starting point.

CJ: In 2009 we moved away from art directors providing the text and we began collaborating with the Fiction Writing Department’s Jotham Burello and his Fiction Writer’s and Publishing class who enthusiastically provided us with “Flash fiction.” This is where our writers pump as much observation and charged language into the 350 - 400 word stories as is humanly possible. “ Visual stories” are what we end up with after the art directors have designed the stories using image making techniques and experimental typography.

SC: Each 2-page spread is like one dream sequence. The‘visual stories’ are the picture parts of the dream; the ‘flash fiction’ is the verbal part, which represent your semi-logical thoughts during the dream. I’m a designer not a writer, so I’d guess from reading Zine Columbia that ‘flash fiction’ refers to stories about drugs, sex, violence, or psychological manipulation... Basically short stories about any of the scary things that you wish you were cool enough to try out in real life..?

AL:The fiction writing students can probably speak to this point better
than I.

As students contributing to this zine, what have you gained from the collaboration and from what you have learned how might you apply this to your own working practices? As a teaching tool, how have the tutors defined this exercise in publishing?

CJ: At the beginning of each semester I share an observation with members of the Publication Design class and who, by the way, will all be graduating at the end of the term or the following term. I tell them that by this time in their academic career there is not a person among them who could not design a beautiful two-page feature for any magazine published in the US. But can any of them design a readable page that establishes new boundaries with type, image and the reader. Can they design “outside the tyranny of the page parameters” ? That’s the challenge of Zine Columbia. Can you break the rules and still be cogent?

SC: I had never before had the chance to work exclusively with a writer and an illustrator on a piece that totally felt like our own. It was a rush to “hire” the illustrator for my 2-page spread, and then be forced to schedule meetings with her every week, and then be solely responsible for representing what we had done together. It pushed me into the risks of professional collaboration, without a stressful monetary component. We only had to deal with signature permission forms.

AL: This publication is an excellent opportunity to work with illustrators and photographers, and learn to collaborate with an outside person and their time constraints to meet your own deadlines. I think it teaches students about communication and scheduling when working collaboratively, and also about the give and take of individuals’ creative visions coming together.

It could be argued that Zine Columbia has taken the format of what we might consider to be a magazine with it glossy pages, DTP, and use of more sophisticated printing production processes rather than a DIY fanzine. In what ways do you feel the publication remains true to it original fanzine ethos? Or, in what ways might you be redefining what a fanzine could be?

CJ: What we do is “graphic design on steroids. “ Students are invited to break the rules with considerable skill in order to create content that is readable, meaningful and graphically imaginative.

SC: Good point. I wonder if we shouldn’t start binding our Zine Columbia issues ourselves, in class. That might be more true to form with the whole ‘zine’ history, right? Why not? I’m going to suggest that to Craig.

AL: Glossy paper does not a magazine make. When introduced to the zine, the designers are asked to take all the rules they’ve learned about traditional typography and break them (with purpose). The writers are creating very non-traditional frequently very dark works of fiction, and the designers and illustrators are asked to make the feel of each story shine through in imagery and non traditional typography and design. From start to finish, all aspects of the zine are utilized to speak to that dark, damaged, and odd side of the human experience presented to the writers in the initial challenge.

And finally, what can we expect from the next issue?

CJ: Better conceptual illustration, more meaningful experimental typography. Covers that should grab you by the seat of your pants and not let go.

SC: This Spring 2012, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of another issue of Zine Columbia. [ Students move pretty fast through Columbia, so it’s kind of rare that we get involved with the publication twice. ] I can tell already that this issue is going to have a totally different vibe that the Winter issue. This Spring’s crew is on a whole other wavelength when compared to the artists of Dank Fever / Carnie Milk. The new zinesters are interested in playing off of historical genres and twisting them into new contexts, whereas previous artists, it seems, were focused on original works of pure fantasy. The Spring 2012 Zine is called Elastic Lumberjack / . I think you should expect to see more emphasis on typographic treatments and more distortions of existing styles. This group doesn’t think twice about mashing up stuff they find lying around and then just using it in their art! ... Is this a product of the social media age, or what? [ Did Gen X just graduate and now it’s all coming from Gen Y?] In any case, I’m curious to see whether design industry people will also notice this shift. [P.S.. I’m sure you won’t recognize actual/specific genres or references. Jobson is super strict about copyrights.]

AL: I think you can expect great design. No layout makes the cut that an extremely competitive and professional group of design students don’t think is A+ work.

Cover Designs: Nazomi Yamawaki (Fuzzy Pucker/Issue 12)/ Elizabeth Puetz (Reckless Cowboy/Issue 12); Shannon Neuner (Dank Fever/Issue 13)/ Vince Desantiago (Carnie Milk/ Issue 13)