A Safe Space For Nerds 

Keeping it DIY at the IPRC

This weekend brings a landmark of sorts for Portland's independent publishing community: The Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) celebrates their 10th anniversary, with a two-venue rock show featuring a stellar lineup of local musicians (more on that in a minute).

Ten years ago, when the IPRC first staked out its offices on SW Oak, zines were the self-publisher's medium of choice. You remember zines. Staples, sloppy lettering, and hand-drawn comics, Cometbus and Ben Is Dead, intensely idiosyncratic missives produced on paper in an era when self-publishing meant a stolen Kinko's card, not a Blogspot account. But lest you think that zines are "so 1998," driven to obsolescence by a LiveJournal-fueled blogsplosion, it's important to note that self-published zines and comics are alive and well in Portland, thanks in part to the efforts of the IPRC, a local institution devoted to "encouraging the growth of a visual and literary publishing community by offering a space to gather and exchange information and ideas, as well as to produce work."

Now, no one's trying to take away your blog. They're not even asking you to choose. In actuality, IPRC Executive Director Justin Hocking tells me over coffee (for me) and a soy sugar-free vanilla soy steamer (for him), "There's a really cool cross-pollination going on between zines and blogs. The two aren't mutually exclusive." Zinesters like Jack Saturn (recdel.com) have embraced the internet as a way of distributing their work more widely, while the IPRC is planning a redesign of their own website (iprc.org) to foster a more interactive online community.

There's more to the IPRC than zine-making, of course: Workshops, outreach, and an extensive small-press library are among their offerings, all based out of a small space above Reading Frenzy.

Under the direction of Hocking, who took over as executive director in the fall of 2006 (after a stint in the New York publishing world), the IPRC's workshop program has expanded from three workshops a month to between 12 and 15. Letterpress (in which individual lead type blocks are used for printing) is their most popular workshop, filling up months in advance. "People," Hocking says, "really like having a tactile experience. You're not in front of a computer all day, you're working with your hands, in a room with other people."

Letterpressing is a natural fit for graphic designers, as well as anyone who wants to class up their business cards or wedding invitations. Increasing the frequency and variety of workshops (on topics that range from copyright law to tutorials on InDesign and Photoshop) has increased the variety of people that take advantage of the IPRC's offerings—from your stereotypical zinester to "older folks coming in and being interested in bookbinding and letterpress. It's like a very inclusive kind of clubhouse."

This sentiment is echoed by musician Tara Jane O'Neil, one of the performers at the IPRC's anniversary show this weekend: "Zine library, letterpress, Xerox machine sans Kinko's vibe, scrap-paper pile, paste that smells like kindergarten.... It's one of the best playgrounds ever. And the kids don't beat each other up." (Hocking tells me that popular zinester and former IPRC Outreach Coordinator Nicole Georges calls it a "safe space for nerds.")

This inclusiveness, and a core belief that "the sharing of personal stories, artwork, and publications is an important means of fostering community," also underpins their outreach program, which brings zine workshops and lectures to schools, libraries, treatment centers, and homeless shelters.

"A lot of these young people don't feel like their experiences are represented in the media—zines are one places they can find narratives they can relate to," Hocking says. "We do a lot of work with homeless kids. That was one of IPRC's original objectives, to give disenfranchised groups a voice."

That's a lot to take on, but the IPRC continues to expand their offerings: In the past year, they've started a new outreach program, put out an audiozine, and continue to branch out and partner with other organizations (as with the Triple Dare Reading Series). There's also talk of future involvement with Milepost 5, a new artists' living/work space in outer Southeast Portland, as well as more immediate plans to add two more letterpress machines, and hopes of eventually freeing up more workspace by moving their administrative offices out of the small Oak Street location.

All of this is worth celebrating, and now's the time to do it: This weekend, the IPRC commemorates their 10th anniversary with a two-venue rock show called the "Superstar Open Mic," featuring solo sets from folks like O'Neil, Brandon Summers of the Helio Sequence, Sarah Dougher, and Sam Coomes of Quasi, all performing at the Someday Lounge, plus an all-ages Hutch and Kathy show at Backspace. It's the biggest event the IPRC has ever sponsored, and the impressive lineup speaks to the affection that members of Portland's artistic community feel for the IPRC.

As Quasi's Sam Coomes puts it, "Independent press is free press—it's obviously essential." Or, in the words of O'Neil: "IPRC is a community. It seems kind of like the heart of the Portland DIY creativity machine. IPRC is the best."

Superstar Open Mic, Someday Lounge, 125 NW 5th (21+), and Backspace, 115 NW 5th (all ages), Fri May 9, 8 pm, $10 (includes entry to both venues), tickets available through brownpapertickets.com

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