Invasion of the Zinesters

an interview with Joe Biel & Alex Wrekk, organizers of the Portland Zine Symposium; Portland State University, Fri June 25 @ 12-5 pm, Sat June 26 @ 10 am - 5 pm, Sun June 27 @ 11 am - 4 pm,

The Portland Zine Symposium hits the PSU campus this weekend. Expect to see tables upon tables manned by zinesters hawking their wares in the Smith Memorial Center, as well as a smorgasbord of workshops and forums in Cramer Hall on topics like silk screening, book binding, editing, and music writing (with K Records founder Calvin Johnson). For those who think the world of zines is a futile waste of time and money, there's even a talk on profit-minded zine endeavors with Juliette Torrez from Last Gasp distribution, and Too Much Coffee Man publisher Shannon Wheeler. Get the full lowdown and schedule at

Two of the masterminds behind this exciting event are Joe Biel and Alex Wrekk, a husband and wife team who publish and distribute zines, books, and various propaganda under the name Microcosm ( Their small company has become a fulltime job, especially with the success of books like Stolen Sharpie Revolution (a great how-to-do-a-zine book penned mostly by Wrekk) and The Flow Chronicles by The Urban Hermitt. Besides that, Biel is finishing up a film about the zine community, which he hopes to show on an upcoming tour with substitute teacher/zine writer Dave Roche and comix zinester Nicole Georges. I talked with Biel and Wrekk recently about the symposium, among other things.

How long has the symposium been going and how much has it grown?

JOE BIEL: The Symposium has been going on since 2001, which had about 400 attendees compared to last year, which had about 1,500 attendees across the weekend.

What are some of the responses you get from people about the Symposium?

ALEX WREKK: We get mixed responses. You can never make everyone happy but it seems that most people are really into just meeting people whose words they have read and getting to know them in real life. I think a lot of people are really curious about Portland, and coming to the Zine Symposium is also about exploring the city.

Tell me about the zine tour you're planning for this fall.

JB: Well, in the past it's been hard to put together a zine tour because there is no structure to it and the way that people bill us is really strange or often incorrect. So this time the idea was to have the film about zines that I'm making be the primary feature. In addition, Dave will be reading from his new book On Subbing and Nicole Georges will be doing a slide show from her comic Invincible Summer. Dave will break some hearts. I'll make a fool of myself and put my foot in my mouth every night. Nicole will make us all laugh. Maybe I'll even get this film done in time.

What is this "film" you speak of?

JB: The film started out because I was pretty unsatisfied with other films I'd seen about zines. So back in 2002, I decided to make one myself. It took me until September of last year to really get the project off the ground since I had no concept of what was involved to make a full-length film. So we've had a rotating cast of people working on it from conception to pre-production, to production, and now in editing.

Your company Microcosm has recently been publishing books. Was this a logical step up from zine distribution?

JB: It was kind of an accident. I felt bored with just being a distributor and wanted to become a publisher too. The first book that we published, The Flow Chronicles, was done because Andre (The Urban Hermitt) really deserved to have his zines published as a book and no one was doing it. After that we had the means and the resources so we decided to publish other books by zine writers and that has been our formula so far. In some cases it makes sense but now people are sending us manuscripts as if we're Random House or something.

What's it like being a zine couple?

JB: Our relationship is mostly collaborating on projects and creating a springboard to develop more on our own strengths and creativity. It's not necessarily important that it's rooted in zines.

How many zinesters does it take to change a light bulb?

JB: Zinesters don't change light bulbs; they function best in darkness and are broke. KEVIN SAMPSELL

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