Monday, December 17, 2007

Interview- Shannon Gerard

Do you remember your first encounter with a zine or the "zine world?" How and when were you first introduced to zines?

I don' t remember the exact circumstances that led to zine appreciation or making-- I have always loved books and multiples and DIY. I do remember the first eureka moments of figuring out that I could be an artist and a writer at the same time-- that the two loves of drawing and writing could coexist as a practice for me and that there was this whole other community of people out there making similar work. After going to Canzine and CutNPaste and other smaller fairs for years, I finally started booking tables and throwing my own stuff into the mix about 5 years ago.

Do you think your early involvement with zine culture helped inform your practice as an artist/printmaker? Please explain...

Yeah, my books are really connected to printmaking in that they are both things I do in multiple. I totally love making more than one of the same thing-- when I see them all stacked up, or all hung up together I get all thrilly and excited. That kind of repetition is so compelling for me, and so satisfying. There is also a really strong connection between zines and printmaking in that screenprinting and letterpress, before they were taken up by the art world, started as ways to produce stuff cheaply and distribute it widely. So, maybe part of the appeal of working in multiple is that I can communicate the work to more than one person. Lots of people can read my stories. I find that I don't make so many traditional prints anyway-- mostly of the printing I do is part of book projects.

Much of your work involves the use of modest materials and techniques rooted in craft and lo-tech methods of making (silkscreen, letterpress, handmade multiples). What attracts you to this way of working?

I love the idea of not needing a lot of expensive equipment or fancy materials to make art or tell stories. So much of my work is autobiographical and intimate-- so it makes sense (hopefully!) to use materials and processes that feel familiar to people. I am just telling pretty simple stories from my life-- anyone can do that. And I am using materials and methods that a lot of people can understand and recognize. Also the stories are personal, so I want the books to have definite evidence of the hand of the artist all over them.

What sorts of things influence your art/writing/comics? (People who are influences, concepts, places, etc.)

Boys. It's kind of funny to boil it down to that-- but most of my books so far have been about all of the love and fear and losses and hope and fragility of relationships either beginning, ending or never totally materializing. But I think my focus is shifting too-- like my recent Boobs and Dinks project is connected also to questions about fear and fragility but in a broader more universal sense. I guess I am trying to tap into fear in a different, softer way with that project. And I also think and write a lot about faith-- trying to make sense of the Christian upbringing I had and then kind of fell away from. I feel like a lot of my childhood beliefs are in ruins, so lately I have been trying to search through that rubble too.

Zine/Bookmaking are quietly subversive forms of expression/creating. What are your thoughts on this, especially in light of your recent brush with censorship? (York U Bookstore)

It is really so important to make work that is subversive. When people react by censoring your work, I guess you know you're onto a good and provocative idea. The Boobs and Dinks project tries to get at people's fears and human underbellies through this ultra feminized, "soft" form of crochet. In a way the censorship of that project completely serves the conversation I am trying to start about fear. Some people were freaked out about a crocheted penis on display-- but that started a whole bunch of other conversations about being freaked out about our real bodies. It's so awesome.

Do you have an all-time favourite zine? A current (recent) favourite?

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen is amazing. Lickety Split Smut Zine out of Montreal rocks. stef lenk's silent graphic novel chapters are beautiful. Anything by Lilli Carre (Tales of Woodsman Pete is probably her best known series) is so sweet and inspiring.

Zinemaking/self-publishing is an intuitive medium that is most often self-taught. You teach a nano-publishing course at the university level- zines sometimes pop up in the curriculum of post-secondary art classes. What are your thoughts on TEACHING zinemaking? Is zinemaking something that can be taught? Have you experienced anything specific as an educator that has helped shaped this opinion?

I think it is important to expose people to zine making, bookbinding, multiples, etc... at any level and in any context. A place like OCAD is a natural place for courses about indie publishing to spring up, since people at art school tend to be searching for and forming little micro communities and zines and DIY are so tied to community. Art school students are also so eager to take courses that have a real world connection-- that mean something beyond the marks you get and the techniques you learn-- and courses in DIY are all about that. It is also really fun to use all the resources of the school (like the presses and typefaces and foil stampers and all the print toys we have at OCAD) to make experimental bookworks and to milk the access to that equipment while you have it as a student or faculty member. The courses I teach in indie publishing are more like open concept experimental arenas than really directed classes-- but then I also try to offer tonnes of practical advice about taking your work way beyond school into the broader indie community in the city. For a lot of people that course could be a point of entry into an otherwise overwhelming space, so I am really glad to get to teach for that reason.

Is it important to preserve zines as an alternative form of communication? What can we do as zinemakers/zine readers/indie publishers to facilitate this?

I think the impulse to catalogue and preserve ephemeral objects and ideas is so great. It is so amazing for me to be able to bring my class from OCAD for example to a place like TZL because it helps to fulfill my aim of taking the course out of the institution and into the world. I can show off all this amazing stuff that other people have made. It is inspiring. And to have dedicated spaces in the city where materials like zines and multiples are available helps solidify the importance of those otherwise invisible (or hard to find) modes of production, venues for expression and ways of communicating. So yeah, space-- space dedicated to housing zines and workshops and classes--is so vital.

Shannon is a book/comic artist, multiple maker and educator based out of Toronto. For examples of her work, check out her website:

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