Two new issues of established zines from Brooklyn-based writers and curators of the printed word are out and available as of the past few weeks. These aren’t your traditional, black-and-white Xerox zines of yore: their creators, Kristen Felicetti and Gabby Bess, are steeped in net culture and cross pollinate with others in the very with-it Alt Lit scene.
Bess is the creator of Illuminati Girl Gang– a zine that she says was founded specifically to spotlight “female voices” in a lit scene dominated by men. “I feel like a lot of women artists get left out of history or ignored because their art is trivialized,” Bess explained. “So it’s important to express yourself as much and as often as possible just so you have a chance for your work to be remembered.” Her zine has achieved something like cult status even though each issue runs between 100 and 200 editions. All hail the internet.
Bess herself definitely qualifies as Internet Famous, and for good reason. At 21, she’s already been compared to Miranda July, written a book published by Civil Coping Mechanisms, is recognized as a rather astute feminist writer, and, you know, moved to the Big City on her own. Bravo. At 21 I was probably spewing froth facedown on a slip n’ slide covered in beer, LOL regrets.
Kristen Felicetti is also a writer, though she’s weathered the Bushwick art scene for close to five years now. And like Bess, Felicetti stays busy with her own work while managing to devote a great deal of time to networking and collaborating with other artists. For each year she’s lived in the neighborhood, Felicetti has coordinated contributors for, printed, and distributed The Bushwick Review – a zine now in its fifth iteration that showcases the work of writers, poets, photographers, graphic designers, comic artists from New York City and beyond. (Read an excerpt below.) She also runs a co-op work space at Brooklyn Fire Proof studios and writes short stories. Always one for puns, it seems, Felicetti also wrote a throwback radio play, The New York Crimes.
“I had a lot of friends who were writing short stories or doing art work, but they needed motivation to finish their projects, so I wanted to make it for that,” said Felicetti of why she initially started The Review. “Also, you know it’s kind of awkward to be like, ‘Hey check out my art,’ so this was a way to have it all together.”
At first, Felicetti edited the zine to include the work of her close friends, but more recent issues have expanded to included work by artists with whom she’s not necessarily close. “For the latest issues I actively started courting people that I’m already a fan of in general of their work and try to get them involved too,” she said.
Bess also contributed a piece to the new issue. She met Felicetti online and they eventually became friends IRL — something Bess sees as a bit of a trend. “It’s cool because in the last year so many people have moved to Brooklyn, all of my friends found themselves here,” she said. IGG transformed accordingly. “The zine moved offline a little bit. Before we’d known each other through Facebook and G-chat and now it’s less about the Internet and more about hanging out, which is an interesting kind of thing, because I feel like that changed the work, too.”
Bess also coordinates with writers and net artists beyond her immediately accessible literary pals to curate issues of Illuminati Girl Gang. “We all met pretty much strictly online,” she said.
The Alt Lit scene and indie writers have long been associated with the Internet. As long as there have been social networks, forums, Livejournal and Dead Journal, there’s been cyber-mediums for authors to share “amateur” writing with the rest of the world, or at least a curious few. Felicetti and Bess, like many contemporary writers, are applying an Internet sensibility to their work. But their zines are unique in that they go well beyond the efforts of alt lit novels, which take place half on Facebook and half at NYU co-ed parties.
Felicetti and Bess are reaping the benefits of social networking and employing an old-school zine sensibility to create something new. Their zines are a way for artists primarily working on the net to think outside that hypnotic glowing box. But Felicetti and Bess are producing not only tangible material, they’re also creating collaborative networks that support female writers and lesser known artists, which, you know, helps to smash the literary patriarchy and all that stuff.
Instead of resorting to competitive bickering or mutual snubbing, something not totally unheard of in the literary world, these women work together and promote one another’s work– though Felicetti’s zine features work by men as well as women. (Using social networks to create an alternative network — what a novel concept, right?)
“There’s a lot of content in Illuminati Girl Gang that’s super Internet specific, which is why doing it was so interesting for me. I know a lot of girls that primarily do net art and online stuff, and IGG is still very net-based even though it’s in print form,” Bess said. But there are advantages to pulling net art and net writing from the digital dimension. “That’s what I like about taking it offline– you can control the context more and manipulate it and play with it.”
Though The Bushwick Review has a digital life as well, Felicetti explained she’s committed to the printed word. “Don’t get me wrong, I love stuff on the web. But there’s a lot of Internet stuff, so it actually is nice when people do the physical, printed thing.” According to Felicetti, the benefits of making a tangible document go beyond a preference for the anti-ephemeral. “I also think it makes you a little bit more conscious about what you’re making. You can easily just press ‘click’, but if you take the time to design it and print it, and actually spend some money on it, you end up being more thoughtful about what you’re putting out.”
Both the look and feel of IGG and The Bushwick Review have changed over the years. Both zines started out very much in the traditional sense– Felicetti stood over a copy machine and designed the layout herself for the first Review she put together five years ago, while Bess painstakingly glued hundreds of photos onto pages and stapled the first editions of Illuminati Girl Gang by hand. But now they look less like DIY project and more like professionally made serial publications with significant circulation.
“Everyone’s taking things more seriously now, it seems,” Bess explained. “That’s why I kind of felt the pressure to make IGG ‘legit.’”
Felicetti has printed 500 copies of the current Review (limited editions are the hallmark of zines after all) and Bess ordered even fewer copies of IGG printed for an edition of 200. But IGG and The Review reach untold numbers of people via the Internet. This is nothing new by any means, but essentially unlimited availability achieves something that ’90s zine culture never fully realized because it was inherently held back from doing so– giving marginalized voices a chance to be heard by large numbers of people.
Check out the first 8 pages from The Bushwick Review below, and stay tuned for issue five, spring/summer 2014 which will be available at Desert Island Comics in Williamsburg, Blue Stockings in the Lower East Side, and St. Mark’s Bookshop. Also online, duh.
If you want a copy of Illuminati Girl Gang 4, grab it while you can on IGG’s website.