SF Zine Fest talks with Joe Biel of Microcosm Publishing

In three sentences, tell us what your work is about.

I document punk anthropology and telling the hidden histories of the stories going on around me. I spotlight issues of race/class/gender/ability/equity to champion hardworking people and their cool work, getting me stoked about all kinds of things I didn't realize I was interested in. In recent years I've been getting more interested in traditional rules of journalism, as it is often more interesting to tell a story from all sides.

How did you first find out about zines? What inspired you to make your own zines?

I grew up as a teenage punk rocker in Cleveland and bought a copy of Summer at a show at a bar in 1993. My traditional education had really failed me and nothing was interesting to me in school. I wasn't assigned reading and was falling through the cracks. Zines were the first thing that made sense to me, as did the politics of xerocracy and the opportunities to have a lateral voice to my peers, my teachers, my punks.

What do you do when you’re not creating?

I make documentary films as a hobby and have finished four feature films and a little over 100 short films. I founded Microcosm Publishing in 1996 where I publish the work of other people in traditional paperback format. So I guess I'm always creating. Sometimes I do construction jobs. Is that creating?

What is an unexpected benefit that you've experienced from reading/ making zines?

When I was growing up, there was a dire lack of a moral compass in all of the "adults" around me. I watched students at my school get impregnated by military recruiters at my school multiple times. The school treasurer embezzled large sums of money and fled the state. Most parents around me operated on a platform of lies to get money or control other people's behavior. Zines were the first time that I saw adults acting consistently with the set of values they expressed, tackling major social justice issues, and looking out for each other. It gave me an equitable peer group and a series of communities.

How would you advise first timers on making their first zines?

Figure out what you are most excited about in the world and think about what is interesting about that to a reader or a fellow fan. The rest is then easy and the rewards, though sometimes intangible, are bountiful.

What are you working on for this year’s SF Zine Fest?

I just finished a new feature documentary, Aftermass: Bicycling in a Post-Critical Mass Portland that documents the last 40 years of bicycle activism that shaped North America's best bicycling city. One major part of the story are the 800 pages of police documents that are often better than anyone's memory. So I made a zine of 64 of my favorite ones and changed them into Mad Libs. I made a follow-up issue that tells the parts of Portland's story that couldn't be told in the film's narrative and I'm working on a 4th issue that is the background story of making the film.

For more from Joe Biel and Microcosm Publishing, check out: