ZINE MUNCH #4: Dangerous Archives and Mail Networks (w/ Milo Miller)
On ‘cat chat,’ Fuh Cole, and the Queer Zine Archive Project
Milo Miller is a zinemaker and founder (along with their partner Christopher Wilde) of Queer Zine Archive Project, an archive spanning more than 600 zines online and 2,500+ materials in their physical collection in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their background is in queer activism and graphic design; QZAP began as an effort to provide activists with information published in queer zines. I found them initially through the recommendation of Heather Cole in Brown’s Hay Library, but QZAP continues to pop up as I research zines and DIY publishing. I talk to them from my dorm room by Zoom early on a Thursday evening.
This transcript has been edited for clarity, concision, and accuracy.
Milo Miller: Full disclosure, I’m not sure this is necessarily a perfect fit, just from the text that I saw on your Substack front page, yeah, I was like, "oh, this kid's got some really interesting ideas, but also it's super way over intellectual for the type of material that we're talking about.
Lucas Gelfond: No, not at all, not at all!
MM: I saw that you've put in Christy Fife, who's super fucking rad. So I'm like, okay, that gives a balance. But then as I’m reading through it, when you mentioned things like the Baffler and stuff where I'm thinking ‘those aren't zines, they've got some bank behind them.’ I'm immediately suspicious because even though I work in academia and we do a lot of library shit with a lot of really, really smart folks, conversations can easily get too mired in policies or procedures or ideas about what constitutes a zine versus a magazine versus some other type of publication.
It's usually my job to grab on people's ankles and tug them way back down, to help ground folks in the notion that, for zine makers and communities, we’re not all “professional” in a traditional sense, and we have an obligation to try to keep access open to as wide of an audience as possible.
LG: That's good, that's definitely the right push. I definitely want to think pretty expansively about this stuff and am interested mostly in how groups reach a public in general. I guess specifically here, I’m curious about how queer zines functioned as information conduits within queer communities.
MM: We have a lot of zines like that, and we think of a lot of those materials as incredibly dangerous in a lot of ways.
LG: Say more!
LG: I actually had a question about this, because I was really struck by when you said something similar, I think in an interview with Our Lives Wisconsin. What dangerous stuff in zines sticks out to you?
MM: Let's say you wake up and it is the middle of May in 2022 and you are 17 years old, you're transgender, you live in a place that is not Boston or San Francisco or Chicago, and you come to our archive. I'm not going to say any more, that's fucking dangerous. If you stumble on our stuff and can get it past the censors at your high school library computer lab or the public library doesn’t shut your shit down right away, it's a blessing, but if you don't have a familial support network or your school doesn't support you, reading anything in our archive is going to be sort of dangerous.
One of the zines we have is called State of the Gay at Harding University and it was written in 2011. Harding University is a private, Christian university in Arkansas. Some kid wrote about being queer in an environment where there is an honor code [that forbids same sex relationships], where he can’t talk to his friends or the administration about it. That’s potentially dangerous, and I say it gleefully because I wish it weren’t [dangerous].
For a slightly different example, if you’ve been to our website recently enough, you’ve seen that there’s a blog post from just last year about four or five zines we have in our collection about where to find resources for DIY abortion—that’s multiply dangerous in this climate.
LG: What has continued to draw you to queer zines?
MM: I was reading a description of Christopher Street Magazine where they basically said it was supposed to be like the homosexual New Yorker or Atlantic, really sort of highbrow. That's fine, but it's this really, really narrow viewpoint of folks who are mostly gay men, mostly white, certainly middle to upper class. That has been the dominant narrative since Stonewall, but once you start looking at queer zines suddenly it's like, ‘oh, that ain't shit, here are all of these stories.’
What gets me really jazzed about our archive and the work that we do now, it's not the activist part of it. It’s all of these amazing queer stories told in all of these different ways. They're not the stories that show up in mainstream publications at all.
LG: QZAP predates a lot of other internet archives, what drew you to the early web and digitization?
MM: [Chris and I] met doing organizing work for this event called Queeruption 3, an international gathering of queer anarchists and punks and whatnot. During organizing meetings, lots questions around identity, accessibility, and racism came up. Because we were both zine makers and were working with other folks who had also been in the queer zine community, we (but mostly Chris and I because we had just started dating, and so we were kind of in that phase) would look at each other, and say, “Hey, didn't, so-and-so write about this?”
Fast forward two years, both he and I had moved to Milwaukee and we were like, “we have all of these zines, what if we start to put them online, how do we do that”? Nobody had done that, Google Books wasn't a project yet. For us, this was an activist question; we wanted people to be able to access this information.
[…] We looked at the early days of the archive and getting material online as comparable to ACT UP’s ‘drugs into bodies’ phase. [This was a reaction] to what it was like to watch all of the people around you get sick with absolutely no hope.
The government was fucking useless and the drug companies were fucking useless. Something would come out and it would seem promising, but their trials were super limited and whatnot. [The thought was] “hey testing it on laboratory mice is fine, but also half of the gay community in New York city is dying,” we need to get drugs into people’s bodies and then we’ll figure out what’s working and what’s not working. That was our model— we were mostly interested in getting queer zines online and accessible as possible.
LG: How do you think publishing interacts with building queer communities?
MM: Pre-internet, zines were really, really good for connecting people to each other; you might have a whole community of folks you have these incredible epistolary relationships with that are all based on printed material, in the same way that you might be part of a place that you feel comfortable with in other ways now. Now that might be a Discord community, or your circle of people on Twitter, or, I’m imagining there’s some way to carve out a similar space [on other platforms].
LG: How did this work in print specifically?
MM: A whole lot of zines had letter sections and review sections, so if things were music or pop culture oriented, you might have people writing about stuff that they picked up at the record store or shows that they went to. Also in those contexts people would say, “hey, I picked up this cool zine, if you want to get a copy of it, you can write to, you know, Semen Demon, PO Box 13 Hampshire College Western Mass” or “Fuh Cole, 2635 Oakland Ave, Apt #6, Milwaukee Wisconsin.” Fuh Cole is actually the title of one of the zines you can find in the archive, F-U-H-C-O-L-E. I saw that you had, uh, a picture of Factsheet Five on the page…
LG: Yeah! [Note: Factsheet Five was a long-running zine that would review other zines sent to them.]
MM: Yeah, Larry-Bob Roberts, who published the zine Holy Titclamps, for a long while actually had a [similar] zine called Queer Zine Explosion. [It was] not even reviews but more like a two or three sentence description [of a zine], what the cover cost was, and how to get it, and it was page upon page of that. That’s how people would connect to each other; if nothing else you could always write to Larry-Bob and get a copy of Queer Zine Explosion. From there could write to other folks to request zines.
LG: How have you thought about building community around the archive, doesn’t QZAP have an artist residency?
MM: We meet people in all different contexts who say, “hey, I want to do a thing,” or “I want to do research,” or folks we’ve traded zines with for awhile that we think would be super interested and would get something out of it. We send them an invite and say, ‘hey, this time coming up, we’ve got a couple of slots open’ and ‘if you want to come spend a week here at the archive—which is in our house, in the downstairs level of our building. Basically, ‘we’d love to have you, here’s what to expect, here’s the costs,’ which are pretty minimal, you basically just have to get yourself to us and we’ll cover everything for the week.
Because we have all of this material, there’s no way we can know all of it really, really well. For us, it’s a chance to see our archive through someone else’s eyes. Folks come here and in the process we ask them “what are you interested in, what do you think the archive is going to show you” and then they get here and the archive takes them where the archive wants to take them.
LG: What is your definition of a zine?
MM: These days I default to Jenna’s [Freedman, of the Barnard Zine Archive] definition, because she put it in a way that’s so succinct.
LG: I’m actually going to the Barnard Zine Library in a few days!
MM: Jenna is one of my besties. When we’re done with this, I’m going to very quickly hop on the cat chat and let her know that I got to talk to you.
LG: What is the cat chat?
MM: Oh, the cat chat is our, it started at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s a bunch of zine librarians across the country where we mostly share pictures of our cats. So I ultimately call it, ‘zine cat super friends’ or ‘super kitty zine friends’ or something.
I think archivists have uniquely broad perspective on zines / publishing culture, and I’ve reached out to a few more in coming weeks to chat with—in lieu of better public funding for archives, I’m consistently drawn to organizations like QZAP that do the sort of thankless, long term maintenance work that is essential to keeping track of a history. On a less serious note, I love odd preservation projects—what is your favorite? (You can respond to this email directly!). I’ll submit Gap In-Store Playlists 1992 to 2006, a work that needs no more introduction. Until the next!