Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
The Biggest Zine Library in Seattle—and Maybe the World?—Needs Your Help
Here's the thing: The Zine Archive and Publishing Project (ZAPP) has got to move. ZAPP began as a Hugo House project back in the literary center's early days, when House cofounder Frances McCue's husband, Gary Greaves, donated his personal collection of a couple hundred zines to the House in 1996. With more zines donated from individuals and organizations around the world, the collection now stands, Hugo House program director Brian McGuigan estimates, at somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 zines strong. It may very well be the largest zine collection in the United States—or the world.
ZAPP has always been more than just a storehouse of paper—it was also a space where young people could get together to make their own zines, attend workshops, and hang out. ZAPP became a resource for homeless teens, some of whom lived in a bus in front of Hugo House. McCue writes in an e-mail: "The first magazine produced by ZAPP was FOREIGN SUBSTANCE, and the inaugural issue had shellacked lunch meat on the front. (Our dog ate some of the covers and barfed them up all over the house.)"
But in more recent years, Hugo House has neglected ZAPP. The library moved from its clubhouse-like basement digs to a cramped room on the second floor. It's only open 12 hours a week now. When Nora Mukaihata, ZAPP's archive and library manager, resigned last year, Hugo House didn't replace her. Now the library is volunteer-managed and -operated, and incoming materials aren't all being cataloged, and nobody has time to program the workshops and events that a library the size of ZAPP deserves.
Last month, McGuigan and Hugo House executive director Tree Swenson met with 15 key ZAPP supporters (including McCue, cartoonists David Lasky and Kelly Froh, and the six-person, all-volunteer managing committee) and explained that it's time for the organizations to part ways. "Hugo House has not been able to make ZAPP a priority," Swenson said last week. "It's a very small organization. We're strapped." Swenson didn't set a deadline for ZAPP's departure, just urged the committee to start the conversation about what ZAPP's future would look like.
This conversation begins this Sunday afternoon at the Vera Project, with the ZAPP committee seeking input and advice from the community. Because these sorts of things often become chaotic and aimless—mic check!—the meeting will be mediated by local nonprofit facilitator and strategist Lisa Fitzhugh, a "creative catalyst" with a track record of helping arts organizations figure their shit out.
Committee members Tyler Hauck and Remy Nelson explain that the future is a blank slate right now: ZAPP could become an independent nonprofit, or it could partner with a like-minded organization. Nelson says that "ZAPP doesn't always fit" with Hugo House's goals "perfectly, and it shouldn't have to." (The meeting is being held at Vera, Hauck explains, because "we want to involve people who have been involved in ZAPP in the past and do not have positive feelings about Hugo House.") There are very few institutional examples for ZAPP to follow: Portland's Independent Publishing Resource Center is closest, but ZAPP's collection is three to five times larger than the IPRC's. Maybe more important than the ideas at this point, Hauck and Nelson say, is getting the community to rally together to show that there's interest in helping ZAPP survive and thrive.
ZAPP's materials date back to the 1960s. One of the collection's specialties is its LGBTQ section, which documents a secret queer history that otherwise went unnoticed by mainstream society during the '70s and '80s. The Olympia riot grrrl scene and radical feminist movements are strongly represented, too—rare zines by Bikini Kill and Le Tigre frontwoman Kathleen Hanna are among the most valuable items in the collection. Music figures in, too, from reviews of Nirvana's earliest appearance to manifestos written by punk bands that never played a single show for the public.
ZAPP's shelves are stuffed with stories that are told nowhere else—not on blogs, not in history books, not in public records, not anywhere. These are the voices of people who were disenfranchised and angry and sad and excited, in a time when publication was a barrier that kept the poor and the young and the dissenters from making their voices heard.
And zine-making still flourishes in the Pacific Northwest. Teenagers still come to ZAPP to photocopy and assemble their zines. The committee estimates that 35 to 40 new zines are added to the collection every month. Seattle's Short Run festival has inspired a whole new generation of local minicomics artists. And as long as there are people who enjoy creating something with their hands, independently produced literary journals and personal essays and political screeds will be made and swapped and shared by a small-but-proud subculture. These voices matter.
So what's best for ZAPP? Is there a better partner out there than Hugo House? (Some disaffected former volunteers would swear there could hardly be a worse one.) Can ZAPP stand on its own? And what will it look like when the dust settles? "If I had $15,000," McCue writes, "I'd get them a space right now. Then, if I had 10 hours a week, I'd help them regain the crazy, wonderful, joyful, rebellious, inclusive spirit that Gary had and get some wildly good shenanigans going again."