-- Not So Bad?; Interview
with Ninj of Infiltration; The
Deal of the Art; A
Memo To My New Boss, Rupert Murdoch; The
Real Corporate Conspiracy; The
Big Question; and Zinester
to the American Dream Machine.
a long time, the family vacation was seen as the reward
of a year of hard work. Stay at a resort where your
every whim and craving was catered to. A beautiful,
exotic land where you could spend some time with the
wife and kids and recharge the old batteries. Take some
nice photos for the folks.
Johnny Rotten sang "I don't want a holiday in the sun,"
he was adding a note of dissonance to an opinion that
was assumed to be universal. But having pre-packaged
fun in a fake place full of people who have traded their
lives for a work-based identity and a single week of
high end laziness isn't everyone's idea of a good time.
Some people find mindless joy depressing. Others just
burn too easily.
is what this zine is about. To look at the mainstream
as a place with pros and cons, not as the only suitable
destination for our creative endeavours. I've spent
eight years happily burrowing in the underground making
zines and finding more than enough to keep me well fed,
creatively speaking. Now, with a novel coming out in
eight months (Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask,
in stores everywhere April 1999!) with a major publisher
it's like suddenly finding myself under a palm tree
being handed piña coladas. It's not that I was
brought here against my will -- I had heard a lot about
the place and I did want to visit. But if I find the
sun too harsh or the other vacationers too obnoxious,
I expect I'll leave.
culture isn't purely independent. It's influenced by
the mainstream even when it's reacting against it. Mainstream
culture isn't purely mainstream. It's influenced by
indie culture even when it's being insulted. Depicting
the interplay between the two as a vicious battle of
good against evil is a somewhat useful as a way to shock
someone out of their trance, but I want to create a
forum for discourse, not debate. Debate's about winning,
and discourse is about discovering. This issue is mostly
postcards to myself about how I like it so far, but
please send in your ideas, theories, accusations. Being
on holiday alone is a drag.
-- Not So Bad?
I'm a hypocrite, having just sold a book to a company
that's owned by a manipulative right-wing bastard, you'd
be quite right to suspect this article as being a self-serving
piece of recent rationalisation.
actually, it was a few years ago that I started questioning
hypocrisy's hallowed place as the prime vice of our
time. I was reading Neal Stephenson's The Diamond
Age (or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer) a marvellous
science fiction novel inhabited by a subculture of Neo-Victorians.
These folks contrasted with the other kinds of humans
because they had a moral code. Like the original Victorians
and their whipping brothels and sexy fairy paintings,
they occasionally strayed from it. But they had ethics
to begin with.
consistency seems to have replaced virtue. Since moral
relativism makes virtue so hard to define, people tend
to judge people on more obvious things. If someone kills
children because he hates them, and is wholly dedicated
to eliminating the toddler set from the earth, this
person is somehow less contemptible than a vegetarian
who wears leather shoes.
to its logical extreme, anyone who is a social critic
and remains in that society -- benefiting from and contributing
to it -- is a hypocrite. No one can be politically pure
except a person who constantly follows the status quo's
lead and has no opinions of her own.
have a great respect for political consistency and attempts
to stay pure. I think that proving that you can act
in direct refutation to all accepted wisdom is a political
act that can cause social change. But it's easy to lose
sight of the goal -- social change -- and become fixated
on purity at the cost of relevance and impact.
remain free of corporate radiation is a good rule of
thumb, but Michael Moore's TV Nation and his
hilarious attack interviews would be mere entertainment
to the underground's cynical converted -- the more televisions
in Suburban Middle America he can infiltrate the better.
Same with Adbusters. Publisher Kalle Lasn, meat-eater
and car-driver, does more to destroy the meat and car
industry than ten granola munching, bike riding cynics.
the other hand, Green Day's pop punk, complete with
the expected costumes, is completely unchallenging to
the status quo and only had value in the context of
a fifteen-year-old hardcore scene. Punks crooning love
songs in rebellion against the punk convention of screamed
political songs is a valid artistic reaction; but stripped
of that history, it's just entertainment.
outspoken anarchists, Chumbawamba are bigger hypocrites
than Green Day for signing to a major label. Despite
that, they're attacking Tory MPs at music award shows
and singing about labour unions. They had ethics
to begin with. Because of that political fibre,
they're doing more with their power and profile.
with Mainstream Survivors
the excellent zine about going places you're not supposed
to go, is written by a fellow named Ninjalicious. From
secret subway stations to luxury hotels to the tunnels
under Paris, you can expect high-quality prose from
a man who knows his naughtiness. And funny -- ooh la
la is eet funny! After reading this interview you'll
probably want to send $2 to PO Box 66069, Town Centre
PO, Pickering ONT, L1V 6P7 or visit www.infiltration.org,
and I wouldn't think of stopping you.
form did your mainstream exposure take?
was thrust into the spotlight when my zine, Infiltration,
was profiled on Ooh La La. Ooh La La is a Toronto-produced,
internationally-aired TV show that profiles people and
happenings they perceive to be sufficiently hip and
photogenic. I scored 10 minutes in the sun.
did it come about?
fame came to me unsolicited when the show's editor,
Marco, sent me an e-mail message gushing about the zine
and proposing an Infiltration segment for his
show. At the time, I had heard of Ooh La La, but I thought
it was all about contemporary fashion, so I was non-committal.
When I asked my sisters about the show and they told
me it was cool, then I started to get interested in
you have any feelings or political stance about mainstream
had debated the evils and merits of going mainstream
with friends in the zining world many times. I usually
wind up on the pro-mainstream side of the debate. I
felt pretty safe going into this show, because I knew
Marco was truly into urban exploration and wasn't just
using it as kooky filler on a slow hipness week. Marco
also pretty much let me call the shots in terms of who
to interview for the show and what sites to film, and
didn't have a problem with my insistence on wearing
a ninja disguise during my interview.
if anything, did you hope to gain from the mainstream
exposure? What were your motivations?
were many. My most base motivation was to impress people
like my sisters, who are impressed by TV in a way they'll
never be impressed by a zine. I also wanted a high-quality,
digitally-recorded account of my expeditions, and Marco
promised me copies of all the raw footage. On a less
selfish level, I wished I had seen a show about
urban exploration when I was younger, to encourage me
in my unusual hobby. I figured the show would help me
spread the gospel of the right to look around to whole
you get screwed?
heard a lot of horror stories from other zine makers
who'd tried TV on for size, I was kind of expecting
to be screwed. I was happily surprised when I finally
watched the 10-minute segment and didn't find myself
moaning in agony. They did edit my words in one instance,
but in a minor way that would only bother a zine maker.
I was very annoyed that they'd cut out the interview
with Ultraviolet at the side of the pool in the Sheraton
hotel -- I thought that was important, since Ultraviolet
is my partner in crime, and I wanted to show that infiltrating
is about more than just tunnels and abandoned buildings.
I guess they decided it wasn't "alt" enough.
other effects did it have?
just say I haven't slept alone much.
were quite a few more orders for the zine and visits
to the website. A couple of old friends got in touch
to congratulate me on being famous, which just made
me uncomfortable. Several people who never took the
zine seriously before became more interested afterwards,
and I think some of the people who regularly help me
with the zine started helping more enthusiastically.
the experience wasn't negative, I was very relieved
when it was finally over with, and I'm not at all eager
to repeat the experience. It was a lot of work compiling
the 10 hours of footage that were needed to produce
the 10-minute segment, and I had to spend a lot of time
in a culture (Znaimerland) that was interesting but
uncomfortable. I don't think I felt any different about
myself or the zine after the show, aside from feeling
a little more paranoid about being hunted down by police
or security guards for a few weeks afterwards.
wasn't until I was telling my friend's father about
it that I realised how reticent I'd been in the past.
With him, a fifty-something doctor, I was able to describe
the business end of the book deal plainly, something
I hadn't been able to do with any of my friends or peers.
was a number of reasons. There's no context for it in
the bohemian circles I travel in, which I'm usually
glad of. The crushing power that business has in the
mainstream is inverted in the counterculture, placed
well below the topics of art and politics. I imagine
that I felt something similar to a banker having an
inappropriate flair for ragtime piano. As a creative
person, I'm expected to be disorganized and incapable
of making business decisions -- so when I tell people
that I was able to handle the deal myself in a not-so-incompetent
manner I feel like I'm bragging. But really what I'm
doing is violating people's image of what an artist
is by showing both sides of my personality.
thing is, being organized and methodical is the only
way I've been able to survive financially up till now.
Perpetuating the myth of the purely creative artist
is a great way to ensure a lot of cultural workers never
reach their goals, whatever they might be.
a kind of nod-and-wink assumption that you won't want
to talk the details of the contract, and there's at
least one good selfish reason why most don't: the advances
are so small that there's a temptation to let people
think that you got paid the millions they imagine authors
get. But because we all know that guild secrets, like
those crazy handshakes, are at best silly and at worst
elitist, I've opted for full disclosure.
people want, even need, to know about the business side
of art, but can't bring themselves to ask. So to avoid
the uncomfortableness on both ends, here's what you
would have heard if you were a wallfly when I talked
to my friend's dad. Not that you want to know, or anything.
prices quoted are Canadian unless otherwise stated.)
I wrote the book, I asked a few friends how to get other
people to publish it. Stuart suggested I get a book
called Be Your Own Literary Agent, and I did.
I read it and followed its directions on how to package
a twenty page proposal, sending this out to 50 or so
houses. About five were interested in seeing the whole
manuscript, which I sent out.
anarchist press I really liked was interested in the
book, but wanted $3000 for printing costs -- fiction
was a very risky investment. A young editor at HarperCollins
also liked it. After convincing the rest of the house
it was worth doing, he made me an offer of a $2000 advance
against a 10% royalty. This meant I would make $2 on
each book after 1000 books were sold. If they didn't
sell that many, I would receive nothing more, but if
it sold 5000 copies (a best-seller in Canada) then I
would make an additional $8000 dollars.
the company through magazine and newspaper articles
at the library turned up a lot of good information,
such as how much they had recently spent on promotions
($40,000 between four authors) and that the HarperCollins
in America had undergone serious downsizing over the
last year. It was owned by Rupert Murdoch, an infamous
called up the anarchist press and made a proposition.
I would be willing to publish with them for no advance,
just royalties, and put three months into promoting
and publicising it. It would be a media event that the
journalists would love -- the author who turned down
a big name publisher in favour of a small press! I was
excited about it, if a little nervous. But he declined,
and suggested I take the deal.
I made one last ditch attempt. I called up the last
two remaining independent publishers (large scale, that
is) in the free world, Houghton-Miffler and Norton,
and explained my conundrum. The editors I spoke to,
and subsequently sent manuscripts to, were initially
interested but didn't end up making me an offer. Neither
did any of the other smaller presses that had originally
I met with the young editor and the publisher, both
of whom I found charming and enthusiastic. They told
me about HarperCollins, and I listened, curious to see
how they'd spin it -- and ended up pleased by their
candour. At the end of it, I was given a contract. I
said I'd need a month to think it over.
went to the Writer's Union, and got some information
from them. I asked everyone I knew for advice, told
them how helpless and ignorant I was -- which was tough,
because my ego wanted to pretend that I was on top of
it and everything. But it paid off, because Christine
told me about this guy in the publishing industry she
used to baby-sit for, and he in turn graciously recommended
me to a literary agent.
agents take 15% of any money their clients make. For
this, they usually secure a contract, and then negotiate
the terms -- but I had already secured the contract,
and the language of the contract was plain enough that
I felt I could deal with it myself. I also was hesitant
to sacrifice any control of my business to someone else
-- DIY unless there's a good reason not to -- so when
I met the agent, and we didn't click, I declined the
offer of representation.
I finished going over the contract a billion times,
I made a counter-offer of $5000 for half of the rights
they'd asked for. I ended up with a final offer of $2500
and control over the cover art and back cover blurb.
I had been told by people who worked in the industry
that I wouldn't get control, not on a first book, but
I kept asking for it. Later I found out that only myself
and another very prominent author had secured these
I was happy. They had made a few concessions, gracefully;
they had given me a considerable chunk of time to deliberate,
not once succumbing to pressure tactics; and I was very
excited about working with these talented people on
a venture that I had always previously done solo.
Jim Munroe, HarperCollins Cultural Production Employee
a memo to tell you what a thrill it is to be working
for you. I've had some strong-arm bosses in the past,
but none that had a will to power as intense as yours!
I'm really part of an empire, here.
admired your work from afar for years. Your line of
British tabloids had been shaping public opinion for
ages, sure, but it wasn't until you acquired the New
York Post in the early eighties hat my ears really
pricked up. The work you did for Reagan was incredible.
Attacking Mondale's running mate relentlessly, day in
and day out, made it feel just like a scandal -- and
you didn't even have to waste any energy actually backing
it up with evidence. That pro-abortion bitch got what
was coming, eh? Who would have thought that righteous
family values and muck-raking would taste so good
it's not just the grand, puppet-master manoeuvrings
I'm a fan of -- I also love the subtle stuff. Like how
the Post called a white murder suspect a "vigilante"
while a black murder suspect gets "voodoo killer." Especially
considering it's New York -- crank up the racial tension
a little more and there'll be a serious demand for the
law-and-order society you rightly favour. Maybe even
martial law! That'd sell papers, eh?
-- that's just so you'll know that I'm on your side.
So when I ask you what happened with the Chris Patten
thing, you'll know it's out of concern. It's not that
you didn't have every right and reason to axe his book
-- I mean, the multi-million dollar deal you were cutting
with the Chinese government may have been ruined by
that liberal pansy's yammering about their human rights
abuses -- but how did it get so messy? Were your
spin doctors out playing golf? Calling it "dull" didn't
just inspire the editor-in-chief at HarperCollins Britain
to quit but forced the company to print an official
retraction to avoid a libel suit. And the threats from
Doris Lessing and other prominent authors to leave HarperCollins
-- none of this had to happen, Rupert. Was there a day
you forgot to take a pill, and sent the mail clerk to
the press conference instead of the PR guy? Now, don't
get the wrong idea -- I'm not being critical, but maybe
you should think about seeing a specialist. You're getting
up there, Rupert, and you don't want to go out like
Howard Hughes. If not for yourself, do it for the people
I better go. I'm getting my photo taken for the book.
Oh, and if by chance you do read it, don't get put off
by all the anarchist, pro-feminist stuff -- it's just
what the kids dig nowadays. Makes them feel good to
run around the streets a little before they have to
get a real job. You remember -- like your wacky left-wing,
Labour-supporting college days. They'll smarten up soon
enough, but in the meantime let's make some money off
them, shall we?
(Note: Not a real letter. For entertainment purposes
helping Them reverse engineer UFOs.
only They were attaching electrodes to our brains, or
just replacing them with computer chips -- that would
be easy to stop. But it's much more insidious than that.
we help Them do it.
a person is young, they have anti-establishment ideals
-- for instance, they dislike the rich and their obnoxious
cell phones and car alarms. For most of them, it doesn't
go beyond that -- a sneering feeling shared by their
friends -- and they will never, say, form an analysis
that these intrusive toys are just outward manifestations
of an oppressive class structure. These average people
are easy prey for... Them.
They have to do is give this carefree person a job making
a lot of money and that person gets right to work: reverse
engineering their UnFormed Opinions. Reverse engineering
is when a company like Samsung takes a VCR that Panasonic
makes better and figures out how they do it by taking
it apart. Similarly, the carefree person starts with
where their situation is now, and works on adjusting
their worldview (present and past) so that it fits comfortably
into their lifestyle. Rent money and social acceptance
is a necessity while a radical, interesting or even
coherent political stance isn't. Usually, their past
worldview was reflective of their social environment,
rather than an individual synthesis of rational thought
and emotional predilection.
I'm more of the latter than the former, I still see
the possibility of a shift to (shudder) moderate politics
-- it'll just take longer. Here's how it could happen:
regular contact with the people who are handling my
book shows me that not only are they not corporate whores
after all: they're very nice, efficient, love books
and in some cases are even cool enough to be apologetic
about their company. And flattering! The ego glucose
is delivered with the regularity I've always needed.
hardly one to abandon my old friends, though, so I go
out with them, perhaps to burn a few billboards down.
Everything would be going well and then someone would
yell a joyous "fuck the corporate whores" and part of
me would agree and part of me would think, well, the
people I know aren't whores.
more I hang around other people who aren't vocally critical
of corporate complicity, the less I mentally have to
deal with it. People start to refer to my anarchist
punk rock past as part of an amusing anecdote, or a
crazy-young-kid thing, and I grin sheepishly and let
them. Little betrayals, ones I don't even notice.
I start to reverse engineer my politics to suit my new
position. My opinion that homogeneous culture is
a social sickness moves to indie culture is better
then to indie culture is a little snobby and
so on. Moderation sets like a pair of concrete boots.
And down I sink, to stay, at the bottom of the mainstream.
that's my destiny, but I plan to go out screaming all
the way. I'd rather be a hypocritical, inconsistent
anarchist pissed off at injustice and dreaming of a
better world than a consistant liberal, smugly satisfied
with my lot in life.
years ago I published my first zine, Celtic Pamplemousse.
In my introduction I explain why I'm planning to do
it -- half selfless reasons, to entertain and stimulate
the reader, and half selfish: "By creating worlds, I
entertain myself, and by transmogrifying my vague theories
into printed ideas, I -- yes, that's right -- I stimulate
mySELF." Or at least that's what I wrote. Certainly
back then I had a desire to be a full-time writer some
day, but I didn't have a game plan. The idea of living
off of zine writing back then wasn't even an issue.
I liked feedback and seeing my words on paper, and they
seemed enough to warrant the grand statement "I will
be publishing this zine irregularly until I die, in
one form or another."
then, a whole new set of reasons have kept me doing
zines. I met people through it that I otherwise never
would have. People with perspectives and lifestyles
so different from my own that I never would have given
them a chance to show why we were common souls if not
for them reading and responding to my zine. These people
created a community for me that I had needed ever since
my waning interest in the punk scene. ("Why I'm Going
Straight" was in CP v1.0 and explained why I felt I
was more effective as an activist not looking like a
punk. That was my first fall from grace.) Anyone can
join if they want to enough, by doing a zine you automatically
become part of a non-hierarchical community. There's
instant rapport -- sharing zine fair stories, showing
off staple calluses, talking about esoteric elements
of the mail network.
is in considerable contrast to the mainstream publishing
world. Entirely hierarchical, there are the handlers
and the talent. Even when the conversations are enjoyable
and everyone's friendly, the power relations are always
there. And generally, the people aren't as creative
or eclectic as zine folk, and hence less inspiring for
not fair to judge the whole process just as it's begun,
but after this first book has run its course I'll have
to ask the question: would it have been more politically,
socially and creatively enriching for me to have published
nothing like reading a kick-ass zine, something that
fucks with your childish ideas of life and spawns something
with fourteen arms in a shark-fin suit. Something as
thoughtful as it is ass-bustingly funny.
set up a shadow publishing world that offers clever
young malcontents an audience and a distribution network.
Publishing's no longer a gentleman's game. All an artist
really needs nowadays is inspiration and confidence.
how to get these things? A substantial audience goes
a long way in providing confidence -- strength in numbers,
and all that. If a part of the audience is responsive
and creative, then it can offer inspiration as well.
I prefer the latter -- I'd trade 100 unresponsive readers
for 10 responsive readers, regardless of what they said.
This is why I love zines -- zine readers are much more
likely to write you letters, being active enough to
seek out misfit lit to begin with.
writing can build confidence in your identity as a real
writer. So does getting paid, or being affiliated by
an established house or magazine. Getting a book deal
doesn't make you financially independent, but it can
solidify your self-image. Gathering credibility around
you like royal robes. This is what the book industry
offers, and it's not an insignificant thing.
the industry is in for a bit of a shock. Many of the
best young writers of today view publication not with
gratefulness but with cool suspicion. They've published
their own work, had complete creative control, and have
a more focused idea of what they want and where they're
going. This makes them more demanding, less easy to
handle, and maddeningly independent.
the other hand, the zinester also has developed a work
ethic, meets deadlines, has created her own structures
for editing and pre-publication feedback, is more media-savvy,
has a small but loyal base of fans and is unafraid to
package and sell her writing. Having going through a
very similar process herself, she has a better idea
of what can and can't be done, and a realistic appreciation
for how much work it is. Harder to gauge but certainly
significant is the amount of craft-honing that has gone
on behind the scenes -- often a person will have been
writing intensively for many years, uninhibited by the
worries of whether it would sell. Written for its own
sake, or at least for an audience sick of mainstream
culture, the best zine writers aren't just as good as
real writers -- they're better.
now their fictional children are approaching the biggest
publishing houses in the world, their fourteen arms
capable of scaling the walls with ease and their shark-fin
suits impervious to arrows.
as well just open the gates, eh?