by Tom Boyle
for Meteor Magazine ’96
[This is part of the re-release of Meteor Magazine from 1996. If you are considering submitting work, please use these as a rough guideline for style and content. Please see our Submission Guidelines.]
Noel Tolentino, publisher of “Bunnyhop,” sits in the sun-lit living room of his North Beach apartment in San Francisco. He speaks softly about Kill Zinesters Small Press Coalition of America, “It’s not really about the individual zines, so much as it is about two things. One being the web site. Also for the coalition itself. Anything to empower people on a small press level, that’s what the tour’s really about.”
Kill Zinesters is the new quasi-organization which Darby Romeo, of “Ben is Dead,” initially conceived in order to protect the rights of the growing number of small publishers. “Kind of as a joke, the tour evolved,” explains Tolentino, who joined the group later. As much as a group of introverts meeting with crowds of aspiring zinesters in 17 cities from Los Angeles to Boston in a Winnebago sounds like a joke, it is exactly what they are doing.
After “Bust” withdrew due to time constraints, Larry (just Larry), publisher of San Francisco’s “Genetic Disorder” joined the cause. Add Dishwasher Pete, a drifter who logs his endeavors to wash dishes in every state in his “Dishwasher” zine, and occasional appearances from the makers of zines such as “Fizz,” “Gearhead,” and “Flatter!” and you’ve got yourself a coalition.
“Anything to empower people on a small press level,
that’s what the tour’s really about.”
The “organization” has garnered a fair amount of attention, as have the more-often-than-not shy members in the past. Darby Romeo, before producing “Ben Is Dead,” was overwhelmed by the publicity regarding her “I Hate Brenda Newsletter,” which attacked Shannon Doherty’s Beverly Hills 90210 character. On the other hand, “Bunnyhop” received the negative attention of Matt Groenig’s lawyers after Tolentino sent a copy of “Bunnyhop’s” Geeks vs. Jocks issue, the cover of which featured Groenig’s Life in Hell character Binky knocking the Trix out of the Trix Rabbit, to the creator of The Simpsons. Tolentino expected Groenig to be amused and flattered, but received a “cease and desist” letter ordering him to destroy all copies of the cover and print a pre-approved apology. Tolentino was surprised not only by the response from a man who uses parody to such an extent as Groenig does, but moreover by the fact that it was the cartoonist, not the cereal company that balked.
The attention Kill Zinesters has brought the founders is the uneasy price they pay for getting the message out. The Kill Zinesters Small Press Coalition hopes to make distributors and stores aware of the rights of small publishers as well as to strengthen the zine community. “Distributors,” Tolentino explains, “apply the same rules to us as they do for, say, Rolling Stone.” They destroy magazines instead of sending them back, and many don’t pay. Period. “To us it’s really not asking for much. What we want is to be pretty much treated fairly by our distributors. You can get jerked around so badly by distributors… On a small press level, it’s hard enough for it to sustain itself. So, it’s important that money that is owed to actually gets to you. Whether it’s $50 or $3,000, pay up. You’re making money, so treat us with some respect.”
Both “Bunnyhop” (circ. 10,000) and “Ben is Dead” (circ. 17,000) can wrangle both big name and independent advertisers and sell for $3.95. Both still lose money. For someone like Tolentino, who makes money doing occasional freelance graphic design jobs for childhood friends who are now in business, a few destroyed copies could mean extra food. “It’s really strange that I’ve managed to survive,” Tolentino admits.
“Content tends to suffer because it’s free and you have nothing at stake, really. Not to say that there’s nothing good out there.”
Then how does someone with such limited funds finance a national bookstore and club zine tour? With generous sponsorship from Epitaph Records and “Suck,” an eclectic daily electronic zine attached to Hot Wire. And if there is a website with connections to high traffic sites and accessible to millions of people world-wide, then why organize a costly tour? While “Ben is Dead,” “Bunnyhop” and Kill Zinesters have a presence on the internet, Tolentino perceives some short comings with e-zines. “[They] can’t go anywhere. The tactile element of flipping through pages, [being able to] take it into the bathroom. Content tends to suffer because it’s free and you have nothing at stake, really. Not to say that there’s nothing good out there,” he adds.
If there are any good zines “out there,” whether on the net or copied on company machines, Kill Zinesters will be connecting with them via the tour and website. Considering that estimates put the number of independent publications in the neighborhood of 100,000 at any given moment, these introverts are bound to form a sizable and strong coalition.
Copyright © 1995, 2012 Meteor Magazine, Tom Boyle