100 Dollars and a T-Shirt: A Documentary about Zines in the Northwest US
This is a documentation of Portland, Oregon’s zine scene between 2002 and 2004. While it’s kind of basic, it’s worth it to see what Portland’s Reading Frenzy and Independent Publishing Resource Center are doing. Reading Frenzy is amazing – a whole store full of zines. The IPRC, right upstairs, is a nonprofit art space dedicated to do-it-yourself publishing – mostly zines, but also letter press, desktop publishing and other crafty things. Watching this movie makes me nostalgic for that kind of insular “we’re really doing something!” community that I used to feel so invested in - hanging out at Kinkos all night long scamming thousands of copies with my friends, convinced that we were bringing the revolution.
There are some interesting women in this movie. Moe Bowstern is dynamic and captivating, a great storyteller. In fact the title of the movie comes from a story about a skipper on a boat she worked on, who wouldn’t write for her zine, even when she offered him the same thing he received for writing for a trade magazine (a hundred bucks and a t-shirt). I related to the way Nicole Georges described her artistic process, as something she just has to do – fill up a blank book with artwork and writing, then take the least emo parts and make it into a zine. Krissy Durden told a great story about meeting a girl who said Krissy’s zine saved her mom’s life by convincing her not to have gastric bypass. Korrina Irwin talked about zines as an outlet for talking about mental health. These stories rang true and struck deep into my experience of the zine world during the hayday of Riot Grrrl (mid-nineties), when zines were helping so many young women connect the most personal aspects of our lives to the overwhelming political reality we lived in.
The juiciest and most entertaining parts of the movie were 1) watching people read reviews of their own zines – this was where people got animated and showed their personalities; and 2) the acknowledgement of scene hierarchy in the zine world. I liked what Kim Fern had to say about the way younger zine makers will look up to and idolize certain older zine stars, projecting their own insecurities onto these “cool” people they want to be like. Moe gave a great sound byte on the subject: “For all that people are anti-authoritarian in the zine world, people are really into creating heroes.” Coincidentally, Kim and Moe are probably the two most recognizable people in the movie.
I think what feels missing is an articulated politic that reflects what has been going on in the world for the past seven (or 500) years. Nobody talked about Bush, the war, racism or really any politics. They barely even talk about how they feel about anything. Almost everyone in the movie is white, and they do say things like “we need to talk about shit, there’s still sexism and racism in our communities” but it didn’t really go much further. I was disappointed because I would love to see how the political discussion has evolved to since the Riot Grrrl era, and this movie made it seem like it just hasn’t.
There are a number of good deleted scenes in the special features - especially the “pulp history” one, which describes the genesis of science fiction fanzines – but the commentary with the film makers is hard to watch. Every time Joe Biel starts getting into some interesting backstory, Alex Wrekk cuts him off to go “hey there’s me,” or “I hate that chair in our house” or “there’s our cat.” One funny thing that does get pointed out in the commentary, though, is that when asked “why do you do a zine?” almost all the men said “control,” while the women said things like “community,” “connections” and “freedom to express myself.”
I feel the same way about this movie that I feel about a lot of zines – I’m glad someone did it, I’m glad it’s in the world and I’m not jumping up and down. Maybe it’s the pop punk soundtrack (I don’t like pop punk). Maybe it’s the blasé attitude of most of the interviewees, or the super-generic questions (“what is a zine?” “where do zines come from?” “why do people make zines?”). It could be the fact that it says it’s about “the northwest,” but really focuses on a specific Portland scene, or it could be the dated-ness and lack of a relevant political analysis.
But I really am glad they made it. I do believe in the DIY ethic, and I love the idea of documenting our own communities. These people are cute and dorky and earnest and I’m sure their lives are interesting. For all of you reading who like pop punk, who want to get a basic understanding of zines, and who are inspired by the prolific Portland underground scene, you should totally get this documentary, learn about zine culture, and then start your own zine.