On Friday October 26 Chicago Zine Fest had their second seasonal Hallowzine reading at the new publishing space CHIPRC. I wanted to write about this reading for not only am I an organizer of CZF, but the director of CHIPRC. Due to these facts I ended up as proxy emcee for the reading.
Before this Hallowzine even began, there were already two special items to note.
1) It was CZF organizer Heather’s b-day. Go Cojack!
2) Zinester Jonas Cannon (Cheer the Eff Up) was on the lineup, but the week prior welcomed a new edition to his family. He became a first time father to a lovely little boy. Jonas couldn't make the reading, but we
wish him good luck becoming a Chicago Rad Dad!
As for the reading, there wasn't a strict Halloween theme, but many readers offered up pieces that fit the season perfectly. The room was set up with rows of seats facing a blank wall that we
decorated with cut outs of bats and ghosts. A set of white lights
outlined the form of a doorway on the wall. The reading was set to kick off.
First up we welcomed South Side’s own Gas Mask Horse, Josh Piotrowski. GMH read at last Hallowzine and we were glad to have him back. He runs a haunted house on south Ashland and puts out the zine appropriately titled Start Your Own Haunted House. GMH read from issue one of the zine. A strobe light pulsated throughout the reading adding to the eeriness of it all. His text walked the audience through the maze that is his haunted house. From the shadows, he produced a skull from the shadows and passed it around the crowd as he explained how he crafted it from a foam mannequin head. He closed with a piece on how to make a car from a shopping cart and a car bumper. He’d done this with a car bumper which he found in the alley and carried home on his bike. The reading was peppered with local horror factoids and jokes related to his adventures in building a haunted house. GMH always has an energetic reading and it was a great kick off for the night.
Next up was zinester legend LB (was that a bit much). I made some dumb joke about how LB was short for pounds because she was a heavyweight reader. She then bared her muscles from the back of the room. My banter wasn’t very funny. LB came up and read two pieces. The first was a story about working as a Chicago Public School teacher in this era of school closures and mass budget cuts. She talked about a student who skipped school to hang with gang bangers. When the girl returned to class against her will, she was snotty and sarcastic. “I can’t wait to learn,” she said to LB. “You’re the best teacher.” As LB read, I kept thinking if only her students knew this person before us with tattooed arms, beer in hand, reading from a self-published work of art. LB wasn’t any different than the adults most of her students probably look up to or hang out with. Would it make a difference, would these students look at her in a new light? Would they respect her authority, considering her as someone who knew what it was like to be cool, who was different from the other teachers? LB’s second selection was a new piece she had written to be included as part of an upcoming anthology of her Truckface zine. It was a nonfiction essay that struggled with some of the questions I presented above about her life as a teacher. She reflected on how difficult it is to reach these students who see a city that is not investing in their future or their community. These kids are intelligent; they see things for what they are and know when they are not being cared for. It was disheartening to hear this put into words. Here is a teacher who cries for her students, her profession, her city. Such passion and strength was put on the page and delivered to us. My questions became answered for I was sure, whether her students knew this side of their teacher or not, that LB was a great teacher. And we are lucky have her as part of Chicago’s zine community.
Quimby’s. She walked up to the front of the crowd in full costume: white face make up, a black strip across her eyes, all white hair, black boots and ripped up stockings. She was Daryl Hannah’s character in Blade Runner, so she told us. Liz held out her laptop which she read from. She required help for this and called out for an audience member. Elizabeth Terri, organizer of Back to Print Publishing, ran up dressed as a French maid. Liz asked her to hold a speaker and Elizabeth responded en Francaise. Liz joked back in French throwing in, “Oui Oui.” Liz began her reading with an intro. She shared her nightly rituals that consisted of checking her email before going to bed. She doesn’t simply check email but gets sucked into a wormhole of surfing the net instead of going to sleep. Her first piece detailed listed of things that she learned from the internet begging the question, does the internet make us smart or dumb. Lists of things she’s learned, like how to make Twin Peaks inspired sounds by importing into Itunes, Garage Band, back and forth until there is a creepy reverse on the vocals. She then played what this sounded like, thanking Elizabeth for holding the speaker before sending her back to the crowd. Liz left it to us if the internet was for the betterment of mankind. The jury’s still out I guess. She closed with a piece about going to get a new tire and wheel alignment. Sounds normal, but this is Mason here. She read this as a SPOOOOKY story, stretching out her words and speaking in a high voice. It was pretty funny and maybe sometime you can catch her reading it. Or maybe one day it will be uploaded online, causing others to be sucked in the uncontrollable time vaccum that is the internet.
We took a break at this point to set up the multimedia for the last two readers. I looked out and saw a lot of friendly faces the supported the reading. Zinester faces included Colin Brennan (Continental Interlude), Ben Spies (No More Coffee), Eric Bartholomew (Junk Drawer), Alex Nall (comics artist), Matt Davis (risograph expert), Nicki Yowell (SPOC), and Jim Joyce (Let it Sink). There were cupcakes, cookies, brownies, twizzlers and twix to munch on. People where all chatting up a storm. Its hard sometimes to corral people back after a break, but not they must have instinctively know how awesome the rest of the night was going to be, so things settled back in quickly.
Jaclyn Miller, fellow CZF organizer, brought us back on track. Jac read her from mini comic The Grimes Sisters Murders. Before her reading, she had something up her sleeve. She wanted to celebrate CZF organizer Heather’s bday. Not through the typical Happy Birthday sing-along. Instead, she set up her phone next to the mic. The classic Ghostbusters theme came forth and she turned around donning a pumpkin mask. This was all part of her set, to give a live rendition of a viral video featuring a dancing pumpkin from an Omaha, NE newscast. She mimicked the dance choreography to a tee. Once she got that out of her system and caught her breath, Jaclyn read her comic. Projected onto the wall, we all followed along to the images. It was a pretty gruesome story about a pair of sisters who were mysteriously murdered in the 1950s. The case is unsolved adding to the horrific nature of the tale. A notable image was of the two girls, naked and faceless, lying in opposite directions head to toe, holding hands.
Closing the night was the group Pup House who performed a live puppet show using two overhead projectors (the kind that uses transparency slides). There were about 8 puppeteers (Pups). To start, there was one large circle the Pups spun turning around to show two dogs running. This gave to a second slide that showed the Pup House logo: Skeleton dogs inside a dog house. That was only the first nibble. Their performance told the story from a bogeyman’s perspective as it stalked prey. Shortly into the performance, the front door of CHIPRC opened and there entered a figure, a Pup dressed as the bogeyman in black clothes and mask. The bogeyman acted as the narrator for the reading. Correlating to the slides, it called out the various parts of a little boy it wanted to eat. The puppeteers quickly worked, changed images and covering the light source. The little boy’s family all came in and out of the slides. Once all the body parts were named off the list, a large bag produced for the bogeyman by another Pup acting as the boy’s father. Of all the parts pulled from the bag, the most gruesome was a large eyeball with a retina tail. With the bogeyman sated, the Pups ended their show and the night.
I closed the night by running in and out of the audience high fiving all the readers. It was a spectacle to be missed for sure; hope I didn’t step on anyone while making a fool out of myself. It was my way to say, CZF really appreciated all the readers as we couldn’t have done this without you.
It was a Hell of a reading. It looks like with it being such a success in its second year, we might have to make Hallowzine a CZF annual tradition. Here’s to next year!