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Katherine of Retail Whore interview

I guess the average person doesn’t know about the zine Retail Whore.  Who am I kidding? The average person doesn’t even know about zines.  So Retail Whore is a personal zine that is essentially auto-biographical; but get this – it’s not done by a teenager & it doesn’t suck!  It’s good & one day when Katherine is as famous as David Foster Wallace you’ll be able to say, “I read about her in QRD,” & you’ll know you’ll be old school cool.  So anyway, here’s an interview with the only girl who does a zine I read in its entirety the same day I get it.

QRD – How do you feel zines compare to magazines & the Internet? In what ways are they more & less effective?

Katherine – Zines have such a scope and variety that it’s hard to compare them to any other medium.  Most often they’re compared to magazines.  But there are some day-and-night differences between magazines and zines.  To begin with, magazines answer to advertisers.  While there are zines that accept and solicit advertising, I rarely see the independent voice of zines taking a backseat to the interest of the advertiser.  Also, zines don’t follow the specific format employed by most mainstream magazines.  That is, a cover with someone’s face, cover-lines to entice the reader, a masthead and table of contents, a front-of-the-book section with little articles and a feature well in the middle.  Instead, zines take on a variety of different formats.  It’s easy to say that there are as many different formats as there are zines. In zines you find language, perspectives and information you don’t normally see in the mainstream press.  While Rosie’s magazine tackles such hard-hitting issues as the dangers of Staph Infection, Impact Press might be covering political activity in Central America.  While Seventeen Magazine might feature an article on how to dress for a date-less prom, a zine like A Girl and Her Bike will feature graphic personal stories about cramps and sex.  Also, zines differ from the Internet because they have a definite sense of voice.  You rarely get such a personal glimpse into the lives of others by surfing a website.  With a zine it’s like, as one zine says, “My Life in Your Back Pocket.”

QRD – Is Retail Whore your first zine? What zines influenced it as far as knowing what you wanted to do & not do?

Katherine – I did a zine in high school called Apple Scruff.  It was about fame, celebrities, and obsession.  I’ve always been very interested in unrequited love, especially the type that forms from the celebrity-fan relationship.  The first zine I ever held in my hands was Krista Garcia’s The Scaredy Cat Stalker.  It was that zine (ironically, my first), that sparked my ambition to create a zine of my own.  I’d read books about zines before seeing SCS (namely the REsearch books), and I thought they were mostly about fat dykes, Americana, & punk rock.  Most of them were at the time (this was in 1995), but in Krista’s zine I saw something that I could do.  She talked about her misguided love life and her obsession with Henry Thomas (“Elliot” from the film E.T.).  I never thought about doing anything but the standard format, a few 8.5 x 11” pieces of paper folded in half to create a folio.  I just cut and paste and voila!  I used my dad’s photocopier at work to produce the first issue of Apple Scruff.  AS was the biggest influence on the format and style of Retail Whore.  "Hey y’all, this is my life, folded in half and stapled. Fuck all!”  Along the road I get ideas from other zines I admire.  I did a computer-free issue after being inspired by the “Lanky” issue of Cometbus (always entirely hand-written).  One of my least favorite zine formats is the 8.5 x 11” stapled in the corner, like a thesis.  My Fat Irish Ass is formatted like that, as is Brian Costello’s The New England Journal of My Ass (hmm, that’s weird).  I like Costello’s zine, in it there’s some great writing, plus, it’s free, but I have a hard time calling that format a zine for some reason.

QRD – I gotta know what's up with all the naked girl images on the covers, are they to attract sales or deter those easily offended from ever reading it or what?

Katherine – Both.  I don’t require an age statement, but you see the picture of the naked boobs in Zine Guide and you know you don’t want me to send it to you if you’re like 14 & your mom’s going to see that.  (By the way unless I mail 2 or 3 zines at a time I never put my zine in an envelope to mail it out – I think the postal workers like that.)  I also think it’s the cheapest titty book around.  Hopefully people buy it because they see the boobs, but then they end up reading it & that’s what brings them back for more.

QRD – Are you ever scared that your zine might glamorize substance abuse & lead some people towards it?

Katherine – That’s an odd question.  I’ve always wondered why glamorizing drug use is considered bad, when glamorizing a shitty band like Third Eye Blind or glamorizing Sarah Michelle Gellar is considered okay.  Which is worse in the long run?  Well, that’s a subjective question.  Retail Whore doesn’t glamorize substance ABUSE.  I don’t have a substance problem.  I’ve never been addicted to any drug.  I use drugs, sure, & I write about drug use because it’s a part of my life.  My every day life?  No.  But I do use drugs & I’m not going to hide that from anyone.  If someone reads my zine & thinks, “Well, okay, Kat did mushrooms, so it must be okay.”  Then great.  Someone is learning from my experience of using drugs in a responsible manner.  I don’t drink & drive.  I don’t smoke crack.  Mostly, I use drugs in the comfort of my, or someone else’s home.  In the past I have had indiscretions, but I make no attempt to hide them.  I have a prior drug conviction.  I want people to know that.  That I got pulled over & I had Ecstasy in my car & I almost went to jail for a while.  But I go to school, I have a 4.0 for Chrissakes, I’m one of the most motivated people you’ll ever meet, & I enjoy getting high once in a while.  Drugs are like sex.  The activity of doing drugs, or fucking someone, is just a very human experience.  But the experience can have side effects that interrupt the forward trajectory of life.  You just have to be careful.

QRD – What issue has been the hardest to do & why?

Katherine – Issue 5, the “Identity Crisis Issue” was the hardest because I quit working retail for a while & I was no longer a “whore,” since I have now established a loving, monogamous relationship with another human being.  I think the best art comes from the act of rebellion.  Zines are no different.   Whether it’s the institutionalized support of the heterosexual lifestyle, a mass media that stifles the indie press, a money-driven music industry or the accepted practices of parenting, most zines are about the OPPOSITE of something.  When I started Retail Whore I wanted to put out a zine because I hated where I worked; but the irony was, I found comfort there.  Every day I helped customers feed into the corporate machine I could feel my faith in humanity dwindling.  Retail Whore allowed me to channel that energy into something productive, something that would make people laugh, something to help others in my situation identify themselves, and not feel so ashamed for being such a cog.  It was also an outlet for doing personal writing about my life experiences.  But once I quit that thankless job as a retail clerk, I wasn’t rebelling.  So where was my inspiration?  Well, it was a struggle, but finally I realized that it didn’t matter where I worked or who I fucked.   The zine itself is about my life experiences.

QRD – Do you want Retail Whore to always be 100% Katherine or would you like other people to get involved?

Katherine – I actually thought about quitting Retail Whore for a while.  Some people wanted me to continue doing it, but just writing about other people’s experiences in retail, interviewing clerks & such.  I thought about it for a while, but then I thought, "no, fuck that, that’s not what I’m about."  I hate retail.  Why would I spend most of my free-time obsessing over it?  I don’t think the zine is 100% me because I talk so much about OTHER PEOPLE in the zine.  My friends, lovers, crushes, co-workers.  In issue #7 I’m featuring interviews with Krista Garcia (Scaredy Cat Stalker) & Caroline Sullivan who wrote the book Bye Bye Baby.  Personal zines are inherently 100% the author, but not necessarily 100% focused on them.

QRD – How long do you plan to do Retail Whore & what would cause you to end it?

Katherine – Make no plans! That’s my motto.  Actually, anyone who knows me that reads that will know that’s a total lie.  But I don’t plan to end Retail Whore any time soon.  Here is a list of things that would force me to end it, though.
1. Nuclear annihilation.
2. My friend getting fired from the corporate copy shop.
3. Me getting knocked up (in which case I would start a zine East Village Inky style, all about me and my kid).

QRD – What do you think is the maximum number of copies you'd feel comfortable printing of an issue?

Katherine – The more copies the better.  I’d love to have a print run of 1,000, maybe even 1,500.  Because I promo so many issues out to publishers, other zinesters, zine review zines, college radio stations, the CTA bus driver… you get the idea.  I’m from the East Village Inky school of guerilla marketing.  I also learned a lot from Brent Ritzel, the publisher of Zine Guide.  The idea is just to get your zine out there.  I’d love to see Retail Whore in every indie music store that sells little dime novels.  As it is I’m selling out at places like Quimby’s, Chicago Comics, Reckless Records (all here in Chicago) and I just dropped off 10 issues to Bound Together Books on Haight Street in San Francisco.  I’m not out to make money with Retail Whore, but I am out to get recognition and to get people to read my writing and to talk about it.  I told Aaron Cometbus to be careful because I’m gaining on him in the Zine Guide zine rankings.  Wink wink.

QRD – Would you like better printing quality or to be thicker?

Katherine – I’d rather spend the money on stamps, packaging tape, envelopes, office paper, printer and typewriter ink, & more copies of the zine in its current format.

QRD – How often does Retail Whore come out & how often would you like it to?

Katherine – There are always 4 issues a year.  There always will be.

QRD – Does doing such a personal zine cause a certain creepiness with fans thinking they know you?

Katherine – Most of my “fans” are people that already do know me to a certain extent.  I have received a few “creepy” letters, but that’s part and parcel with the territory of doing a zine.  I would like all men to know that, however, just because I have tits on the cover of my zine doesn’t mean I want you to send me naked pictures of yourselves!  That’s not ME on the cover either (people seem to think that).  Anyway if I didn’t want people to know about my personal life, if I was a private person (I’m an Aries, if that means anything to you), I wouldn’t be doing a personal zine.  There ARE things I don’t print, believe it or not.  These are the things I don’t want to share, so I don’t.

QRD – How important is honesty to you?

Katherine – I’m a journalism major & a fan of creative nonfiction (if you read this after June of 2002 I’ll have a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism!).  Like Aaron Cometbus said in one of his issues, “Quit asking if the stories are true!  Of course they’re true.”  But do I embellish?  Sometimes.  I think of a quote from the movie Midnight Clear that goes, “I’m not going to tell the story the way it happened.  I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.”  That’s kind of how Retail Whore is.  I try to remain as true to the real-life as possible without hurting people, exposing things they don’t want other people to know, & without scaring my parents.  However sometimes even those values have to be compromised for the truth in a story.   I’ve only changed ONE name for privacy reasons.  Otherwise I’ve written about my sexual experiences, drug use, failed relationships & friendships, crushes, etc. with complete honesty.

QRD – If you had the chance to regain your virginity & to have never used drugs or alcohol, would you take it? Why or why not?

Katherine – No.  Why?  Because what would I have to write about?  Many of my most intense experiences intertwine with sex & drugs (& music).  However I must admit it would be nice to get drunk off one can of beer again.

QRD – Has Retail Whore won any awards?

Katherine – I wish!  What awards are there?  Someone nominate me for something!  I think the greatest “award” (this is pretty sugary but oh well), is to get a compliment from an impartial party.  Last month I got a fan letter that was nearly two pages long.

QRD – How old do you think someone should be before they read Retail Whore?

Katherine – Old enough to know better.

QRD – What would you like to see more zines doing & what would you like to see less zines doing?

Katherine – Well first of all, Brian, the correct question would be “What would you like to see fewer zines doing?” which brings me to my point.  I’d like to see more zines using correct spelling & grammar.  Oh, right I know it’s not punk rock to care about punctuation, but let’s take a lesson from the Mod kids of the 1960’s who dressed up to “fit in” & bring down the establishment from the “inside” (of course it didn’t exactly work & now we see today’s Mods wearing exactly the same 1960’s clothing with the same modeled hairstyles, totally missing the point, but anyway).  There’s a difference between “their”, “they’re”, and “there”.  “It’s” and “its” have different uses, & there’s always “fewer” of something there can be too “many” of, and “less” of something of which there’s too “much.”  An example of bad reporting came, I think, in a prisoner’s rights zine that stated that Prisoner’s 18th Amendment Rights were being violated.  Friends, let’s take a look at the Constitution.  The 18th Amendment abolishes “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.”  In short, the 18th Amendment started Prohibition.  I think what the article was trying to say, was that the prisoner’s 8th Amendment Rights were being violated (the 8th Amendment dealing with cruel & unusual punishment).  My point here is not to be a grammar ninny, but to say that in order to be a respected force for social change, political justice, or even accurate reporting, zines must adhere to simple journalistic rules: spell things correctly, fact-check, & most importantly site your sources!  The idea behind most zines is, “Question the Media.”  But why do we question only the mainstream media & not EACH OTHER?  You can’t just tell me “1.4 million children died last year of hunger,” without telling me WHERE you got that information.  Was it the CDC?   Or the National Coalition for the Abolition of World Hunger?  It matters where you get facts because then I can, as a reader, or a media critic, go back to that source & make sure you did accurate reporting.  Otherwise I can’t trust zines, just as I can’t trust Time Magazine, sometimes, to give me the straight facts.  I also wish more zine publishers would make use of the library.  Do most people know that you can call your local librarian on the phone and ask simple reference questions?  For instance, “Who’s the leader of Guatemala?” or, “What political party controls Mozambique?”  Let’s stop using the Internet as the be-all, end-all trustworthy source of our information (because it’s not), & let’s get off our asses & do some real, accurate reporting.

QRD – What has most influenced your writing style: books, magazines, movies, television, or music?

Katherine – Check out Dennis Cooper’s books as well as books by Brett Easton Ellis.  The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual really gets me off.  Everyone oughta read 1984 by George Orwell, & Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.  The New York Times is, hands-down, the best newspaper in the country.  I always get excited when I see new issues of Cometbus, Burn Collector, East Village Inky, A Girl and Her Bike, Tight Pants, & the Utne Reader.  I guess I’m most influenced by books a& magazines, you know, as far as writing style goes.

QRD – If you meet someone & they ask you, "So what do you do?" what's your first answer?

Katherine – God, how I loathe that question because I know, ultimately but depending on who the person is, I’m going to have to explain what a zine IS.  I should carry around a notecard that says, “I’m a freelance journalist, a music critic, a zine editor & publisher, an aspiring librarian, & my favorite beer is Old Style.”

QRD – How does your family feel about Retail Whore?

Katherine – I bet you’re expecting me to say, “They don’t know about it.”  But ha!  This is not true!  My family loves my zine.  Okay, my parents grimace at some sections, & I’m sure my dad turns PALE when he reads certain articles (if he reads them at all), but after my parents split up when I was 15 I made it my goal to be honest with them (again, that question of honesty).  I think it’s sad how in this world we know more about our co-workers & downstairs gay neighbors than we do about our own family.  Okay, granted some of us hate our families for good reason, but I really LIKE my family, & I want them to know the truth about me.  You know, some of the sex stuff is probably too much information for my brother, but he does read it, & over Christmas he told me that his friends really liked it (a huge compliment as I spent most of my childhood trying to impress by older brother’s friends).

QRD – Do you have any plans for a novel?

Katherine – Oh, ask any writer.  A novel is always in the works.

QRD – Do you have any advice for those thinking of starting a zine?

Katherine – Promo it out to everyone!  Start with other zines: Roctober, Slug and Lettuce, MRR, Zine Guide, A Reader’s Guide, Xerography Debt, Heartattack, Ten Things Jesus Wants You To Know, etc., then start with the magazines: Utne Reader, Writer’s Digest, your local entertainment newspapers & literary freebies.  Hit all media outlets: the local independent radio & television stations, concert promoters & record labels.  Send it to writers & bands you admire.  Give it to your old writing teachers, your poetry professor, the literary critic for the Times.  Give it to the bus driver, your old roommate, your eccentric aunt.  I mean, make enough copies to get it OUT THERE.  Bring it to stores, even if you’re not sure they carry zines.  Get your friends in other major cities to bring it to THEIR stores.  Keep copies of reviews you receive.  Don’t keep track of the financial aspect (unless it’s a business).  Save the cash you get in the mail to fund your next project.  As for the aspect of publishing & creating a zine, there’s no advice I can give except the generic, “DO IT.” Oh yeah, & just break down & invest in a long arm stapler.

QRD – Have you ever broken even or made money on an issue?

Katherine – I suspect I might have eventually made a few bucks off an issue here or there, thanks to the fact that my gracious friend copies it virtually free of charge & for Christmas actually gave me (this still gets me excited): 100 zine-size manila mailing envelopes, 4 books of stamps, & a roll of packaging tape.

QRD – In a recent issue you wrote about having trouble writing because you were happy instead of sad. Do you think producing art is more important than your happiness?

Katherine – Kay Redfield Jamison addressed the answer to that question with a lot more credibility than I ever could in her book, “Touch with Fire: Manic Depression and the Artistic Temperament,” which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the subject.  In a few words, however, I don’t think it’s impossible to produce art when you’re happy.  Difficult sometimes, but who said creating art had to be easy?

QRD – What's your favorite Swans' song?

Katherine – God, I don’t actually know.  Jesse has all their CDs, & I just saw that vampire movie & it made me want to jerk off & listen to some goth music, so maybe I’ll be able to answer that in a few months.

QRD – What's the most embarrassing thing that you've come to realize is true in the world that you never wanted to believe? (e.g. money is important, safety is better than adventure)

Katherine – Life has a much better quality altogether if you get to bed before 3 a.m., drink a lot of water, & wake up before noon.

QRD – Anything else you need to add?

Katherine – If anyone reading this would like to order Retail Whore or back issues of Apple Scruff, please email retailwho_re@hotmail.com. Issues of Retail Whore are $2 ppd. or available at Bound Together Books, Reckless Records, Quimby’s Bookstore, Chicago Comics, & Spy Kids Distro. & thanks for taking the time to interview me Brian!