WHAT’S REALLY IN THE MIND OF A ZINEMAKER?
I CREATED XEROGRAPHY Debt to start giving back. I had been involved in zines for a few years, and around 1998–1999 there was a sudden dearth of zine review zines. Zine World, Amusing Yourself to Death, and Factsheet Five were all MIA. In the fall of 1999, I published an issue of Xerox Debt, as it was then known. Within a few issues, about 20 people were contributing zine reviews and columns. When it looked like we might have to go online or even fold in 2008, Microcosm Publishing stepped forward because what we were doing and how we were doing it fit with their mission. They have supported XD for eight years now, barely breaking even (and sometimes not).
I recently read Joe Biel's book Good Trouble, about the founding and success of Microcosm Publishing. Essentially, there are three major components — 1) Joe's abusive and neglectful childhood, 2) the inner workings of Microcosm Publishing, and 3) a really fucking bad relationship. Underpinning all of these is Joe's undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome, which is both a blessing and a curse. Hearing the abuse Joe suffered as a child angers me as a parent. Hearing the abuse Joe has endured within the zine community makes me angry as a person.
I, like many in the zine community, saw the posts Alex Wrekk made regarding her relationship with Joe. I read the accusations and held off making a judgment because, to me, it felt like an ugly break-up. And who was I to judge? I didn't know Joe very well, but what I did know was that the posts I was reading sent off red flags for me. Occasionally in our dealings regarding XD Joe frustrated me, but I never once felt like he was bullying or abusive. In fact, I think I was probably the one guilty of those traits once or twice. I've received emails from people who were offended that their zine was even reviewed in XD because of Joe's involvement. Bear in mind that Microcosm was a collective when the arrangement was made, and Joe was one of the reviewers. Microcosm has always allowed me full editorial control.
I met Joe in person a few times and never did I get a read off him that matched what continued to be posted online. Eventually, he told me about his Asperger's. It was an ah-ha moment and I felt like an asshole for the times I got frustrated. Looking back, his responses were logical and my reactions where emotional. A few years later, we met at a book convention and he seemed like a different person. We talked about the changes. Following his diagnosis, he's worked hard to understand himself and create better, healthier relationships.
Many people have asked me about Joe over the years and my response has been, “The accusations don't fit the person I know. Whatever happened between Alex and Joe is their personal business.” Allegations made by strangers on the internet were treated as fact and I didn't want to be a part of that. In reading Good Trouble, it has become clear that the allegations and, worse, ostracism from our community almost drove him to suicide. It continues to this day. I now recognize that staying quiet was allowing people to continue to abuse Joe, his partner, and the Microcosm staff. Ironic, no?
If you have a strong opinion about what you have read in zines and online about Joe and Alex, I do recommend reading Joe's book as well. He attempts to present a fair and balanced picture of events. What comes across is that they were bad for each other. That they hurt each other. That they are both responsible. After 12 years, this is still going on and it is hurting the community and those in it. If you have considered one side, consider another. It can't hurt to hear both sides and make an informed decision. Or better yet, don't pick a side at all and let some healing begin.
Davida Gypsy Breier has been publishing zines since 1995 and is editor of the zine review zine Xerography Debt. Gypsy is her real middle name; she was named after a family member.