Introducing ERSATZ, a compilation of creative work
Just finished printing the first issue of my new zine series
I hope you’re hanging in there and doing all right. Life has been all over the place lately, but I’m doing pretty well. My hand injury is healed up and feeling normal after giving it a rest, so that’s been a relief.
I have some exciting news! I put together a zine. It’s the first issue of what I intend to be a series. It’s called ERSATZ. The first issue collects a bunch of my work from 2015–2020. I’m pleased with how it came out, and it’s always a joy to hold something that has up until this point been digital.
ERSATZ Issue 1 is 36 pages of flash fiction, short stories, illustrations, comics, and doodles. It’s handmade, staple bound, black & white, and 5.5” x 8.5”. If you’re interested in ordering a copy, which would mean a lot to me, it’s up on my shop for $5 with $1 for shipping in the US.
I’d like to use ERSATZ as a way to self-publish via print my stories and essays. I’m not sure of the frequency yet. I’ve still got a backlog of stories to edit and publish, plus ideas for future stories. Maybe every quarter or every six months would be nice? I’ve also got other ideas for one-off zines that aren’t limited fiction. We’ll see! For now, it just feels great to be back in the game of making zines.
The Making of ERSATZ
Starting out is tough. Especially when self-publishing sort of obscure creative work. It’s really easy to just say to myself, “no one cares about this stuff.” But I’ve come to this place of thinking where what matters is that I care! And maybe you do too. So even when publishing something online feels like shouting into the void of the world wide web, I’m going to keep at it until my voice gives out.
It’s surprising to think that I’ve been writing regularly for over five years, in addition to some other creative explorations. I have folders full of “art” on my computer and it’s just all sort of sitting there. I really value holding physical things lately. When nothing else feels real, having a book or record to physically interact with can be grounding. It changes my relationship with those things in a way that I really appreciate. As I was revisiting my creative output, I was thinking it’d be really fun to compile them all into a zine and have them be available in a different format than just online or here in this newsletter.
Back in early 2020 I collected the pieces for the first issue of ERSATZ using a program called Swift Publisher. It’s sort of like whatever Adobe’s publishing tool is, but it’s Mac only and a one-time purchase. It’s lacking in someways, like the layout tools aren’t as intuitive as I’d like. But it’s good enough and quick to lay out an entire zine. It has a handy print and PDF export functionality that lays the entire project out in a way that’s easy to print.
For some reason, I sat on the zine for two years before doing anything with it. I kept saying to myself, I should just print the freaking thing! It’s like what they say about the road to heck and how it’s paved. As part of taking stock of all of things going on in my life (that’s a whole other newsletter), I realized I should just do the zine. It’s so close to the finish line. Big Cartel, my employer, has a benefit where we can spend up to three days a year doing art or service. So I took a day today to finish the zine. And here we are.
Opening up the zine file two years later, there wasn’t much I had to change. I renamed the project and redid the cover. I changed some of the typography. And I cut some of the works I was less pleased with to get it down to 40 pages (including the cover).
The zine is printed on 8.5” x 11” paper, folded in half. This means one piece of paper is four pages total (two halves on each side). This means the number of pages must be divisible by four, otherwise there would be empty pages. This is important! Different forms of binding have different requirements, but for the folds-in-halvsies, the total number of pages has to be divisible by four. It really helps to mock up zines. I often take printer paper, fold them in half, and sketch on it to get a sense of the layout.
When I lived in Portland, there was this dreamy place called the Independent Publishing Resource Center, where I volunteered and had access to printers, long-neck staplers, paper cutters, scanners, everything! It’s of the my favorite places on the planet. Sadly, as far as I can tell, Lancaster, PA does not have such a resource. (Note to self: make this space one day in the future!) So, in lieu of a cool non-profit, I packed up my bone folder, USB thumb drive, and laptop and went to Office Depot. At Office Depot, I bought some 6” x 9” manilla envelopes for shipping and a long-neck stapler of my own. They were about $40 total.
Office Depot has self-serve printers and a large worktable. I did some test prints to ensure the settings were right and made some adjustments to the layout. Then I printed off all of the covers, which are on a thicker paper stock (65 lb.) than normal printer paper. This makes a big difference in the quality of the zine when holding it. After printing the covers, I printed the actual contents of the zine on regular paper. Using thicker stock for all 40 pages would make it pretty difficult to bind and work with.
Black and white printing at Office Depot is $0.15 a page (per side). This means it cost me $3.00 to print a single copy (10 pages x 2 sides x $0.15). I can’t really tell yet if that’s cheaper than printing at home and buying my own ink or not. Printer ink is weirdly expensive though. I’ll have to do some experiments. But the print quality is pretty good, even for the images. And Office Depot’s printer is significantly faster than my home printer, which helps. Big takeaway: make sure the second side is reversed, it’s messed up. This takes a bit of trial and error to figure out.
Once the printing of the initial 11 copies finished, I organized all of them with their covers and bodies and then stapled twice along the center. The long-neck stapler worked well for this. It has a guide that I set directly to the center and was a stapling fiend for a few minutes. I then use a bone folder to smoothly fold the issues in half. The bone folder is this really useful tool that makes for smooth creases and helps when handling the paper. I highly recommend having one on hand for these sorts of projects.
That’s it! A copy of the zine is done. If Office Depot had a paper trimmer, I’d trim the unbound side for uniformity, but they sadly don’t have a paper cutter that’d work for my needs. Maybe that’s something I can find somewhere else in town or procure one for myself.
The zine fits perfect in the 6” x 9” clasp envelopes. I weighed it, and it came in at 2 ounces, which I think will be about a buck to ship in the US. I’ll find out when I ship out the first issues. Shipping is always a challenge for me. I feel like I’m always overpaying. But hopefully these little buddies are easy and cheap to ship.
I had such a good time printing the first issue of ERSATZ. I spend so much time on the computer writing code or prose and to do something with my hands is a rare treat. I hope that I sell the 11 copies and have to print more copies.
I’ve started compiling the pieces for the next issue. But I’ll give a few months before I start seriously compiling it. I’ve got two short stories that are almost done that I want to wrap up soon.
Making zines is fun, and I highly recommend it. Make your zine dreams come true!
Odds & Sods
Becky and I stopped our home purchase search because it’s a categorically bad time to buy a house. We kept getting outbid by cash offers on houses, and it just felt bad from top to bottom. The home prices seem hyper inflated, which is concerning. We decided to press pause and see where things go in the coming months and years.
I’ve been getting together with some friends monthly to share our creative project progress, and it’s so energizing and encouraging. (Shout out to Garrett and Andy!) It really helps to have some accountability and friends to bounce ideas of off. I wouldn’t be half as motivated to make stuff like ERSATZ if it wasn’t for our gatherings.
I’ve been on a health reading kick lately, mostly going through Dr. Michael Greger’s book How Not to Diet from the library. It’s a comprehensive, purely research-based reference book to all aspects of healthy eating. It’s sort of like an anti-diet book. It’s centered around plants and how much a huge impact they have on our health. The book has been a good reminder to eat food as close to its natural form as possible, and it’s got me inspired to cook more lately. I’ve got a recipe for a quinoa dish I’ll share next newsletter.
Something happened recently where I heard “Swingin Party” by The Replacements and decided to listen to their album Tim for the first time. And I basically haven’t stopped listening since. I absolutely love it. I can’t recommend the album enough. There’s a ton of variety of the album, from some ripping rock tunes to heartfelt ballads. It has a bit of an immature punk vibe that is refreshing.
Then, yesterday, the new album by Destroyer arrived, Labyrinthitis. It’s like every Destroyer album—completely different than the last. It’s strange, funny, catchy. I’m really enjoying it.
Becky and I haven’t watched much Star Trek lately, but we did watch Looper and The Commitments. Looper’s a fun time travel action film that I dug. And The Commitments is a really good slice of life film about a guy who forms a soul band in Dublin, Ireland in the late 80s. It’s funny and heartfelt and does a lot of great work to establish the time and place and atmosphere of the city.
Until next time,