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Echo Zine Distro:
Supplying the community with
feminist zines and sparking inspiration

to create your very own

An interview with Michelle
from Milwaukee, USA

by Elke Zobl
June 2004

Michelle runs Echo Zine Distro since four years. Her distro is a zine mailorder that carries all types of zines ranging from feminist, comic, political, arty, literary, and personal types. Read here what her experience of running a distro has been!

Can you tell me first of all a little bit about yourself? How old are you, where are you originally from and where do you reside now?

I'm 29 years old, orginally from the suburbs of Milwaukee, WI and now reside on Milwaukee's east side.

What do you do besides your distro? Do you also do a zine (or have done)?

I graduated from college with a B.A. in Women's Studies last August and am now working as a grant writer and reseracher for the Wisconsin Foundation for Independent Colleges.

I am just beginning to research going to graduate school. Although I don't know exactly what I want to go for yet, I'm thinking about getting a master's in Women's Studies, Rhetoric & Composition, or Library and Information Science.

For how long have you been running your distro now? Do you work on it alone or is there a team?

I have been running my distro now for close to four years. I began in August of 2000. For the most part I run it alone. Howver, I have some help from my husband who likes to table at events.

On what kind of zines is your distro focusing?

I like to carry zines that are more personal and/or focus on a theme. Usually most of the zines I carry are written by women and girls. I don't like to carry overtly political or music zines, unless they focus largely on feminism and diversity issues.

What made you decide to start this project? What do you hope to accomplish by establishing your distro? What does zine reading, making and distributing mean to you? How did you come up with the idea and the name?

I've been a dedicated zine reader for many years before I started my distro. In the arly 90's in Milwaukee zines started to appear more and more and began to shape the counterculture here. However, during the mid-to-late 90's fewer and fewer zines were being produced and distributed in this area. During this time I noticed that the a new generation of youth and young adults seemed to expect others to entertain and enlighten them rather than being the producers of media and culture themselves. This lack of creation of zines lead me to open my distro. I wanted to act not only as a supplier of small press periodicals, but I wanted to be a resource that would inspire people to create zines where individuals and groups could construct their own identities through zines and its subsequent communities.

The name of my distro, Echo Zine Distro, comes from one of my best friends in life, my childhood dog. Her name was Echo. I used to have her picture up on the site, but don't at this time.

What do you love about running a distro and what's the most challenging aspect of it?

I love so much about running a zine distro. But, for the most part I love meeting and corresponding with the people who create and read zines.

For me the most challenging aspects of running my zine distro is keeping up with it. Since I can't run it full time because of other commitments such as work and other projects I work on, I don't invest as much time as I would like. For example, right now my stock is really low because I've been so busy with other things in my life. So, one of my goals for the summer is to get a much wider variety into my distro.

What was your first exposure to zines and distros? How did you find out about them? What have they come to mean to you?

My first exposure to zines must have been in the late 80's or early 90's. I found a free zine in an independent music store here in Miwlaukee. I was enthralled and sought out other zines through this store and eventually through friends who began to produce them. Also, people in Chicago were producing many more at this time and I picked them up there and they began migrating up to Milwaukee then.

Zines mean so much to me. They are so important to my generation of women who have been influenced by the counterculture. I focused on them in my studies as a Women's Studies undergradute student and would love on day to create an anthology of zines done by women before the 1990's and riot grrrl. I think it's important for us to know that males were not the only ones to have created this medium.

Do you consider grrrl zines as an important part of a movement of sorts? Do you think zines can effect meaningful social and political change? What does the zine community mean to you? Do you prefer to talk about a network instead of a community? Could you please describe a little bit the grrrl zine community/network in your country?

Zines done by women and girls are extremely important! Third Wave feminists are considered to many as being apolitical and too isolationary and individualistic. Many might see zines as nothing more than personal diaries, where one cannot extrapolate a larger, political message; thus, some have concluded that zines do not effect social change. In contrast, I argue that zines create both individualism and community, and that these two elements can coexist, be productive, and bring about real social change. Zines are one of the only mediums girls and women can easily express their feelings and experiences to a wide audience. By writing a zine, a woman is asking for a reader to listen to her voice, which has been traditionally dismissed and ignored in society. This is such a huge topic and I could write forever about this but I will say that whether they provide an outlet for women to gain experience at writing, give women information about feminist issues, or work as networking devices, zines often serve as the backbone to a larger community, one that inspires women to make a real contribution to feminism and a difference in the world.

What advice would you give others who want to start a zine or distro? What are some of the zines you admire?

I have so many favorite zines! One is Tight Pants, done by a woman in Milwaukee. I like it because it both advocates and challenges our generation's own perceptions of feminism and womne's role in society. And it does it in a wonderfully funny way.

Do you define yourself as a feminist? What are the most pressing issues you are confronted with in daily life (as a woman/feminist)? Are you active in the feminist movement besides running a distro? What do you think about feminism today? Do you see yourself as part of "Third Wave Feminism" and what does it mean to you?

I definitely identify myself as a Third Wave feminist. And, I think it's still important to use the term "feminist.". Some young women, although they believe in feminist issues, are afraid to call themselves feminists. I think this is a mistake. Women and girls are still discourgaed to express themselves and women are definetly not treated as equals in our so-called "Politically Correct" world.

Which role plays the Internet for you? Does it change your ideas of making zines and
doing/reading/distributing zines?

The internet is a wonderful communication tool and I use it all the time, including distributing zines.

However, I feel the largest drawback to the internet is that it is set up for short-term use. Many times text is written online so the reader can get through it fast, whereas the print text leads to longer reading. I value reading and analyzing written, print texts over electronic, online zines which tend to be more visually evolved rather thantextually evolved.


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