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From Grrrl Noire to Cyclette and Grrrl Zines A-Go-Go: A grrrl zinester at her best

An interview with
Kim Schwenk
from San Diego, California, USA

by Elke Zobl

September 2006


Margarat Nee and Kim Schwenk of GZAGG at the World Beat Center, 2004 (I think).

Kim has been a long-time friend of mine. From 2002 until 2005 we were both members of the group Grrrl Zines A-Go-Go, conducting zine workshops for girls and young women in the San Diego area. I had a chance to interview her not until I had moved back to Austria and returned to San Diego for a visit in September 2006. I can only say: ROCK ON, KIM!!

You can reach her at:


hexestarr [AT]

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How would you decribe GZAGG?
Kim: I would describe GZAGG as a female consortium/ collective that came together to empower young women particularly in independent media and education, radicalism, zines and Do-It-Yourself ethics.

How long has GZAGG been running? ?
Kim: We’ve been running since 2002, I believe. Summer 2002.

How does GZAGG work and what is the decision process like?
Kim: We work as a collective unit. So, there is no real hierarchy involved. We come together and decision making is done mostly by consensus. One person might put out an idea and the others will either modify that, or come to universal agreement.

Who is involved right now?
Kim: The participants are myself, Kim, a.k.a. Riot Schwenk, Margaret …and Ariana Perez Diaz.

How did you become active in GZAGG?
Kim: I personally went to the bookmobile because I was interested in getting back into the zine scene in my local community; I was out for so many years. I went to the bookmobile that came through town and met Elke, Claudia and Briton (Neubacher) and just started talking about zines. I think Margaret and Elke had already been talking before and had done a workshop previously. The idea just kind of spawned out of that need to educate people and introduce zines to individuals and people in the community.

How do you balance your work at GZAGG and the other projects you are involved in, like your zine project?
Kim: Well, I have a day job like most of us. So, I tend to work on GZAGG stuff in the evening. We do a lot of communication and decision making by email because its easier. Then we hold monthly meetings, or try to stick to our monthly meeting plan, and have an agenda for that so that we can knock out a lot of points. I realize that paying the bills is kind of first right now, but GZAGG is very high on my list of priorities in my life. So, I try to just really plan ahead. I have a planner in which I have to pencil stuff in and see when there’s open space to do everything. It actually seems to work out really well between GZAGG, work life and then personal life.

How did you become introduced to the culture of zines?
Kim: Probably in the late 80’s. In high school, I met a couple of other young women friends of mine who were putting together a zine, or what they were calling a radical newspaper, not necessarily radical, but a sub versus newspaper they were going to put out in high school. And then from the punk scene. Subsequently, later in the early 90’s in the riot grrrl scene, I learned about zines through people handing them out for free at shows or on the street or wherever. That’s probably how I learned about it, just networking through punk community.

How did the transferring to the riot grrrl community happen, or riot grrrl community?
Kim: Well, I went to college, and so, I was in a different city. But at that time there were a lot of shows going on and I just ended up going to a ton of shows. It seemed that there was a large population of other young women at these shows. Then I actually read about riot grrrl through the music scene in a magazine. I think it was Option Magazine. Option Magazine did a whole article and I think I still have this. It was called “Fox Core”: F-O-X-C-O-R-E. They were talking about Bikini Kill and some of the other bands; Skrawl was another one. I was always going up to Chicago a lot because I went to school in Indiana, and that was huge up in Chicago. The riot grrrl scene was huge in Chicago. So, pretty much through the music, I learned about riot grrrl. Then I had a straight edge friend who introduced me to zines because he was doing a zine, again because I did it in high school. So, I kind of helped him out because I was working at Kinko’s all the time. And so, he introduced me through music to alternative eating and health habits. So, it was probably through friends at that point.

And then you started doing your own zine?
Kim: I started helping him. Then I did a mini zine at that time. And so I was doing a co-collaboration with him. This was early to mid 90’s. I didn’t do another zine again until I moved to San Diego, which would have been around 2002. So, there was a long period of about six years that I didn’t physically do a zine because of personal issues in my life. I had a hiatus. Then, when I met other people that were doing zines, I became inspired again to do a zine.

Which zines have you been doing since? What are you doing now?
Kim: I have Grrrl Noire, and that’s grrrl with three R’s, reflecting that riot grrrl terminology. Originally, it was just “girl” but I changed it to reflect that because I had grown up in it and had been exposed during that time to zines. I am also doing Cyclette, which is a pro-women rider zine for both motorcycles and alternative transportation on bicycles. I did a split zine with Ari and it was called the Sugar Skulls Split Zine. It was a half hers and half mine mini zine. Other than GZAGG produced zines, that is all I have in the works right now.

GZAGG facilitates zine workshops for young women. How do those young women attending the workshops respond to what you teach them?
Kim: I would say the majority of the women respond very positively, very inquisitively. They want to know more. They want to know how they can do this. The ones that have had exposure, kind of get inspired to produce something else or keep going with this. Then there is that small percentage of them who may or may not pick it up again or do anything about it. But at least they are exposed to the idea and later in their life they might remember and say , “You know, I remember doing that zine workshop and it was a positive thing in my life. Maybe I will pick that up again and/or do it some other time.”

What resources have proven useful for the success of workshops and other events you organize? Is there anything particular?
Kim: Well, definitely Grrrl Zine Network has been a very, very positive resource for us. O ther published monographs and serials, reading other zines -individual zines, either perzines or resource zines, looking at websites of say, Microcosm Publishing, AK Process, and seeing what people are doing have also been positive resources for us. But really its more so the feedback. That has been our biggest resource from the actual participants. We have been trying to get feedback from them in the form of an actual form we give them to fill out at the end of the workshop- What could we improve upon? What kind of time did you have? Did you have a great time? What would you like to see in the future? Would you attend another workshop? – things like that. We also went through the grant process. So, we had to really analyze our function. Grant writing is a very valuable resource be cause you really analyze your mission statement.

So you mention you got a grant. Is that your first grant?
Kim: We got our first real grant from the San Diego Foundation for Change. We went through a lengthy process where we had to answer a bunch of questions following a format, an outline. It really got us, again, focused on what our mission was. We had to analyze and sort of break down and zero in on our goals, our function, and our end results.

And it’s all non-for-profit.
Kim: Exactly. We don’t make any money. Everything, the grants and any other revenue we take, goes back into the function and the running of the organization; I shouldn’t say organization; it’s more like a collective.

Based on your experiences in organizing workshops and other events, how do you see the empowerment of young women coming along? What strengths and weaknesses do you notice in this process?
Kim: I think that young women become empowered because they realize that -1.they have a voice and 2.there’s a lot of stereotypes that the media presents that they may not question before. For example, on a lot of highly produces young women’s magazines, there’s always the issue of body image. I know that in other issues, it’s not just that; it could be drug abuse or suicide. I think that never before had they been allowed to voice their opinions. This is definitely one of the ways that they could start to question those things society instils in them to believe.

What are the strengths and weaknesses do you notice in this process?
Kim: I would say there is some resiliency by some of the women maybe because of their upbringing. Definitely, one strength would be that hopefully they would want to go and produce their own zine or question some things. You know, “I’m not going to buy those magazines anymore,” or it could go as far as to say “I’m going to seek help with my eating disorder.” It could be something that extreme that could happen. I mean, that’s possible. But just to get them thinking on their own, to formulate their own ideas and not to go along with a herd mentality…to question censorship as well.

Who attends the workshops you organize? How do you reach out to “soon-to-be” zinesters?
Kim: Our audience pretty much ranges from adults, both male and female. Probably the majority are female from, middle school age to later teens. There are also some from college age as well. We reach out by giving out flyers. We have a website and providing our emails so that if they have questions they can reach us individually. We usually have a table set up with all the materials that they can purchase for very cheaply- how to do things or other zines- so that they can learn about resources incase they have questions about certain things.

What does the fanzine community look like in San Diego? Is their communication/collaboration across the border?
Kim: There is a very small component, I think, of zinesters in that they do exist in San Diego. It has been very hard to network, getting people together, because I think the activist community in San Diego is kind of disjointed in general, not just zines. We’ve gotten together on a few occasions with some of the pirate radio stations and some of the art collectives in town to do things together. We’ve been able to network that way. Hopefully, when we table, people can pick our zines up and contact us through that. As far as over the border, we’ve done some collaborations with Bulbo, La linea and a few other individuals in Tijuana. Personally, I think that Tijuana actually has a better organized network of zinesters. It may be similar in size, or smaller, but I think there is better communication down there. It’s been really difficult to communicate across the border because I think a lot of people don’t want to go cross the border and they don’t want to dialogue across the border. But we would definitely, in the future, like to be involved more, because I think that the cross communication would just strengthen it even more. In our case we don’t have much of a language barrier because we have Spanish speakers.

What struggles and lessons have you experienced while working in the group?
What have you learned about it?
Kim: Well, I’ve learned how to organize as a group consensus. The decision making can be difficult sometimes and also the actual participation because we all have our lives, you know- our work life, our personal life- outside. So, sometimes there may not be the full effort by some of the members because we have prior commitments. And that’s been difficult – to get people involved in the actual function and administration of our group. That’s been very difficult. We try to get volunteers and people are very busy or they live very far away and they can’t attend meetings. That’s been one thing, to try to actually recruit people to come help. But for the most part, I have also learned that it’s really difficult to re-educate people and to try to get them motivated in general because they have such ingrained values in their heads. I think San Diego has a tendency to make people feel sort of comfortable. So, I think people get really comfortable within their community and either they don’t want to seek outside of that or improve it, or they just don’t know. People are resilient to learn something new when they’re comfortable. We try to not to assume that people do know what zines are be cause we’ve had to re-educate so many people and educate, period, on issues that we have been learned in for years.

What role does feminism play in your life?
Kim: In my life, I would say my feminism comes out in my zine making because through zine making I feel empowered.

What does feminism mean to you?
Kim: It’s hard for me because I’m such a non-label person. But I think I feel, with that issue in mind, being able to have a dialogue with other women and to educate other women and to have support and just to want to create safe and equal spaces and environments. I guess that would be the main thing for me . And just so you know, I don’t have a problem with speaking. I know where my issues lie; I know where my opinions lie and it’s been difficult to be comfortable and safe about expressing them. It’s frustrating at times, but for the most part I feel I have grown with the contact to the zine community. There’s a whole resource of support there. So, it is feeling safe enough to reach out to that community.

Many thanks for the interview, Kim! Greetings also to Margarat and Kim of GZAGG from Salzburg!

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Grrrl Zines A go-Go
P.O.Box 33654
San Diego, CA 92163-3654



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