A Conversation with Cristy Road: On Zines, Publishing, and Capitalism (Part 1 of 3)

Cristy C. Road is a Cuban-American zine-maker, writer, illustrator, Green Day fan, Gemini and all-round bad-ass. She has published several illustrated books—Indestructible (2006), Bad Habits: A Love Story (2008), Spit and Passion (2012)—and is currently working on a tarot card deck and making music with her band, The Homewreckers. Road was part of the Sister Spit: The Next Generation Tour in 2007 and the POC Zine Project Race Riot! Tour in 2012.

Recently Bluestockings Magazine’s Co-Editor-in-Chief, Sophia Seawell, had the chance to talk to Road. In the first of this three-part interview series, Road talks zines, publishing, and capitalism; in the next two parts—coming soon!—Road speaks to her relationship to the punk scene and themes of gender and sexuality as they overlap in her life and work. 

To see some of her work visit her website.


Cristy C. Road

Sophia Seawell: You started making zines when you were fifteen. Have written and visual expressions always gone hand-in-hand in your work, or do you use them separately and strategically?

Cristy Road: It’s always been very specific to the era of my life. When I started my zine, I was more focused on doing illustrations with every written piece. I’ve always been an illustrator so there’s always been the presence of drawings but I didn’t do comics or art-heavy stuff because I was more focused on the writing, and the drawing was like a decoration or an accent. And when I did Indestructible (2006) and Bad Habits: A Love Story (2008) it was that same idea of writing a piece and then making one epic drawing for one chapter. Drawing is very intentional for me—I don’t even keep a sketch book. I have an image in my head, and I’m going to complete it, and it’s going to exist and that it. It’s a lot more work for me than writing, because I never stop talking so I can just write it all down.

SS: So were you writing a lot before you were making zines?

CR:  I’ve had a journal since I was maybe twelve or thirteen. But before that, I used to write with my sister. I guess it’s what people refer to as fan fiction. It was Disney, Ren & Stimpy, and we would mix in actors from classic TV sitcoms, like ‘All in the Family’ and ‘I Love Lucy.’ So we had this whole project of made-up television shows, which we called Channel One—and we treated it like a job, asking each other “Are you done with the new episode?” This is what I did until I started a zine, so these written, illustrated projects have always been my main thing, but the older I get the more it changes. Spit and Passion was the first project where the illustration was the dominant thing. but I don’t’ come from a comic background. I think that comics are more gestural. I mean, there’s some epic, beautiful comics where every frame is this finished illustration, but I don’t like drawing dialogue, I don’t like drawing a scene.

SS: Given that zines are usually associated with radical, underground communities and movements in the 80s and 90s, what do you see happening with zines today, in the era of blogs and Tumblr? How has their role changed, and how important is that role?

CR: I think they’re still relevant and important because it’s important to archive work. You have books that get published by patriarchal writers about capitalism and other movements, but if you’re writing about something that’s more raw or angry, that’s not going to be accessible or marketable—but people need to allow themselves to be young and angry, and if that work only ends up on a blog, it could disappear. So I advocate for self-publishing and making creations that are going to be archived, and encourage people that are bloggers or any kind of culture creator, anyone who has a template or foundation to do that, to archive their work in some way. There are so many ways that people could do that. There are some Tumblrs out there that I would love a book version of–I like holding a book and reading it.

SS: Going back to what is considered marketable, did you find yourself trying to adjust your work to have it published, or did you decide only to work with presses that would take your work ‘as is’? In terms of financial imperative, how does one negotiate the politics of working with various presses?

CR: Well my interest in moving beyond the DIY publishing and working with punk presses specifically started when I went on an all-queer writer tour in 2007 organized by Michelle Tea, Annie Oakley, Eilieen Myles and Ali Liebegott. They had asked a bunch of zine writers, including myself, to come on ‘Sister Spit: The Next Generation Tour’ which was the new version of the Sister Spit tour that had been happening all through the 90s in a really punk way—they were crashing in people’s houses and doing open mics—but this tour was all colleges and bookstores. There were a few bar shows but it was a very well-planned, serious author tour. At the same time, it was still Sister Spit, still a bunch of angry queers who came from punk rock and anger and feminism and slam poetry — from communities that weren’t necessarily marketable. They had an angry feminist riot grrrl background, and they stayed that way and flourished and grew. I remember Michelle Tea read from her book Rose of No Man’s Land and there’s a scene where a girl throws a used tampon at a guy on the subway who’s harassing her, and it was really empowering to see this established writer, whose a professor and has a nonprofit organization, reading about slinging used menstrual products.

That experience made me realize I could move forward, and so I started working with a really awesome agent who helped me out a lot in this era and helped me sell Bad Habits to a press. The experience was really rad—Soft Skull Press, who released it, hooked me up with a bunch of really rad events. I got to read at Barnes & Nobles and huge book festivals. But there was a disconnect between what my message was and what my book was about: healing from an abusive relationship and doing a lot of drugs and being self-destructive, and also finding community and finding love and friends. The whole book is about reconnecting to my vagina, but that’s not marketable, and abusive isn’t marketable, so the book was promoted as a book about drugs and partying. A lot of people bought it and were like ‘What is this feminist crap?’ so there was this moment when I realized I wanted to grow and make my work accessible and not just write about punk—so I want to be an accessible author but I don’t want to compromise what I’m doing.

When I finished Spit and Passion, me and my agent were trying to sell the book to the presses she was working with, like Top Shelf and Phantographics, and there seemed to be a demand for me to change the book to make it less gay, make it less depressing, and so now I work with Feminist Press, who are all about honoring my vision and my goal. There isn’t the fancy publisher lifestyle with a $30,000 advance, which speaks to capitalism in so many different ways because it’s not just that a certain press has money, it’s that this press has money and they are only buying what’s presently marketable. During the Bush administration, everyone wanted to buy my depressing book about drugs. It really reflects on how the world is. Is depression marketable now? Is gayness marketable now? What kind of gay is marketable? A healthy, positive gay or a depressed gay? I can’t make a project to sell it. I make a project because I can’t stop thinking about what I’m writing about.

SS: And in terms of your intended audience, do you see your work being accessible or geared towards readers who are the same age as your character is in Spit and Passion?

CR: Feminist Press really pushed for the book to be available in young adult sections in libraries, but before Feminist Press and I connected a lot of presses who said, “this can’t be young adult, it’s very depressing and there’s masturbation,” but when I was that age, that’s what I wanted to read. I wind up writing for my age group because I’m writing what I feel, for myself, and I’m not thinking of who’s going to read it. But when the project is done I look at it and think “I would have wanted to read this when I was fourteen!”

It’s difficult to get the people with power and the book industry people to market your book as a young adult book. Spit and Passion is usually in the gay and lesbian section—it’s never in the graphic novel section unless you go to an independent bookstore that’s ‘quirky’ but at Barnes & Nobles or Books and Books and other bigger book stores, ‘Spit and Passion’ is always in the gay and lesbian section. It’s never in the comic section and never the young adult section. That’s just something I’m not going to have control over.

I would like to write something that’s geared towards 8 or 9 year olds but I don’t know what that’s going look like—my brain is so dramatic. But I do daydream. I don’t ever collaborate except when I’m in a romantic relationship, so I have this daydream of falling in love and writing this children’s book with the love of my life. And there are other scenarios where I daydream and think, “maybe I could write a children’s book from this stupid thing I just started drawing.”

Right now I love figure drawing and drawing from life but I also love making up stuff and implementing made up-stuff in drawings from life. I love drawing made-up, weird, goblin-looking creatures or alien creatures. I really love drawing very stylized cartoon animals, like rats. The only time I ever do that is for punk show flyers and for my band—there’s a lot of flyers of like rats making out—and I would love to use that energy to create a children’s book.

SS: Yeah—to create an alternate world that they could start envisioning at a young age, so they know that something else is possible than what they see on a daily basis.

CR: Even if the queers are represented by like little goblins with one eye. I’ve thought about doing something about the history of queer oppression but in a language that’s for ten year olds—and without humans. And instead of queerness it’s like ‘some of the aliens have one eyeball and some don’t,’ analogies like that.

SS: That’d be super sweet, I hope that this happens!

CR: Someday! But I’m very tired as far as writing long narratives. I want to write songs and make tarot card paintings. I have been working on a zine since 2008 based off of my last two or three journals. I refuse to look through them and edit them but when I choose to do that there will be a new zine all about my current stuff: racism in the queer community and Occupy Wall Street—stuff that I’ve been writing about over the last 2 years that isn’t a long narrative so it should be in the zine. Zines can be long narratives, zines can be anything, but I like zines that are lots of random short stories that don’t match with each other.

SS: Looking forward to that.

CR: It’s gonna be called ‘First World Bullshit.’ The Gemini life: I’m like, let me tell you about this other project, and this other project… and the restaurant I want to open if all this fails. I want to open a Cuban restaurant. Just make empanadas and chill.

Interview with Cristy C. Road, conducted by Sophia Seawell, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Images Courtesy of Google Images


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