Originally posted on Gaper’s Block
Ardent zinester and co-editor at Punk Planet before it shuttered in 2007, Anne Elizabeth Moore has been a safeguard for counterculture in Chicago’s independent media for years. She’s exposed hunting marketers and corporate branding of the underground, using everything from handmade zines about Starbucks to books, notably Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing and the Erosion of Integrity.
In 2007 Moore journeyed to Cambodia to teach 32 young women living in Phnom Penh how to self-publish. The result was 75 zines that expressed contemporary issues in Cambodia exploring social justice, educational reform, cultural history, and New Girl Law, a revisionist artist book calling for gender equality and human rights.
An invited guest of Chicago Zine Fest, Moore will be reading from her book Cambodian Grrrl (to be rereleased on Cantankerous Titles at the end of summer) on Saturday, March 26, 3pm, at Columbia College’s Conaway Center.
What was the first zine you made?
For years I’ve been thinking I’ve made zines since I was 15, but I recently discovered my first zine. It’s a comic about a fly that flies into piles of pancakes. I dated it and it was actually done when I was 11, so I’ve been doing this for a lot longer than I thought I had.
That must have been such an awesome discovery.
It was pretty funny, but what’s cool about that is it was never a funny comic. It was exactly as unfunny when I was 11 as it is now. It was just me wanting to do something interesting and the appeal of that is always so fun, especially for a young woman in a culture like the early ’80s. Women’s rights were again coming under major attack and girls’ rights were yet to be identified. I really enjoy those moments where oppression and the lack of cultural resources allow you to express yourself.
Can we look forward to more pages when you rerelease Cambodian Grrrl?
Yeah, especially since allowing Joe Biel from Cantankerous to do layout and design means I can talk to Esther Pearl Watson about what a cool cover would look like, do photo research and really concentrate on the writing as opposed to production issues. Mu Sochua also agreed to do the introduction. She’s an amazing women’s rights activist in Cambodia, one of those people who you meet, and your heart just melts.
How did you convince the U.S. State Department to implement zine-making?
As a result of the Cambodian Grrrl project, I have this enormous collection of really compelling documents that provide an amazing insider view of how Cambodia works in the English language. So I went back to Cambodia over the winter on a Fulbright, a program of the U.S. State Department (which, like, hasn’t always been on the best of terms with Southeast Asia, keep in mind), which means I’m having meetings with the U.S. Embassy and the Ambassador, and all these people. There’s not a lot of dialogue there about social practices or investigative journalism or conceptual art — any of the frames that get applied to the work I do there, so for all intents and purposes, I’m a zinester. And at some point the Ambassador turns to me and says, “Hey! Could we get a bunch of those zines and distribute them through the Peace Corps?”
We talked about it a little bit, and I got to explain, you know, to these diplomats and government officials, what’s stupendous about this is not just those documents, although they are really great. What’s really amazing about zine-making is that it gives people a chance to express their own interests without intervention. An ideal starting place for diplomatic relations, right? So maybe the Peace Corps should teach zine-making. Look, here are all these young Cambodian women you could hire who can show you how to do it. Here is my 8-fold “How To Make This Very Zine” in Khmer, English, and 5 other languages. They were like, “That sounds good.” Which is a fairly amazing move, considering the U.S. State Department’s history in Southeast Asia.
In Cambodian Grrrl you write about the delicate balance it required to illustrate the freedom of speech enacted by the zine format, introducing this concept to the young women in Phnom Penh.
I kind of came out of the riot grrrl culture so when I went to Cambodia it was like, “I can say anything! Fuck it! I can wear underwear outside of my clothes! Slips as dresses! Whatever!” Then you go to Cambodia which is a very strict, homogenous, gender-normative culture, and all of a sudden you’re like, “Whoaah I have no idea how to even approach explaining to people here this idea that young women should have the right to speak and see themselves represented in their own media.”
So you start from nothing. You have to sit down with a blank piece of paper and a young girl and say, “If you could write anything, what would you write?” And then you ask questions: “How come you haven’t had the chance to write this before? What does it mean to you? What does it mean you want in the world? What has to change in order for that to happen?”
How much do you think can we make a zine work for us politically before moving onto different formats?
What’s interesting about publishing is that it comes from this notion of creating a public, for creating a constituency for an idea. The root word is the same. You don’t tell people what to do, but you create a community of shared knowledge and shared ideas, and that’s what publishing is. Enormous potential can come from that, and it’s what you do with that public that holds the potential. But yeah, just sitting around in your room thinking your own thoughts and writing your own zines isn’t going to get you anywhere if you’re interested in social and political change. In the U.S. zines do have their interesting places and this kind of thing can happen. There are also places like the Allied Media Conference and U.S. Social Forum that are all about creating and speaking to and working with a public.
What do you think CZF is doing for the community here in Chicago?
When Punk Planet took a dive in 2007 it was pretty devastating for a lot of people, and I think particularly for Chicago where there is a huge history of independent culture. Pulling together Chicago Zine Fest was a really smart solution. It’s reinvigorating the energy for that kind of communication and also allowing people to connect with each other over this set of concerns and interests.
Are zines still punk? Or I guess what I’m trying to say is, do you see correlations with the zine culture you came up in and what’s going on with zine fest?
I don’t care so much about whether or not we call things punk, or what we label things, or whether we call things riot grrrl. There are a set of people who are interested in engaging with each other over into the freedom of expression in the U.S. right now, and it’s really important regardless of what they wear and how they go about it. What’s interesting to me is its potential that to be an international concern. People are seeing that there’s a more global issue going on and feeling that impact really strongly. They’re similar concerns to what was going on as when I was making my first zine for my first zine fest.