Part 2 of 6: Straight from the Source: An Interview with Joel Barber
In order to get a first-hand account of what making and marketing a zine is like, I interviewed Joel Barber, a comedian and writer whose zine, Million Dollar Underwear, I have contributed design and illustrations to in the past. Joel offers some great insights into his process, explains why zines are a good medium for sharing his work, and discusses the impact of social media on both him personally and the community as a whole.
What is your inspiration process like?
JB: My inspiration process is all over the place. An idea can just pop in my head and I just run with it, or something develops out of conversation. Other times I might sit down with a list of topics and go from there. Lately, that has been boring. Sometimes someone gives me something and I build off of that. I wish I had a set pattern of creating things, it would make my job easier when it comes to a deadline day.
Have you always been interested in zines? How/Why did you decide to start making them?
JB: I was an army brat growing up. I lived overseas for a decent amount of my childhood, so zines were something that I had heard of but never seen until college. I never thought about making one until a few years ago. I was trying to write a serious literary novel about my childhood experiences and I was bored writing it. I found myself more interested in writing jokes. At some point I found myself with more jokes than a novel. I didn’t know what to do with all this material I had. It wasn’t enough for a book, but too long for an email. I was listening to a podcast and a woman on the show said that she made zines. After that everything fell into place.
How do you market your zines?
JB: My biggest marketing tool is word of mouth. I have a website and use social media, but the word of mouth reaches more people than anything. With that said, I realize that I need to come out of my shell personally and do more zine related events and promote my material more online than I am doing now. People are pushing for me to leave zines behind and do a YouTube channel or a podcast, I am still on the fence about that.
Has Instagram helped you connect with other writers/artists or a wider audience?
JB: I think Instagram has allowed me to stay connected to people (fans and other creative people), but I don’t think it has given me much more of an audience.
In general, what impact have you seen that social media has had on zine culture as a whole?
JB: I can’t speak on the impact because I don’t think I have been in the zine culture long enough to notice any major changes yet. I will say this: social media has made it easier for a beginner to get into the world. It doesn’t feel like this secret underground world anymore.
Spread from Million Dollar Underwear, Issue 2, Kaiju in Exile (Written by Joel Barber, Illustration by Steve Minty)
In conclusion, I think it is safe to say that accessibility is one of the most valuable things social media, and the internet as a whole, has lent to the zine community. Artists and writers who make zines aren’t skyrocketing into fame and becoming world-renowned all of a sudden, but their work is much more available and easier to find, which is kind of the point. They want to share their work, not become a reality star. I was also surprised to find out that in Joel’s case, word of mouth has proven to be the most valuable marketing tool. I think it is important to note that one-on-one efforts, whether via the web or face-to-face, play a huge role in this community in particular, and is something I will explore more in part 3.