If you met Elsie Sampson, you wouldn’t think “machine.” Unless, of course, you met her when she was surrounded by her goods.
I shook Elsie’s hands recently at the Boston Zine Fair, where I spent a disproportionate amount of time at her table; I unabashadly ignored all other creative geniuses so I could soak up as much of Elsie’s work as possible. I went home with one of her $8 zines carefully resting in my bag.
Elsie has an impassioned cult following around these parts, all of us salivating over her zine titles (CHiNesE SwEAtSHoPs, Chinese Sketchbook, Broken, etc.). They are inordinately beautiful zines: think ribbon, felt, yarn, cut-outs, gift inserts, more. I can’t imagine how much time it takes for her to make just one, and here she is churning out not just several regular titles, but special “artist editions” of them as well. Which cost $15 and are worth more.
Elsie says she turns herself into a one-woman sweatshop because it’s a labor of love, and besides, she has trouble sleeping.
It’s that “love” that struck me most about Elsie’s work, as well as the other zinesters at the BZF.
Zine-making is people producing their own media. People writing and making art not because they’re looking for clips, bylines, and promotions, but for the total joy and urgency of it. Zinesters are looking to connect with a reader in a peculiarly intimate way–the zines inhabit a personalism which blogs (ahem) simply can’t replicate. Something about “your own two hands.”
People empowered to make their own media have a proud history of social change. Tom Paine is considered not-so-jokingly to be an early zinester. Broadsheets and communiques moved the labor, civil rights, and women’s revolutions forward.
And besides being tools for change, Elsie reminds me, zines are art. I’m now the proud owner of her “Chinese Sketchbook #2,” which urges me to take delight in drawing. When I’m trying to write and feeling as blank as a sheet of paper, paging through Elsie’s work reminds me of the fun of it all.
Check out Elsie’s work at http://www.chinesesweatshop.com/thecrew.html