Illustration: Dom Monet
By Ray X
If civilization collapses – no internet, no electricity – James Dawson will keep on zining.
He would return to his old DIY production devices: manual typewriters, mimeograph machines. All non-electric, human powered. He could rebuild the zine scene.
Even without civilization collapsing James prefers old tech.
James: “Older technology is sturdier and more reliable, simpler and more intuitive to understand, less confusing, less glitchy and frustrating, and once you find supplies, cheaper than modern electronic technology. In fact I prefer mechanical technology over older electro-mechanical because I don't have a head for the latter conceptually and I'm not patient or skilled enough to tinker with it if it breaks down.”
In his early zining days he used a mimeograph machine to publish. Mimeographic printing involves making impressions on a stencil via typing and drawing to create a master copy. The stencil is placed on a rotating drum and paper is fed through the unit by a hand crank, ink transferring the master copy impressions to each sheet. Before photocopiers and computers arrived on the scene many fanzines were printed with mimeograph machines and similar devices.
Such manual production isn’t easy but James has always been an individualist, a fact reflected in what he writes about.
James: “I'm a private person so even though I share a little personal information here and there, I don't consider my zines as perzines (personal zines).
“I'm a vegan and libertarian and have written on the confluence of those two philosophies. I write about society, philosophy, movies, novels, and short stories, and how my take on these all blend together. Lately my favorite fiction has been speculative fiction, most notably by Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, but these are just a few. I'm into existential themes, in the broader sense, as they relate to my life, not so much the stereotypical Sarte and Camus stuff, which are a bunch of pretentious baloney. I may slip in some offbeat humor now and then, but so far, nobody seems to notice or get it. I hope to start getting back into making zines that are totally self-indulgent, no matter how much they might bore, confuse, or annoy people or make them uncomfortable.”
Recently James has been forced to rely more on modern technology. But there’s always old tech in reserve.
James: “I recently bought another mimeograph for $40 but I haven't really looked at it too closely. It's in my detached garage and it's been too cold and snowy [to work on it.]”
“I always have a back-burner intention of trying to getting my old mimeographs and ditto machines working, but the likelihood gets more and more remote as ink cartridges and fluid get scarcer and scarcer.
“If it were a little more doable and I were a little more disciplined and energetic I'd definitely do more zines on ditto or mimeo. I recently went to a copy shop nearby and it's not only 12 cents a side with the only volume discount kicking in at 250 copies, where it goes down a mere 2 cents. And in both cases, unlike in the past, there's no price break at all for double-sided. So DIY printing is still an economic issue, not just a quaint notion.”
He tried somewhat more recent old tech, a Dell PC circa 2000 CE but that proved to be too problematic.
James: “I had some confusion and frustration with that now and then, but in the last few years I'd been using it, I had pretty much mastered it and could make it do my bidding. At some point, my composing computer kept telling me the ink cartridge in my HP deskjet printer was ‘improperly installed’ or something like that, and to ‘remove and re-insert it’. After trying this a billion times over a few weeks, I gave up.”
So he tried another used computer but was frustrated once again by overly technical problems.
James: “In the last 6 months or so [the second computer] wouldn't let me access my Word files anymore. It said: ‘WINWORD caused an invalid default in module USEREXE at 0007:0006ad3’. I have no idea what that means and I'm not going to waste my precious time, wrack my brains, and subject myself to major boredom by investigating it.”
He tries to keep zine production as efficient and easy as possible. He has been using old tech mixed in with some easy tech.
James: “Right now I'm composing shorter zines on my trusty old typewriters, who never give me terse, haughty, technicalese warnings and prohibitions, or composing in my Yahoo Mail Draft box, saving them, transferring these to a Word file at the library computer, and printing them out there.”
He says 98% of his printing is done at a copy shop. The other 2%?
James: “Once in a while, only when I run out of copies of an issue and really need some,
I'll make a few copies at a time on a Brother personal copier I have. It's very glitchy and misfeeds paper all the time, so it's frustrating and inefficient. I only use it in a pinch.”
Ideally James would publish only using human powered machines.
James: “Electro-mechanical machines might be able to be run off solar or some other off-grid electrical source, but electricity, at least AC, has always scared me too much to want to work with, at least with older, worn-out machines.”
And in the event that modern civilization with its complex technical structure should fall apart he can dust off that $40 hand-cranker mimeograph in his garage.
* * *
James N. Dawson
P.O. Box 950
Spokane, WA 99210
His zines are available for dollars/stamps/trades/the usual.