Shawn Granton is the modest and hard-working mastermind behind The Zinester's Guide to Portland, which is now in its fourth edition (after a wait of more than three years). Unlike most travel guides and city of commerce pamphlets, the Zinester's Guide is aimed specifically at the literary, crafty, and creative folks that cover our green landscape — or those people from other cities that come here to see what all the fuss is about. I mean, it's getting hard to hide the fact that Portland is one vibrant and bustling center for those who crave a richer sense of creativity and artistic freedom. In many ways, Portland is a utopia and Granton's wonderfully illustrated book (and its website) celebrates that.
First things first, why did it take so long to get this new edition out!?
Part burn-out, part stage-fright. The first three editions came out each year from 2001 to 2003 to coincide with the annual Portland Zine Symposium.
Each edition got bigger, and by the 3rd edition we had gotten it to the point that we felt it was good enough to do something with, i.e. sell it around town. I had hoped to have the fourth edition out in 2004, but the distribution and the constant printing of the third edition (that one was still photocopied) took a lot out of me. I was considering getting it professionally printed, but then Joe Biel of Microcosm Publishing offered to publish it, taking that burden off my shoulders. But then I realized that we were going to have a "nice" book that would have a few thousand dollars invested in production. I didn't want to just bang it out like the previous editions, I wanted it to be worth it. So we ended up taking longer on it than we should have because I didn't want something half-assed. And I think it paid off. I don't think the fourth edition is perfect — every time I open it up I see glaring errors or omissions. Maybe the next time we'll get it right!
Is there a part of town now where you think most of the zinesters hang out? It always seems to fluctuate depending on gentrification around Portland?
Northeast and North Portland, for sure. Unfortunately, zinesters are as much of an indicator species for gentrification as other hipsters, maybe even more so because most zinesters I know are pretty broke and are always looking for cheap rent. I keep on saying that deeper Southeast will be next, particularly the area around Foster Road from 52nd to 82nd with all those nice old buildings.
No one believes me now, but wait a couple years and get back to me.
Are there many other cities that can compete with Portland as far as creativity per capita?
I don't think so. I think if you look at the type of creativity we excel in — zine culture, DIY culture, bicycle culture, permaculture, indie rock and the like — then we are at the top of our game. Our sisters to the north — Seattle and Vancouver — also have a bunch of creative types as well, maybe it's the weather!
There are other cities out there that have boatloads of creative types — L.A. and New York, obviously. But a place like Los Angeles attracts a different type of creative type. I'm going to generalize here, but it seems to me that those who would choose to move to L.A. over Portland are trying to get a studio to buy their screenplay or become a rock star. (Of course, there are "Portland types" down in L.A., I've seen 'em with my own eyes. As I said, generalizing.) Here in Portland we do it for ourselves and are not looking for that kind of attention because we know we're not going to get it. And those that want that attention eventually move to L.A. anyway.
What's your personal favorite thing about Portland?
That the city welcomes new people. Portland isn't a closed off place where one has to spend years "paying their dues" before anyone will pay attention to them. I've seen people move here and right away work on awesome projects with the enthusiastic support of the community. We welcome new ideas. We'd rather accomplish something than wallow around in bars complaining, "There's nothing here to do. We need to move to New York/Los Angeles/etc." We're making our own thing.
Would you rather see the city get a baseball team or a new police force?
Since I care little for sports, and the lengths that some cities will go to in order to attract a major league sports team in order to "look important" (I'm thinking specifically of my home state of Connecticut, when in the late '90's the "fiscally conservative" governor John Rowland was willing to throw a half-billion dollars at the New England Patriots to tempt them to move to Hartford from Boston) make me sick, I'll have to say a new police force by default.
If you had to give an award to just one person for best contribution to zinesters, who would it be?
Rebecca Gilbert, the co-founder and original director of the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC), the organization located above Reading Frenzy, whose mission is to foster and support zines and small press. In all my years of traveling around North America, I still haven't found anything quite like it. I first encountered the place on my second day of living here, became a member in the first month, and a staff person a few months after that. From there I got involved with the Portland Zine Symposium and then the Zinester's Guide to Portland. And I couldn't have done it without Rebecca!
What's going on with your own zine?
Ten Foot Rule has been "on hiatus" for about three years. I need to work on comics for that. I've had ideas but not the energy to draw them since a lot of my creative time has been taken up by endeavors like the Zinester's Guide and freelance artwork. Hopefully I'll have something by the end of 2007. In the meantime, I made a new zine titled Temporary Relocation Project that talks about a long trip across North America that I made in 2005.
Is there any subject not explored by a local zine that you'd like to see explored?
I'd like to see more Portland history and geography zines. We're a town full of transplants and most of our knowledge of Portland's history goes back as far as we've lived here. There have been some good ones, like Icky Apparatus' Living In Doomtown (which detailed some of Portland's radical past), and some of the stuff that Khris Soden is doing. I've done bits and pieces with my Urban Adventure League zines but I'd really like to get something together, along the lines of the Oakslander Lakeside Gazette, a defunct history/geography zine out of Oakland. But it's a lot of work and I doubt I could do it alone. Anyone else out there interested?
One final word: I'd like to give a big thank you to Nate Beaty, the designer and co-conspirator behind the Zinester's Guide. I couldn't have done it without his help and knowledge!
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Kevin Sampsell runs the small press section at Powell's and is the publisher of his own micro-press, Future Tense Books. His books include Creamy Bullets, Portland Noir, and the memoir A Common Pornography.
Books mentioned in this post
Kevin Sampsell is the author of A Common Pornography: A Memoir