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INDEX\ INTERVIEWS\ SOUTH CHICAGO ABC ZINE DISTRO

 

SOUTH CHICAGO ABC ZINE DISTRO

Alternative distributor of food for thought,
paper education and agitation.
 

              
 
 

1. Hello! Could you introduce SOUTH CHICAGO ZINE DISTRO to the readers? When did you begin? What are the goals and state of mind of this underground activity?

Answer: Surely, thank you! We aim to provide a wide range of radical literature, history, analysis and useful information, through the wonderful medium of cut and paste zines to whoever is interested in accessing it and (hopefully) becoming empowered and motivated by it. This is a labor of love by some seriously driven “Haymarket” anarchists, based in the southern part of Chicagoland. We do this as our contribution to the struggle. Soon after we began this distro, in early 1998, it has focused on the prisons in America, as we feel this is the “ground zero” of the struggle, here at home. We work directly with conscious prisoners, both writers and artists, as well as collect the strongest material we find from any other source, which we feel has something meaningful to say to people. We strive to help prisoners (and others) understand the countless issues that are funneled into the vortex that is prison, this black hole of society, provide contact information for support, how to instruction as to how to challenge their predicament and basically educate and empower each other with the explosively written and amazingly drawn truth!
We are prison abolition anarchists, who take the whole history of prisoner support to the next level. We believe strongly in solidarity and support all prisoners, not just anarchist ones. We want to help raise the level of awareness of everybody and feel many new anarchists will be created in the process. We feel that prisoners of all people have a clear view of the enemy and a strong natural yearning for truth and freedom, in short, anarchy!
Our goal is an extension of Durruti and Ascasco’s goal – an anarchist bookshop in every city. We believe in “each one, teach one” and mean to create an anarchist infoshop and study circle on every tier of every prison!

 

2. What led you to run a fanzines distro? Did you actually print your own zine, and noticed it was quite hard to spread it efficiently? Or you knew about someone who did this kind of distribution and felt inspired to do the same?

Answer: Well, actually, I wrote my 1st zine – Peoples’ Polar Express in 1974. But, it wasn’t until the mid-90’s that I became a committed anarchist propagandist, writing my own zines, editing others and spreading them around. In 1997, I started my own personal zine, Thought Bombs, of which I’ve done 30 of (actually 32, as I did two split zines). While I spread them around and learned my way around and saw how distros worked, I was left unhappy. So, I took the punk ethic of d.i.y. to heart and decided, if I was so unhappy about things the way they were, and thought I could do better, there was just one thing to do – actually go through with it and do it my own damn self! So, that’s what I did. I groped my way through relentless trial and error to the monster distro we run today.
I consider myself a writer and an anarchist – an anarchist writer. What we like to do is find the keenest minds and collaborate with them! More and more, it became apparent to me that at least in this demented country, these types of people were locked down in prison somewhere – demonized and tortured by the authorities and ignored by everybody else.
I’d been to million meetings, organized demos, created grassroots groups, organized conferences and all that stuff, but it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack to find comrades willing to work their ass off creating zines and getting them into the hands of the oppressed – the folks that actually crave and know the value of them. One bi-sexual anarchist punk in particular steered me to the gulags. His name is Sean Lambert and I will be forever grateful to him for his intense passion for this work. Once I “graduated” from anti-racist and ho-hum business-as-usual anarchism to the fire pits of hell (the prisons) I knew I had found my calling. I wouldn’t have to hold the hands of the weak-kneed and squeamish. I could work directly, arm in arm, in the foxholes with the lions of the struggle, here in Babylon.
It was always @nticopyright with me, meaning, I wasn’t even going to pretend to try to “sell” anything. All the zines would be free. Sure donations would be used resourcefully and were always needed, but not getting any, would not stop the juggernaut of intent that would drive our efforts. I just felt that such an effort, would sooner or later strike a chord – especially if we kept at it and could be relied upon, year after year. Prisoners can be quite cynical and you really have to bring your “A” game and prove yourself over time to gain their respect. Well, I didn’t need anybody but myself to maximize the effort and improve the quality of the work. But I have gained countless wonderful comrades throughout this vast gulag archipelago – and even a few stalwarts on the “outs.”
 

            
 

3. In the underground music world, many distros use to distribute zines, but the editors have to send the finished product to the distributor... Your system is a bit different since you xerox most of the zines by yourself... Which should be quite some work! Can you tell us more about the reasons for this choice? Isn't it too hard on a financial point of view? How can you cope with it? Do you know a lot of distros to work the same way you do?

Answer: Well, I am a hard-boiled, genuine anarchist. To me, it was a delicious challenge to put this whole “distro” thing on its ear! I decided only a full-bore effort, without any type of commercial interference would be good enough to do the trick. I have a living wage-slave job and my wife works full-time also as a librarian. We live frugally, do not have cable t.v. or spend outside the basics. I don’t even have a cell phone, and other things most modern-day people find essential. I pour all my money into printing, supplies, stamps, etc. I maximize the values, buying things in bulk and using coupons all the time. We do print jobs in bundles of a few dozen zines at a time to print 10,000 impressions at a time to make the cost at its lowest possible, coupled with coupons and rewards points. We mail on the ounce to get every cent of our postage money. I’m always on the lookout for free printing access and encourage others to do the same. We want to create thousands of these types of distros!
I work on this everyday for hours on end. I have a radio and cassette tape player. I have hundreds of home-made audio tapes I listen to, while I work. I like to listen to ballgames on the radio, too! I don’t “do” excuses” why I can’t do all I intend to do, which is to provide every last indigent prisoner all the killer zines they want and need and crave! It’s an insane amount of work and often, very stressful what with all the drama and horror that goes on with those I care about, but I take life one day at a time. Every morning, I wake up, go to work, and start writing letters to prisoners… Like I said, this is what I am and what I feel comfortable doing. It’s unbelievably gratifying and thrilling – and painful. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every single day, but I’ve put myself in a position to have a very real and important impact on the lives of people, on what they think, and what matters to them. I am a writer who has terrific collaborators, who teaches – and learns from the masters. What could be more spectacular in this life? I am loved by thousands of people and I love them, too! My life fucking matters, because I have insisted that it matter!

 

4. More than a distro, we could say you're some kind of editor, or snail mail library maybe? How many fanzines do you currently have in stock?

Answer: I’m an editor alright, but I don’t have “editoritis.” By this, I mean, I let people have their say-so in their own words, without trying to manipulate what they have to say, to my way of thinking. They’ll get an earful of my rant-loving thoughts, too, maybe in other zines. Also, other anarchists are well-represented. But, I let people say what they want. I do a lot of nose-to-the-grindstone transcribing, sometimes hard to read, poorly spelled and ill-framed sentence structure or paragraphing. But, if I see some strong ideas others may gain from in there, I’ll work it up. Prisoners trust me with their material and are almost always very happy with the finished product. I often add terrific graphics, usually drawn by prisoners. It is a painstaking process to create every zine. I do use the computer for transcribing, but every zine is cut and pasted together and then carefully cleaned to produce a finished master copy for copying. The great thing about doing zines this way, is you can work on them anywhere. All you need is paper, glue, a knife, some newspapers, whiteout and a burning determination to create powerful, modern-day revolutionary literature!
I would say, we probably have 500 zines in stock and available – maybe more!

 

5. Are the fanzines always available for years, or maybe the older ones could be considered sold out after some time, or after a certain amount of copies have circulated? Can you tell us how many copies of a zine you usually distribute?

Answer: Well, I look to create zines and add others I find that are not “dated.” We don’t really do music zines. We’re all about politics, history, psychology. We do have punk zines, and some mention bands, but they’re the more political and can hold a usefulness for many years. Some zines I distroed years ago, I no longer carry, but for the most part, we still have them. Every year I add maybe 75 to 100 new ones, from just 1 - sheet mini - zines to 19 sheets (or more) zines, some as part of a two or three zine set. It depends on the particular project, but I make sure I maximize the space on the paper with text or some graphic. I don’t have any blank pages or parts of pages. I call it “European style!” (smile*)
Each zine has a floating amount made, on an as needed basis. Some zines have been republished dozens of times, with even thousands of copies made. Some aren’t requested much and max out at maybe fifty copies. I’ve also done newspapers, some of which we had press runs of 10,000, even 15,000 copies! Whenever, I get to the last couple copies of a zine, I put a copy in the pile that the next copying job will contain. As for the catalogs, we make thousands of those. And, they’re not just catalogs, either. They have a few graphics and some ass-kicking text, kind of like a real zine. I want people to be awestruck, even by just the catalogs. To catch peoples’ attention, we aim to craft them with striking cover art, explosively and thrillingly written text and messages that reach and resound to the core of the reader’s soul!
 


 

6. Your system of zine distribution can offer some kind of alternative to the Internet... But is it meant to be so? Have you got a problem with Internet and the massive amount of information it procures, maybe you're some kind of nostalgic person. Or it's just that it's much better on paper?

Answer: Yeah, this approach is the antithesis of the ho-hum internet. Active real paper means the world to prisoners, as they are not allowed access to the internet. The internet is for relatively rich people and we are trying to get the explosive truth into the hands of the salt of the Earth – “Les Miserables!” I happen to detest the internet and the sell-out attitude that goes with it. I don’t blog and I don’t have a website. You can make and take zines anywhere, but you’ve got to sit and stare at a screen for e-zines. They are for unserious people who are not genuinely concerned enough to deal with issues that concern the most oppressed, in my opinion. Besides, the pigs can’t track you with paper zines, like they can with the internet or cell phones. I happen to like my autonomy. Internet people seem tame to me. With cut and paste, you can make it how you want, you don’t need to rely on a machine and the graphics are way better hand-drawn than the fuzzy crap you get from the internet.
I wouldn’t say I’m “nostalgic” maybe “old school” would better describe it. I was born in 1953, so the sixties and seventies revolutions are what I grew up on, so I’m not giving up my passionately held beliefs to stare at a tiny screen playing idiotic games or sticking a headset on and blathering away as I slowly get brain cancer. Screw that! I want to connect with real people who are likely to genuinely struggle against the government in very real ways – one mind to another – through full-strength zines, often written and illustrated by fellow revolutionary captives. This life is not a game. It is very serious and very real and extremely important. Like George Orwell once said: “The most dangerous thing in the world is the fifty-paged pamphlet.” We believe in “staying dangerous!”
A lot of people, even those interested in cool zines, don’t want to deal with reality. Zines are just another form of escapism to them. Well, we’re the reality check of zinedom. Needless to say, the mainstream underground “zinesters” can’t stand us. But prisoners and the downtrodden everywhere who get their hands on them, almost invariably really, really love them!

 

7. I know you're in touch with quite a lot of prisoners. Due to the quite political nature some of the zines display, didn't you have troubles with the prison authorities? I know they're sometimes quite restrictive, and would avoid anything provocative that could influence inmates about certain subjects... So have you got some tips for your publications could enter the prison walls anyway? What was the worst feedback your received from the authorities? And the best feedback from an inmate?

Answer: Yeah, we get a lot of zines rejected, invariably for ludicrous reasons. We don’t instruct prisoners on how to fashion tools to break out of prison or how to start a riot. But we do help liberate their mind, so that they can traverse the fear line, think freely for perhaps the first time in their lives and dream of a real life, instead of wallowing in the dead-end misery of gangbanging, despair and hopelessness. Like in chattel slavery times, it is basically a crime to genuinely educate prisoners, for an educated prisoner is a “dangerous” (revolutionary) prisoner, no longer content to expend their energies in petty squabbles, but now using his or her innate talents in the service of the oppressed.
What we do is go about our business as if it is the most natural thing in the world – as legitimate as any other publication that propounds some other belief system. For, anarchism is a very sophisticated, humanist philosophy and deserves to be respected as such. We do a clean job, send the zines in nice envelopes, and back them up. If they are rejected, we try to challenge it. If it ever gets to a court, we invariably win, as we still have our 1st Amendment right to free speech, no matter what a warden or “gulag censor troll” may say. We just keep sending them in and often a zine rejected one week will get in the next.
We don’t brandish images of guns and stuff like that. Really, the real dangerous stuff is found in the lengthily explained essays. These ideas are what set off psychic explosions in the minds of prisoners and the authorities are too lazy &/or oblivious to understand or notice that. They’re fixated on imagery.
As for tips, just be upfront, make sure the return address matches the one in the publication – make sure the zine is “from the publisher.” You do this by becoming the publisher or, if another collective put out the zine, sticking your stamp in a prominent place, preferably on the back page. Make sure you write the full prisoner address as legibly as possible and the correct postage is affixed. Don’t put a letter in with the zines. Zines and letters must be mailed separately.
The worst feedback from the authorities? Prisoners have been assaulted for getting zines in the mail. One woman prisoner was placed in the hole just for receiving a letter from me, which she never even saw! Recently, these idiots rejected a zine that was actually a government report of the weeklong struggle during the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968! The best response from a prisoner? Well, Coyote Sheff was so turned on, he started his own prison chapter ABC zine distro!! Another guy, was a nazi skinhead who turned into a dynamite anarchist. He sent us hundreds of dollars and had his cellie do an interview with him explaining his transformation! Every day we get letters from prisoners who have been profoundly changed by these zines and are discovering that unbeknownst to them, they’ve been an anarchist their entire lives! We help prisoners attain literacy, with an anarchist zine in one hand and a dictionary in the other. Study circles are formed all the time. Word of mouth spreads like wild-fire throughout each gulag and throughout the archipelago no matter how hard the authorities try to shut us down. They constantly confiscate our zines, only to find even more spread all over the prison, like wildly proliferating mushrooms! It truly is the samizdat press of modern-day Amerikkka!
 

            
 

8. How can a writer be distributed by your services? Is there something special to send or offer? Do you distribute only the "final product" (Something with a finished layout) or did you ever made the visual side of the thing if needed?

Answer: Well, I get manuscripts, poetry, essays, rants, analysis, all kinds of stuff – dynamite graphics, all the time. I read through the material and make a determination. If I think the stuff is good, I will probably work it up, regardless of how much work is involved, whether they are indigent or can help defray costs or whatever. Sometimes it’s just a mess of hand-written material. Sometimes, prisoners work up the zines themselves – pasted together with toothpaste! I’ll take whatever and turn it into a finished product. Sometimes, I’ll put a couple dozen prisoner contributions together in a series I call Prisoners’ Speak! I often add my own writing, either an essay or an introduction or something and fill it up with cool appropriate graphics and maybe strong quotes.
Sometimes, a project will take several months or even a year or two. There may be other people involved, such as a different transcriber, other contributors and so forth. It all goes through me and I have the final say as far as seeing it to completion. Needless to say, I am swamped with work all the time. I just do all I can each day, hit the deck, wake up in the morning, throw strong coffee down my throat and set to work all over again until exhaustion once again overcomes me. It may seem like a drag to someone else, but it’s how I am. I set myself up so I could function at this stage of my life, like this. It’s fucking awesome, actually!

 

9. Maybe you distribute the writing of some inmates? It could be a nice way for them to spread their ideas, yet without having to deal with the prisons' censorship... And hard task to send every package from the inside of a prison (I don't ever imagine it), and to have access to a computer or type-writer...

Answer: I do indeed distribute the work of several (dozens) of prisoners. I put their contact information in these zines, too, so that people can contact them. Of course, the authorities catch on sooner or later too and sometimes these courageous writers and artists are treated most brutally. Some are beaten, gassed, tasered, thrown naked into a cold cell with nothing but a hole to piss into. It’s a war doing this! Sometimes our correspondence (and zine components) are “disappeared.” Inmates are transferred in the middle of the night, sometimes stuck on a prison bus for months! It’s a constant cat and mouse game. And, the closer we get to the truth, the harsher the repression gets. Very, very few prisoners have access to a computer. A few do have a word processor or a typewriter. Mostly, they are lucky to have the inside of a Bic pen or a pencil stub and a scrap of paper. It’s amazing the intricate artwork they can create from a pen filler and a pencil stub!

 

10. Why does you distro name contain the "ABC" word? I know some English peoples use it for the not very scholar peoples who have problems to read... Was it the reason of the choice? Maybe to "educate" peoples, or better said help them to think with some writings you distribute?

Answer: ABC stands for Anarchist Black Cross. In the wake of the 1905 revolution in Russia, the Anarchist Red Cross was created to directly support anarchist prisoners because the support had been going through the social democrats (Mensheviks and Bolsheviks) and they were not allowing support to get to anarchist prisoners. Lenin was showing his lack of solidarity and his vicious sectarianism even way back in 1905! It was later renamed the Anarchist Black Cross so as not to be confused with the International Red Cross, which was an arm of the U.S. (and allies) government, treating the wounded soldiers fed into the meat grinding imperialist world wars. Black cross because black is the color of the anarchist flag. We are serious anarchists and our main focus is in support of prisoners, perhaps especially anarchists, but all prisoners! We believe strongly in solidarity. We also believe providing the voice of all resisters helps develop a well-rounded radical and that anarchist ideas will fire the imaginations of most of them! We are plenty willing to provide basic education for those who need it. Many prisoners never had any read education – only police-like discipline and punishment and quasi-prison “classrooms.” We try to write plainly and clearly so anyone can understand our message. We are not high brow ivory tower fucks! But, some of the analysis can get complicated. So, we do a lot of letter writing too to get on a personal basis with people, answer specific questions, and encourage them to develop their nascent talents. It’s amazing how a person with low self-esteem, once encouraged and turned onto zines and someone who gives a damn and is willing to mentor and work with them – what they can blossom into!
Yeah! We aim to work, like a for real and dedicated comrade should, with the most oppressed to take this whole literary struggle to the next level. We want to blow the lid off of this disgusting deathship charade, this despicable “spectacle” of slow suicide. We want to end this fascist world and turn it into a real cool place, where peoples’ lives matter and no one is a slave to anyone else! To do this, we need to deprogram many people and replace that poison with the liberating truth!
 

 
 

11. Did you already distribute music zines? Or it doesn't enter your criterias? SOUTH CHICAGO is quite seriously focused on certain subjects, or you could also distribute underground comics, music or mail-art zines?

Answer: No, we don’t do music zines, although recently we did some real strong hip-hop lyric type zines. We get writing from musicians, songs and poetry and I’ve even written poetry. But, it’s pretty politically focused. Sometimes I get CD’s or cassettes, which I listen to and sometimes make copies of and distribute on a limited basis. You can’t really send CD’s or cassettes into prison, anymore. We do have some cartoon zines and art zines, again, mainly political in nature. Underground commix we do a little of. Some of the wild shit we get from prisoner artists is better than any commix you’ll see in the alleged “free world!”
For a while, I recorded some of my rants on cassettes, but no one seemed to want them. Personally, I like the cadence of an extremely well written anarchist essay.

 

12. Talking about music, what kind of sounds do you enjoy? What is your musical background, and do you/ did you play in some bands?

Answer: I’m a creature from the sixties, so that the stuff I like. My favorite is Van Morrison. I listen to the Clash, the Pogues, Jeff Beck – groups like that. I like Bruce Cockburn, the Grateful Dead, the Airplane, Jane’s Addiction. Like I said earlier, I have hundreds of cassette tapes that I listen to for hours every day. I never played in a band, although my older son is very musical. Lately, he’s been carrying around a homemade bagpipe, made out of PVC pipe, a beach ball and a pump usually used to inflate an air mattress. It sounds just like a nice bagpipe, too! Words are my music!
  

13. This is the free question, you can talk about whatever you want!

Answer: I’m sure I must sound like some self-glorying smug jerk to some, but I’m not. I’m a glib happy cat of a dude. I consider myself “Joe Normal” because what I’m doing seems so logical a response to modern-day life to me. Just send me a letter to:South Chicago ABC Zine Distro
P.O. Box 721
Homewood, IL 60430
USA
I even have an email:
anthonyrayson(a)hotmail.com
Another thing you can check (for all you computer geeks.) A couple of years ago, I took my entire zine collection and shlepped it up to DePaul University in Chicago to add it to their zine library. It was like 5 or 6 full boxes with maybe 500 different titles. Google Anthony Rayson Zine Collection and it is indexed. I send them new zines as I make them and they add them into the collection.
 

 
 

14. What are the next projects of SOUTH CHICAGO? You can conclude this interview, It's almost over. Thanks for the answers.

Answer: Well, the last two zines I did are these. One is a lengthy expose of the horrible practice of the Chinese government who harvest the organs from perfectly healthy Falun Gong practitioners for transplants. This ghoulish monstrosity takes government torture and murder to the next level – highly profitable and high tech! Another one I just finished is called High Risk Potential, written by Coyote. It’s pure dynamite! My next zine is a nice essay by a real sharp anarchist prisoner in California entitled: Fascist America: Reflections on Orwell. I’m going to do some Each One, Teach One doubIe interviews soon, too.
I just got back a few days ago from a wonderful week of vacation with my wife, younger son and 85-year old mother. We were on a lake in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. I went fishing all day long. So now, my psychic batteries are recharged and I’m ready to deal with these mountains of papers spread over several desks and tables, in boxes and various brief cases! Hey! An anarchist propagandist’s work is never done – but it sure does satisfy my black as coal soul!
Take care and thanks for your interest! @nthony Rayson