harlequin creature: One of a Kind Literary Experience

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*Cover art is the manifesto by Alvey Jones, Jade Fusco, Gustave Morin, Meghan Forbes, Ian Mclellan Davis, Hannah McMurray*

I am a lover of literature, and of the special literary treasure that is the lit mag. Lit mags, literary journals, zines, and some graphic novels have so much overlap — and it is the publications that blur the lines most that win my heart. I found one such gem back in the summer of 2014 on accident. A Facebook friend of mine is an incredibly talented photographer in New York, and did some work for harlequin creature. I was mesmerized by their website and immediately sought out back issues of their journals.

They were amazing.

It is difficult to describe the work, and their website’s attempt captures only part of the beauty:

harlequin creature is…

a place for all kinds of interesting and peculiar creatures to convene and share their literariness and artistic underbelly.

a journal sure to be unconventional in today’s overwhelmingly digital age, and, at the same time, very much in touch with a nostalgia for an earlier era, when the factories of pittsburgh and detroit were still bumpin’ and steel was in. with a circle of friends that spans from los angeles to ann arbor to new york, every single journal is hand typed on high quality paper. each copy is then hand bound, and a limited number include artwork by a featured artist.​

a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation founded in 2012 in the state of new york.

I wanted more, and so I asked founder and editor-in-chief Meghan Forbes and co-editor Hannah McMurray for an interview. We conducted the conversation through snail mail from Chicago to Michigan and back and from Chicago to Germany and back. This seemed most fitting because, you see, every copy of harlequin creature is hand-typed on typewriters. They accomplish this through “typing bees” where volunteers come and type for hours. This means that every single copy of each issue is unique.

A brown envelope to me from harlequine creature

I LOVE getting mail. Always.

The interview is presented in it’s original, though cut up and pieced together, format. Each image has the text typed up in the alternative text field for those of you using alternative internet reading devices.

Meghan Forbes:

1m

What is a spelling bee exactly, and what is like to be involved in one?

Hannah McMurray:

Since every copy of each issue of h.c. is handtyped on a typewriter, Meghan & I rely a lot on the kindness of friends & strangers alike to help us type it all up. 100 copies might be a drop in the ocean of a normal print run, but when you're doing it by hand, that would be a lot for 20 fingers. So our answer is...the typing bee! At a typing bee there are typists, coffee, bagels, and a ton of typewriters (almost literally!)! Each typist types up a copy of the journal - mistakes and all - and then has the opportunity to dedicate their copy to someone or something of their choosing, before noting when, when, by whom, and on which model of typewriter it was typed. It's this that makes each copy unique. More than anything, typing bees are social, (cont in next photo) (cont from previous photo) and I've had the privilege to make many new friends, as well as get to know others better, at a typing bee. They become these little communities and it's partly this that makes the creature a living thing.

Meghan:

How did you start organizing the typing bees? the 1st typing bee was conducted in ann arbor in an amazing (sadly, now tired) book arts facility called hollanders. i had wanted to do it in ny but it was just too dang expensive to rent a space. at hollanders, we paid 60 bucks, and when i tried to pay the next time around the owner wouldn't take my money, saying if he'd known how nice i was the first time, he'd never have let me pay that time either. that's the midwest for you!What is the best thing you have done in service of harlequin creature?Hannah:

There is so much that's been enjoyable in my involvement with h.c. Here are a few of the highlights: -setting type for the first time -collaborating with wonderful, yet down-to-earth writers & artists - leading a typewriter workshop for teens at the Guggenheim, NTC - the h.c. & friends exhibition in Berlin

Meghan:why is it important that harlequin creature is handmade and nonhyperlinkable? it's the most important thing, and the thing people have a real hard time wrapping their heads around. so we made a manifesto! (see enclosed.) i also love this quote by partha nitter: "primitivists did not deny the importance of technology in contemporary life; they simply refused to accept the teleological certainty of modernity." different context, obviously, but relevant to he!Tell me more about this harlequin creature & friends exhibition you put together in Berlin. What was the turnout like? How do you feel being an international superstar?Hannah: Ha! I'm not sure an exhibition in Berlin makes one an international superstar! :) We never set out to have an exhibition but when I was one the lookout for a potential launch venue for issue 4, I happened upon 'Supalife,' a screenprinting gallery with its fair share of zine and artists' books, just when I was cycling around my neighborhood in Berlin. It is such a beautiful space, and the staff so incredibly engaged & lovely, I was thrilled when they agreed to hold the launch event there! But they did have one condition... that we also organize an exhibition for there! What an amazing opportunity that was at once outrageously exciting and daunting! But within about 4 weeks I'd rallied up some of our favourite US-based artists, with whom we'd collaborated in the past as well as some friends in Berlin who helped with the logisitics of putting on a show. Issue 4 had a portfolio binding, so each page was loose-leaf lending itself perfectly to being exhibited. The verissage was set for early november and the room was ringing with readings and bilingual conversations. well over a hundred crammed themselves in to the petite supalife rooms that evening, and the exhibition hung for a further 3 months. it was, to say the least, a rather exciting start to the creature's life in Berlin.

 

Meghan: do your typewriters have an eraser like this fancy one I am currently typing on? nope! we've banned whiteout. to quote the motto of our very first issure: "human error is part of the point."If harlequin wore a hat, what would it be like?

Hannah:

a fancy top hat with peacock feather

Meghan:what is the best compliment you have received about the journal? oh that's easy, even though i wasn't around to hear it. at a reading in michigan last spring, matvei yankelevich was invited to read, and he reportedly said if he started all over, he'd do what what hannah and I are doing. ugly duckling presse is a guiding light for me, so this about made my year.

how do you all learn about bookbinding and letterpress and such? is it mostly self taught?Hannah:Meghan audited a book arts class back in 2011 and through that got to know barbara brown, who has become one of our closestcollaborators and mentor! Barbara has advised us on the bindings of several of the issues, which has been invaluable. Between us, Meghan and I, have taken part in several bookbinding classes and workshops. This, together with a bit of experimentation, and advice from Barbara, has helped us come up with an interesting and different binding for each issue of hc. as for letterpress, it's a similar story. A local letterpress artist, jim horton, took meghan under his wing as she set out printing the first covers of those very first issues. since then, the skills have trickled down to me from meghan, as we've continuedto incorporate letterpress into every issue. we are so grateful to people like jim and barbara who've shared their knowledge with us, and taken the time to support the creature in such a practical way.

Meghan:

i love that everything in our conversations has been lowercase, when did this become your mode of written communication?  "we write everything lowercase in order to save time." --herbert bayer teehee-nothing we do saves time and if i had a penny for every minute i spent decapitalizing docs and bios! (i'd be rich in pennies, still poor in time.)what does the future look like for harlequin? Hannah:short term? Launches on both sides of the Atlantic for issue 5.5-a special issue, called "words in revolution," which is a vinyl of spoken word by a select group of (mostly) NYC based artists. Issue 6 sees our first venture into the awesome world of children's literature. we also have some plans up our sleeve for some very limited edition artist books, and letterpressed translations. our children's typewriter workshops continue - their imaginative writing is always an inspiration. Long term? we have sooo many ideas that range from realistic, to pipedream, so watch this space!Meghan: what is your biggest dream/wish/desire for harlequin creature? to make it into the archive.

what kind of fanmail do you receive?Hannah:

fanmail! ha! we do get the odd fan email...does that count? our local bookstore in ann arbor, Literati, is a great suporter of h.c. and every now and then we get an email from someone who has spotted the creature there and wants to know more. meghan and i are both big fans of the letter, so fanmail is always welcome.Meghan: if harlequin was a sundae, what toppings would it have? the unlikely and difficult kinds. like fig compote or pomegranate seeds. maybe also bacon, but 2/3 of our editors are vegetarian.

what is the best way for someone to become involved with harlequin creature?Hannah:

we're always happy to have typists at typing bees across the country (no previous experience require!) and of course for writers & artists, consider submitting! And we're open to different collaborative projects too - just get in touch.Meghan: what are some things you have learned over the years through creating the journal? that i really and truly do not know how to use the internet. that writing in all lower case pisses people off for some reason. that making a beautiful product that i am proud to contribute to the world and which others seem to appreciate does not necessarily mean people will buy it and sometimes that's ok.

any other thoughts/doodles.sketches.cross-stitching I should know about?

Hannah: a sketch of lines, squares, circles and a triangle.Meghan: oh yes! i like circles, triangles, squares.

Definitely check them out, and I suggest preordering their next issue because these sell out fast! What can you expect from Issue 6?

Hannah: issue 6 is dedicated to children's literature - both by adults and kids for kids! meghan and i have just finished working through through the submissions and are now super excited by the issue that has emerged. we think it'll be a hit with both kids and those who've not lost their sense of imaginative adventure.Meghan: next an upcoming issue is focused on work for children, is this something that is important to your vision for hc? hc is one part journal 2 parts community outreach. we conduct a variety of creative writing workshops for children with our typewriters and it's handsdown the most gratifying thing we do. making a journal like hc can sometimes feel like a selfish endeavour, somehow, but bringing the typewriters into a room of children and watching how effective the machines are at inspiring creative work makes me feel like we are onto something.

It was an absolute joy to correspond with Meghan and Hannah of harlequin creature and I’m preordering Issue 6 for my youngest brother today!

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About Author

Editor of Games Section. Expert on chronic/terminal illness. Collector of Illness Comics. Chicagoan. Jewish. Gay.

3 Comments

  1. Al, this was so cool, and I love that you scanned the correspondence rather than typing it into WP!