One of the most inspiring aspects of the self-publishing community is the support creators provide for each other. Whether it’s zines, comics, poetry, or essays, self-publishers are always willing to offer advice, resources, and anything they can to help. However, building connections can be difficult, even in the era of twitter, which is where organizations like the Chicago Publisher’s Resource Center (CHIPRC) come in.
John Wawrzaszek, CHIPRC’s Executive Director, founded the organization in 2013 as a space for self-publishers to build community, offer educational opportunities, and access resources that lend themselves to self-publishing. Wawrzaszek had long been an active participant in Chicago’s zine community as a zinester, Zine Fest organizer, and host of the reading series “Two Cookie Minimum.” An inspirational visit to Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center made Wawrzaszek realize that Chicago lacked a space that gathered the city’s wealth of resources, and helped zinesters grow. I spoke with Wawrzaszek over email about the membership drive he is currently running bring in new members, update resources and expand their programming.
Wawrzaszek described self-publishing as an act that “teeters between sharing publicly and creating personally…with many writers coming from academic backgrounds or holding jobs in a writing field, it’s a bit different than the world zinesters live in. I wanted to show that writers are writers, that at the core of it, it doesn’t matter if you self-publish or get published.” CHIPRC’s events reflect the diversity of Chicago’s larger publishing community. For example, the Wasted Pages Writing Workshop encourages writers to come together to teach and challenge each other, while readings and exhibitions offer creators opportunities to put new skills to work. “We like to show the trajectory of a project from process, creation and exhibition,” explained Wawrzaszek. “Public events not only showcase our community, but give the public, people who aren’t creators themselves, a way to share and witness the work that CHIPRC fosters.”
Most illustrative of this concept is the collaboration between Transit Residency and CHIPRC. Transit brings artists from outside the city to CHIPRC for a two-week stay, during which the artists use the center however they see fit. In 2015 CHIPRC welcomed Roman Muradov, whose reflection on the residency is available on Transit’s website. This year, illustrators Sarah McNeil and Chris Gooch traveled from Melbourne, Australia to the center. These artists “…turned the center into a pop-up studio, hanging prints and drawings on the wall, hosting a few workshops and open hours, and in the end they used our Risograph to print a short run comic that debuted at CAKE. The artists have been grateful for the opportunity to visit Chicago and use the space to focus on projects, and Chicago benefits from getting to meet and learn from new voices and artists.”
Of course, creators from Chicago also use CHIPRC’s space and resources with great success. Wawrzaszek introduced me to Cathy Hannah and Mia Van Beek, organizers of the Chicago Women’s Comics Collective (CWCC). Hannah founded CWCC in the spring of 2015, in hopes that she could create a space for cis and trans women artists to collaborate and inspire each each other. She was especially cognizant of the need for self-publishers to be present in the community to make their work visible, and saw CHIPRC as an obvious space for such a group.
CWCC meets monthly, and starts each gathering off with a drawing warm-up such as Pictionary or Exquisite Corpse. Then, depending on the artists in attendance, they offer advice and critiques of each other’s work, or start working on a new project. Prior to Token–a zine event in Chicago that takes place at Emporium, a local bar and arcade–CWCC put together a jam comic. “We put prompts in a hat,” explained Hannah, “and we had four different comics going, and they were so hilarious, so good. One was little mermaid in her room and she’s reading The Little Mermaid by Hans Christen Anderson and she’s like, this is bullshit. Then the comic turns into, I’ll show ‘em what a real little mermaid is!” The three three additional stories for the zine and sold the mini-collection at Token. Inspired by the excitement and spontaneity of the meeting, CWCC decided to create more jam comics, and future meetings will allow members to participate in their creation.
Hannah described CWCC as an evolving community whose work is enabled by CHIPRC’s existence. Calling Wawrzaszek a “precious zine community gem,” she encouraged other local artists to bring new ideas to CHIPRC, whether they are groups, workshops, or exhibitions. “If you have an idea for anything and you need help,” said Hannah, “that space is perfect. Give them all your money and approach them with all your ideas.”
Visual artists and writers can become members of CHIPRC through the Indiegogo. Tiers include memberships of various lengths, which give users access to CHIPRC’s space and resources during open hours, as well as help the center expand their resources, workshops and programs. For readers who are equally invested in Chicago’s self-publishing community, the Indiegogo offers tiers such as Zine Pack! which includes not just comics, but Mad Libs!