Robbie Pfeffer sits on the couch at The Fixx Coffee Bar in Tempe on a recent Saturday night, talking about Tempe Starving Artist, the 'zine he launched in December 2009. TSA showcases the works of local creatives, from poetry and short stories to interviews with bands and black-and-white photo spreads of paintings. Many of the original paintings hang on the wall at The Fixx, where Pfeffer, 21, is a manager.
Since its debut, for which Pfeffer printed 100 copies, Tempe Starving Artist has grown to include color, and the print run for the latest issue was 1,200 copies. The free 'zine is distributed at more than 40 Valley locations, including spots like Revolver Records, Cartel Coffee Lab, and MADE Art Boutique.
Pfeffer, wearing eyeglasses and dressed in blue jeans, a T-shirt depicting a cartoon version of Bob Marley, and a black baseball cap over his fluffy mop of red hair, says the 'zine's success has been totally unexpected and largely accidental. "It's incredible, but kind of weird at the same time," he says. "This was never intended to sustain itself. It wasn't supposed to go beyond the 100 issues we initially printed."
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"Our original intent was to make it really bad and shock and offend people — the first issue had a comic called 'Cancer Boy,' about a kid with this huge tumor on his head . . . We've come a ways from that," Pfeffer adds with a chuckle. "To our surprise, people liked it and wanted to contribute. So we switched to showcasing stuff. It's really about what I think is cool."
And what Pfeffer thinks is cool is independent art, literature, and music. One of his favorite contributors to TSA is poet Danny Valdez. "He's just incredible. Anything by him is very Bukowski-esque, no strings attached," Pfeffer says. Band interviews highlight indie acts both local (Peachcake, Owl & Penny) and national (Busdriver, No Age). Local artists whose works have been featured in TSA include painters Casebeer, Jamie Fontana, and Hugo Medina and photographers Kevin Tantillo and Sean Deckert.
"It shocks me, the variety of styles and talent in a place not particularly known for it," Pfeffer says, adding that Tempe Starving Artist turned him on to the idea of making a show out of painters creating in front of an audience — which is one of many events tied to TSA at The Fixx. Pfeffer's also been booking music shows at the venue, in between working 13-hour shifts there, returning to Arizona State University to study urban planning, and producing TSA every month out of a Scottsdale office. (Disclosure: Pfeffer also contributes a comic called "Noise Complaint" to New Times' music blog, Up on the Sun.)
He doesn't own a car, which makes things even more challenging. "I basically work every day, all day," Pfeffer says. But it's worth it to see TSA's continued growth. "We haven't hit a wall yet," he says. "I think that's the craziest part for everyone who's been involved since the beginning." — Niki D'Andrea