Culture News

Aaron Johnson's Zine Collection

Roosevelt Row's Lawn Gnome is about to be infused with owner Aaron Johnson's personal collection of self-published zines from authors all over the globe. 

The 29-year-old is an internationally traveled slam poet and fixture of the downtown Phoenix art scene -- and he's a longtime zine aficionado.

Since 2004, the wordsmith says he's self-published five zines of his own work, helped over 40 others get published, and amassed around 300 zines in his personal collection. As Johnson builds more shelves into his used bookstore, he says that the collection will be stocked, priced, and ready for visitors to buy.

Johnson's definition of "zine" includes informational packets, monthly local publications, illustrative art along with more traditional chapbook-style offerings of poetry and creative writing. And while Zines typically print in batches of 20 to 100 per edition, a few (like Johnson's own Rights for Lefty) have thousands of copies. 

He says the distinction between zines and other forms of publication is "the freedom ... the personal touch" a zine provides, a certain DIY, "anything goes" aesthetic. Designs can include transparency inserts, cartoons, photos -- or that lo-fi, "I Xeroxed this at Kinko's today" feel.

Pricing will range by quality, Johnson says, with "the cheap-o" ones selling at $3 - 5 and better produced zines, along with limited runs by better-known artists, will sell between $8 - 25. "I treat them [high-quality zines] more like art books," he says.

Although his shelves house used books, local crafts, and traditional magazines for now, "[t]he whole purpose of this bookstore is to sell zines," Johnson says. "[Used books] are a supplement to sell the zines."

Some personal favorites from his collection:

Freshwater Dredge, an Albuquerque author's musings about life and childhood in Massachusetts. Johnson raptly describes its design: Brilliant, clean typeface on one hundred percent recycled paper, with a "stardream felt" cover and diagrammed maps of the author's home state.

- The satirically titled Poetry, made by an Omaha performance artist, with no words inside. Instead, dozens of glossy screenshots from Pee-wee's Big Adventure.

Answers to a Child's Questions About Death, an informational pysch booklet that includes author's phone number in case concerned parents want to know more.

"My favorite ones are always the ones from my friends, because I always have more of a connection to them," he says. "You get a sense of what kind of knowledge that person has. Plus, there's no middle man. You can just cut the publisher out ... [t]he sole purpose is getting people thinking about change."

Johnson doesn't think the collection will be hard to sell, but might be a little hard to part with. (Though he does note he's made copies of most his collection already). And as an author, Johnson doesn't mind if people copy his zines -- he's seen ripped off copies of Rights for Lefty before. 

"It's like burning a CD and passing [it] on," he says. "It's still spreading the word. So yeah, copy away! Zines are the new MP3s."

Johnson hopes Lawn Gnome will become the Valley's zine HQ, where new authors can be sold and hold zine release parties. This week, local author Lauren Perry will release Horror Couture, which Johnson describes as a chapbook of "zombie erotica," at Lawn Gnome's weekly poetry slam.

"I'm very excited to be one of the first to publish in that genre," he says, laughing, wading in a pile of Xeroxes and Stardream paper. "That's sort of the beauty of zine publishing."

Lawn Gnome Publishing is at 1015 N. First St. in Phoenix. It's open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.. For more info, call (602) 721-9175

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Tye Rabens