Filed under: Paper Pusher | Tags: East Village, New York City, Professor Dr. Dr. Zagreus Bowery, Public Illumination Magazine, zines
Below is a brief interview with Professor Dr. Dr. Zagreus Bowery, editor of Public Illumination Magazine (PIM) conducted via email.
Q: How did you organize the zines? Seeing as you had an open call but many return writers, how did you fit it all in?
A: A ruthless red pen and an editor’s sensibility.
Q: What’d you do with the content you turned down?
A: Regret that it didn’t fit.
Q: Are contributors international, or from a particular region?
A: Mostly US, some Italy.
Q: What inspired the beginning of this zine?
A: Collaboration with other artists.
Q: What spurred the themes?
Q: Are there any more recent issues from 2014?
A: “Fortune” is coming soon.
Q: Are there any other notes you have for me that are important about how you made the zine, its evolution, its importance, where it fits in or doesn’t with other zines, etc?
A: Dogged perseverance and a little help from my friends, 57 issues & 34 years later…
My adoration of Public Illuminations Magazine, or PIM, started several years ago when, against my instinctual avoidance of miniature items I might clumsily crush, I was drawn to the irrevocably small item at Printed Matter. The pocket-size, glossy pages of PIM were like a Siamese cat perched in a book shelf: camouflaged among its sculptural surroundings yet exotically deliberate.
PIM emerged in December 1979 for $0.50. It was a twelve-page booklet, edited by Professor Dr. Dr. Zagreus Bowery and created in Manhattan. The zine was an East Village staple throughout the 80s, printed first on Grand Street then on Lafayette. Starting in 1987, PIM was ejected from an Italian printer, and has been produced by Casa Sorci since 1996. The zine, hosting both art and writing acquired from open submissions, appeared at intentionally unpredictable intervals— what began as a monthly became bimonthly, then quarterly, bi-annually, and currently “occasionally” published. Less than ten issues total appeared in the 1990s, but the publication currently appears to be making a bi-annual comeback.
PIM’s compressed tangents, stuffed into a demure eleven-by-seven centimeter construct of varying page counts, are at the behest of singular themes. As far as I can tell, one aspect is exclusively non-negotiable: authors need only provide a pseudonym for their work. Current submissions have a maximum word count of 275, although originally 250 was the cap. Haikus, frank first-person renditions, and third-person mysteries are the meat of these coconuts. The ability to reduce each issue’s categorical framework, to chirp two-cents from global contributors with complete freedom, is the zine’s strength. In the past, they have taken on heavy topics such as “Contraception,” “The Truth,” “Cosmetic Mutilation,” and “Excess;” conversely, “Tongues,” “Vermin,” and “Fun” have also been addressed. Their editorial creed, which appears solely in issue 9 from September 1980, is a clear indication of their goals: to “[exist] on empathy,” publishing work “rendered with conviction, yet maintaining an observational distance” in order to provoke the reader.
The earliest issues from 1980 and 1981 are heavily saturated with images, including satirical imaginary advertisements created by Hignett’s for wart hogs (May 1980, issue 6, “Livestock”) and “vice vines” (August 1980, issue 8, “Habits”). With no tangible sponsors to consider, PIM’s format is an unwieldy nymph. The magazine’s alternative typography and page design are like irreverent, indecipherable conversations from a herd of cows— a disorienting snatcher of silence and order. Like my desire to fashion a font that expressed my psychic self in the fourth grade, however, these tactics reflect an evolving interest in stimulation, in ways in which text, image, and concept might unite. The first color issue, with violet blocks of color framing each page and accenting both visuals and text, appeared in May 1981 for issue 14, “Rejects.” The printing process continued to evolve from that moment: some issues became completely monochrome (July 1981, issue 16, “Pain & Sorrow,” among others); some embraced tricolor printing (September 1981, issue 17, “Excess,” for example). The most recent innovation has been the introduction of a patterned background repeated throughout, which first appeared in early 1993’s issue 41, “Underwear.” At the end of 1980, PIM began a subscription series, distributing to the likes of Zimbabwe, London, New York, and California, among others.
PIM continues to accept submissions from writers and artists, but the rules for anonymity still stand. Loyal contributors including Sparrow, Sophie D. Lux, U Bett, and Leadbilly counteract the fanaticism of celebrity scribblers with their wit. Staunch opinions and cerebral musings frame a collective consciousness seeking to infuse humor into listless, branded content. Thirty-four years worth of contributions emulsified this antipasti of the written word—you have your tart pickled peppers and fatty meats, slobbering tales told over two bottles of wine and brief conversations banished to the writer’s mind for analysis whilst walking to the train. To quote Drake, it was “more than what [I] bargained for and nothin’ less than real”—one steaming brick of experience.