March 2, 2010
Alix McAlpine is a French-Texan chick. She is back today to examine the career of multi-talented art director, writer, and 'zine publisher Mike Ley.
Mike Ley is a pain: a complete overachiever who puts me to shame on even my most productive days. This 27-year old design junkie and bike enthusiast balances working as an associate art director at Field & Stream Magazine with contributing to the highly addictive back-patch blog Endless Blockades and the always on-point punk/new wave/garage blog Sweet Jams. He also publishes handmade books and ‘zines with the company he runs out of his Bushwick apartment, mlproject. While prepping for some new releases and the re-launch of the company’s website, Mike took a minute to answer some questions about his ‘zine-making past, present and future.
AM: When did you start making books and ‘zines?
ML: I started making ‘zines in middle school. The first one was a punk/oi thing called “Kick in the Face” and two issues came out. Like everyone else, I started it to get free CDs to review, but I ended up building it out with the obligatory show reviews, friends’ art and punk art history. Later on in high school, I published Dead in The Dirt, a graffiti magazine, with some friends, and that came out in four issues and a special half issue in 2001.
AM: How long have you been running mlproject?
ML: mlproject kicked off in 2003 while I was at Indiana University. I started working at the student newspaper, which reignited my interest in publishing, and there were a lot of other design mags popping up that were showcasing a lot of new talent. This inspired me to start State of Affairs, a project that I could work on with my friends that would teach me things about production and design that I wasn’t learning in class. This came out in 2004 and we sent it out free all over the U.S. Although lately I’ve been focused on publishing projects, mlproject has been the umbrella under which I’ve done all my side projects since the beginning, from throwing shows to collaborating on videos.
AM: What materials do you typically use?
ML: Most of my publishing projects tend to start with the materials more than the content. I’m interested in exploring the potential of different papers, printing techniques, binding and construction. Hand-binding the ‘zines and doing them in small runs makes it possible to include a lot of different papers, printing techniques and inserts that you can’t really do affordably or at all with commercial printing. I’ve used tons of different papers, plastics, transparencies, photos, competition rifle targets and more in a lot of different bindings from pamphlet stitching, saddle stitching, screw posts, staples, nail clips, a lot of different things. I love going into a supply store and checking out new materials and thinking about what they can become.
AM: How long does it usually take you to assemble a book? How much do the supplies cost you?
ML: It really depends on the project. Don’t Cry Tonight was fairly simple in the binding and trimming, but I did 200 copies. Some others were only done in runs of 25, but used a lot of different printing so the production took longer. It’s hard to think of an average with so many factors.
AM: What has been the most fun one to put together for you?
ML: Some of the ones that ended up not coming out. I have one that I’ve been working on for way too long with six photographers that looks amazing. At this point I’m simply struggling to find an affordable way to print it in a low run after my initial plan went bust. Concepting and working with these guys was the best, though. My recurring project Acid Test has been pretty fun to compile, as it’s mainly a visual collection of my exploration and research.
AM: How difficult was it for you to get your work stocked? Does it end up being cost-effective for you or just something you enjoy doing?
ML: Most places interested in small publishing are very receptive to the projects. Like me, a lot of people running distros or shops are extremely busy, so sometimes it takes a while for your pieces to be reviewed to be carried, but it’s not a huge deal. Likewise, some shops aren’t as organized on following up once things sell, so it can be time consuming to track everything. In the end, the online sales are the strongest, but working and networking with the shops is still fun in the end.
AM: Tell me about your upcoming projects.
ML: I’m working on the next issue of Acid Test, which is shaping up quite nicely. I’m aiming for 200-250 black and white pages with whatever else comes up. My parents recently sold the house I grew up in, so I dug through about twenty years of collections of things, so a lot of this is going to be part of that. Also on the edge is a reggae mix CD I did with Gloom from Louisville called ‘Bulldozer,’ a ‘zine of polaroids from Brooklyn photographer Josh Maupin, and an ode to the best eats in Bloomington: “Fax me a Strom” with Brooklyn photographer Adam Fithian. I’m also planning a more formal biannual effort called HOWL that I’m aiming to have out sometime late summer.
AM: How many brutal paper cuts have you gotten while working?
ML: I hate scissors and have really only used an x-acto knife for more than 10 years. Luckily I have only cut myself twice. Once when using a straight edge to trip some things while my finger was in the way and the other time I had my knife in my mouth while setting up the ruler and I sneezed. The x-acto fell out and stabbed me right in my leg. I presented that piece at critique with a giant bloodstain on my jeans.
For more photos, news, and ordering information visit mlproject