Austin McManus, the man behind the San Francisco ‘zine company The Flop Box knows how to stay busy. He recently started curating monthly art shows at FREEGOLDWATCH in San Francisco, and managed to churn out two new ‘zines recently despite also preparing for a split show and joint ‘zine project with close friend Brandon Chuesy, as well as a solo photography show in Japan at the end of summer. Woah. For what Austin refers to as “seven foggy years,” The Flop Box has been putting out ‘zines filled with photographs, graffiti and artwork from his Bay Area friends and acquaintances. He recently took the time to tell me a little bit more about how he juggles everything.
AM: First off, tell me a little about yourself.
AMM: I am tall. I’ve been an occupant of planet Earth for 29 years. The seven most recent years were spent residing in San Francisco. I quit college several credits away from graduating. I am currently a freelance photographer, graphic designer, publisher, and curator. I haven’t had a “real job” in three years and feel fortunate to not have a structured schedule. I spent five months of 2009 bedridden, wondering if I was gonna live the rest of my life in horrifying pain. I like grainy black and white film and dislike bulky cameras. I ride a bike every day of the week and want to wear a new pair of socks for the rest of my life.
AM: When did you start making ‘zines?
AMM: I have been making ‘zines for six or seven years now. Seeing older kids making punk rock and graffiti ‘zines when I was younger in Los Angeles probably had a large impact on me. My brother used to mail me these obscure conceptual graphic design ‘zines he was making in the early 90′s as well. It wasn’t until I moved to the Bay, though, that I got obsessed with them. My friend Pez has had a huge influence on me. One day he came over to my house and gave me a stack of ‘zines from his archives, and I knew I had my work cut out for me. My love for independent publishing grows stronger everyday as the power of Internet photo sharing becomes more commonplace. You don’t have to work for your advertisers and anyone can do it. I suggest you go make one right now. I’m waiting.
AM: What materials do you use?
AMM: Anything that I can get my hands on. Offset printers, photocopy machines, home printers, long arm staplers, industrial paper cutters, stencils, silkscreen presses, Gocco printers, etc.
AM: How long does it typically tell you to assemble a ‘zine?
AMM: Anywhere from one day to one year, depending if there are other artists involved or if it’s just a personal ‘zine. Supplies are currently acquired through a generous barter system.
AM: How do you select the artists you work with?
AMM: All the artist who have had ‘zines on The Flopbox are San Francisco artists and personal friends. The original idea for the site was to utilize the Internet and offer something of tangible value, giving access to people outside of San Francisco.
AM: What has been the most fun one for you to put together?
AMM: They have all been very enjoyable. The ABC #2 ‘zine was great, though. I gave each artist different direction and some absolutely none. Everyone who contributed to that ‘zine sent me top-notch sketches. It was really interesting to see how far the artist would take a single letter of the alphabet. After twelve months of harassing people to give me drawings, it became an exercise in patience. There were many writers that I wish would have contributed and that I asked to be in it. But, some people are too cool for school sometimes and you know how artists tend to be…flakey.
AM: How difficult was it for you to get your materials stocked in stores – do you rely solely on online sales? Does it end up being cost-effective for you or just something you enjoy doing?
AMM: In S.F. it’s easy. I walk into the store, hand them ‘zines, they hand me money, and we thank each other. That’s San Francisco though, they know me here, and are willing to support local folk making things. As far as other cities and countries, it’s difficult. There is this worthless middleman called a distributor. Cut the middleman out if you’re not producing large quantities of product. I was in Japan recently and brought a large box of ‘zines with me. Not only my own, but ‘zines from several different artists. I had generous Japanese friends take me around to stores where they knew shop owners for meet and greets. The same scenario always arises. They tell me I need to have a distributor. People say “Oh, we would love to carry these and want to, but, we only really deal with distributors.” Even if I’m standing there with ten different products, from ten different artists, right in front of the buyer. I’m still trying to figure out what the difference is between what I do versus a distributor. They would suggest to go all the way back to the U.S. and sell it to a distributor for practically nothing, so it can get shipped all the way back over, so they can be charged more than I’m charging?. This is bad business practice in my eyes, and so impersonal.
I would say 75% of the ‘zines sell over the web, though. The demand over the Internet is high enough now that I don’t really have to deal with stores to much. Profits are minimal and the craft, rewarding.
AM: What other ‘zines from the past did enjoy the most?
AMM: Finding a good ‘zine is a real treasure hunt. I think every ‘zine in my collection is my favorite. The more limited and smaller pressing they are, the luckier I feel to have gotten my hands on them. I have run out of space on the shelves, I’m starting to fill boxes.
To order zines and find out more, visit The Flop Box