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I've had a few people tell me that Microcosm has issues and shouldn't be representative of the zine world - too capitalist, sell-out, some personal issues with the founder.

Now being that I am on the other side of the world, and my main connection with zines is as a reader, I'm not aware of any of the context around Microcosm or their supposed controversy. As far as I know, they're one of the bigger zine distros, bit of a brand name, they've got tons of stuff, and the founder and his ex had big personal issues (as related in Brainscan).

Could someone fill me in? Someone once told me "you, MTV, and Microcosm are what's wrong with the DIY world" which amused, bemused, and confused me all at once.

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yeah, thanx Ciara. i read all those articles in their entirety, which i'd never seen before. i know i posted just before, but wanted to add to it.

i hold by what i said as far as micro not being sky-people. they're not rich, and as far as i know, they have fine business practices.

so what about the personal stuff? it's a tough call. i know people on both sides of it. i know people who boycott microcosm, i know people who work for microcosm. whether or not joe would say he IS microcosm, whether or not he would say he is the face of it, he is. he's the head honcho. he's the one i always see tabling at zinefests. but, that said, i also know sparky and matt, and other people who work with/for microcosm. so i wouldn't say it's "joe's distro".

so are we arguing about joe's personal life/actions, or are we arguing about his business practices? or are they same thing? it's tricky.

i know joe, have known him a long time. but i also know alex. have known her a long time too. i just sent her my zine last week. i've not read that particular issue of brainscan, and have tried hard to stay neutral throughout this. have tried to say friends with both. neither joe nor alex has ever been anything other than awesome to me. maybe if i was best friends with either of them, i'd be on their side. but i'm just moderate friends with both of them. am i taking the easy way out by not choosing a side?

it's all tough. and i feel weird talking about names and personal things in a public forum. i guess i'd just like to state that i can't speak for joe, or his personal life. i'm not on his 'side', or any side as far as that goes. but as for the business side of microcosm, i'd say they do fine, as best they can from what i know. each of us, as individuals i guess, have to decide if the personal lives of business owners are bothersome enough to us to cause us to boycott them.
Billy - I think the problem is, especially with men, is that they may not understand the horror of emotional abuse. As a woman i feel that lining the pockets (the amount of money irrelevant) of a known abuser is a really shitty thing. Like the person who posted that blog post said that they avoid known fucked up companies like Proctor & Gamble... it's pretty much the same thing.

I will admit, that I do order from Microcosm from time to time... even as a distro owner. I feel excessive guilt each time i do it. But they have zines that i want to read, very badly (and have not found personal contact info for to order direct from the zinester). Also, i want to keep Cometbus and On Subbing in stock at Click Clack and have no knowlege of other places i can turn. (Especially when Microcosm puts out On Subbing.. it really only makes sense to purchase it from the source).

I guess i wrongly justify my purchases because i think "Well, i met Sparky years ago, and she was extremely hospitable when i stayed at her house." or "Stephen came to the Richmond zine fest and he was super nice." But, i have to remind myself that i am still supporting an abuser who tried to change the history of Microcosm by ignoring the hard work that Alex put into the company.
... is anyone ever allowed to "grow" from life's experiences? When I was seven I shot and killed a beautiful bluejay with a slingshot and marble. Minutes later when I realized what I had done, I felt completely miserable and cried like mad. Since then I have _never_ "hunted" any living creature and am today a practicing vegetarian.

Am I forever a bad person? Or will I always be looked on as a human who kills animals?
I suppose it depends on whether you learnt from the experience (like you have, clearly) and how you behave in life from then on. We've all had our fuck-ups, but even more important than that is how we move on from there.

Blake said:
... is anyone ever allowed to "grow" from life's experiences? When I was seven I shot and killed a beautiful bluejay with a slingshot and marble. Minutes later when I realized what I had done, I felt completely miserable and cried like mad. Since then I have _never_ "hunted" any living creature and am today a practicing vegetarian.

Am I forever a bad person? Or will I always be looked on as a human who kills animals?
I guess the difference is you were a seven year old.

But anyway, I echo the statement of feeling reaaaally weird and awkward about discussing something like this in public.
But then again, I also feel weird about discussing suicide and depression. And those things need to be discussed. So... I don't know.

Blake said:
... is anyone ever allowed to "grow" from life's experiences? When I was seven I shot and killed a beautiful bluejay with a slingshot and marble. Minutes later when I realized what I had done, I felt completely miserable and cried like mad. Since then I have _never_ "hunted" any living creature and am today a practicing vegetarian.

Am I forever a bad person? Or will I always be looked on as a human who kills animals?
NicoleIntrovert said:
the problem is, especially with men, is that they may not understand the horror of emotional abuse.

sorry, I liked the brainscan issue about emotionnal abuse, and if "like" isn't the good word to say it, I think this zine is really well-writen and shake me : it helped me to learn I was kind of manipulative with some people, to fix it I guess. well, no one is perfect.

but I'm sick of the "male can't understand" rhetoric, actually it sounds like feminism was the master argument to close a conversation. yes, broadcasting culture tend to teach males to don't worry about feelings, just as it teach females to be strong at work, grow childrens AND be a living sextoys. I think feminism is a way to fight that "idea" of gender, and I think it should stand for both sex/gender. please don't be sexist.


Microcosm is a good publisher anyway, mostly because of Stolen sharpie revolution. so what ? microcosm became one of the biggest zine/book publisher, but alex wrekk is a legendary zinester and she now publish the book by herself. we can't handle the personal stuff in the middle of that. I admit the logo issue wasn't fair.
Yeah, I agree Giz. People can make stupid or insensitive comments when they don't understand abuse, definitely, but I think that statement was sexist and not really relevant to anything that was said.

We've all done shitty stuff. I guess judging a stranger it's just how much you've been told, how much you accept as fact, the nature of that information, and how much that is going to affect your ability to relate to them (including stuff like buying from their distro). I've always seen microcosm as a business and nothing else, since I pretty much assume size would prevent them from being as personal as other distros with zine writers, and definitely customers.

Does anyone else feel like the DIY/zine scene does drama better than any other group? In the sense that everyone wants an equal say, regardless of how ill-informed they may be (in regards to the issue at hand, or the political viewpoint they picked up five minutes ago), and a lot of the people involved have an incredibly complex personal dogma that includes everything you could possibly imagine except for an ethos of reasonable freedom of choice. (I say this in regards to all the corporate sellout stuff.)
It's different because you are admitting what you did is fucked up, and have worked on ways to better yourself.

The person we are speaking of has not taken responsibility for his actions. But from what i have been told, there are some people who are trying to work with him on holding him accountable and hopefully some good will come of that.

Blake said:
... is anyone ever allowed to "grow" from life's experiences? When I was seven I shot and killed a beautiful bluejay with a slingshot and marble. Minutes later when I realized what I had done, I felt completely miserable and cried like mad. Since then I have _never_ "hunted" any living creature and am today a practicing vegetarian.

Am I forever a bad person? Or will I always be looked on as a human who kills animals?
a few clarifications: abuse affects people of all genders. it is not just a man-abusing-women issue, & i do think that men can be victims & survivors of abuse. but it's also true that women are disproportionately victims/survivors of abuse (i use both terms because not everyone lives through abuse), & men disproportionately are inclined to sweep these issues under the rug, dismiss them as "personal problems," etc.

however, for the sake of this discussion, drawing lines in the sand long gendered lines is not really helpful, i think.

it is important to consider the ways that joe has used the microcosm business as a tool of abuse/manipulation, & the way he benefits from the good PR that microcosm generates for him, & how that enables him to continue evading accountability for his behavior. if joe were abusive to his partners & that was something that was completely separate from the microcosm business--the women he abused did not work for microcosm, he did not use microcosm to financially benefit (even at a sustenance level) from their artistic endeavors, he did not withhold wages & benefits from employees that crossed him, etc (these are all things he has done)--then maybe i could get behind an attempt to hold joe personally accountable for his abusive relationships & leave microcosm out of it. but because he uses microcosm to manipulate, control, & abuse people, joe & microcosm are sewn together. really, the best thing joe could do for microcosm if he's not going to be accountable for his actions, is to quit microcosm & leave it in the hands of people who want to do good, ethical things with it. but of course i don't see that happening.

joe has said that the problem with his abusive behaviors is not that he has perpetrated them; it's that people are talking about them. he has made it clear that he doesn't want people talking about this stuff because he worries it will hurt microcosm's reputation & perhaps his own personal reputation. & of course it will & has! & more importantly, it SHOULD. if he's going to use his business as a tool of abuse & manipulation, the business is going to suffer when people find out.

oh, & lest anyone think this is sour grapes grousing from someone else who runs a distro...i shut down paper trail a couple of weeks ago. & i have never begrudged microcosm any financial success. if you can find a way to (ethically) monetize zines...more power to you. joe is many unfortunate things, but i don't think he is a "sell-out".

one last example of the way joe has weaved together microcosm & his personal life in such a manner that makes it almost impossible to judge one without involving the other...in the early 00s, microcosm distributed my zines. joe contacted me & wanted to order another hundred copies. i told him they were $1 each & he could write me a check. he spun me a sob story about his house needing a new water heater & some other repairs & him not having the money & could i lower the price or accept trade instead? this went on for maybe a month, with joe wanting zines but not wanting to pay for them because of his personal financial constraints. having run a distro myself for seven years, i find this type of behavior really unprofessional. shit happens & sometimes money is tight & paying zinesters doesn't come first. but when that happens, you have to accept that zinesters are under no obligation to send you zines for free! it was like pulling teeth to get joe to accept the fact that i expected to be paid for the zines he wanted to buy from me & sell to others. he seemed to think i should cut him a break out of the goodness of my heart or something.

on a related note, another friend of mine was distributed by microcosm until she found herself homeless & financially unable to make the photocopies necessary to fill joe's re-order request. she asked him to sit tight on the re-order until her homelessness/financial situation was more stable, & he flipped out on her, called her unprofessional, & said that microcosm wouldn't work with her anymore if she couldn't get her shit together to do re-orders when requested. these stories illustrate the flip sides of how joe handles the folks he works with: he wants special favors & breaks when he's in a tough spot, but is unwilling to extend that courtesy to others.

i haven't ordered from or had anything to do with microcosm in almost ten years. my distro flourished for seven years without me buying anything from microcosm. when i wanted a zine microcosm published, i ordered directly from the zinesters who had written the zines, & they were happy to sell to me. joe issued me a very weird "cease & desist" order sometime in 2006, requesting that i order microcosm-published titles only from microcosm. he went on to elaborate that he considers those zines "his" because he paid to have them printed. i told him i wouldn't carry titles microcosm published at all if i couldn't get them from the zinesters directly, & that my distro sought to support zinesters directly & not enrich microcosm. he eventually backed down. but this story clarifies that joe sees other distros as competition & perceives of microcosm's publishing efforts as at least a small way to control said competition, & that joe has weird control issues & seems to think that he can purchase ownership of other writers' creative efforts by paying for their publishing. i have talked to MANY, MANY zinesters over the years who have said that they wouldn't have their zines distributed by microcosm if there were other distros that could buy 100 copies at a time. i have talked to microcosm authors who looked high & low for other publishing avenues before settling on microcosm because they offer an especially generous pay scale for their authors. these people wanted to avoid working with microcosm because they didn't want to work with joe. a few microcosm authors have broken with microcosm specifically because they want to avoid association with joe. joe's identity is fundamentally tied up with the microcosm name, & it's not a good thing for microcosm, both due to his behavior in his personal life, the way he treats microcosm authors & zinesters, & the manner in which he manipulates the business to his own benefit.

so yeah, this shit matters, & it should be discussed, publicly, & maybe it's an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but...too bad. good for the folks that have had positive interactions with microcosm &/or joe, but your positive experiences don't erase the many, many terrible experiences that others have had. & if all of this is new information to you, that may be due to joe's tendency to track down & intimidate people who have anything negative to say about him or microcosm. he actively works to silence dissent, & as a result, many people are afraid to come forward with negative experiences they have had. & then the next person who has a negative experience doesn't realize that they are not alone. i have been pretty vocal in calling out joe/microcosm for years (some of my shitty experiences happened way back when alex was still involved with microcosm--i have never been a microcosm fan), & i have gotten dozens of e-mails over the years from people who didn't realize that their bad experiences were part of a larger pattern. it reminds me uncannily of when i started calling rich mackin out as a sexual assaulter in 2002 & was swamped with e-mails from women all across the country whom he has assaulted, all of whom thought they were alone, the only ones. this is what abusers do: they control people, they hurt people, & then they control the discourse around the way they hurt people. they cast their behavior as personal, private, & they portray people who discuss their experiences openly as unseemly gossip mongers. sound familiar? this is exactly what joe is doing. & the only hope for any kind of accountability from him is for people to stop giving him a free pass because, "hey, i ordered from microcosm & my order came pretty fast," or, "that on subbing book they did was pretty awesome." that's great, but it doesn't change facts:

joe is an abusive, manipulative, controlling individual who has scuttled all attempts at accountability thus far, & he uses microcosm to shield himself from criticism, & as a tool to extend the reach of his manipulative, abusive, controlling tactics. bottom line.
I know nothing to add to the discussion, but for the first time i discovered & actually just happened to be about to buy via microcosm. I will read the above comments carefully beforehand, so while I will still probably get some zines, I want to say thankyou everyone for taking the time to put down their thoughts & so on.

Zac Candy. said:
NicoleIntrovert said:
I think the problem is, especially with men, is that they may not understand the horror of emotional abuse.
What an ignorant thing to say.


Anyway, I oddly actually "got" Ciara for once, if that homeless story is true - that's awful!
I try to stay out of other people's personal relationship drama, I'm actually pretty turned off that people want to discuss it here unless both parties are OK with what happened in their relationship being discussed in a public forum and both sides are presented equally. I also have to question the motives behind people bringing it up that run other competing zine distros or have years of bad blood and an axe to grind.

As a publisher and a zine distro, Microcosm has been a big boost for the zine community, especially here in the Northwest. I don't personally know anyone involved beyond a few people that have had their zines and books published through them. So I really only feel qualified to say as a distro, they are great, stuff I order comes a few days later, that's pretty unheard of speed for a zine distro. And I like the fact that they were able to take indie zine distros to a new level that I hope has turned into a successful business. Much like Pete the Sticker Guy turned making stickers for punk bands into not only a full time job, but business where he could hire other people from the indie community. We don't always have to lose money or break even, that grinds you down and wears you out over the years. As someone that tried to take indie publishing to the next level in his own life by putting out a magazine and ended up $40,000 in debt when it failed, it's nice to see success stories for small indie businesses.

I've been screwed over by a bunch of zine distros and stores in the past, I'm all for pointing out those types of problems on getting paid if people can separate the personal drama from it.
ciaraxyerra said:

I question labeling something that is clearly an editorial and filled with personal opinion as "actual information, " especially when the person writing the editorial prefaces their opinion with "I do not pretend to know all of the details of any relationship..."

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