beer tops

STUPOR: Birth and Evolution and Brightly Colored Future

Stupor began in 1995. It wasn’t my idea. My good friend Bill Rohde came up with it. He roped me in. At the beginning, I didn’t really get it. I’m sure I knew what a zine was, but I didn’t own any. Still I liked the idea of guerilla publishing and doing your own thing, so I wrote a story about my favorite local bar, and Bill wrote a couple short pieces. We got together one afternoon, drank some beers, and laid out our first Stupor. Bill sprung for the printing of the first issue himself. I think he made 70 copies at Kinkos. This is back when the machines could print with single color inks. Stupor #1 was entirely blue and white. It was 17 inches tall and 5.5 inches wide. It was sleek and beautiful. It fit fantastically on the back of a toilet.

Issues 2 through 4 were more of a balanced collaboration. I worked on the layout and helped gather edgy, freaky confessional stories from our friends. By luck and good connections, I also figured out a way to print 1000 copies of each issue for the cost of 2 cases of beer. I think we also paid for ink and paper, but, yes, it was a good deal. Bill and I distributed these for free all over New Orleans – at bars and coffee shops and record stores. I don’t remember collating and stapling them, but I’m sure we did that too. In the first 5 months of Stupor we produced four issues. Then we both moved away. Bill set out for Minnesota, and I was off to Hamtramck, a city inside Detroit.

By this time, Bill was done with Stupor. I kept going, but I missed his weird energy. Also, since I was new to the Detroit area, I no longer had freebee printing connections. Still, I managed to scam a deal on issue #5 and was able to get a 1000 copies for under $200 bucks. I was pretty happy about that, but then that connection dried up and I was barely working and suddenly if I was going to continue printing, I realized I was going to have to pay for it out of my own pocket. This caused me to rethink the direction of Stupor. The next issue marked a real change for the zine.

Factsheet 5 had this to say in their review #6, Oops, The Accident Issue:

“If you like personal tales, this comes pretty damn close to being a perfect zine. Steve picks a topic for each issue, then solicits stories from his readers. The best part is that he goes the extra mile and solicits tales from people he meets in Detroit area bars. He takes them down verbatim as people recall events from days gone by. He does little to clean them up, giving you the impression that you’re right there in the bar with them. The Frank confessional nature of these stories is very reminiscent of the tales that used to appear in Apology magazine. This is the Oops issue, and features stories of embarrassing accidents and horrible tragedies. Every story in here is just great, but they vary in length from an oversized page to the micro-sized anecdote. There’s a great long tale of getting shit faced at a Ramones concert and ending up in a horrible accident on the way home. Some of the better stories are more like second-hand tales (but not quite urban myths). I loved the bit about a woman who got a full set of piercings but suffered a tragic accident while drying her hair.”

I continued to collect all the stories for Issues #7 thru #9 from folks I met at bars. I used a pocket recorder. I scribbled some on napkins. Mainly, I did my best to drink as much as I could and still remember what was said and how it was said. These three issues are the most dramatic and kick ass of the older bunch. I focused a lot of time on writing the stories, and then collaborated on the layout with longtime friend and artist Tim Hailey. The printing turned out great too. Issues #2 through 9 were all done on an offset press. Each issue costing more than the last and each looking better than the last, until finally I was paying about $1,000/run. The increased cost made it all matter more. I was distributing them through Tower, and selling at small-press, indie book stores around the country.

After Issue #9 was published, in 2000, I took a break from Stupor. That year, my first kid was born. Then it seemed that all these people I knew were getting cancer and some died. So I dropped out for a while and quit writing and just worked a lot, doing construction. In 2004, longtime collaborator, Tim Hailey, in an attempt to resurrect the writer in me, asked if I’d like to collaborate on an art show he was doing in New York. He wanted me to put together a zine that connected to his piece — a recreation of the Civil War’s Battle of the Ironclads. At the time it seemed absurd, but it turned out to be an inspiring project. The resulting zine was sloppily laid out but later re-published in Crimewave USA and later re-published as a Stupor.

From 2004 through 2007, I produced about seven little Stupors. I shrunk my format to 11 inches tall by 4.25 wide. It occurred to me at the time that if I was going to keep on printing, then I needed a better and cheaper way to do it. I didn’t want to keep paying for large runs on offset presses. For one, offset jobs cost too much and also create a storage problem. The size change was effective. It allowed me run issues on demand on my multifunction office printer. It was way better than running to Kinkos every time I needed some. Beyond the size change, the issues in this period all have a similar look. That’s because I laid them out myself on my office floor, using old magazines. Mostly though, it was all me doing the art.

2008 was a big year in the life of Stupor. It all started when a storefront art gallery opened down the street from my house. The space quickly became a hub for artists in the neighborhood to gather and hang out and exchange ideas. I found my way there a lot, as I walked home from work, or maybe in the evening for openings. Soon they started selling Stupors, and all these artists that I’d been hanging out with began reading my zine. Around that time, I had this notion that it could be cool to work with a different artist on each issue of Stupor. It seemed like this sort of collaboration could make my project more relevant to a lot more people besides myself and my itty bitty audience. I first asked Teresa Petersen, whose art utilizes cut-and-paste collage from old catalogues. She liked the idea and thought it could be a fun experiment. So I drew up some basic instructions and wrote a short intro about her, and she ran with it. She did three issues in a month’s time. They looked great. Soon, I was engaging other artists to do layouts for my new issues. Their work gave Stupor a new wider audience and great new reason for being.

In 2010 I received a fellowship from the Kresge foundation. The following year, I got another grant that I used to publish Stupor: A Treasury of True Stories, a book that collects my work with artists from 2007 through 2011.

My new series, beginning in 2012, works again with themes. I’m still collecting stories from people I meet at bars, but now I’m grouping them based on certain thematic elements. I want my writing to connect directly to ideas or motifs that appear in each of my collaborating artist’s work. For example, when I worked with artist Mira Burack, I chose stories that contained bedding and sheets because these are elements that recur in her photo collages. I’ve become more selective and thoughtful about the writing for each issue. In turn, I’m able to better appreciate and connect with my collaborating artist and better explore and explain their work.

In 2012 I had the opportunity to work with filmmaker Matthew Barney. I was hired to clear the ground on the set of a film he was working on in Detroit. Later he agreed to lay out an issue of Stupor. The resulting issue is titled Washed in Dirt (stories about cars, blood and mud). With funds I raised in a Kickstarter campaign I was able to pay for a four-color offset printing. It looks great and made me realize that I need to continue publishing in color if I can.

In the fall of 2015, I was awarded a grant from the Knight Foundation to create 8 new issues of Stupor in two years all based on Hamtramck stories from Hamtramck bars, and laid out by Hamtramck artists. I’m not sure how I’m going to get this done. I’m so damn busy. As part of the grant, I’m making videos about each artist that’s doing the layout work. This was cool. It adds a new layer to the idea of collaboration. I’m also using my new video camera to collect stories. It’s a nice way to work and a hell of a lot more reliable than my memory.

So far in 2016, I’ve produced two videos and two full color zines. It’s been a banner year.