Subverting stale, pale, male publishing with Orlando
It’s currently a golden period for female-led zine publishing, and given the super-abundance of interesting, creative, funny mags out there, it can be difficult for newcomers to start out. Orlando, currently on its second issue, aims to provide something new to an already crowded publishing landscape.
Founder Philomena Epps, 24, tells me a quotation from the Caribbean-American writer and radical feminist Audre Lorde provided the inspiration for Orlando. “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”, she explains. “I wanted to create a publication that was fluid, generated by multiplicity, and committed to evolution rather than remaining static.”
Fittingly, for a publication which aims to connote a sense of sea-change and fluidity, Orlando takes its name from Virginia Woolf’s most protean of characters: the hero/heroine of 1928 modernist classic Orlando. A landmark work for contemporary students of gender studies, the book’s eponymous protagonist, Orlando, shifts forms and genders as he/she time-travels through English literary history, all the while refusing to gender-conform.
Issue 01 of Orlando (Epps describes the founding issue as a “prototype”) takes the idea of “considering the past through the lens of the present” as its theme. Features include a take on Patricia Cronin’s Shrine for Girls and Herstory by Alice Wroe, a powerful essay addressing what it’s like to study a history curriculum that marginalises and reduces the experience of women and people of colour.
Orlando is an ambitious project, and at times you’re reminded that it’s a project in its infancy, one which would benefit from a tighter edit and paring back of the sometimes difficult language. Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to read a publication which is clearly so dedicated to a careful and involved understanding of how history can be re-read to understand contemporary culture (a theme Woolf would have approved of herself heartily). To find out more, we spoke to Epps over email, to find out what it takes to stand out in the crowded zine landscape and why self-publishing is so important for women.
Hi Philomena, thanks for talking to me. How did you come to set up Orlando?
I set up Orlando in December 2014, in resistance to mainstream media, and to initiate a platform that dispelled false binaries in favour of a united readership. It is a multifaceted publication – online, offline, and most recently, hosting events. It is self-funded, self-published, and self-distributed. Both print issues have been limited edition, printed in a short run of 200, non-commercial, anti-corporate, and with no advertising. Due to the fact it is a non-profit pursuit (all money generated from sales feed back into printing costs, distribution and web hosting), there are no ‘official’ business targets or deadlines to be met, so it is irregular in terms of production and often experimental in format. I published Issue 0 as an experiment at the end of 2014, which I titled ‘proto’, due to the fact it was a prototype in both style and subject. At the same time, I launched the website, which is designed as an ongoing conversation. I focused primarily on the website throughout 2015, while working on the seeds of a new issue, which came to fruition this month – Issue 01. Orlando is a passion project that I undertake alongside my working life.
Do you feel that Orlando is almost too self-consciously academic? Does this risk excluding certain voices?
I don’t feel that Orlando is too self-consciously academic. It is critically engaged but everything is presented in an open-minded and accessible manner that doesn’t require specific knowledge. There are no prerequisites for being an Orlando reader or collaborator. I don’t want to exclude voices from debates. My background is in academic studies of history of art and literature, but I’m just the editor, and that isn’t the case for the contributors. Orlando is made out of multiple cooperative voices. Any potentially academic ideas that are mentioned are motivated by and centred on resistance to oppression and on disrupting the canon, rather than to be elitist or exclusionary. I hope that the content casts refreshing light on potentially old attitudes and ideas.
Why is it important for women to self-publish?
Self-publishing as a woman is a radical and feminist act. It subverts the stale, pale, male status quo.
What do you think about the current contemporary zine landscape? Is it possible this is a zeitgeist that will burn out?
I think its brilliant – zines are a powerful means to create one’s own culture and glitch the establishment. People are quite rightly frustrated with mainstream media and commercial large-circulation outlets that marginalise, mute and manipulate. The current DIY print landscape is empowering individuals and collectives in authentic and important ways. Sick of being misrepresented, they are representing themselves, and offering perspectives not usually seen in the mass media on issues surrounding race, sexuality, politics, and much more. There is also a lot of solidarity and camaraderie within the community; people see one another as allies rather than competitors. I’m not sure if it will burn out. If you think about it, the tradition and politics of self-publishing, such as the distribution of radical pamphlets, has existed for as long as the printing press. William Blake self-published!
Who is the typical Orlando reader?
There is no typical reader – Orlando has the ability to engage with as many people as possible, both on and offline. I think that is reflected in the type of spaces that stock the magazine too, ranging from museums, to newsagents, to anarchist bookshops. I don’t see myself as an editor, more as a facilitator. My editing on texts is minimal. Even if I have invited an individual to contribute, I insist that it is their space to say whatever they want, in their own words. Since it launched, 60 people have contributed to both print issues and the website combined. Due to the range of content published, each new person brings a different readership. I am excited for the number of contributors to carry on growing as more people generously share their work and ideas through collaborations and submissions. I always want Orlando to be evolving.
Visually, the layout of Orlando is much more neatly ordered than the DIY punk/stapled together zines we’re more commonly used to seeing. Why is this?
My visual inspirations include periodicals from art history, such as Merz, alongside other twentieth century modernist design, Japanese photo-books, and second-wave magazines like Shrew and Spare Rib. I do think cut and paste, Xerox printed, hand illustrated zines are brilliant, but it would have been disingenuous if I had eschewed my other design inspirations, and recreated that punk aesthetic just to assimilate. I think zines are changing now too, there is an increase in more polished objects, or some which retain a consistent look and feel. Issue 01 is also large format, and the paper is deliberately floppy and malleable, so you can fold it or roll it up like a newspaper. It is neat, but I’m not precious about how it is read or preserved. I would be happy to see people tear them up and make them into collages or posters, if they wanted!
Orlando Issue 01 is out now. To order a copy, visit www.weareorlando.co.uk