I only exist in community, an interview with: Colin Hagendorf

Can a fanzine change the world?

I don’t prepare questions before interviews. This—I hypothesize—will allow my interlocutor, and not my notepad, to shape the conversation. When I get writer, podcaster, trans Jewess, and New Yorker in diaspora, Colin Hagendorf, on video for the newsletter, the one you’re reading now, I am not so much granted an interview as I am invited to a monologue. At the end, after close to an hour of listening, I told Colin I barely had to ask her any questions. Colin’s reply is something along the lines of, “The best people to interview are people who interview a lot of people.” Touché.

I first came across Colin’s Life Harvester fanzine at the Brooklyn bookstore-cum-café, Molasses. In one of the store’s corners is a pile of flyers and zines. I picked up a one-paged purple sheet that caught my eye and as I drank my iced coffee with oat milk, I read about Dan Klein, Colin’s friend who passed away in 2016. I was moved by this remembrance because it radiated warmth from the page, hitting on a tone that was sentimental but far from mawkish. Friends are your community and I see Colin’s vision of mutual aid as being inextricable from community and friendship. My conclusion might be reductive—and Colin might disagree or have a better way of articulating her politics—but the impression I am left with after reading over the transcript is that Colin is someone who cares immensely about raising up the people who make her feel hope in this world. 

Through her projects, the zine and the podcast, Colin pays that hope forward. Her goal, she says is, “just putting more weird shit into the world with the hope that it’ll make more weird shit.” And that’s something to admire. This is the longest interview on Insufficient Fare to date so maybe you should just skip my intro altogether and just read what Colin has to say for herself. 

Me: What’s your main project these days? What are you mostly churning out? 

Colin: The fanzine and the podcast, they each come out once a month. 

Me: Do you want to explain what the fanzine is? 

Colin: I’ve been doing zines for 25 years probably. Intermittently. I think I did the first one when I was 13. Zine making is not always the most consistent project. The last zine that I did was called Slice Harvester. It was a systematic review of every plain slice of pizza in Manhattan. It was real fun to do and it was a real nice reminder about how much I love writing. I had been in a sorta alcoholic funk prior to starting Slice Harvester. It was great to do something again and it was a great idea for a project. I didn’t even realize when I started it how big the appeal would be. People loved it. My rent was $400 at the time in this rent-stabilized apartment in Williamsburg that I had lived in forever. I was paying rent off of selling fanzines for a while. It was truly the childhood dream. 

Me: Wow

Colin: Then I got a book deal and I wrote a mediocre at best memoir about eating pizza and quitting drinking. I moved to Texas a few months after the book came out to Uhaul with my girlfriend at the time and then we moved here to Pittsburgh. We just broke up. Two years ago, I was feeling kind of bummed that I hadn’t really been writing—because I had been moving and figuring out some life shit—so I started an email newsletter.  I was like, “It’s so low-stakes. It doesn’t have to be good.” 

I was in New York in February of 2019 for my birthday and I was talking to my friend Aaron Cometbus who’s a zine guy. He owns a bunch of bookstores that maybe you’ve been to. He owns Book Thug Nation in Williamsburg and he owns Human Relations. He’s a very important figure in the zine world and a friend of mine and has been something of a mentor, idk, friendtor, most of my adult life in a really good way. It’s the most perfect intergenerational friendship. I was like, “Yo, AC have you been getting my emails? I signed you up for my email newsletter.” And he was like, “Oh, yeah, I have. I’m not gonna read them, though. You should just print them on paper and mail them to me.” And I was like, “Yea, OK. I could do that for you.” And then he was like, “Just print 10 copies and I’ll put them in the store.” He’s been trying to get me to do another fanzine since Slice Harvester. The whole time I was writing the book, we’d be taking...we’ve been taking these long walks for years and we’d be on our walks and I’d be telling him about the progress on the book and he’d be like, “OK, but when are you gonna do another fanzine?” And that was the perfect thing. I already had a few months’ worth written. I did a really cursory design in Microsoft Word, printed them out, and sent them to him. Then I was just like, “Oh, I’m just gonna do this every month. This is fun. I miss making zines.” That’s been the project. The joke in the name is that Slice Harvester was, conceptually, I was reviewing all these slices of pizza and then in Life Harvester, I’m just reviewing every facet of being alive. 

There’s this zine this guy Chris [Richards] does. He sang in that band Q and Not U and he writes for The Washington Post, the music section. He’s like a professional writer. [Ed: He has been the Post’s pop music critic since 2009.]  He does this zine that comes out quarterly called Debussy Ringtone that I saw a free issue of because my friend Shivaun Watchorn, who used to coordinate Maximum Rocknroll, and is the copy editor of the greatest current fanzine going, Demystification by Ambrose Nzams and Paula Martinez out of DC. Shivaun did this one-page zine swap in the first quarter of the pandemic, maybe, and I already had been doing the monthly one-page zine for over a year so I was like, “Oh, I definitely want to participate. I’ll get a bunch of new ones.” I knew I had friends submitting stuff that I was really excited about. Ambrose and Paula from Demystification, Layla Gibbon did something, my friend Talya Cooper did something. I knew there was gonna be good people and also some strangers. And Chris did this one-page zine. On the front were drawings of every band shirt he’s ever owned and they were numbered and then, on the back, was a numbered list, with a chronological explanation of where he got each one of them. It was just so good. The form was so good. And I wrote him a letter and was like, “Hey, this rules. It says on your thing that you do a zine that comes out regularly. Do you want to trade subscriptions?” 

Debussy Ringtone is, in many ways, what I had imagined for Life Harvester and maybe have not yet accomplished—a consistently released print publication that is cohesive both aesthetically, and in tone and content. I want for it also to be a container that is capacious enough to fit literally anything. In Chris’ zine, there’s interviews, there’s weird little reflections on being a new parent, there’s music reviews. It’s all over the place and it’s all really good. Seeing it was cool. I think if I’d seen it before I started Life Harvester, I might have felt some conflict. But seeing it after I’d already begun this very similar project of my own felt good. It was like, “Oh, I’m on to something. This other good writer is doing a similar thing and it feels nice to be in good company.” Once I started printing, I envisioned it as at least a decade-long project. I write two sides of a page. It’s a little shy of 3,000 words every month and it’s kind of about whatever.

I was directly influenced by Jacob Berendes who does a weekly column on his website Fujichia . com. He did the greatest fanzine of all time, Mothers News, which was like a monthly print newspaper out of Providence from 2008-11 maybe. [Ed: 2010-15.] It was just this wild, chaotic and beautiful paper. People know it in the underground comix world because he had a lot of comix people doing classic four-panel strips. The idea that I was capable of printing a monthly thing got into my head because of Jacob, 100 percent. And it feels good to get back to my roots of just like, making stuff because I want people to see it. And also making stuff because I like having something in my purse to hand to somebody I meet. 

I bought a pretty big office printer and I get these bootleg toner cartridges, so it’s pretty cheap to print at home. I’ve scammed copies my whole entire life. My friend had keys to a copy shop he had a job at. We’d go in in the middle of the night and run some stuff off, or like there was a variety of copy scams through the ages. I got 1,000 of every issue of Slice Harvester printed at Village Copier south of Washington Square when the book came out, because I didn’t feel like scamming copies anymore to keep up with my orders. But those are all sold and it’s out of print forever. The point is, some people have been necessarily precious about their zine, because they pay a lot of money to produce them, and so it has to cost a lot of money to sell a zine sometimes. I don’t want to shame people for that, but I’ve always been of the mindset that I’m not doing this to break even. This is a hobby, not a job. And so what do I want to get out of it? What I want to get out of it is connection with people and connection with strangers. 

The best way to connect is to be able to just give people stuff. The last time I gave zines to somebody I’d never met before, it was like two or three days ago. There’s these memorial altars to three women who died in the past few years in Pittsburgh on the back of an abandoned old schoolhouse. These fuckin douchebag white yuppie urban explorers are always breaking into the schoolhouse which is like, fine. It’s really cool in there. But then they fuck up the murals all the time, y’know? And it’s so deeply disrespectful. I don’t care if you’re some fuckin’ schmuck that wants to tool around in an abandoned building with a fuckin’ Go-Pro on for your Instagram or whatever. Do your fuckin’ thing. But these are clearly memorials and they’re just a fuckin’ mess. So I was down there with my friend Krystyna, tending to them and cleaning them up, and planting an herb garden on the hill uptop. This person that I never met before named Em I wanna say, who’s another aging anarchist, was there bringing a bunch of seedlings and comfrey and some lemon-balm and shit to take root in the ground and we were like chit-chatting while we were digging around and then she was leaving and I was like, “Oh, here’s my fanzine.” And she was like, “Oh, it sucks that I don’t have anything to trade you.” And I was like, “This is a single piece of paper. You don’t have to trade me. You brought all these plants. That’s fantastic. You should take something home.” I’ve just always loved that. Giving stuff away. It feels good. Having something that I’ve made that I don’t have to be precious with. I get so much joy out of the light on strangers’ faces when I’m like, “Yo, you want this fuckin’ thing?” 

This is pre-covid, obviously, but I love being in a restaurant and seeing what are clearly some alt-teens or early-20-year-olds—I’m almost 40 and I look like a freaky trans dyke. I have the fuckin’ [Patrick] Nagel nail salon lady tattooed on the back of my hand and I’m wearing a leather vest a lot of the time. I look like a freaky bitch—and I love just walking up to clearly, like, baby-queer teens or early-20-year-olds on a date and being like, “Hey, are you guys gay? Are you punk? You want my fanzine?” And just giving them my fanzine and walking away. 

I’m not trying to befriend these teens. But part of being trans is that when you look into the future for most of your life, there’s just fog, right? And there was a lot of my life where I just assumed I wouldn’t be alive past my mid-30s. Even when I stopped feeling that way, I still couldn't see anything definitive in my future. Encountering adult-fucking-freaks was a big part of how I managed to not step in front of a bus. It was like, “If these people are alive and they’re almost 40 or 50 or whatever, I can definitely make it that long.” 

This ties really well into the podcast. I interview friends every month. We have these long-ass conversations. They end up being like an hour and a half or two hours, which some people have said is less marketable or whatever but I guess that’s never been a concern of mine. People who I can tell are truly listening love that it’s that long. Sorry, I’m picking gum out of one of my dog’s paws. 

Me: What’s the dog’s name?

Colin: Rubi. Oh Ru. There’s the gum. 

Me: I’m so bad at dog breeds. What type of dog is Rubi? 

Colin: She’s like a pit-mix. But yea, I interview my friends about what they were like when they were young and what they do now. The youngest guest I ever had on is Paula Martinez from Demystification zine. She’s maybe 24 now. Most of the guests are like me, they’re people in their early-to-late 30s or older. Two months ago, I interviewed Mimi Nguyen who did Evolution of a Race Riot fanzine and has also been a friend and mentor to me most of my adult life. Longer than Cometbus. We were pen pals when I was like 16. That’s over two decades ago. And it feels really cool to talk to these people I know who I think are really fantastic and are contributing to the world in some way. For Mimi, it’s scholarship; Raquel Namuche, the guest from last month, is a community organizer in Ridgewood, Queens. And I like to talk about not just the work that they’re doing now, but also like, “What were they like as kids?” “How did they get into being a weirdo?”

It’s funny: Toby Morse from H2O, the motivational speaker hardcore band, he has this podcast. I don’t know what it’s called. All his guests are men I’m pretty sure. I don’t know if he’s ever had a woman on his show. [Ed: Not far off; an unofficial survey found that out of 116 episodes, 7 feature female guests that aren’t Morse’s mother or wife.] 

I don’t remember the last time I had a cis man on mine, and that’s not a coincidence, but it’s also not completely intentional. I’ve asked a few cis men who I’d like to talk to to be on the show and it hasn’t panned out. Victor Gutierrez from the band Vaaska in Austin, Texas, if you are reading this interview, come on my podcast. Ambrose Nzams of Demystification, come on my podcast. 

But Paula Martinez, who was on the podcast, was telling me that she used to work in this record store called Joint Custody in D.C. and it’s like the youth group hardcore zone and it was just her and all these hardcore dudes and they—I don’t know the name of Toby’s podcast—but they would call my podcast, Life Harvester Radio, they would just refer to it as “Toby’s podcast for girls” because he would only talk about fighting and weird record collector bonzer shit and then I’m talking about the emotional experience of everything. I can never remember what anyone’s band was called or whatever and I’m much more concerned with people’s embodiment at various points in their experience. 

I’ve always been a communitarian anarchist to some degree whether that was an articulable politik or not. I worked with a survivor support and accountability collective for a decade. It was probably the most sustained political organizing that I did in my 20s and 30s. It was about establishing autonomous community outside of the bounds of the state and the judicial system. 

Slice Harvester I was eating this pizza and it was my project and all the fuckin’ square news media that covered me was like, “One person eating all this pizza” but I took a different friend with me every week that I went out and ate slices. I’d spend a bunch of the reviews talking about why I thought my whoever I was with was cool or what project they did or their band or whatever. It benefits the insidious powers of capitalism for us to remain atomized from each other and to think, “Oh, I’m slaving away at my own thing.” The myth of the creative genius. The reason creative geniuses got to be geniuses was ‘cause they had wives that did all the work for them. I only exist in community. I only exist within the fabric of the people that hold me down and that I hold down. So when I talk about my own work, I find it hard not to talk about the people who have influenced me, who have cared for me, who have supported me or been supported by me. 

I have apprehension that I might come across like I’m name-dropping or something and that’s not my intention. My intention is to be just like, “Yo my people are all so talented.” I’m surrounded by these people who inspire me all the fuckin’ time. And Life Harvester is impossible to talk about without talking about the contributions of my pretty-recently former partner, Rebecca Giordano, who is an art historian and also a cool adult anarchist. She edited the fanzine for the first two years just about. She came on as name-on-the-masthead editor four or six months in. I want every writer to know, get an editor. If you got money, pay someone to edit. If you don’t, find another writer and do a little reciprocity. [Ed: If anyone reading this wants to do an edit for edit (e4e), I’m game.] Whatever you think you can do with multiple passes or drafts on your own, you cannot do shit compared to a different set of eyes. 

Becca is brilliant and before she was an art historian, she worked at McSweeney’s. She has a background in literature and she knows how to structure a piece of writing in a really good way. Just having that set of eyes and having her shoot ideas at me about, “maybe you should try writing about this instead of writing about that. Maybe we can co-write this thing together.” It’s always better. It’s always more generative. I’m talkin’ like a real fuckin’ New Yorker in terms of saying really definitive statements about things that I have no right to say definitive statements about. It’s what my therapist says I need to do less. All I’m trying to say is that anyone that says they’ve done something by themselves is fuckin’ lying. 

Me: Is that a New Yorker thing or is that a Jewish thing because my girlfriend gets mad at me that I talk with so much authority?

Colin: Yo, I’d say: “What’s the difference?” Like, how’d your family end up in Boca? Grandparents grew up in New York or your parents did, right? Someone was in New York.

Me: Close, close. They’re actually Montreal Jews

Colin: Oh, that’s kinda close. Who knows? Maybe it is a Jewish thing, but I think, if so, it’s a Jewish contribution to the fabric of New York City culture. Things we think of as definitively New York can also be definitively Jewish or definitively African-American or definitively fuckin’ Puerto Rican or Italian. Definitively Guyanese or Desi. Because there’s so many people and so many neighborhoods, the contributions to the broader culture are enormous, which comes back to fuckin’ everything’s just a fabric, right? 

And how is me writing about leaf piles, or whatever the fuck... I can’t even remember what I wrote about this month. I just printed it yesterday. I have no idea what’s in it at this moment. It’s like a fugue state where I put off writing for three weeks and then I have to write the whole thing and print ‘em. I have like 200-something subscribers. 

Me: Why do you keep doing it?

Colin: Yo, cause what else am I gonna do. Also, hang on. I’ll be right back.

[Colin comes back and shows me a stack of colored papers]

Colin: This is one of every issue that’s come out from January 2019 to May 2021, right? That’s 29 issues x 3,000 words roughly. That’s like 87,000 words in the past two and a half years and it’s all right here. I did a column for Maximum for a minute, but since the book, I haven’t been doing anything regularly in such a long time. I love the idea of incremental growth. I love the idea that I started the project and this [holds up first issue] was the entire thing and then slowly this is the whole thing and it’s gonna be 4x bigger than this, at least. I like the consistency. I like the way sending terrestrial mail forces me to slow down a bit.

I love the gals at the post office. I get to see Cindy’s new manicure every time I go in. I get to see Jan be a jerk to the customers. Today, I watched her flip someone off really low. She held her middle finger in the glow of the UPC scanner so she was flipping a bird that was glowing red at someone who was talking rudely to her. I want a relationship with them. I love going chit-chatting with them. Jan bought me a blanket for my birthday. 

I love getting letters back. I send a lot of Life Harvester subscriptions to incarcerated people. If anyone knows anyone in prison or jail that receives mail and just wants to give me their address, I’m happy to send stuff. Especially queer and trans people on the inside. Even though I’ll probably never hear back from those people because a stamp is way too precious to use on me, it’s really nice to know that I’m potentially providing a few moments of solace to someone living a confined life because of the fucked up machinations of the state. I’ve believed in prison abolition for a long time now. The activist work I was doing as a 22-year-old with the accountability collective, Support New York, was all about building community-based structures that can replace the role of prisons, which don’t help anyone. 

I guess sending people stuff makes me feel good. I always wanna give a weirdo a thing. If I see a strange person at the dog park, if there’s like, some dog park dyke with a weird half-shaved head, and we’re just chit-chatting, I want to be like, “Hey, here’s my gay magazine. Do you want my gay newspaper?” 

Me: Do you think that having something that you can physically hand to somebody has a stronger advantage? 

Colin: Advantage over what? 

Me: An emailed zine

Colin: It’s not a zine if it’s an email. 

Me: No? 

Colin: No, a zine is a physical object. An email is something. There’s no value judgment, but an email is not a zine. A zine is a physical object that you can read on the toilet or like on the bus. I’m not a huge stickler, but I think taxonomy is important to some degree. Making categories so broad that they become meaningless is a bummer. 

But I don’t know what you mean by advantage. I also put out the newsletter every month as an email two weeks after the print version comes out, because I want it to be the most available possible. So people can get it for free in the email, or they can pay a sliding scale to get real mail. Some people pay a dollar a month, which I make maybe twenty cents off of at the end of the day, but then other people pay five or ten dollars a month. The ten dollar people get a mixtape in the mail every month, too. But you know what I’m saying. I’m not trying to tear apart your framework or anything but there’d have to be a goal for there to be an advantage and there’s no teleology here—am I using that word right? I never finished college. But like, it’s not supposed to go anywhere. The fanzine is the end in and of itself. 

Me: There’s no goal with the fanzine? None at all?

Colin: To make the fanzine is the goal. The goal is the same thing for everything I’ve ever made, which is to put something out in the world and see what happens. My friend Jacob who does Fujichiaand did Mothers News, he used to have a junk store in fuckin’ Worcester, Massachusetts called HBML, Happy Birthday Mike Leslie. It was like, a weird-ass place and you could get weird stuff in there. He talks about it now as an endurance performance, like it wasn’t just a business. And part of having a physical space meant that there were lil’ neighborhood kids who’d come in and hand him stuff. The 9-10-11-year-olds wandering into Jacob’s junk store in 2010, they’re in their early 20s now. They have bands and they make art. Jacob and I were walking around Providence the last time I was there, where he lives now, and he was talking about the next crop of counterculture dipshits that make stuff. He was stoked about Life Harvester ‘cause the ways it’s so available, the way it’s small and free, mean that a rando could just like... there’s at least one 13-year-old, I guess she’s 15 now, who reads Life Harvester every month cause she found it at the library in Bloomington, Indiana, where this guy I know from punk in Chattanooga, Tennessee is a fuckin’ librarian. I’d mail copies there and now, she’s some weirdo fuckin’ teen who’s been reading my dumbass writing. 

To circle back to something I mentioned earlier, the existence of adult weirdos was so instrumental to my not fuckin offing myself as a distressed young queer who was confused as fuck about my identity but just knew that I was miserable and wanted to get away from myself and get away from my body, and couldn’t imagine having any kind of future. Seeing things by adults who were still fucking weird, who still hated capitalism, who still hated patriarchy and racism—that nourished me. I get letters from strangers sometimes, so I don’t think it’s grandiose to say that I’m trying to do the same thing. I don’t know if I’m succeeding. I think I am to some degree. But my projects are trying to do the same thing. Just putting more weird shit into the world with the hope that it’ll make more weird shit happen. 

Me: Yeah, it’s like a form of community service. 

Colin: No. Sorry, I keep pushing back against all of the things… I don’t… I’m sorry. I feel bad. That does not feel right for me. That’s the wrong model, I think. It’s not altruistic. I like doing it. I like attention. That’s a very important factor. I like attention. Being older, I’m able to see things in a longer view because I’ve seen projects I’ve been involved in come and go. Like with the survivor support collective, for instance, we failed at a lot. We were a bunch of little scrub kids who didn’t know what we were doing and were just trying to make the world better, but we hurt people in trying to do that. I’m only concerned with the survivors who we unintentionally hurt. The rapists that accidentally got hurt by the work that we did can absolutely go fuck themselves, for clarification. But we hurt people by accident and we failed a lot. Some people were really into what we did, and some people were bummed. It seemed like nobody really cared about the work we were doing when we were doing it unless they were being inconvenienced by it in some way.

I talked to people that are five or more years younger than me, that came into the New York punk scene at a time when they were young enough to believe that whatever they were stepping into had been static until that point, and we were already there. Those people, those people have done work that’s unbelievable to me, in terms of the ways that they’ve managed to incorporate a feminist, anti-violent, anti-racist, anti-carceral framework and logic into the spaces they create, the shows their bands play, etc, etc. My friend Cindy Crabb who did the zine Doris, Cindy did all this work that was pretty instrumental to the work that Support New York did. I don’t think we could have done what we did without Cindy’s work. And I was talking to Cindy not that long ago about that intellectual lineage and she was like, “I don’t feel like I did that much.” And I was like, “but we couldn’t have done what we did, if you hadn’t done what you did. So even if it doesn’t feel like a lot to you, its existence changed stuff for us.” 

And then pull the camera out a little more and it’s like Liz Pelly and the safer space policy at [now-defunct Brooklyn DIY venue] Silent Barn. Liz has talked about the existence of Support New York being a direct inspiration for that. And I’m sure Liz feels that policy wasn’t enough either. And I’m sure there’s some kid younger than the Pelly twins who I just don’t know who’s building off of that work. 

It comes back to the ways that it’s all a fabric. Everything that we do impacts people around us. Everything that other people do impacts us, inevitably. Especially, living in cities where you’re right up on people’s ass all the time. My decisions mean something to the people around me and vice versa. And so of course I’m going to decide to spend my time printing a dumb little newspaper ‘cause A) it makes me feel good B) it seems to make other people feel good C) watching a body of work grow like that, real slow, that’s fuckin’ sick. 

I think that the techno-libertarian hellscape that we live in where I constantly see everyone I know producing things, if I want to look at it from that vantage point, can really make a person feel like they’re not doing enough. Someone that has the drive towards cultural production, it’s really easy to feel like, “Oh, what I’m doing isn’t enough,” or “I should be working harder,” or like, ”this bitch did this thing that’s better than mine,” “so and so writes for TV now,” “my friend is publishing his fourth book and we published our first ones at the same time and I haven’t even gotten to my second. What the fuck is wrong with me?” 

But those are fucked up frameworks. It’s not a competition. It’s not a rush and it’s not a race. And now that I don’t think I’m gonna die any day now, now that I’m like, “I’m gonna be some old-ass lady…” I’m tryna be an old lady in Boca. I’m tryna live till Boca years old. If I’m gonna live till Boca years old, (assuming there’s a Boca still when I’m Boca years old, maybe Gainesville is gonna be the beach by then, you know what I’m trying to say) it’s just a different vibe now. Slowing shit down a little bit, but also having these mile markers where it’s like every month a piece of paper comes out, it’s just cool. It feels good. That’s a good pace for me. I keep trying to expand this into some kind of universal thing. Fuck that. It’s a good pace for me. It feels manageable. 

Me: You’ve said a whole lot, is there anything you feel that you haven’t gotten to yet that you want the people out there to know about?

Colin: Fuck ICE, free Palestine, fire to the prisons, don’t vote for Andrew Yang. What else do I want people to know? Brontez PurnellMaddy Court, they both had books [100 Boyfriends and The Ex-Girlfriend of My Ex-Girlfriend is My Girlfriend, respectively] come out this year that are phenomenal. And Dave Morse, the poet, had an incredible poetry collection [UNDER MY FEET, THE SKY] come out this year. And that can be it. 

Me: Alright.