When I walked into the Coffee Garden to interview the staff of local zine Chiaroscuro, I was surprised by what I found. Instead of the stereotypical thrift store clothes-wearing zinesters I usually encounter, they were assembled on the couch nattily dressed, looking a bit like the gang of color-nicknamed criminals in Reservoir Dogs. But then there's more to Chiaroscuro than meets the eye. Old-school to the bone, Xeroxed with text running every which way, sometimes even text on text, found art collages and stories that range from erudite literary allusions to barely comprehensible rantings: It has everything you could expect to find in a classic zine. Yet every once in a while, something will jump out at you announcing Chiaroscuro is more than the average underground rag. A picture here and there in color on an otherwise black and white page. A CD of weird music. The fist issue was only six pages, but they can cram more in six than some put info 30, In November, the zine celebrated its first anniversary; a considerable achievement in zine circles. Again, unlike the zinester stereotype, they have somehow managed to publish once a month like clockwork, and as I sat there quizzing them, perused issue #13, with plenty of surprises of its own...
Editor Tony couldn't be there, but Nino Chiaroscuro, Eric Blair and Shane the Driver juggled my questions like so many circus balls. "Originally, my parents went through a divorce," Eric explained of the zine's founding. "and I was looking for an outlet to express my feelings about that." Shane adds, "I was really lonely, and wanted to look smart." One of the first things you notice when picking up the zine, which you can do at the usual places like local record stores and coffeehouses, is the "Declaration of Principles" on the cover, starting with, "A zine is meant to be lousy" and "Art is filth," both punk/dada statements and self-deprecating humor. "Those are based on Citizen Kane," explains Nino, "when he took over the paper. Tony hates zines and zinesters, and he believes ours is an anti-zine."
It's only the first of many literary references sprinkled throughout the zine, some Xeroxed directly from books and some alluded to in stories. "I have a Chuck Palahniuk obsession," explains Blair (whose name happens fo be the given name of the writer known as George Orwell). Nino adds, "I do a lot of dadaist stuff, I have my own style. But I'm also influenced by sitcoms." Blair adds, "like Phillip K. Dick in Valis, I like to refer to myself in third person." Although they admin their zine is apolitical, there are items that touch on the political, like general barbs toward the government, or Blair's short rant about Timothy McVeigh. "I just was drawn to him," Blair explains. "I was angry about the way he was used by the government and the media." Adds Nino, "We try to avoid political topics. A lot of zines have a political push; we try to be different."
Although only about 150 copies are printed, those who do read it tend to respond. If two or three percent of Salt Lake Tribune readers wrote in, there wouldn't be room to print them. "A lot of our friends feign interest," explains Blair. "We got a letter from a homeless person, and [local blogger/chronic letter-writer] Keith Moore. He said we were dumbing down the language." "We printed his letter with every other letter cut out, inserts Nino, "You know, for space. We also heard from [SLUG's] Uncle Shame."
"The whole objective of the zine is to get laid," Blair reveals. "So far, none of us have gotten laid as a direct result of the zine, and when it does, the zine will end." What else but some kind of attempt to impress the opposite gender could produce the maniacally assembled cut-up paragraphs, sometimes glued in place one word at a time, the unabashed personal confessions, the slavish Xeroxing, the caffeine abuse, the alcohol abuse? "My English professor tried to straighten us out," explains Shane, and Blair concurs, "people have cited the dadaism."
"For a while, we were taping 3-D objects on the page, but they were too hard to Xerox," comments Nino. Blair continues, "We're moderately fascinated with repeating images, reversals, text on text, and weird drawings" Yeah, but can you take it too far? With some of the repeating images, i must have taken close to a dozen Xeroxings for ons page.
"From the beginning, when the zine came together as Kind of a fluke, We've started to gat kind of a following, and we're trying to build on that," Blair adds. "The biggest change," Nino injects, "is the name change with issue #13 to Copulate, Chiaroscuro is my father's name, and he didn't want us using it any more. Pius, Copulate, you think of fucking, and it might as well be with us. Another thing, Rothschild vodka was a big influence on our early issues, and we put tis one together sober."
"I almost had a nervous breakdown," complains Blair. "We are getting more submissions now," adds Shane. Blair agrees. "Submissions are a great way to diversity a zine. I spent a lot of time last month drinking and making bullshit backgrounds."
"This is probably the least self-referential Issue," adds Nino, and fewer in-jokes may make it more accessible.
The CD with issue #12 featured ultra-obscure bands interspersed with snippets from Scientology infomercials with the word "Chiaroscuro" dubbed in over the name of that cult like a Negativland-style media prank. The Samuel Powers Trio, a lounge-style band, consists of Samuel Powers, a robot named Kevin, and another guy named SamuelPowers, the C-men explain. This is typical of the entire interview, which has a surreal quality that can't even be conveyed in these pages. Is anything they said the whole time true at all? Are these even their real names, or is their zine real, or did they just concoct copies of it to get into SLUG magazine? Other bands include stuff like the Gothic Rap Project - why hadn't anyone done that before? - pseudo punk rock band IST and "Cowboys of Classic Xmas Shows." Nino explains of the infomercials, "originally, Chiaroscuro was going to be a suicide cult." Blair obsesses, "You find yourself listening to the CD over and over, then you want to have sex with me."
In addition to Copulate, they hope to branch into films. "We are trying to organize a festival of short films, hopefully to host at the Tower," says Nino. Our Mike and Tony Show, a satire of childrens' TV, has been screened in Canada and in private venues on the East Coast. Probably 48 people have seen it." "And the short feature Nobody Stays Dead, adds Blair, "under the influence of too much Rothschild's. The SPR3 did the soundtrack. No one liked it. At the end, I take my clothes off. Look for the directors cut with idiots dancing in front of Temple Square. And special features of us just walking long distances."
Still, the zine would seem to remain their driving force. "Each issue that comes out, we're surprised we're still doing it," explains Blair. "Hitting the one-year anniversary was amazing; still here saying some deeply things about relationships, and some BS things about it." Tales of riding the bus around town, trying to scrounge up enough money to buy some Rothschild's at the liquor store, lusting after girls hanging around Bluekats, stuff like that will never get old. "We'll never run CD or movie reviews," declares Nino, "or do any pandering to the audience. But we'd like to increase our print run. It's always about money, isn't it."