Since 1999, Zisk Magazine has stuck to the DIY ethos of zine culture to produce one of the best baseball magazines there is. Co-editor Steve Reynolds talked to AA about making a great print pub in the digital age.
Zisk Magazine is like a relic from a different era, in the best possible way, the era in question being the pre-internet golden age of the zine. You see, kids, back in them days, you couldn't just hop on your computer and share your thoughts with the world immediately using your blogs and LiveJournals and whatnot. You had to assemble these thoughts in print form using glue and staples and lots of stolen time/supplies from an office copy room, then try to hawk your homegrown publication at the local indie bookstore or neighborhood basement show.
Zines were once a staple of the punk rock world, sharing the author's local scene with the world at large. The folks at Zisk had a different idea: Apply the zine aesthetic and DIY ethos to the world of baseball. Their first issue came out in 1999, back when the idea of writing about sports with a personal slant was virtually unheard of and even Bill Simmons was but a mere gleam in Larry Bird's eye.
Even as the world of sportswriting has grown increasingly digital and immediate, Zisk has continued to slow-cook its releases, publishing exclusively in print two times every season. In so doing, they've been able to curate and publish pieces that can be more heartfelt and laugh-out-loud funny than the average baseball blog fare. If you weren't on board from the beginning, the best pieces of Zisk's first 14 years are now available in a collection called Fan Interference, with a brand-new forward from Cardboard Gods author Josh Wilker. AA readers will be happy to know that many of the chosen pieces are Mets-related, but all are great.
Zisk co-editor Steve Reynolds (a Mets fan himself) was kind enough to spare a few moments out of a lengthy book tour for a quick Q&A about Zisk's punk rock roots, what print can do that the web can't, and why Scott Stapp and the Marlins are made for each other. (Check out the book tour schedule here to see if Steve and co. are coming to your town.)
Zisk has the feel of a classic '90s zine to me, with the punk/DIY ethos I associate with that world. Is that a conscious decision on your part, or is that just the result of the time and care required to put out a print magazine?
I'd have to say its a bit of bit of both. My co-editor Mike Faloon started a punk/culture zine called Go Metric
in 1995 that was totally DIY—it was copied whenever someone could sneak him into an office after hours and on weekends. When Mike and fellow punk rockers Matt Braun and Ethan Cohen decided they wanted to write about baseball, they stuck with the punk zine ethos. After all, Johnny Ramone was a Yankee fan, so it wasn't a total stretch for them to cover a mainstream sport.
When I started handling the layout with issue #4, it started looking more consistent and "professional" but we never looked to make the content that way. When we launched our website (Ziskmagazine.com
) in 2005 I assumed we'd quickly go digital only. Yet as I read more and more baseball blogs, I realized that being a hand copied and assembled paper zine made us stick out. And our subscribers have always mentioned that the method of delivery is part of what makes them love Zisk
. I think if i sent an email to our subscribers that the print version was going away, people would react as well as Mets fans did when Bobby Bonilla returned in 1999.
For the young whippersnappers out there who were raised on the internets, what does a print magazine about baseball offer that makes it better (or at least different) from something digital and more immediate, like a blog or Twitter?
One thing that makes it better is that we can tell stories that aren't rooted in the latest breaking news. Sure, many blogs (including AA) do longer form pieces, but how many of them would devote a few thousand words on comparing the Yankees
and Red Sox
rivalry to the film Pretty in Pink
? Or how a run in with Pete Rose inspired an author to steal his bloody steak napkin? Highly doubtful.
Also, our small paper zine is portable and can be rolled up and fit in a back pocket. One doesn't need to worry about having wifi for the laptop to get some quality reading. Also, it's very handy bathroom reading. I've had many people tell me that's where they'll read an entire issue.
Zisk Magazine has been published since 1999. The game has obviously changed since then, but have you noted a shift in the tenor or perspective of pieces you received over that period? Are writers approaching the game any differently than they did 14 years ago?
I don't see that much of a change in tenor from our writers. They still approach the game with a lighthearted touch (usually). However, there has been a change in what is covered. There's no more season previews or halfway through the year MVPs. Mike and I realized over time that people didn't get our zine for articles like that, so we've stopped using them.
What do you consider your biggest "get" in terms of a contributor?
For the zine itself, it's definitely David Shields. He's written such great books as Black Planet: Facing Race during an NBA Season and Body Politic: The Great American Sports Machine, as well as pieces for the New York Times Magazine, Esquire and Harper's. Mike interviewed him about his book of Ichiro "Baseball Is Just Baseball": The Understated Ichiro in 2001. We sent him copies of the issue with his interview and he liked it so much he pitched us two stories almost immediately.
Our biggest "get" for our book Fan Interference
was Josh Wilker, who wrote Cardboard Gods
. We wanted to get an outside perspective to sum up the zine and its essence, and Josh was kind enough to pen a forward that is perhaps the best piece in the collection.
Fan Interference is a collection of Zisk's best writing since issue #1. How difficult was it to winnow more than a decade of writing into one document? Were there any pieces you hated to leave on the cutting room floor?
Oh my, it was very hard. We started this project in 2007, going through each each issue and picking pieces we thought were timeless. Then we realized we couldn't have a book that was 250,000 words long. So we kept cutting and cutting and then adding when we had something great in each following issue. We still didn't have a final lineup until just before Christmas last year. As for things that didn't make it, there was an article about Pete Rose's turn as a wrestler
that always made me chuckle that just missed the cut.
You're on a book tour right to promote Fan Interference. How's the response been so far?
It's been very good. We just finished up a New England leg, and at every stop we've had someone come up to us afterward mentioning that they didn't expect a baseball book to be so funny. Mike and I have taken to reenacting one piece I wrote "Talk to the Sock" at readings. It's an interview with Curt Shilling's bloody sock and one person at a reading in Bangor, Maine said it reminded him of a Bob and Ray routine. With both of us being fans of that comedy duo, it was perhaps the highest compliment we've gotten so far. (Also, I'm really looking forward to our reading in Baltimore on July 11th
at Atomic Books because it's co-sponsored by the folks at Bugs and Cranks.)
Your co-editor, Mike Faloon, makes many references to punk rock in his introduction and talks about the overlap of his love for punk and baseball. My own anecdotal evidence tells me that punk rock kids tend to love baseball (if they're into any sport at all). Do you agree? If so, what is the reason for that? Because I'm convinced this is true from my own experience, yet have no idea why it's true.
I totally agree. Why that's true I still haven't figured out, even after years of doing Zisk
. My best guess? Unlike other pro sports, finding a cheap ticket to a baseball game is relatively easy.
What's the best song about baseball that no one really knows about?
This is a tough one. I'd like to think that every baseball fan knows the catalog of The Baseball Project, which features Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows/Minus 5) and Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate) but that's probably not the case. So I'll pick "Harvey Haddix," which crams everyone that pitched a perfect game into its lyrics.
Who is a figure in the music world that you believe/hope is really into baseball? Conversely, which singer/musician do you hope is not into baseball because it would really bum you out to know that?
I'd love it if Neil Young was secretly a huge baseball fan. He's one of my favorite musicians of all time and if he shared one of my passions that would be, well, awesome.
I know that Creed singer Scott Stapp is (or at least pretends to be) a fan. His "Marlins Will Soar"
song is an affort to everything I love about the game. And if Chris Brown became a season ticket holder to the Dodgers
, I'd probvably become ill.
Best Mets game you ever attended?
This is an easy one—home finale against the Pirates in 1999. That's the Mets team I've loved the most as an adult, and being there for that final game and them winning in a walk off with a wild pitch was insane. That's the first time I actually felt the upper deck at Shea moving up and down. To this day I have the "Fan Appreciation Day" bat they handed out after the game displayed proudly in my kitchen.