ESC Zine Interview

I recently did an interview with Alison Wells who writes a guest blog on Her normal blog is called Random Acts of Optimism.

The interview with Alison was all about ESC zine, a literary and visual artwork publication that I’ve been running since 2011 with Áine Belton and Steven Maybury.

Here’s the interview below. You can read the full post with Alison here.

1: What is ESC?

ESC is a literary and visual arts publication that I started with a few friends in 2011. It’s also a way of saying, “enough, I’m changing this,” to the world.

2: Was ESC a response to a gap that needed filling or was its development more of a push factor coming from the kinds of culture you were interested in?

At the time, I’d felt disconnected from the literary journals and magazines in Ireland. I didn’t really know that much about self-publishing, and it seemed to be a thing for Americans, really (how much has changed!). I was feeling that the country was falling apart, people were leaving, and the kinds of expression that were coming out all seemed to be about things that weren’t relevant to my life at all – there was nothing that seemed real or visceral to me. I was big into the online American lit mag scene at the time, and I loved its verve and vivacity. I wanted a bit of that, but here. I felt it’d light up the place a bit.

3: Who are you, the founders and how did you come to founding ESC? Why do you want to do this?

The original founders of ESC were myself, my cousin Steven Maybury (visual artist), Áine Belton (my best friend, and also a visual artist), Alex Counihan (a tattoo artist and painter) and Eileen O’Neill, who had done the same course as me in English, in IADT, but is now a graphic designer. I was really surprised at their enthusiasm, to be honest. The three that remain now are Steven, Áine and myself. ESC has become a solid central core of our lives. It means much more to us than just being a magazine – it’s a way of living and a philosophy on life. Áine even has an ESC tattoo.

4: Esc includes literary and visual arts, why do you think that’s important?

We didn’t start off with a grand plan for ESC. We weren’t thinking, oh yes, there needs to be more art mixed with literature because <insert sociological need here>. We just wanted to put our own work together and make something that would be fantastic quality but free to anyone, and available anywhere.

5: There’s a quirky, off the cuff and experimental edge to ESC that seems to celebrate moments of inspiration, like pictures scrawled on napkins and writing that makes things new. Does ESC thrive on promoting the impetus of creativity?

I think ESC reflects our own senses of humour as much as it promotes a creative ideal. Something that we’ve always agreed on is that ESC should be fun. Making it should be fun, reading it should be fun. We think that if people allowed their creativity to spark off in their everyday lives, it would improve everything for them. I guess ESC is the everyday – graffiti, rubbish, mundane experiences (like smear tests) but also an exploration into everyday states of mind, with a strong emphasis on speculative fiction.

6: What do you want ESC to do to the Irish literary and visual arts scene?

Personally, I want ESC to become a real beacon in the Irish literary scene – a place for new works that push the boundaries of acceptability, expression and ideology. As regards the visual arts scene, ESC is doing exactly what we want it to do – it’s even being seen in the Paris Photography Festival this year, the largest Photography Festival in the world. Our last exhibition was very well attended and we were delighted with the support and response.

7: As a zine ESC can reach a wider group of contributors and readers, what are your experiences so far of how being online has helped you reach people, helped you connect with a variety of creative sources.

The Internet is great. It’s just great. We know so much more now about what is possible in print, and about different forms of writing, for example – like sentence diagramming and concrete poetry, and mad, amazing people like Kit Fryatt and Áodán McArdle. We would never be here without the Internet. We also wouldn’t be able to make ESC without it –

8: ESC is presented in many guises/variations both in print and online and in special editions and ‘pocket versions’ tell us about those and why you think this versatility is important.

So many variations! Did you know we did an audio version? That was terrific fun, making that. The reason for the different versions though is that there different kinds of people who like the magazine. There are the hard-core artists with intellectual ideals. There’s the DIY zinesters. There are short story writers, and poets. There are people who have been working creatively for decades, and people who are only starting out. We want to make them as comfortable as we can.

9: You’ve said “Self-publishers and digital publications are the way forward, and I think it’s really time people at least thought about that.” Tell me what you mean by that?

It’s so odd to be quoted. I think you’re the first person who’s not me who’s ever quoted me. I could get used to that – but people are always going on about how the print industry is dead. I like holding a book as much as the next person – but are the big publishing houses really finished? I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that the barrier to self-publishing, self-distribution, and self-expression is lower than it’s been since the early newspaper days of the 19th century. It’s also more socially acceptable to self-publish – which for me would be a big thing. It used to be looked down about by the snooty publishing industry execs but now the tables have turned, quite extremely.

 10: You’ve also talked about crowdsourcing your project and working on a FUNDIt campaign to keep the magazine going.

We have, and do. I’m planning a fairly huge crowdfunding campaign of my own that will be launched shortly. Crowdfunding, to be honest, is absolutely exhausting. It drains everything out of you. If there were two things I could say to people who are considering crowdfunding, it would be a) drink coffee and keep going, and b) really think about your prizes, because they could end up being more time-consuming and anxiety-causing than it’s worth.

11: What are ESCs greatest challenges?

People. Manpower. Time. Áine works two jobs. Steven works three. I work one, and have launched a side-project that’s a job-scale head wrecker in itself, called Girls Like Comics ( Honestly, in an ideal world I’d clone myself. I’d have another literary person on board who was basically me and did everything I said and never asked me questions. I think everyone wants that!

12: What do you want people to think of when they think of ESC?

That it’s fresh, and fun, and unpredictable.

13: You are actively seeking submissions; can you tell readers what you are looking for?

All of their professional weirdness. All of those odd half-thoughts you have at two am and decide to scribble down in the dark. If you want the world to be different and have an idea, tell us about it. Obviously, though, the work has to be good. I mean, people have standards, right?  If you can be funny, and grim, and tear something open, and smile while you do it, then send us your work. Send us a bio as well.

14: Where should they send submissions?

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