A TRUE FAMILY MATTER: RUBBISH FAMZINE FROM LIM FAMILY ART COLLECTIVE
by Nunnaree Panichkul30.06.2018
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It was a rainy afternoon in January. I was in Singapore with the team as we had an appointment with Kenny Leck of BooksActually, a small but robust independent bookstore. The agenda was to introduce ourselves and the BANGKOK ART BOOK FAIR project to see whether there would be possibilities for collaboration on the 2nd edition which will be happening on September 6-9, 2018. At his bookstore on Yong Siak Street, Kenny warmly welcomed us and led us to the back store for a sit down meeting. The room was full of knickknacks he probably collected (and possibly sold? I didn’t ask though.) consisting of design tableware, stationary and books (of course). While I was listening to the team explain to Kenny about the BANGKOK ART BOOK FAIR project and Bangkok art book landscape, it was then I delightfully stumbled upon one of the most interesting zines I have ever come across.
In conversation about Singapore’s art books, zines and printing houses we discovered that Kenny was also a co-founder of Singapore Art Book Fair. Kenny showed us many samples of printed works from Dominie Press and among them was a zine that instantly caught my eye, it was a takeaway food box in a plastic bag “That was last year’s issue, the creators worked on the theme of food” Kenny said. It turned out that the ‘famzine’ was made by a local family of four. Under the title, RUBBISH FAMzine, Pun, Claire, Renn and Aira Lim formed a family art collective called Holycrap.sg and had already produced 7 issues of the bi-annual famzine (the 8th issue will be out this September 2018) during the past 6 years. Kenny showed us some of the back issues he had collected, which were not only outstanding in terms of design but also by thematic choices as well as storytelling. (My personal favorite among them was issue No.4 from August 2015, The Incomplete Herbarium and Other Garden City Exploits, whomever collected, pressed and attached these local flower specimens into all 300 famzine copies truly deserved a big round of applause.)
It was no doubt that after seeing the famzines, we would have loved to invite the Lim family to join us at BANGKOK ART BOOK FAIR 2018. A special thank you to Kenny who connected us right away with Pun and Claire Lim. Unfortunately, the art book fair will be around the same time as their daughter’s PSLE exam so the Lim’s could not join us in Bangkok this year. However the Lim’s were happy to do an interview and offer insights on the RUBBISH FAMzine project which thus resulted in this article.
For me, sending interview questions and getting to know someone via email is always a challenge. However, it might not be wrong to say that I feel like I know them both from the famzines they’ve made (the issues Kenny showed me are stunningly beautiful with a sense of humor and a warm sincere touch) and from the responses they gave me. It is truly a family matter – when speaking of telling a story. There are many ways of telling a story and the possibilities of what one can do seems endless. The most important thing is to have faith and love in what you do which I definitely feel shines through in their works.
As I can sense from the Lim’s RUBBISH FAMzine.
How did RUBBISH FAMzine start? Reading from an online review article that rubbish means stuffs in your family, where all inspirations for each famzine and its theme come from?
To go back a little bit in time, our family first started Holycrap.sg back in 2011 because of Renn and Aira's love of drawing and painting. And we thought it would be wonderful to teach them more about the arts and design through various art projects we wanted to work on. Two years later the
four of us went on our very first family holiday to Tokyo and Kyoto. All of us were armed with a film camera each and after 13 days there, we came home with almost 120 rolls of film. There were so many amazing moments and photographs and Pann was thinking what we could do with all these contents. We really wanted to create something tangible so that Renn and Aira could hold on to all those memories. And being such a huge fan of magazines, of printed pages, it didn't take us long to decide to start a small zine, a journal of sorts to keep our memories 'alive'. So in November of 2013, we launched our very first RUBBISH FAMzine (which is a play on the term 'fanzine’) - Googletranslating Tokyoto. The name 'Rubbish' was also chosen after the four of us brainstormed together. Not only is the word 'rubbish' often used at home mainly in light-hearted situations like exclaiming "I like this rubbish" or "Stop talking rubbish" for example. The thinking behind the common idiom 'One man's trash is another man's treasure' also gave us the final nudge that it is alright for others to think what we treasure as rubbish.
Could you share with us the process of making each zine? How would you divide tasks among the 4 family members?
Before the start of every zine, the four of us would sit down with a notebook and pen and almost always with a pot of hot green tea and snacks. We enjoy brainstorming together very much. From the very beginning, it was always the intention to have both kids heavily involved in the thought process; from beginning to end. We treasure what they have to say and we never felt that just because they are kids, they cannot contribute effectively. In fact, many ideas and concepts were thought up by them and many of which Pann and I would never have thought of. Once the main idea or theme have been finalised, Pann would handle all the design aspects of the zine, ensuring the zine is as beautiful as it is conceptually sound. The fun part would also be getting opinions and feedback from Renn and Aira regarding the look and feel of the design. And because I'm the editor, naturally I will have to weave the stories and different sections together through words. However, as I too treasure what the kids have to say, I will also make sure there are segments whereby the kids are in charge of the storytelling. And with every zine that we do, there will always be a component where the kids can do their drawings as it is their first love and the reason why we started Holycrap in the first place.
We have learnt that you have also worked with Dominie Press in making the famzine which results in a highly distinctive work both in design and quality of the finished work. As a zine maker/designer, do you think printing presses play an important role in the realization of your famzine project?
We do feel that a lot of people forget that the end product is a printed one. So it is important that we work with a partner who is on the same thinking plane as us. And who are able and willing to bring out the best in what we want to present and achieve. At the end of the day, what we design on the computer must be translated to the print medium in the most accurate way possible.
Have you ever worked with others apart from with Dominie Press? Are there many printing houses like this in Singapore? Those who might be interested to produce limited edition prints and willing to work with complex design.
For this question though, we are sorry but we can't answer this as it is rather sensitive to talk about other printing companies because it will somehow sound like comparison or who might be better etc.
Since its first edition’s launch, is there any change in RUBBISH FAMzine? Would it be possible to say that it grows along with your family?
There is not so much change as there is actually growth unless you view 'change' as another form of 'growth'. Our zine and the family are definitely growing together both figuratively and literally speaking. From the first issue in 2013 till our seventh issue last year, the four of us have grown older and hopefully wiser! With every zine, we delve into different facets of our desires and fears and the story-telling will mature along with us. But there is always one thing that will never change about our famzine and that is the honesty and love we put into all the pages.
We have seen that the first two issues are very magazine-like. When they have been changed from a modern magazine format into a free-style design in latter issues? (Whose idea mainly for the RUBBISH FAMzine design? Usually, Pun is the person with this idea and everyone agrees to that?)
For sure our very first zine really started off with a very simple design and but we purposely kept the first issue without a grid format and it did came within a unique packaging concept as with all the other zines that followed. And of course, by the second zine, we started to add in more details such as different sections with tip-ins, cut-outs and whatever extra 'accessories' we could put in to make the story telling more complete and exciting. We do not want any fix formula to dictate how we would tell a story. And we prefer to design according to the theme. Theme-wise, the family will always decide together and agree on the chosen topic. Sometimes we will even discuss possible design concepts but Pann will always take the lead and start putting the design together on the computer first before showing them to us. And as per usual, we will all discuss together with the kids and give feedback and ideas.
Why you decided to set the edition no. to be 300 editions/each famzine? Have you talked to your famzine collectors? If so, what are their comments on RUBBISH FAMzine?
RUBBISH FAMzine is a fully self-funded labour of love and creating this zine as a family was never about making money and we were very clear from the start that the money we put into materials and printing etc. might never be seen again. On the other hand, of course we still had to be very mindful and prudent of the cost involved and knew that we could only afford to do a small print run of the zines. But another important aspect of keeping it small is because we also knew we wanted to do a lot of hand work to each and every zine such as pasting stickers, stamping words, clipping papers, tearing and folding just to name a few. And there are only the 4 of us and we can only do so much. Our famzine collectors are largely people from the creative industry, we do feel that from their feedback and response, our readers could connect with what we want to do creatively and they can also feel the passion we have for our weekend project. A lot are also intrigued that a family project like this actually exist and they are amazed by the continuous output by us.
Since all editions are sold out, could you share with us regarding how you distribute your famzine?
Our zines are either launched at book fairs or at BooksActually or held in conjunction with an art exhibition. Mostly each issue will be sold out within a month. We will also have people contacting us through social channels and we have quite a few orders from supporters from around the world and for those we will mail it to them.
Do you have any favorite zines?
The kids do not read a lot of zines but our favourites are MacGuffin, The Gourmand, Gentlewoman, The Happy Reader, Apartamento, Work, The Plant, Popeye etc.
Seeing from the list that it is magazine that you like. When you think of the word zine, what do you think of?
I think zine is a very good word. It is fun, catchy and obviously a shorter form of the word 'magazine' but it does not really mean a 'shorter' form of a magazine. Zines usually refers to a more independent form of publishing which can include self-publications and typically produced on a much smaller scale and may even be limited in quantity. Zine publishers also tend to navigate towards topics that are more of a personal expression of beliefs and creativity. The focus of such zines would more often than not target a smaller or specific group of audience/readers. When we look at zine publications or even from the list of magazines that we love, we feel connected to them regardless of whether it is a zine or a magazine because they 'speak' to us either through the topics discussed or the design content.
What do you think of the zine culture today? How's Singapore art book scene in your opinion?
There are a huge number of growing titles and it is very encouraging to see that in a time like now where the digital media is dominating every form of communication, that printed matter is coming back strong. However, because of the sheer amount of zines out there, many might end up looking and 'feeling' the same as one another. We know it is really difficult to keep coming up with varied and interesting topics but I believe everyone who are in this are giving their best, to create and publish for their respective readers. The art book scene is growing very nicely as seen from the yearly Singapore Art Book Fair. The turnout for the event is always very encouraging and the books published from photography, illustration etc. are very well produced. Printed books, zines and all other form of pages are definitely here to stay.
Special thanks to: Kenny Leck and The Lim Family Art Collective