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Fringe Benefits: a private-consumption zine goes public

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Chris Mullins and Jim Ziniel named their zine, the Soft Sandwich Chronicles, after the soggy, sweaty, homemade meals they're prone to eating on long car rides. That weird, insider sense of humor permeates the offbeat publication, and--more than anything else--keeps it going. In these digital days they put out a zine that's unapologetically old school, and even by the standards of DIY culture their production schedule is extremely leisurely: their first issue, which came out in the spring of 1998, was three years in the making, and number two is still in production.

Mullins and Ziniel have been friends since eighth grade. They started the little magazine of literature and visual art as a release from their day jobs working with computers. With contributions from friends from their high school and college years, the Soft Sandwich Chronicles, Volume I contains poems, stories, essays, drawings, and photos reflecting the solipsism and hyperanalytical worldview of people in their 20s: the authors are simultaneously curious and melancholy about everything, especially the opposite sex.

Except for some handwritten elements--like the table of contents, captions, and bylines--the zine uses an old-fashioned typewriter typeface. It features lots of line drawings and is laid out on a near-obsolete Mac--low-tech qualities that make it an intimate read. Judging from the mock-up of volume two, the zine's focus has shifted in the last three years from Charles Bukowski-and E.E. Cummings-inspired love-hate exposition to meditative photography, romantic stories, and nonsensical comics depicting chicken nuggets and toasters.

Mullins and Ziniel say they're pretty much in it for themselves, publishing stories and artwork they like. If a few other people are touched along the way, that's great, but, says Ziniel, "We're not really trying to cater to the masses." Whether they admit it or not, though, they're trying to reach a bunch of people with this second issue--they're planning a circulation of 1,000. There's no advertising because, as Ziniel puts it, they don't want to "whore out the process," so they're throwing a party to raise money to finance it. The first issue was photocopied gratis at a friend's workplace, hand stapled, and distributed free. They're hoping this second one will look a little more professional, possibly even be printed digitally, and they plan to charge $2 per issue. "The goal is to continue somehow gaining the finances to produce it," says Mullins. "The dream is to build a subscription base so that it'll be found in everyone's bathroom."

This Friday, February 9, Soft Sandwich hosts a benefit party featuring "food, fun, dancing," and work by local artists. It starts at 8 at 1937 W. Schiller, in the coach house; it's free, but donations will be accepted at the door. Call 773-235-0706 for more.

--Liz Armstrong

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Suzy Poling.

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