In an era of financial insecurity and where printed media is created on a friendship base for almost no money, the future of zines is more insecure than ever. That’s why events like the Chicago Zine Fest have to receive the most attention, since they make up for a large part of the life cycle of a zine. My favorite zine from the windy city with the best comedians in the US – Chicago IRL. It was long time ago, the zine wasn’t even out yet, when I came across Topher – one of the creators of the zine – and his amazing project Make Something Awful Every Day

Chicago IRL documents and archives Chicago’s current creative queer happenings. It’s a physical archive in the ephemeral age of the internet where work is posted and instantly buried by the next new thing. It released its first issue featuring work from 15 contributors across the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and allied spectrum in June 2011. The second issue premiered in November 2011 featuring work from 27 contributors emphasizing a theme of collaboration. Chicago IRL also participated as one of more than 40 Chicago publishers at the first ever Chicago Book Expo in the basement of the Uptown Broadway Building, rumored to have been a speakeasy for Al Capone, where it was very dark and very cold. Chicago IRL is independently published and produced by graphic designer Topher McCulloch, a South Dakota native who blew into town four years ago, and Joseph Varisco, a graduate student of social work, Chicago native and creator of the Queer Culture & Social Media Study.

The 3rd issue of Chicago IRL has just arrived from print and waits for your purchase here. Highlights from the third issue include illustration work from Ignatz nominated Tony Breed, a tender tale of a one-night stand romance from two perspectives by resident Dane Hallmark and out-of-towner Luis Rendon, photography from Kiam Junio Marcelo, a multimedia artist who served seven years in the US Navy, and Daniel Drake, a native of Evanston and Vermont, writing from locals Jamie Anne Royce, Janie Stamm, Jelena Dzopalic and much more.

Topher, Jason and me had a chat on the future of zines right before they headed to the zine fair. Check it out here:

Chicago IRL in a single sentence:

Chicago IRL is a queer collaboration of culture & class(lessness) where the internet is real and everyone is drunk all the time.

Why did you start to publish Chicago IRL?

We wanted to capture the artistic movement currently happening in Chicago in a non-ephemeral way. So many people are doing great performance work and really interesting things online, which is deserving of lasting physical documentation. We’d originally wanted to curate a gallery show of friends and other admired artists, but having little connections or experience with such a venture, creating a magazine ended up being much easier and within our skill set.

The best part of working on a print product?

Seeing the finished product out in the world, be it in people’s hands or on the shelves of local stores next to other publications still hanging onto the physical.

What makes Chicago IRL distinguishable from the other queer press?

One of our primary goals is to include voices from across the queer spectrum in a very broad range of mediums. We didn’t want to make a publication solely about white boys with beards, even though that’s what we are. We wanted to express the intersectionality we experience in our communities in print. We live and play with people who are not like us who tell us that they want to see something more encompassing of their actual reality and that’s what we’re aiming for.

What is the most powerful feature of print nowadays?

Sadly to say, it’s becoming almost a novelty. When everyone and their dog has a blog, being able to put something physical into the world becomes really special. It’s interesting to note that despite both of us having a very active social media life, Chicago IRL is pretty restrained online. We love when people like us on Facebook, but we’d really like them to order a magazine or flip through a copy at a local Chicago independent bookseller. It makes a great mousepad.

What newspapers or magazines are you subscribed to?

Topher was subscribed to Print and Newsweek, but has been very disappointed in redesign decisions made by both. He does have a Headmaster subscription though. Joe doesn’t believe in subscriptions. Both regularly read BUTT every five years, Fantastic Man, Meat, Pinups, Headmaster, Blowjob, Original Plumbing, Try State, RFD, Pink Mince, Butcher Queers, STH, and Tickettohell.

3 things print can’t live without?

Trees, shamans, Woody Allen/gay dragons

What projects have you planned in the near future?

Issue #3 debuts March 10th. Our release party will be at the end of the month and we’ll open submissions for issue #4 in April to be published at the beginning of June. We’d like to do a friends of Chicago IRL special issue (not-Chicago centric) as well as a special issue devoted to work from Chicago’s queer street youth.

3 things I can find in your bag?

Topher: Moleskine, 9 pens, and 4 mechanical pencils

Joe: Costume change, Gobstoppers, legal pads

Chicago IRL will be at the Chicago Zine Fest from 11am–6pm on Saturday, March 10th at Columbia College’s Conway Center, 1st floor, table 11 (1104 S. Wabash). Chicago IRL will also participate in the Chicago Zine Fest Exhibitor Reading on Friday, March 9th from 7–9pm at 826CHI (1331 N. Milwaukee Ave).

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