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THE Q LIST Talking with Chicago IRL
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Nico Lang
2013-04-23

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"The Q List," in profiles the creators, movers and shakers of queer culture in Chicago to highlight the important faces and happenings in Chicago's LGBTQ community.

The second interview is with Joe Varisco and Topher McCullough, the creators of Chicago IRL, a Chicago arts and literary digest cataloging contemporary queer creative culture in Chicago. Currently in its fourth issue, Chicago IRL can be purchased directly from its website, www.chicagoirl.com, or found locally in Chicago at Quimby's, Chicago Comics and Women & Children First.

Nico Lang: How did the magazine start, and what inspired you to create it?

Topher McCullough: Joe and I had wanted to collaborate on some projects to show off all of the exciting work that we'd seen in Chicago. When we originally started talking, we wanted to do a gallery show—painting, photography—and have it more based more specifically on what we had seen on Tumblr at the time, but then we realized we didn't really have much in the way of connections or knowledge on how to do the gallery show.

But since I'm a graphic designer by day, I make things for a living, and I've always been really interested in books and I've worked on literary magazines in the past, so it was like, "Let's start a zine, let's do an arts-literary magazine." We could capture all this really cool, queer performance stuff that was happening—writing, poetry, prose, essays, mixed media and visual work and put it into a print publication as an archive. The stuff that's going on the Internet is really cool, but it's replaced by the next new thing, whereas by creating a physical archive, we can curate it and say that this is what we think is great, should be remembered and should be seen.

Nico Lang: When did the conversation start?

Joe Varisco: We'd seen all these collaborations and things that were happening. We were trying to find a way to document these things that was lasting and more archival, and then Topher finally was like, "Well, why don't we do a zine, cause I've been wanting to do a zine anyway," and I was like, "This sounds great; let's give it a go."

Nico Lang: What was the process of putting together your first issue?

Topher McCullough: We probably didn't even nail down the idea of doing the zine until like, I think after, it was probably March of last year. And from there we just put out a call for entries to people we knew and just generally online for people to stumble across. Set a deadline of, I think, like early May, and just waited to see what work came in. And then, kind of, sought out other people who we wanted to include.

Nico Lang: Have there been any major debates over pieces, in terms of content?

Joe Varisco: I think maybe that some of the major debate was like turning was about the fact that we're an arts and literary digest, and I bring like a lot of kind of political conversation into it. That sometimes directs how I want to bring more things in, and that can change the dynamic of what we're doing, so Topher will have to say, "We're an arts and literary digest first, remember that," and it's like "Oh yes, right," and trying to pull that back and ask if we've gotten a lot of the people in there that we want to represent.

We're always wanting and desiring more feminine submissions, and that's always kind of difficult to make happen, though it's continuously increased. But that's something we'll look for and try to be very specific about in approaching people. This is something we want to have represented, because it is part of this entire culture and creative atmosphere.

Nico Lang: How are the two of you looking to engage a larger spectrum of the Chicago queer community?

Topher McCullough: Well, I think a big part of it, for me at least, is that we are open-call submission, and just trying to get that call out there to as many places as possible. Our first issue was probably 80 or 90 percent people we knew ahead of time, whereas now, it's a much lower percentage, where people are finding us, which is super-exciting. And just getting to meet new people through the publication, people whose works we wouldn't have encountered otherwise.

Joe Varisco: My relationship with that is a little bit different because, for me, it's a community-based project. It's about relationship-building, so if there are contributors or potential contributors who live in the city that we could talk to and sit down with, that's what I prefer to do: have an actual engagement. Sometimes that happens beforehand, sometimes it doesn't. There are people who have submitted for our first and second issue that I now participate in their work or we're sitting down and having meals together, which is awesome. It's not a situation where, like, you've dumped off your content and "See ya later!" There is a continual dialogue that's going on.

Nico Lang: What do you see your aesthetic as?

Topher McCullough: Our tagline is "a queer Chicago collaboration of culture and classlessness" so there's kind of a wink and a nod there, as to what's class and what's classlessness. When she was hosting Northern Lights, Nicole Garneau always talked about "keeping it weird and sexy," which I think is something that runs through Chicago IRL—of being weird and sexy—and that's part of the culture and classlessness line, too.

Another theme of our work is planning Internet identity and how the Internet relates to queerness. Its not a major theme but while wanting to be a publication magazine in a world where print is dying, we find more people online and interact with them there first before the real world.

Nico Lang: How do you see yourselves as interacting with community?

Topher McCullough: We are giving diverse communities as a platform to see their work in the real world. Yeah, and there is definitely a community aspect because we are in Chicago and wokring within the greater communities of Chicago. I don't think Chicago as itself is a community but a documentation of communities. We see ourselves going to get this platform out and no one needs a platform anymore, so it is silly. We put it out there, and we still get stuff in. That is significant for us. It is hard to have those conversations but why be in something like this when you can create your own platform and have a voice for yourself? People do, and I love that. It is a celebration for me.

Contact info@chicagoirl.com for more information.


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