“I discovered zines when I was living in Portland ten years ago,” Nyky Gomez said. “I was working in construction at the time, and down the street there was an IWW café with a zine library. I was really poor at the time, and would often sit there and read zines during my breaks.”
For Seattle transplant Nyky Gomez, what started as years of reading, writing, and collecting zines, (not-for-profit DIY publications) became a driving force to begin a distribution project of her own in 2013.
But what really inspired her was a frustration with what content she could get her hands on — it was hard to find zines she could relate to.
“I was on the internet looking for zines to read by people of color, in particular women of color,” Gomez said. “I wanted to see my experiences echoed back to me, or have some sort of relatable material to read at the time. I was irritated, because I was seeing the same 5-6 people of color being represented in zine distros.”
Gomez founded Brown Recluse Zine Distro to carve out a presence for zines written by and for people of color (POC). A “distro” is a distribution source for independent publishing (like zines), indie music labels, and other DIY crafts and goods.
Brown Recluse was named after Gomez’s affinity for poisonous deadly spiders and an appreciation for solitude — which speaks to the distro’s discreet nature, operated out of a medium-sized suitcase in her Georgetown home.
“I knew that there’s lots of people of color making zines because we are everywhere, we are the majority of the population on this earth, so we have to be making zines,” Gomez said. “I was thinking, instead of complaining, I could do something about it. So I made a call out on Tumblr for zines and started going through my POC zines and contacting all the folks I knew who were writing zines.”
Brown Recluse is one of few zine distros that exclusively carries zines by and for POC, with a focus on personal zines (per-zines), alternative zines, punk zines, personal politic zines, and interview zines. Since its inception in 2013, Gomez’s collection has grown up to carrying 86 different titles, with over 20 in the submissions pile currently up for review. Gomez runs the entire operation on her own, with some occasional help from friends.
“It all started out of wanting carve out a space and have a space for work by people of color, and now it’s overwhelming because I get a ton of submissions, more than I can afford to carry,” Gomez said. “Generally the distro is self-sustaining, and sometimes I can actually pay myself for the work I do, which is nice but rare.”
Brown Recluse accepts submissions by mail, and if a zine is accepted, Gomez buys a stock from the artist to add to the distro and gives the artist a fifty percent commission. She receives submissions from all over the country and sometimes Canada, and sends out orders to people all over the world.
“I accept zines not on how well the content is written but based on if it conveys a message,” Gomez said. “A lot of this has to do with whether or not I have the money to carry a zine, and whether or not I like it. I don’t carry comic, poetry or art zines. I like per-zines because I like to know about people.”
For POC artists like comic artist Sarah Rosenblatt, Brown Recluse has made significant contributions to the DIY arts community in Seattle. Rosenblatt began following Brown Recluse after she discovered the distro at the Race Riot Zine Tour in 2013. Rosenblatt feels that Brown Recluse is doing critical work in carving out space in Seattle for art by people of color.
“I think it’s extremely important for an exclusively POC distro to exist,” Rosenblatt said. “In our society, white people are told everyday that their voices and lives matter, and people of color are silenced and disposable in many different ways. POC zines are a great way to push back against that.”
Gomez has taken Brown Recluse to zine festivals all over the country. Most recently, she tabled at “The Sun Never Sets: a showcase of art and performance by women of color,” in January. Over 600 people piled into Capitol Hill’s modestly sized TMRW PARTY studio to catch a glimpse of the multidisciplinary body of work.
“Activist Anna Vo and I decided that Nyky’s zine distro needed to be at the event,” event organizer Leena Joshi said. “This is someone who’s gone out of her way to collect voices in Seattle, and voices beyond Seattle, of POC zine makers and thinkers, and trying to make it accessible to other POC.”
Joshi believes Gomez’s distro was critical to the event because it allowed people to have “something tangible they could touch, read, and have with them when they left.”
“I think it’s specifically important that this is happening in Seattle, where there’s an undercurrent of POC activity in art and zines and organizing,” Joshi said. “It still feels like an undercurrent — something that needs to be collected.”
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