Encyclopedia Destructica, the zine years

Students at Carnegie Mellon are sometimes happy just to sit down with a cup of coffee, but now they might pick up some interesting “reading” material along with their caffeine boost. In addition to the few minutes’ rest, students may find themselves invited to enjoy the early works of local artists. The experience comes courtesy of Encyclopedia Destructica, a creative zine that came about thanks to two CMU alumni, the self-titled “directors” of the project.

Any zine by its very nature calls out to college student sensibilities. It is produced at a low cost, which is essential for students who wish to produce the publications. More importantly, a zine tends to be cheap to buy — or free. Encyclopedia Destructica brings together the work of artists in the introductory stages of their work. Its first volume is made up of four regular issues plus a single addendum, collectively known as Volume Atum. In a single issue you can read a short story, admire a sketch of a hill covered in houses, or laugh at pictures of cartoon sheep — and best of all it, carries little or no cost. Not only can you enjoy it with your cup of coffee, you can enjoy the issues of Encyclopedia Destructica free at coffee shops around town or purchase them at local bookstores.

Some of the places you might find copies are Kiva Han or Quiet Storm, or for a pittance you can pick up issues at shops such as Caliban Bookstore. Encyclopedia Destructica also travels to fairs and shows around Pittsburgh. Last October they were featured at the “Media Swap Meet” at the Mattress Factory. You can find other local zines, like The Unicorn Mountain or Salt, in the same environments.

Encyclopedia Destructica started as a concept in the mind of alumnus Chris Kardambikis, who graduated with a degree in Fine Arts last year. The strange title comes from an episode of The Simpsons. In the episode, a documentary is being filmed about the Simpson family, and the narrator describes some Simpson “debauchery” as “just Volume One of the Encyclopedia Self-Destructica.” Tom Weinrich, who was heavily involved in the first issue of the zine, suggested that they adapt this line for the title of the publication.

Each issue differs greatly from the next. Kardambikis said that before each printing, the directors discuss how to lay out the issue around the work. This way, the zine is not stagnant, but rather looks different from issue to issue. “The way we do it is ... building up each issue around themes that we find in certain ... people’s work,” said Jasdeep Khaira, another director of Encyclopedia Destructica. These themes are not necessarily the content of the art, but sometimes the style. The first issue is about “people creating worlds.”

Khaira and Kardambikis emphasize that the thematic ideas are very free-flowing and loose. However, the second volume is going to concentrate entirely on concerns of artists in the Pittsburgh area. Kardambikis said that they hope future volumes will be able to concentrate on another city, or could be a dialogue between artists in Pittsburgh and artists in a different city. Ultimately, the presentation of each issue is dedicated to allowing the pieces of art contained within to interact.

In the inaugural issue the format is relatively basic. For example, the issue contains a lot of line drawings and works in ink. The directors said that most issues contain three to five artists, but there are exceptions. Destructica also contains a bit of writing, but never over a few pages long. Creative writing might not be anticipated beside visual art, Khaira said. “People might not consider collecting poetry and publishing it [to be] art,” she said. “We might have writing [in the issues], but it’s writing as an art form.” True to this sentiment, Destructica considers the term “artist” to refer to those who write as well as those who work in visual media.

In the future, they aim to open up the doors to more forms. Khaira, who graduated in 2004 from the Bachelor of Humanities and Arts program, said that a lot of interest has been expressed for doing work with sound or music. “We’re hoping to incorporate that [sound] into our next volume,” she said. “People [could] work with some kind of visual thing and the sound would interact with how you flip the pages.”

At present, the first volume uses paper as it primary medium. But that does not limit Encyclopedia Destructica, which is open to any form the zine might take. If sound is added, Kardambikis said they may include CDs with the zine or provide the sound portion on the website. The intent is to create a dialogue between the artists, to “find whose art will communicate best together,” Kardambikis said.

Part of the work, Kardambikis said, is “just trying to decide the best way to package everyone’s artwork.” The zine takes the shape of the art inside it. If you find the fourth issue of Volume Atum, it opens to reveal sketches done on transparent paper. There is a sort of “frame” through which you can pass two layers of sketches until they overlap one another to reveal a new picture entirely. The fourth issue is by far the one that invites you to pick it up the most. It works like magic, and overlaying the sketches in new ways is slightly addictive.

Though the first issue is basic, later issues are much more interactive. The format of Encyclopedia Destructica engages the audience. At first, it was merely by flipping pages, but in later issues. Destructica invites you to overlay sketches or make a “do-it-yourself” minizine called “Let’s Move to Canada!” The minizine vaguely reflects Destructica itself, as Kardambikis feels that “Pittsburgh has a pretty extensive do-it-yourself culture.” Khaira added that Encyclopedia Destructica tries to bring “that culture to a wider audience.”

Each issue of Destructica is an “in-house” project; each issue has been printed by the directors themselves. Because of this, Khaira said that all the production for the first volume came out of pocket. It costs about $200 to $300 to produce an issue of Destructica. The zine is about to get a little outside help, however. They have been awarded a grant from the Sprout Fund, which will be used to produce the second volume, Volume Bumba. The Sprout Fund was started in part by a Heinz School alum and it awards small grants to innovative projects on a yearly basis.

At a smaller level, students or community members can get involved in Destructica by attending “binding parties.” These get-togethers attract volunteers who are interested in the project and who come to help put together the hand-bound copies. “We set up stations for everyone and ... we get people to help with the sewing and such,” said Kardambikis. “We’ve had a lot of people who [say], ‘I don’t have sketch work but I really want to help and I really like your idea.’” In return for the help with binding production, the Destructica directors provide food and beverages. Khaira said that once people get set up with some food and mimosas, they’re ready to start helping out with production.

Those who really want to get involved can elect to edit an issue of Destructica. Though Kardambikis and Khaira are the directors of the project, they will allow members of the community to edit an issue. This is just another part of making Destructica as collaborative as possible.

Like those that come along to help at binding parties, Kardambikis notes that most responses to Destructica are positive. “The excitement that we see from people ... really fuels us to keep doing it, too. It’s just great sometimes when people start spouting off ideas.”

One of the interesting facets of Encyclopedia Destructica is that it is all “sketch work” in some form or another. All pieces are works in progress. But why? “So much of what I like about art is discussing artwork with other artists,” Kardambikis explained, “and seeing what people are actually working on.” Being able to look at works in progress, whether they be visual or literary, allows artists to look at the others’ processes.

“The reason we’ve chosen to have sketchbook work is [that] we think that [form] is sort of looser,” said Khaira. “[It is] something you can ... pick up and look through and it’s not some kind of shiny art on the wall.”

Most Carnegie Mellon students are not going to be familiar with the artists contained within Encyclopedia Destructica, as most won’t have a background in art. Khaira believes that the issues still appeal to those outside the arts, though, because “they are so accessible and the location that we’re putting them at encourages people from outside the arts [to look].... It’s not like going to an art gallery.... Here they can take whatever they want from it.”

Keep your eyes peeled for the latest Encyclopedia Destructica if you’d like a little light “reading” with your coffee.