Chicago a Hotbed for Indie 'Zines and Bookstores

While in Chicago…

The Chicago Tribune recently ran an article highlighting the Windy City’s best indie magazines and the bookstores that carry them. Check them out while attending BookExpo America.

Here's a look at some of Chicago’s best ‘zines:


When artist Buzz Spector co-founded WhiteWalls in 1977, "I envisioned it as something that would amuse a small number of people for a few years, then disappear," Spector says.

Each issue is still "curated" by artists who present cutting-edge work without the filter of reviews and criticism. But now WhiteWalls is enjoying a conspicuous revival.

The most recent issue comprises 128 pages of inventions devised by prison inmates -- a dazzling array of handy appliances fashioned from disposable razor blades, Popsicle sticks and dismantled toothbrushes.

WhiteWalls' influence has always greatly exceeded its subscription base. With an annual budget of about $30,000 -- some of which comes from grants -- it sends just two or three issues a year to about 500 homes, libraries and stores.

Editor Anthony Elms is negotiating a distribution agreement with the University of Chicago Press aimed at greatly expanding WhiteWalls' readership.

Issues are usually $8: WhiteWalls, P.O. Box 8204, Chicago, IL, 60680.


Initially better known for its issue-release parties than the contents of its square pages, Annette Ferrara's journal celebrates smart art, street-fad fashion, open-air architecture and cheap ways of making cool stuff.

In a recent issue, "Special Assignment" designer Don Guss explained how to make an elegant side table from cardboard boxes.

Named for its boxy format, this plush little square of a magazine isn't guided by an aesthetic so much as a "code of ethics" that mandates living in style even when you're just about broke. If you're on a tight budget, one article begins, "It helps to have the right mental resources."

TENbyTEN's back pages are filled with spicy, finger-food reviews of worth-watching-for bands, films, gallery shows and architectural events.

Issues are $7: TENbyTEN, 222 S. Morgan Drive, Chicago, IL 60607,

Stop Smiling

Editor J.C. Gabel is obsessed with the best of 1970s journalism: the high, gonzo stylings of the early Spy and mature Esquire, the unblinking interviews that once distinguished Playboy.

"We want to preserve what made magazines cool," Gabel says. "We are trying to create a timeless magazine."

Launched as the literate, music and film fanzine of a 19-year-old drawn to the fluorescent lights of an all-night Kinko's, Stop Smiling has become a richly framed snapshot of our current culture.

A recent issue has three, as it features interviews with actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, writer George Plimpton (likely the last conducted before he died in September) and former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.

Issues are $5.95: PO BOX 577999, Chicago, IL 60657,

Prickly Paradigm Press

Often called one of America's most profound and original living anthropologists, Marshall Sahlins is also a provocative essayist known for his stinging 1960s polemics against the Vietnam War.

Sahlins gathered a group of investors to revive Prickly Paradigm, the successor to a moribund British pamphlet series, and he has opened its pages to scholars who stretch beyond their disciplines to address contemporary culture, politics and issues of broad public concern.

Issues are $10: distributed through the University of Chicago Press,


Published and edited by 35-year-old Version Festival organizer Ed Marszewski, Select magazine aims to harness the energy emanating from Chicago's basements, bars and galleries. Guest-curated by artist and designer Cody Hudson, Select's most recent issue is made up of colorful, decidedly political 18-by-23-inch posters.

Often enhanced with a CD or DVD that includes music, videos or digital ephemera, Select prints about 3,500 of each issue, selling them at festivals, art events and bookstores, as well as through Tower Records stores.

Issues are $10: Select, 1542 N. Milwaukee Ave.,

The Baffler

A flashy, snarky compendium of cultural criticism inspired by H.L. Mencken and punk rock, The Baffler has existed since 1988; after falling on hard times, it was recently revived by editor Thomas Frank -- an expert at debunking the pomposities of power.

Issues are $7.50: The Baffler, P.O. Box 378293, Chicago, IL 60637,


A decidedly highbrow, 4-year-old, artists-produced journal, Bridge seeks to bind the horizons of literature, poetry, visual art and music. "I come with good will to make you a reading machine," writes contributor Jessica Lowenthal in a recent issue.

Issues are $10: Bridge, 119 N. Peoria St., #3D, Chicago, IL 60607,

A few of the area indie bookstores that feature local small-press magazines:

- Barbara's Bookstore: 3130 N. Broadway, 773-477-0411; or 1100 Lake St., Oak Park, 708-848-9140.

- Chic.ago Comics: 3244 N. Clark St., 773-528-1983 or 800-509-0333.

- City Newsstand: 4018 N. Cicero Ave., 773-545-7377; or 860 Chicago (at Main), Evanston, 847-425-8900.

- Dusty Groove America: 1120 N. Ashland Ave., 773-342-5800.

- Evil Clown: 3418 N. Halsted St., 773-472-4761.

- 57th Street Books: 1301 E. 57th St., 773-684-1300.

- Museum of Contemporary Art bookstore: 220 E. Chicago Ave., 312-397-4001.

- Quimby's: 1854 W. North Ave., 773-342-0910.

- Reckless Records: 1532 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-235-3727; or 3161 N. Broadway, 773-404-5080.

- Seminary Co-op Bookstore: 5757 S. University Ave., 800-777-1456.

- Women & Children First: 5233 N. Clark St., 773-769-9299.