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Digging the dirt on ex-zinesters

By Nathaniel G. Moore

“Do you remember the 1990’s?” That’s the first thing out of my mouth when I meet up with my deleted subject El Spellbergo, but he doesn’t hear me. He doesn’t hear me call him El Spellbergo either. But it seems like a fitting way to start the interview because back in the late 1990s, Marty Spellerberg was nothing more than a young man with a drawer full of jpegs and a caffeine addiction. It could be stated here in this column, that he also had a dream. It was in the year 1998 when Spellerberg launched HALFEMPTY.COM. And he hasn’t looked back, except to see if people are following him.

Dozens of updates, hundreds of collaborators, several successful spin-offs and three print issues later, Spellerberg is planning to expand his brand with another print issue and the maintenance of the ever-growing HALFEMPTY (online) archives project.

When I visit him for this exclusive interview, he shuttles me past his kitchen of undone dishes, “Don’t write anything down that you see here,” he instructs me. As I follow him I notice a blow-up of a Wednesday Cooper panel along his hallway, (an online animation project about a teenage girl in suburbia) and stacks of the print HALFEMPTY at the top of the stairs. “That pile was twice as large before the last mailout. I just shipped a whole bunch out,” he says, offering me a chair in what appears to be a library or study. In this room I spot two laptops, a projector, a bookcase and a large bottle of Dr. Pepper. I ask Spellerberg if he’s still planning to move “off the grid” to Mexico. He shrugs.

For the next ten minutes, as I talk about myself in third person, he turns listless; a woeful faraway look starts to swell over him at unexpected moments. “There’s something in my eye,” he says and excuses himself. It’s always been this way with Spellerberg. I think it’s important that I’ve left out a large portion of his credentials, otherwise it becomes a cut and paste CV swindle. You really should just go out and find stuff that he’s done. It’s not hard, he’s practically public domain. Spellerberg waffles between online and print mediums, freelance design projects. It is during these waffling moments he discovers how broad his interests can go, and who he finds interesting to expose. In HALFEMPTY #2 for example, the print magazine covered topics as diverse as “Art In Retail” a profile on the film “Moccasin Flats” screening at Sundance, and an interview with illustrator Ilan Katin by Brazilian artist Cisma.

HALFEMPTY’s mandate hasn’t really changed a lot in the last decade, it’s a collective and a presence focusing on emerging styles in visual art and design, each issue features interviews with the unique voices of up-and-coming visual and media artists and designers, plus raw, personal works of art created specially for the publication.

Spellerberg works stealth-like as a designer throughout the world. He shows at galleries, does stuff for Maybelline, Rogers Wireless, designs badges for Texas Space Grant, websites for Magic Pony in Toronto, designs, edits and distributes his print issues….Whoah, back up. His early cohorts included people called Alison Honey (photography) and artist James Patterson (PRESSTUBE.COM) people who are “still in the picture,” says Spellerberg, offering me three ice cubes from a pair of ice snatchers.

The distribution of print is much more uncontrollable when compared to the sinister laziness of that dirty old whore the internet, and its this that becomes apparent when you have a room full of print issues. But within the unholy trinity of obsessed visionary, designer and grand admiral task master in which Spellerberg thrives, he has a new distribution system in line when HALFEMPTY the print issue resurges in 2007. “But I can’t tell you what it is,” says Spellerberg. Which of course doesn’t sound promising but we’re dealing with artists in these pages not politicians, so back off.

At press time, and as my BP deadline approaches like my annual waltz with bronchitis, HALFEMPTY is part of the “Mega Zines” show (a large gallery show about print magazines curated by Kyra Griffin) at the Visonaire Gallery in Soho. “It’s been extended to the end of the year,” Spellerberg assures me. In reality, (which I have access to) the show has been so successful they are even considering a full colour book to accom-pany Mega Zines as they tour Europe next year. Spellerberg finds himself in the strange netherworld between over-saturation of the self and totally emotional and professional extinction. He could wind up off the grid for most of 2007 but hasn’t ruled out sticking around to see HALFEMPTY turn 10, which it will in January 1998. I mean, 2008. Off the grid or not, Spellerberg has something to donate to the visual world, one jpeg font size and postal route at a time.

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