We’ve shot a lot of covers over 20 years and 68 issues. We’ve captured suburban backyard wrestling, re-created a trashy tabloid, covered a dude in zombie blood, made a DIY record player, and worked with some of our country’s greatest illustrators, including Marc Bell, Duke & Battersby, Shannon Gerard, Britt Wilson and the amazing Fiona Smyth (who lent her gifts to this issue’s artwork.) We’ve also worked with great photographers like Helen Yousif and Greg Wong!
But what about the tales behind the images – the sordid happenings, the last-minute hat tricks and the moments that actually worked? We chatted with founder Hal Niedzviecki about one of Broken Pencil’s most memorable covers and the stories behind them.
Small Town Savvy
Broken Pencil, Issue 15, Spring 2001
Cover model: Chris Rickett, the “Unlikely Bard”
Location: Stratford, Ontario
Photographer: Dave Fisher
Hal Niedzviecki: Yes! Chris Rickett!
He was running this zine in Stratford, Ontario. It was this outrageous zine that attacked all this horrible stuff the city was doing, like building another WalMart on the outskirts of town. It was this zine about gentrification and suburban sprawl. He basically trashed everyone and everybody. He was getting letters from lawyers — it was really becoming a big thing.
These zines crop up and do this for a year, a couple of years, and because we have so little actual meaningful dissent in our communities, especially on the local level, it really makes a mark. Chris was talking about Stratford City Council and some other really specific issues, and lots of stuff about partying and booze and drugs. It was just this hilarious mix of local urban planning coupled with this punk rock ethos of “Fuck it, let’s get drunk!”
I thought this was just a really interesting story. We went down to photograph him in downtown Stratford. You can see in the background — there’s these fancy, kind of Victorian-looking buildings, from the old part of downtown, and it was winter; it was snowy. We brought the Shakespeare costume, I think. He had a cigarette holder and those mirrored sunglasses and we just took these pictures. I love this picture so much. There’s that old lady in the background, with her fur coat. She has no idea she’s in this picture.
After we did the photo, he invited us to do a reading thing in Stratford. Now remember: this was 14 years ago. I was still a young man. We went out there, me and John Hodgins — our longterm designer — and there was Audrey Gagnon, who had written a zine we liked. She was in first year university, maybe second. I convinced her to come with us to read. I think she was a little terrified by what transpired. We met up with Chris and this entire crew of early 20something weirdos and they were doing a lot of drugs and drinking. He brought us over to dinner to his lawyer’s house, who had this big pre reading party. I feel like she was missing a limb. Yeah, maybe an arm or a leg. But that could just be a total figment.
We ate this big pot of venison spaghetti sauce. All of these people wandered in and everyone was getting heavily liquored up. I remember we got to the reading and it was packed, and Chris was just yelling stuff. Everyone was going nuts. And everything after that is kind of a blur. Drugs were consumed, and I was out on the street with John, around 1 a.m. We were being accosted by these small town macho types who were like “What are you guys, fags?” We had long greasy hair and I was sporting this long ugly old black trenchcoat that I never took off for whatever reason. You know, it was weird for them. We had this big shouting match and I think there was some pushing. And I don’t really remember what happened after that.
It was great. You always got a lot when you went out of the city and met with other people. The main thing you discover is the impact of zines and these underground projects. Even though most of them would last a year — two years — they had an impact. The smaller the community, the more direct your criticisms, the more powerful the impact is. People were really angry at him! And he was doing something in his community that nobody was doing.