canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Jackson Ellis, editor of Verbicide

Verbicide is a US-based arts magazine that hails from Vermont. To give you an idea of what it’s like, think sub-Terrain meets Broken Pencil meets Matrix (the magazine not the film) meets Punk Planet. The current issue of Verbicide features fiction by Jeremy Robert Johnson, Raegan Butcher, Joe Meno, and Rick Jankowski. Plus in-depth interviews include Chuck D of Public Enemy, Kim Coletta of Jawbox and owner of DeSoto Records, Simon Brody of Drowningman, and comic book author Jim Mahfood, creator of 40 Oz. Comics. Also featured is a hilarious dissertation on the "Generation of Whore" by Louis Ferrara, a feature on artist Erin Hewgley, spotlights on author Travis Jeppesen.

TDR conducted this interview in the Post-Xerox era of technology in late 2005.


When did you start verbicide?

I started Verbicide in 1999. I made the first issue by hand (cut and paste) in the summer following my freshman year of college. It was merely 12 pages, half-sized, with some poetry, a few photos, a few shorts rants, and some stupid pictures I clipped out of comics and cereal boxes—it was nothing too impressive. Most of the writing was done by myself and my friends Christopher Connal and Leanne O’Connor.

In fall of 2000 I made Verbicide issue two, another cut and paste job, and on election night of 2000 I met Douglas Novielli at a Rancid show in Boston. He was a friend of Chris Connal’s. He happened to run a literary webzine, Terraspatial, and we decided to join forces. We formed Scissor Press (the media company "umbrella" under which several projects are published) and in June of 2001, issue three of Verbicide was printed—the first professionally printed issue. It was poorly designed, rife with errors, and was only 48 pages of newsprint, but it was a big step for us. I worked with Doug as co-editor and co-publisher for a little more than two years. However, he stepped down from Scissor Press in April of 2003, and another former partner, Jason Marchi, left Scissor Press in the spring of 2004.

In August 2002 I met Nathaniel Pollard, the creator of Abstract Fantasy Comics. He was hired as a graphic artist at the Connecticut newspaper we both used to work at, and starting in 2003 he began contributing comics and cover designs to every issue. Now he is the production and art director. He designs every issue cover-to-cover, plus he contributes a good amount of editorial content and tons of creative input—and he still does his crazy comics. Nate and I are partners in this endeavor—our respective talents and personalities compliment each other’s quite well. Working with someone else in such an intense capacity can make for a very strained personal relationship, but I feel lucky to work with him because we’re "on the same page," so to speak. They say more business partners fail than marriages, and to any publishers just starting out, that’s important to keep in mind: if you’re going to put your heart and soul into such a time- and energy-consuming venture, make sure your overall vision, work ethic, and temperament is in sync with your work partners.

How many staff did you start out with and now how many do you have?

It started out as just me, and a couple friends who contributed writing. Now, I manage the editorial end of things, but I also handle all the administrative stuff. Simply put, I am the publisher, editor, intern, and janitor. I sell ads, do the bookkeeping, work with distributors, read and critique submissions, communicate with writers, and edit and proofread everything from front to back. I pick up and sort the mail, catalogue and ship CDs and books to reviewers, answer email, handle PR inquiries, communicate with the printers, pay the bills, stuff envelopes, and sort, bundle, bag, and deliver the bulk mail—and I’m constantly "following up" with people, making sure things are getting done. I’m always, always trying to think of ways to improve the magazine, thinking of new people to feature, and so on. Sometimes I do a little writing.

Nate Pollard gives Verbicide its "look and feel." Its visual esthetic is his vision. We both work fulltime outside of Scissor Press, but Nate’s job is more demanding than mine—and because of that he basically lives like a graphic arts vampire, doing design throughout the night. Except vampires sleep during the day, right? I don’t know how he manages it. Nate also does the web design for, designs all of our distributor contracts, fliers, and media kits, and is an idea machine. A lot of the improvements and additions to our editorial repertoire have been his initiatives. He also publishes his Abstract Fantasy comic books.

So we are the backbone of the operation, but there are over 50 people who work in varying roles on every issue, and each person is essential. I think to be a successful publisher, you have to realize at some point that even though your magazine might be your "baby," there are people out there who are better writers, better journalists, better photographers, better artists, and better designers than you are—and you need to have complete confidence in other people’s abilities. Even if the world hasn’t caught on yet, Verbicide has some of the most talented people in those respective fields contributing to its pages—I could sit here and list their names and tell you in detail how talented and wonderful they are, but it would take me forever to get to everyone, and I’m not about to try and pick just a few to talk about. I don’t want to omit anyone. To the readers, pick up the magazine and see for yourself what I’m talking about.

What is the average circulation? How is Verbicide distributed?

The per-issue press run has been approximately 8,000 to 9,500 since issue eight, released in May 2003. Next issue (issue 16, to be released in March 2006) will have a press run of approximately 15,000. Maybe more, maybe a little less—we’ll see, it’s a bit early to know precisely.

You asked about the distribution, so here it goes—I might lose you, so just do your best to bear with me. Verbicide is currently distributed to retailers by Ingram Periodicals, Doormouse, Disticor Direct, Chas Levy, Kent News, Ubiquity Distribution, Media Solutions, Bernhard DeBoer, and another Canadian distro whose name I can’t even remember—all those accounts are managed by Disticor Magazine Distribution, based out of Ontario, Canada. However, beginning in March, I am finally breaking free from my three-year term (it’s been more like a sentence) with Ingram and switching to Source Interlink/IPD, who will be Verbicide’s biggest domestic independent and chain retailer distributor—and they will also supply Bookazine, a European distributor. Also starting in March, RetailVision will supply Transworld chain stores (FYE, Coconuts, Strawberries, etc.) and other select independent stores with Verbicide.

In addition to all that, Verbicide is distributed for free by Suburban Home Distribution, Very Distribution, RevHQ, and Microcosm Books, and by myself and other folks who leave free copies at drop spots in cities all over the States. Plus, I distribute directly to Newbury Comics, Tower Records, and, and I donate copies to Books To Prisoners in Seattle.

You can find Verbicide in large stores such as Chapters, Indigo, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Hastings, and so forth…but I suggest patronizing independent retailers. I don’t necessarily agree with the ethics of the large chain stores, but these days they are essential if you’re a publisher, so I’m going to keep tight-lipped on that subject. If you can’t find Verbicide at your local bookstore, record store, or newsstand, suggest to them that they acquire it through Doormouse or Disticor (Canada) or Source Interlink or Ubiquity (United States).

What have been some of the highlights from past issues?

Some of the most memorable interviews that I’ve personally conducted include Ian MacKaye (who I’ve interviewed twice, issues five and 13), Henry Rollins (issue six), Greg Ginn (issue 12), Dave Crider (issue 12), Amy Schroeder (issue 13), Sander Hicks (issue four), Kim Coletta (issue 15), and Dan Hoerner (issue seven). The best interview I think we ever did was with author Tim O’Brien, in issue eight—that was conducted mainly by Doug Novielli, but also Chris Connal, Helen Novielli, and I were present and participated.

Interviews that were not conducted by me but really standout in my mind include Seth Gotro’s interview with boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (issue eight), Todd Taylor’s interviews with Tim Kerr and Grier Weeks (issues 13 and 12), Avir Mitra’s interview with Chuck D (issue 15), and Nate Griffin’s lengthy article on the band Statistics—a band I wasn’t even familiar with when it was pitched to me, but it was really intriguing and well-written (issue nine). There are few interviews over the history of Verbicide that I look back on and am dissatisfied with.

Some of the best non-interview pieces have included all of Raegan Butcher’s poetry, and all the fiction by longtime contributors such as Kris Sevillena, Christopher Staley, and Jeremy Robert Johnson. But, as Kris Sevillena said to me recently (he currently lives in Japan but still makes the effort to call me from time to time), "even the record reviews are literature." The people who review music (and books, and movies) for Verbicide really know their stuff. Their knowledge and personalities pour out of them in every review. They are sincere and interesting.

Also, Michael Twohig has been contributing artwork and illustrations to Verbicide for nearly three years now, and Verbicide’s chief photographer Cayte Nobles has been providing photos since issue seven! It would be unfair to overlook these two. They’ve been mainstays for so long and it’s an honor to publish their work, issue after issue.

I’m sure I neglected to mention some very worthwhile pieces in my answer. But I will reiterate, everything that has been published in Verbicide was published because it deserved to be.

Verbicide is now in transition, what are you hoping to do in terms of expansion, etc?

Some of the ideas we’re tossing around include a complete top-to-bottom redesign of the magazine to make it more "visual" and iconic, a revamped logo, a new slogan, a "news" department or column by writer Mark Huddle, adding sidebars to the interviews, and increasing the page count by at least eight to 16 pages. Maybe adding some color pages in mid-2006, though that is up to advertisers, whether or not they are interested in paying extra—color ink is expensive. Lisa Rierson just came on board as the arts editor, which is wonderful. Also, the distribution changes are very exciting, and I hope that by making Verbicide more marketable (without compromising our editorial integrity) it takes off!

Magazine culture and independent artists seem to have such a brilliant relationship, what has it been like to work with so many great and talented people?

I’m really proud of everything in Verbicide. And I consider myself lucky to work with the artists and writers who’ve contributed to Verbicide, because I’ve made a lot of friends. It’s brought me close to a bunch of great people with great minds, and to me that is the best part.

Nathaniel G. Moore conducted this interview. He is the author of Bowl Brawl (Conundrum Press, 2005).







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We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.