The Apocalypse Has Been Moved… To the Northside
Last month Cyberpunk Apocalypse, Pittsburgh’s writer’s cooperative, moved its base of operations from Lawrenceville to Central Northside. The move was prompted by the need for a larger space to house visiting writers, and a better chance to engage with the Pittsburgh literary community. The new venue also features a performance area for music and readings.
Cyberpunk Apocalypse was founded in 2009 by resident writer, comic book creator, and recent University of Pittsburgh grad Daniel McCloskey. A self-described not-for-profit organization, Cyberpunk hosts visiting writers for one-month stays, and is “dedicated to aiding and abetting writers and comic artists in Pittsburgh PA, and by extension the world.”
Sampsonia Way recently visited the group’s new house and sat down with McCloskey and his colleague Artnoose, a writer of zines, letter-press aficionado, and social media organizer. Also in attendance was comic illustrator Nate McDonough, who has been with Cyberpunk for about a year. In this interview they discuss the move, the residency program, zines, and how they hope to grow in their new home.
How did the idea for Cyberpunk Apocalypse emerge?
Dan: Basically I got into writing through zines at a punk house. I wanted to use this oft-repeated model of a punk house that creates an engaging community of people who are interested in art and punk rock music and make that work for writers.
Was it also a reaction to the standardized route that one can take as a writer?
Dan: I feel like our house is generally anti-MFA. I do think that people get stuck in a route that is not necessarily helpful for them and it is importantly to think creatively about what you are doing.
Nate: You should clarify that we are not anti-people who have an MFA or anti-getting an MFA…
Dan: I guess I am anti-paying for an MFA. If you can get paid, that seems like a good racket. There are things that people get out of it. But I know a lot of people who are just forced to work fifty hours a week to pay off MFA programs when they could be writing. Instead they could be working one day a week at a parking lot and working on stuff they want to be working on in their free time.
Is that what you are offering, a space away from distractions—a quiet space where they can work?
Dan: Honestly we don’t offer all that much. We offer a dingy room and a bunch of people that are excited about doing fairly different things. That is a lot to some people; that is what some people need, apparently. That is what I need…
You’re pretty new to this particular space on the Northside. What prompted the move from Lawrenceville?
Dan: This is a neighborhood that I wanted to be in originally. The space became available, and the owner was looking to sell it to someone who would be doing something positive and cooperative with the space, as opposed to selling it to someone who would split it up into lofts and then rent it. This building has a lot more potential than the space we were in before. I talked it over with everybody…
Nate: I wasn’t especially enthusiastic about it immediately. Then I saw the space, and it’s fantastic, and I love the neighborhood.
Is there something about the community in Central Northside that is more attractive for what you are trying to do?
Dan: It’s been very welcoming in terms of arts organizations like Sampsonia Way and City of Asylum. It’s conveniently close to A.I.R. (Artist Image Resource) for silk screening. Also this particular block is really great. There are about fifteen little kids on the front stoop everyday when I go outside, screaming to hang out with my dog. It makes me feel a lot more a part of the neighborhood than I did at the last spot.
Part of what you guys do here is host the writer’s residency program. Can you talk about that?
Nate: We have a different writer come up every month for thirty days. There have been a couple of months that we didn’t have someone. We’ve had 24 or 25 visiting writers including the long-term residences, and they come from far and yonder, as far as Canada. They hang out for thirty days and work on projects. At the end of thirty days they give an informal presentation to share what they’ve been working on. In the interim they write as much as they feel like. We also do our best to show them Pittsburgh.
What is the application process like? Are there different skill levels that the writers bring?
Dan: The skill level varies a lot, that’s true. The application process is really informal. It’s been recommended to us to make it more formal if we are going to try to attract a lot more applicants. As of now we’ve been mostly word-of-mouth. They’re all in the general category of bourgeoning writers. No one is a rock star. Or if they are, they are really only a rock star to us.
Our first visiting writer so far is probably our most successful. His name is Magpie Killjoy. He’s got a recent book out that was written here. It’s sort of a steampunk choose your own adventure novel called What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower.
Artnoose: He had already been pretty accomplished before coming to our residency.
Do you also offer means for the writers to publish their work at the end of the residency?
Artnoose: Not yet. That is not a guaranteed part of the residency. One of my goals is to have a print shop that has an off-set press so that people could conceivably print their own stuff. I feel like one month is a short amount time to write something and then publish it though. I am trying to get another house that would be a print shop house. Then there could be a possibility of doing a writer’s residency and then doing a printer’s residency.
Dan: The writers in residence do have access to some of the other connections we have. Multiple residents have published through Six Gallery Press, a local publisher that is eager to do stuff with people we vouch for. We also have Zine of the Month Club where we send a zine out every month. A lot of times we will try and help a visiting writer by giving them around eighty bucks for a bunch of their zines that we will mail out. It’s nice because it’s more money than a lot of people get for zines at any given time, and because their writing gets to people who it otherwise wouldn’t reach.
I think zines are a great way to distribute things, practically. I care about content more than form. Artnoose has been doing the same letter-press zine for years, so for her form is important. That’s style.
What is your approach to elevating zines and comics to a level of standard literature? Do you believe those genres need to have more exposure, more attention?
Nate: I feel like it is doing a disservice to try and convince people to be interested in comics. It’s like, “It’s on the New York Times Best Seller list now and they’re more than just super heroes and not just for kids and they’re important.” I dismiss all that. Comics are fine; no argument is going to change someone’s mind if they don’t believe it’s a legitimate form of literature.
Dan: I think there is something positive about more people realizing that comics aren’t just for kids. It keeps people from being really mad. There are people who are infuriated because there will be sex in comics, or violence. They assume that you are marketing to children.
Artnoose: I’ve been doing my zine, Kerbloom!, since 1996, so I’ve been in the zine world for a while. I like the form, I like the physicality of an object. Personally I am less into an online format even though I do a lot of online promotion. A lot of times, because my zine is letter-press printed, it gets fetishized, but I hope the content is interesting to people too.
Where do you see Cyberpunk Apocalypse in five years? How would you like it to grow?
Nate: We were joking that there will be a place for everything and everything in its place. Of course it has nothing to do with writing, but we’d like to have all of our 10,000 little projects completed by fixing this place up a little more, and all of the rooms ready, and hopefully all of the bedrooms occupied.
Dan: There is a lot of stuff that we are learning about writing, publishing, and distributing through the process of being here. I think that a big part of five years from now will be a greater collective knowledge base and a larger group of friends grown from all of the people who have come here and the people we have met on tour. Holding it down, basically.
Nate and I both do individual work, but we also have collaborative projects we work on. That is something that I’d like to see more of, just a lot of collaborative work.