Monday, March 30, 2009

Posted by xCHIPxSEM |
Ryan Canavan has been going to shows in Syracuse for years and has contributed much of his time and effort into the zine "Hanging Like a Hex". In the 90s, Hex was one of the best zines out there and was one of my favorites along with Hardware and Anti-Matter. The zine folded around 2005/2006 but the label, Hex Records, continues on and has numerous releases planned this year. Check out the label here: Hex Records. Ryan still lives in Syracuse and after singing in the much loved band, The Funeral, he know sings for Mistletoe. A very big thank you to Ryan for typing this out so quickly and sending it on over to us.

Words by Ryan "Hex" Canavan

Hopefully this won’t come off as too self-indulgent, but getting all biographical sometimes feels a little weird. It’s like telling your life story to a room full of people who never asked for it. But hey, Chip asked for an account of my old zine, Hanging Like a Hex, and how it came to be, so here it is for better or for worse.
The zine I created arose out of a long-standing love of comics and self-publishing. When I was about 14 or 15 my friends and I were obsessed with comic books and creating our own stories and characters. We soon began printing up our own mini-comics, which is how I learned how to do page layout and arrange a zine.
Soon I got into punk and hardcore, and with it my creative urges went along with it. My Dad had been a graphic designer all his adult life so I learned many of my skills from him and he gave me a crash course in doing layouts on a computer.
My initial inspirations for a zine were the issues of Anti-Matter, Rumpshaker, Extent, Second Nature, and Trustkill that were at every show. This was around 1994 and at each show at least one person would be selling zines. I typically had enough money to get in, buy a tape and a zine, so I had to choose carefully. Plus, you never knew what would be there. Sometimes Very Distro would show up. Often bands would not only have their records, but other bands stuff as well, and a zine or two. There was no ordering anything online. You just had to get what was there and to this day I value having my old Anti-Matter zines, and my Unbroken tape because that stuff just wasn’t as accessible as it is now.
Zines were the tools of communication back then (unlike messageboards, MySpace, etc today) and I wanted to create something vital like that except, of course, what I thought was important.
After a few attempts with a goofy little newsletter I got brave and made a move to doing something with staples down the side instead of the top corner. While bored in class I just started writing down a list of names off the top of my head that could be possible titles. I came up with Ignorant Hero. It just sounded cool. My girlfriend at the time let me borrow a micro-recorder (which she never got back) and I interviewed Sick Of It All at a show a couple of weeks later. They proved to be awesome guys, and to this day, I think they’re the epitome of what a hardcore band ought to be. Next, I had words with Snapcase, which I remember nothing of. Between that, some reviews, pictures, and a bit of naive 16 year old straight edge rhetoric I had my first real zine! Borrowing a computer at the lab in school and saving up some after school job money I was able to print up 100 copies of Ignorant Hero #1 at Kinkos.
Ignorant Hero lasted four issues and ended soon after I finished with high school. I kind of gave things a rest for awhile as I started college and actually began making some friends at shows.
By that Summer a few things had changed- I noticed a lot more zines going a bit more professional. It was more common to not only see more zines being printed on newsprint, and created with personal computers (instead of cut n’ paste), but to just see more zines period. Zines like Muddle, HeartattaCk, Eventide, Change, Dogprint, and more were popping up. Plus, I had started traveling out of town for shows and getting a broader perspective on scenes elsewhere.
I decided to try the newsprint route under a new moniker. I gave a glance back at that list I came up with a couple years prior and decided on Hanging Like a Hex. It wasn’t a title that was very memorable, or made for easy typesetting. A lot of people ask what it meant and here it is: ya know that band Clutch? It’s part of a line from one of their songs- “I hang like a hex on a barn”. It’s supposed to be an omen, bad luck, and rather ominous. It’s sort of hokey, but it stuck. Plus, it’s another indication that musically I’ve never solely identified with just hardcore. All sorts of music inspires me and I find parallels between HC/punk bands and other styles of underground music that has just as much integrity as the hardcore scene that I love. I guess that’s always been part of hat I tried to put forth in my zines.
Either way, that’s where it started. I started Hex at issue #5 because that’s where the old zine left off.
Here’s a funny story about that first issue: When I was working on it I was hanging around with Dave Agronoff alot, who was an old hardline dude who had moved to Syracuse from Indiana. One day he was putting together a zine of his own and I noticed that he was binding them with used rubber bands. I asked him why he didn’t just use staples. He told me that staples were a tool of ‘the man’. Perhaps there was a bit of an environmental piece to it all, as reusing rubber bands rather than new staples was probably a bit more ecologically sound, but the truth was probably closer to him not having a stapler and he was just fucking with me. Nevertheless, when I went to print the first Hex I asked that there be no staples in it, which ended up being a stupid idea because it fell apart really easy. What can I say, I was naive and impressionable.
I’d like to think I smartened up a bit since then. I got pretty good at putting out issues in a timely fashion, doing interviews with confidence, and better at design. I especially liked diversifying the content outside of just hardcore, but still show how the DIY ethic extended beyond the boundaries of just punk bands. For the most part I think it confused a lot of people, but it was pretty entertaining to me. I was really excited to interview bands as diverse as Neurosis, Discordance Axis, Tortoise, 25 Ta Life, Overcast, Buried Alive, Cause For Alarm, Deadguy, and tons more.
Additionally, it was getting easier and easier for produce their own zine. By ‘97 personal computers were very common, and you couldn’t go to a show without tripping over a pile of poorly produced newsprint zines with nothing new to offer. A few began rising to the top and I thought I had to step up my game a bit too.
I did one issue that pissed off a lot of people because of how it was packaged. See, not only was there getting to be a glut of bad zines, but also it was getting easier for bands to record and put out shitty records, and I seemed to get them all in my mailbox. So this one issue I made had the first 200 copies come in a paper bag that had the title branded into it (using the kitchen stove to do this not only made my house smell like it was on fire, but also pissed my Mom off something fierce). Inside the bag was the zine, as well as broken shards of various CDs that I thought sucked. I had smashed up a bunch of stuff I got for review and tossed in bits and pieces into the bags before stapling them closed.
Another way I tried to stay ahead was to do some spot color in the zine. This is when you do one or two extra colors in addition to black and white on certain pages. It worked well, but for one issue, on the cover, I decided to take a cue from one of my favorite records and put spaces between letters where there shouldn’t be and do different colors for groups of letters to further confuse readers. For instance HANGING LIKE A HEX was spelled HAN GLIK EAHEX while the featured bands had the colors in the wrong spots. I guess it was my attempt to get people to not just be swayed by a familiar title or solely on what cool bands were on the cover. You had to open it up and investigate for yourself, just like I had to seek out and search for punk when I was coming up. It wasn’t just handed to me. This proved to not really work very well because no one was interested in some zine they thought was in a foreign language. Oh well.
By this point I had started booking shows too, which made it easier to talk to bands I wanted to interview, and see things from more than merely a spectator’s point of view. Not long after that I transferred to school up in Buffalo where I occasionally booked shows and continued to do the zine.
As always, things got more and more serious. I saw zines turning into near professional magazines. It was hard to keep up and also made me question at what point was a zine a magazine, and where to draw the line? Nothing Left, I Stand Alone, Punk Planet, Skyscraper, Hit It Or Quit It, and more were all doing full color covers, special inserts, perfect binding (as in a spine on the side) and once again I felt like I had to step up. Instead of doing the covers myself I started getting others to do full color covers for me. And in retrospect, I got some very impressive artists- mostly well known (now) indie comic artists- to do covers before they really blew up. Al Columbia, Jordan Crane, and Mark Reusch all supplied covers, which I’m really proud of. It also marked a couple new things. I started getting distribution through chain stores, and I began putting out records. Nevermind that I was about to graduate college. That wasn’t really important. I had started printing 3000 copies of my zine, with the first 1000 having a cool compilation 7” in them!
But by then it was ‘99 and the internet was becoming a lot more common. Perhaps I’d made the leap into a full-blown professional zine too late because it became harder and harder to get my zine out and sold, as well as keep information relevant since the internet moved much faster. I became more interested in putting out records instead of laboring over 300 record reviews that took up entirely too much space in my zine. By 2003 I really slowed down and almost gave up completely. I began putting more zine content on my label site to keep up with my weird obsession with writing and documentation so a print zine didn’t seem as necessary. Finally, a couple years ago I published the last Hex zine, after sitting on a bunch of unused content for nearly three years just as a final, formal nail in the coffin. It ended up being more like a book of stuff I’d always felt was relevant rather than a zine with content that was outdated. And despite losing a bunch of money making it I’m glad I did it just to say that I got it done.
Since then I’ve rediscovered my love for just doing simple zines and I still make some from time to time because I’ll never get them out of my blood completely. I did a couple of 1/4 size travel zines called Return just to stay busy, and I do a small hardcore zine whenever I feel lie it called Translate so I can still feel creative and feel zero pressure to keep any sort of deadline. Plus, I continue to keep content on my blog site that also serves as my label page.
I know at this point hardcore zines are few and far between while blogs and webzines seem to dominate. And while there are a number of online forums that I enjoy and check all the time in the end the tangibility of the physical will always outweigh the temporary and easily forgettable nature of the digital.

Hanging Like a Hex zine/Hex Records
201 Maple Ln. N. Syracuse, NY 13212
AIM: hanginghex
Distributed by Lumberjack/Mordam

Helms Alee 7"
Lemuria 7"
End Of a Year 7"
Oak and Bone 7"
Night Owls CDEP

The Helm, "Home" full length
Prize Country, "With Love... From the Gutter" full-length


David Agranoff said...

Ha-ha! I don't remember that Ryan! I'm sure I was kidding. We always used staples. Except Our Nature's defense catalog.

Hex was a great zine. Hell I always enjoyed ignorant hero. Ryan Hex was always one of my favorite dudes in the cuse.