Interview: Atomic Books [zine store in Baltimore]

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1] I don’t know much about Baltimore, but Atomic Books seems to be on every online list of where to buy/send zines that I’ve ever seen. How did you get so well known?
To learn all you need to know about Baltimore, just watch the HBO series The Wire. It’s exactly like that. Also, John Waters’ Pink Flamingos. It’s exactly like that too.
Atomic first gained notoriety after the multiple homicide, but we agreed to participate in this interview under the condition that we would not have to talk about that.
The store has been around since 1992. The store was selling books and publications online before there was an Amazon. It’s always been a place that’s been welcoming to zines, small presses and independent voices. We like weirdos with something to say.
2] What is your best-selling zine? My money’s on Cometbus…
Over the years, we’ve had a good number of great-selling zines.
Cometbus is a great guess. It as been a perennial best-seller and when a new issue comes out, it’s like a major event.
Other best-selling zines over the years have included Answer Me, Beer Frame, Ben Is Dead, Burn Collector, Chunklet, Crap Hound, Dishwasher, Doris, Found Magazine, Monozine, Murder Can Be Fun, Smile Hon You’re In Baltimore, Thrift Score, and a good number of others. But in the entire 25 year history of Atomic Books, the all-time best-selling zine we’ve carried has to be How To Talk To Your Cat About Gun Safety. It has cats. It has guns. It has solid advice. The perfect formula for a hit.
3] I live in Hong Kong so I can’t get to most zine places [actually, I can’t really get to any; HK is not famous for zines]. All I can do is send e-mails, and 8 out of 10 places never respond for various reasons. You guys did. Are you actively looking for weird sci-fi zines from HK or do you take zines from anywhere, anyone, anytime?
Hong Kong is not famous for zines, yet. YET! You’re the first step.
It can be tough. Really, the ideal is to be in a town that has a vibrant zine culture (and some times this “culture” can be comprised of one, two or several incredibly creative and prolific people. But the problem with that too is that the zine culture can come and go. Washington DC used to have a very active zine scene back in the early ’90s, now, not so much. New York has a decent zine culture. Chicago has a great zine scene. Portland has a vibrant zine scene. Right now, Australia seems to be developing an interesting zine scene.
Here in Baltimore, like most of our arts scenes in general, it ebbs and flows, which is weird because we have a number of universities and great art schools, our music scene has been pretty lively lately, we have a lot of political issues we need to work out, we have a growing publication festival in the city called the Prints and Multiples Fair and the Small Press Expo just a 45 minute hop over to Bethesda and we have a couple stores willing to support zine makers – so Baltimore has all the ingredients for a vibrant zine culture – but with a few exceptions, there’s really not a lot going on right now.

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