First of all, thanks to Eric for making this 20th anniversary of Giant Robot talk happen. Can’t believe it was 20 years ago that we cranked out the first stapled-and-folded issue of Giant Robot and 4 years ago that the final glossy mag hit the newsstands. Coming back actually was a double homecoming for me since not only has the world gone on without the magazine for that long but the Giant Robot shop and gallery have soldiered on just fine without me! (Occasional blogging not withstanding.) So it was especially cool for me to be back on Sawtelle with Eric and so many collaborators and friends in attendance.
Of course, the event was a lot of fun. Eric and I have always made a great team not only making a kick-ass DIY magazine about Asian popular culture, but also giving talks about it. As usual, we shared stories about making the mag and pushing Asian culture, but this time we were able to point out friends in the audience who contributed words, photography, artwork, eyeballs, ad sales, and other forms of support from 1994-2010.
There was no need to encourage the crowd to apply the DIY aesthetic or punk rock spirit to what they love–as we used to do at colleges, museum, and other venues–because everyone in attendance was already an expert at that. Even the little kids who showed up, my 6-year-old daughter included.
I’d do a lousy job trying to recount what we talked about since we started off with an outline but went almost entirely freestyle. You’re better off listening to the podcast anyway. But I have been thinking a lot about what we didn’t get around to saying… How do I view the magazine in retrospect? How does making the mag echo in my life today?
The first thing that entered my mind when skimming back issues in preparation for the talk was that the topics of our articles were not obvious one. Especially in the early editions. Of course, underground, independent, and imported music, movies, and art were a lot less accessible back then but perhaps more importantly Asian culture was simply not cool in any way. We taste-tasted Asian hot sauces and canned coffee (with GWAR and ALL, respectively) before foodie culture existed. We wrote awesome articles about the Yellow Power Movement, Manzanar, and even rice cookers when Asians in America were written off as nerds.
Mixing everyday Asian American culture with ripping punk bands, radical skateboarders, Hong Kong movies at their peak, and up-and-coming artists was natural to us but unheard of for the mainstream, and predated the global shift from West to East. Art, design, entertainment, and business were based in Europe when we started but today everyone knows that the present and future depends on Asia for inspiration and growth. Don’t even get me started about Asian pop culture. We will never take credit for making the shift happen but our loyal readers were definitely on top of it.
So the rising costs of paper and postage, fall of advertisers and distribution in print, and advent of digital media aren’t the only factors that drove Giant Robot magazine into extinction. There is simply no longer a need for a champion of Asian underdogs since we’re on top now. We’re not the ostracized and overlooked punks and nerds anymore. In many ways, we’re the jocks.
Nonetheless, I’ll always savor the feeling of being two guys in a bedroom, and later a garage, attacking boring, mainstream culture by treating friends from the underground like Jon Moritsugu and Lance Hahn as if they were the most important filmmakers and musicians in the world, as well as then-obscure Asians for overseas like Wong Kar-Wai and Yoshitomo Nara as if everyone had seen all of their movies and been following their trajectory in art. Of course, every issue would have a dozen such nobodies that we would treat as heroes in our universe. Most of them are still excellent in obscurity.
Because we never thought of the magazine as a mirror to Asian America but as a place to share our favorite people and things, my life hasn’t changed that much outside of not making a magazine. The Friday and Saturday before the 20th anniversary talk, I attended concerts with The Vandals and The Descendents and then Channel 3 before making a visit to the current Nara exhibit–music and art that were in the pages of GR. It might have been Ice-T or Steve McDonald who said “Giant Robot isn’t a magazine but a scene.” And for me (and Eric, and many readers, I suspect) it’s still a way of life. I scarf the food, dig to the music, devour the movies, and check out the art shows. The only difference is that I stopped collecting toys and only buy old punk records.
Long live Giant Robot. R.I.P. to my favorite magazine of all time.