sketchy zine dudes make throw up

It’s that time again! What time, you ask? The time where I describe how the Zine Community(TM) sometimes makes me want to put a gun in my mouth.

So there’s this long-running, fairly high-profile zine distro/publishing company called Microcosm. It’s collectively run now, but started as a one-man project run by a fellow named Joe Biel. Joe was married for a while to Alex Wrekk, who writes a zine called Brainscan. Alex spent seven years working for Microcosm, first in unofficial and later official capacity. She left in 2006 after divorcing Joe, and later put out an issue of Brainscan where she described the emotionally abusive behaviors that led her to end the marriage and quit Microcosm. I’ve read the issue in question, and I can say she strives to be as diplomatic as possible, never mentioning Joe by name, not bringing up Microcosm except in the vaguest possible terms, and addressing the issues with their relationship without just recounting petty grievances (that is, it’s not stuff like “…and then he ate my tiramisu,” it’s “these are the ways he made me feel like shit and totally alone”).

OK, so Joe’s an emotional abuser. People can change, right? He claims to be in therapy and reading books and that he’s “working on accountability.” To which I would respond: I’ll believe it when I see it. Mean? Probably. But I used to live in Asheville (where my anarchist ideals went to die), surrounded by anarchists, hippies, and punks, and when one of them fucked up in some manner they would usually apologize and claim to be “working on their shit,” which sometimes meant actually stepping up to the plate and doing something, but also could mean not doing goddamn thing to actually make amends. Maybe reading a few pamphlets or crying a little with pals. (Picture me here, clapping very slowly.)

So, anyway, I’ve recently witnessed/participated in a couple discussions about Microcosm (both in real life and internetz-life) that I found incredibly frustrating. Basically they went like: someone would ask why people have issues with Microcosm, and someone else would bring up Joe and Alex’s marriage. And then the shitshow began! YAY! People who I thought were reasonable kinds of folks were falling all over themselves to make excuses for Joe and his behavior. Although no one called Alex a liar outright, they did frequently dismiss her story as petty “drama”, as something “too personal” to be discussed in public, and insisted that they needed to know both sides of the story, blah blah blah.

All of which left me ready to punch through a fucking wall. In case this point is unclear, I’ll write it in all caps: ABUSE ISN’T JUST “DRAMA.” DISMISSING IT AS SUCH IS DISGUSTING AND UNBELIEVABLY TRIVIALIZING AND INSULTING TO THE SURVIVOR. As far as it being “too personal,” well, if anyone leaping to Joe’s defense had bothered reading Alex’s account, they would know that she spent fucking YEARS trying to reconcile things between the two of them and keeping her mouth shut about the shit he pulled. It’s kind of the whole theme, there. And I think I have a right to know if I’m going to be financially supporting someone who’s kind of a scumbag, and who evidently hasn’t made a whole lot of effort to change that scumbag behavior. And don’t get me started on the “nobody’s perfect, there’s two sides to every story” blather. Come right out and say it, folks: “I think Alex is probably lying/exaggerating.” OK, whatever, but ask yourself this: would someone leave a long-term relationship, with shared friends and a shared business, for anything other than pretty serious reasons?

The main reason this is so frustrating is because I know if there was no Microcosm, Joe would not have the amount of defenders he does now. “He puts out cool books, and shit! He can’t possibly have done anything wrong! And even if he did, who cares! I’ve got this super sweet shirt with a bike on it from there!” It reminds me a little of when zine writer Rich Mackin was revealed to be a sexual assaulter, and people who didn’t know him at all, other than from his zines, were falling all over themselves to defend him. It’s incredibly disappointing. I thought the zine/DIY/whatever community was supposed to, you know, not be about that kind of blind celebrity worship, especially when it means belittling people who have gone through some truly awful shit and have had to take some time to work up the courage to talk about it.

Blah, blah, blah, my misanthropy grows like an angry little tree. What else is new?


~ by Smellen on January 25, 2010.

10 Responses to “sketchy zine dudes make throw up”


    Yes, it is. And what’s more, it usually goes hand-in-hand with the emotional/psychological abuse in question. I think health-care professionals refer to it as “invalidation.”

    And you’re right — it’s incredibly difficult for someone who’s in a relationship like that the break away, do what they need to do for their own good; and it’s even harder for them to be their own advocate and talk about it. And the very thing you cited above is one of the biggest reasons why.

  2. I don’t know you, but I appreciate your concern. And I can tell you that if I read the things written about me, I would respond in the same way that you are.

    Characterizing someone as an abuser and talking about abuse at all brings out strong feelings in people, making it particularly hard to talk about. It is so emotionally impacting to identify someone as an abuser, which associates them with another person, wholly unrelated, who was a horrible monster in my own life. I understand that.

    I will tell you that I didn’t lose friends in this debacle. A lot of people that I’ve never met made strong opinions about me but my friends who know me, know my faults, and yet don’t deem me as an abusive personality. Friends, as in real friends that you are close to, accept you for who you are, know you, know your faults, and don’t deny your faults, but love you in spite of them.

    Friends so dear, that they organized a campaign to ask the the Zine Symposium to follow their written policy, and not bar me from attending. At the same time, they acknowledged that I had faults and had hurt Alex.

    Many people that I have been close to for the last five to ten years have come forward to me and said that they do not think I’m abusive. They’ve studied this topic and find that maybe there are other behaviors that I exhibit that bother them, or they think I should pay attention to:

    (1) I get angry, lose my temper and react with a very intellectual and argumentative response or emotionally shut down when an emotional response is most appropriate
    (2) I exaggerate
    (3) I don’t share all of the information about a situation with someone making a decision regarding it.

    So three years ago I put myself in therapy to work on these issues specifically. I dealt with them as line items, interconnected, but also individually.

    And the first time that someone told me that Alex felt that I was an abusive personality, I put myself in a new psychotherapy regimen and told the therapist that’s why I was there. “I am here because I have been described as emotionally abusive and I want to work on this.” I took time off from work to focus on this singularly, as that seemed appropriate, and read all of the available reading. I seclude myself from friends who I felt would detract from the process and didn’t do much else at all for two months.

    Two months later the therapist said that I did not qualify as an emotionally abusive personality because

    (A) I felt bad when I hurt people
    (B) I took fault for things that were my responsibility
    (C) I did not have a sense of entitlement without bounds
    (D) I did not cut off Alex from her support system or intentionally operate to isolate her.
    (E) I did not justify my actions or put others at fault for my own behavior

    But I wasn’t convinced. I felt like there was no way because I had owned these behaviors and this personality already. So I asked question after question across many sessions. I asked if she would not be able to get the same response out of me as the person I was abusing, and she said no, An abuser would still staunchly defend their actions when challenged as justifiable e.g. “she made me do it”.

    A year later, my therapist finally put it together: a person can experience the emotional belittling when they frequently try to express something they are feeling by engaging it with a statement of fact. “I am not going outside because it’s raining” rather than “I don’t want to go outside.” and I, using behavior (1) would say “it is not raining”, only to be met with an argument that it was, in fact, raining, because in reality the discussion was about a deep feeling of not wanting to go outside.

    I can’t speak to Alex’s experience or say that this is definitely what was going on, but it put it in a new light for me.

    We communicated very badly as you can probably tell by reading her zines. But this was near constant. We cared about each other very much but could not love each other in the way that we needed. And when our basic needs and communication styles are so unmatching, it was fairly doomed to repeat and devolve.

    But as I’ve said, this does not make me without fault. I am human and subject to the same production of my experience and environment as anyone else. We were both young and did not know how to work out our problems or even recognize what was wrong. And I imagine that a year or two after we broke up, when her therapist defined this behavior as abusive, it all made sense to her.

    And I’m still in therapy; every week. I’ve engaged every inch, experience, and problem of my life on that couch; nearly every week for the last three years.

    It’s changed my paradigm. It’s made me a better friend. I can hear the problems that people describe to me with undivided attention and empathy. I can understand what people are emotionally communicating to me. I don’t challenge someone when they make a statement about how they are feeling.

    I’ve been in two accountability processes as well. The initial one was not structured or functional and fizzled out after 18 months where they failed to meet with me once. I contacted them every month with my schedule and they failed to organize one meeting.

    I explained this to some people who were concerned about the situation and eventually a new accountability process was organized, one that is itself accountable to the process. And while it’s not yet over, I feel very good about it. It performs the functions of checking in, discussing the issues, exploring examples, and most importantly, healing.

    When you are accused of things this dark and explore them for hundreds of hours in a professional setting, thousands of hours walking around with your eyes on the sidewalk, and read the corresponding thousands of pages about people who exhibit these kinds of behaviors, I’d say it’d be impossible not to come out a changed person. And I don’t say that just from my own experience, but because that’s what also happens to everyone else I’ve known who’s been there.

    Ideally, five years after a breakup, you would talk to each other and work out what constituted a bad relationship that began over ten years ago. There is no guarantee that the accountability process will mean anything to her. But when rumors fly about me from strangers and these are things that people base their opinions and emotions on, it hurts me in a way that I couldn’t describe to you in words. And the accountability process seems to be a way to engage that. Because the me that they describe, I would find detestable too.

    I feel like the best lesson for me is that this community needs to have a better way of dealing with problems like this that would involve both parties, and strive to make people feel better, which is certainly where most people’s intentions are but where their actions fall short.

    You can read something that my partner wrote at the end here:

  3. sorry you are having to deal with joe’s obsessive googling of himself as well. for what it’s worth, joe is not supposed to talk about any of this shit in blog comments or elsewhere without clearing it with his accountability people. the comments he left on my blog weren’t cleared in advance & the accountability peeps were pissed. wonder what they’d make of all this, “i’m not abusive, i just do these really abusive things sometimes, but my friends love me anyway” bullshit.

  4. […] group cites is Joe’s response to an earlier post of mine on the matter, which you can read here if you like (that post also provides a little more background on the situation for you non-zine […]

  5. Here’s what I read in Alex’s pathetic attempt to bring down someone who she seems jealous of..I read that she’s not strong enough to be her own person. I too, have faced abuse of many types and never once let it destroy me so much, that I made a solid life’s work to destroy the public opinion of that person. Why? Because I’m stronger than that. You can’t be forced into thinking something about yourself. You can’t be forced into staying with someone. You can’t be forced into low self esteem. You can’t be forced into putting up with someone who was sooooooo horrible to you. If you weren’t mentally intact enough to deal with yourself and do what was right for you, then you have no reason to blame it on someone else. Women who get hit by their boyfriends, should have the strength and sense to LEAVE after the first black eye. The first time you realize you’re being “emotionally abused” it’s up to YOU to handle it accordingly. If you don’t, who’s fault is it? To me, that zine seemed like a sad and unfortunate way to regain her dignity. Instead of taking any responsibility for keeping herself in that situation, she passed the torch of blame. Typical of someone with low self-esteem. Also, what I DON’T see, is HOW she was “abused”. For someone so concerned with making public service announcements, you would think it would be a priority to attach some evidence or examples so other people may know when they’re being abused (*eye roll*). Has anyone considered that maybe this “abuse” was nothing more than two different people that were not on the same page? Just because one partner tries to pull the other one up to their level, it doesn’t make it abuse. Alex should be ashamed of how loosely that term is being thrown around. Maybe I’M crazy, but to me… no one can emotionally abuse you, unless you let them. Alex “let him” (if there’s even any truth to it to begin with) I’m a strong, intelligent, educated woman and I would NEVER tolerate anything that was below my standards. So maybe it’s time for Alex to reconsider exactly WHAT her standards really are.

    • I debated approving this but did so primarily so your full name can be attached to this and hopefully anyone who Googles you can know that you are either an idiot, an asshole, or both.

      Ok, so, this: “Women who get hit by their boyfriends, should have the strength and sense to LEAVE after the first black eye. The first time you realize you’re being ’emotionally abused’ it’s up to YOU to handle it accordingly. If you don’t, who’s fault is it?”

      Gurl naw. Here’s a quick rundown of why someone might stay in an abusive relationship: In case you can’t be bothered with copy/pasting, some of them include: social/peer pressure (Joe Biel being a zine world celebrity, I think that would apply here and it’s been a while since I read it but I think Alex stated that in her zine as well), financial issues (Joe and Alex ran a business together for a number of years), and yes, low self-esteem (and if you’re going to rag on someone with low self-esteem, why not rag on the person exploited that low self-esteem for power and control?). Not sure why I bothered with that since what I see above is nothing but a repellent thwacking of your own self-righteousness boner aimed at people in truly shitty situations that you obviously have made no effort at all to understand, but hey, there ya go.

      So I see a lot of condemnation of women in abusive relationships (and btw, I don’t know what the fuck is up with that “not on the same page” bullshit, even Joe has admitted to abusive behavior at this point), and yet NOTHING on the people who CHOOSE to abuse their partners. What the hell is that shit? Abused partners don’t always make great life choices, sure, but I would say the fucking ABUSERS have a hell of a lot more to answer for.

      Have you ever considered that maybe, since you feel such a need to shit all over other women to raise yourself up (“Well, I would never be silly enough to stay with an abuser, hrrmphity hrrph”) that maybe YOU’RE the one with a self-esteem issue? So, I dunno, next time you’re feeling down, maybe take a bubble bath or play with a kitten or something, don’t spew some vile misogynist word-diarrhea all over a random blog.

      • My self-esteem couldn’t be higher. I was present in Joe’s life during this “abuse” and it’s bullshit. Alex is a weak little girl who thrives solely on attention. I thought people had issues with Joe’s “accountability” yet you have stated that he himself has admitted to the abuse? contradictory, which is expected. Facts are facts about abuse victims, if you don’t like them, too bad. I know that being a strong woman, someone could only abuse ME once. period. I sure did use my real name because anyone with some common sense knows i’m right. Furthermore, I’m helping Joe out with some resources to sue the shit out if her sad ass because he’s got a solid libel suit. As far as him admitting it goes, what other choice did he have against a low self esteem attention getter? Really…what other choice? Gimme a break. I was under the impression that most “women” who stay in abusive relationships stayed because of low self esteem and self worth. Now pardon me, my kitten needs my attention…

      • I present you with a list of specific reasons in bullet points of why someone might stay in an abusive relationship and your response is “facts are facts” and an appeal to “common sense”? Why not go for brevity and simply state “NO U,” as long as you’re going for a non-argument?

        Also, as (apparently) Joe’s friend/associate/something who’s helping him with a legal case against Alex (LOLWHUT) I am SO SURE you are a TOTALLY UNBIASED SOURCE and your friendship with Joe is in NO WAY affecting your views. Totally not shocked he’d be pals with an apologist for abusers, by the way.

      • also I am removing all further comments from you, as you have proven yourself past the point of being taken seriously at all and have no arguments past saying a bunch of gross shit about abuse survivors and insulting Alex personally. (btw, Brainscan was/is a long-running, very popular zine, well before the Joe Biel debacle. Don’t play like Alex needed attention in the zine world – she had plenty already.) Leaving these two up for Google purposes and also for your mention of Joe’s supposed future lawsuit. GOOD DAY, MA’AM.

        ETA: Dude, give it up already. And don’t try the “AMERICA FREE SPEECH WAAAAHHH” bullshit with me. Every blog writer gets the chance to approve/disapprove comments, it’s not ~*~*censorship*~.

  6. […] wrote a post a while ago about Joe Biel that got a moderate amount of traffic (including a rambling reply from […]

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