Cool Girl Gang — The Launch of Queen of the Track Zine

Hold the phone. A new zine is hitting the market right now and its name is Queen of the Track…

Described as “vogue on crack” by its creators Flis Mitchell (an artist and project-maker, also founder of CAVE art fair and Liverpool roller derby team the Birds), Hannah Bitowski (an artist working with costume, illustration, print, sculpture and more recently scoping out the realms of performance), and Amy Lestrange (a digital artist and tech enthusiast, currently studying a Game Art degree), Queen of the Track is a hotly anticipated new indie zine aimed at creative and thinking women, and features everything from fashion, comment, gender politics, history, interviews and literature, all wrapped-up in one beautiful package.

Launching and available to buy from tomorrow (International Women’s Day), we caught up with with the girls to discuss the usual drivel sold in your local WH Smith, one pound fashion, role models, and why sexism isn’t going away anytime soon.

First question: why are women’s magazines so awful?

Flis: I don’t know! I read a really interesting article recently by a woman into technology, and she said that considering women spend more on technology than men do, especially on phones and laptops, plus a third more on tech than makeup, why are women’s magazines are full of makeup and not tech? It’s almost that women have changed really quickly over the last 50 years, and women’s mags haven’t changed at all. Hannah has some really interesting copies of magazines from the ‘40s and ‘50s, and they’re essentially just the same.

Hannah: They’re not that different. The language is obviously different, but they still push the idea, ‘You need this in your life, because your man would want it.’

Flis: There are adverts saying you might be smelly on your period, and no one might tell you, or if you have bad breath, no one will marry you… a lot of fashion, a lot of ‘You would be more feminine if you had this thing.’ Women have changed dramatically and magazines need to keep up.

What is QoTT and why is it different?

Flis: It’s a zine. I was in the newsagents at the train station with a tenner, looking for two good magazines to buy, and there was literally nothing I wanted. This is really shit. So I had the idea for the project.

Hannah: We all got on really well, and kept on meeting up and talking about it, about this lack of representation of things that we want to see.

Amy: I guess we all felt the same; there was nothing we wanted to read. All of us, we know so many other women who feel like this, so it just made sense to do it.

“We all like glossy magazines; I mean, I have a real fetish for Vogue… But then, I don’t want to know how much a model spends on skincare; I want to know about culture”

Flis: And we all like glossy magazines; I mean, I have a real fetish for Vogue. If someone’s going to spend £45,000 on a photoshoot, it’s going to be beautiful [everyone laughs]. But then, I don’t want to know how much a model spends on skincare; I want to know about culture. I think we’re all quite interested in zine culture…

Hannah: And DIY aesthetics.

Flis: And The American Press Syndicate from the ‘60s, where articles would be shared, chopped up and collaged. The idea for QoTT is that it has the visual luxury of something like Vogue, but with the fizzy, unpredictable energy of the underground press.

Talking of photoshoots… how much did you spend on your Pound Shop fashion shoot for the first issue?

Hannah: Haha! The Costumologists, I think we gave them £20 per outfit, and it was two outfits, pretty elaborate ones, and yeah, it was just a lot of imagination, and a Pound Shop, that ended up making such a perfect combination.

Flis: We’re really into costume… fashion’s not a bad thing, but we want it as costume. It’s more about self-actualisation, and how you want to present something more unusual.

Hannah: It’s not about the price tag, it’s about imagination and expression.

Flis: And not about looking thinner, or taller. No stereotypes.

This may seem like an obvious question, but why do you think we need a not just new magazine, but a feminist one, in 2014?

Amy: Now is a really good time to start this. Feminism seems to be something more and more people are interested in…  now is a good time for platforms where you can talk about issues relevant to you. Women are getting vocal in what they want.

Aide Vanessa Flores, Queen of the Track Zine

Does that mean that women haven’t been vocal?

F: I hear the phrase ‘post-feminism’ often, and I’m like, really? We have one of the lowest conviction rates in Europe for rape, and I think we’re really low on the international equality scale. There’s still a pay gap, childcare is appalling. In the 100 most popular films of 2012, only 28.4 speaking characters were female. I could go on… People roll out that stat of there being more female graduates than male; this won’t matter until there are more women in CEO positions, and proper representation in government. Women know this.

Amy: Yet there’s nowhere for them to talk about it; before blogs, there was no platform.

Hannah: There’s a big online feminist presence now, but actually in print, there’s not so much. I think that’s something we can bring out. Because we’re going to have that online part as well.

The Everyday Sexism Project say that it’s increasingly difficult to talk about sexism; would you agree with that?

Hannah: There’s a lot of defence over it, I think; maybe like a finger pointing towards men, almost if you start talking about sexism you are pointing at men. I don’t think that’s the case; I see it more as a dialogue that needs to be addressed.

Flis: I think as well that there’s a lot of anonymity on the internet and that’s a problem. Laura Bates wrote a really interesting piece for the Guardian about street harassment; and all the ways it makes women feel. And then at the end she was like, it’s bad karma to harass women; she gave an example of a guy who was so busy gawping at a girl that he fell over into some bins. It was really funny; loads of men commented underneath saying how women are spiteful, he just fell in a bin, it’s not his fault… After all of these terrible examples of harassment she provided, the comments were focused on the guy falling into the bin.

There has been an ingrained entitlement to some privileges… When women were first being admitted into Oxford, a man wrote in to the college newspaper on how he had applied to Oxford to get a male experience and education, and women being accepted infringed on this. It’s like, wow, you would rather a woman not receive an education, than impinge on your experience. I think there’s still an element of that.

As you talk about privileges being broken down to create a more equal society, the people with privileges will find this discussion uncomfortable.

And it’s not just a gender issue is it. Are things are going backwards? Or is it just because we see more varied opinions, including conservative opinion, because there are more platforms for expression?

Flis: If someone says something that is offensive, in the past it could just be glossed over, but now people are accountable, and to be honest I think that’s a good thing.

What’s the vision for QoTT?

Hannah: To take over the world.

“The underlying thing for me is female solidarity… bring the fun back”

Flis: To publish something awesome, every two months, and employ people, and create something that is really beautiful, has great participatory projects, and a thriving blog. The underlying thing for me is female solidarity… bring the fun back. As trash mags have been taken over by their own internets, and folded (because why buy when you can get it online?), this really nice print aesthetic and movement has emerged. But it takes itself quite seriously; whereas we don’t. We’ve got hair vouchers; we want people to get involved in a way that’s fun.

Do you mean the rise of (and we hate these words) quirky or twee publications, with illustrated birds on…

Flis: Yeah, like Oh Comely magazine; if I see another illustrated bird, I’m going to eat it.

Quiltmaking for beginners…

Flis: I’ve just been sick on my hand.

Hannah: Haha, no. We want to be like a girl gang.

Amy: A community of awesome girls who support each other. Cool girl gang!

Flis: And there’s totally room in our gang for boys too.

What should we expect from the first issue?

Hannah: To be honest, it’s kind of bold and controversial. We’ve obviously worked on this for so long, the shock value’s gone for us. But it’s bold, brash, in your face, and you can’t really miss it. There’s a lot of really well-written, in-depth articles on a variety of subject matters, that are challenging. And challenging in terms of aesthetic too.

Flis: I think as well that we’re dedicated to not spoon-feeding our readers. Our readers are intelligent.

Hannah: It’s also incredibly beautiful; we were swooning when Thom [Isom, graphic designer] showed us the designs for the first time.

Flis: We also want to encourage networking. We do a feature called ‘I’m Such A Fan Girl For…’, where a writer gets to interview a woman she really admires. Both women are maybe on the same career path but years apart. It allows that girl to network, coz there’s nothing better than talking to someone you want to be, like ‘How did you get there?’

Who are you a fan girl for?

Amy: There’s a girl who runs a blog called Kate Or Die. She publishes comics, on women’s rights, advocacy, integrating young women into pop culture environments where they might feel pushed out by male behaviour… she’s just awesome.

Hannah: Laurie Penny is someone who has influenced me, that’s an obvious one. I’d like to interview her.

Flis: Cindy Gallop. She’s a businesswoman who runs a platform called If We Ran The World. It’s a social media platform doing good things for other people.

Laura Robertson

Illustrations by Aide Vanessa Flores, Hannah Bitowski, Moema Meade

Purchase Issue #1 (£5) and join the party at the Queen of the Track Zine Launch, tomorrow Saturday 8 March, 8pm-midnight, Mary Mary, 2 Roscoe Street, Liverpool L1 2SX (free entry)

Meet the Queen of the Track Team at tomorrow’s special zine-making workshop for International Women’s Day — the Bluecoat Liverpool, 10.30am-4pm (free, drop in)


Posted on 07/03/2014 by thedoublenegative