Pandemic collaboration leads to new art magazine 'Superspreader'

Launched out of a desire to share recently created comics, poems, photography and more, five local artists published an uncensored DIY zine and are hosting a release party on Friday, July 16.

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
The creators of "Superspreader," from left: Jeff Sims, Steyven Curry, Taylor Chiu, contributor Sara Guzman, CM Campbell and Mike Wright.

Last fall, Steyven Curry and CM Campbell took a walk around Olde Towne East to catch up amid the pandemic. They talked about punk rock, politics, the racial justice uprisings from the spring and summer and everything in between. The two friends, both comics artists, had continued to make art in the months since stay-at-home orders went out, and they knew their mutual friends were still creating, too. 

Curry and Campbell were restless and ready. “Let’s do something,” Curry said to Campbell, who also teaches at CCAD. “Let’s do a magazine.”  

The pair reached out to poet and Columbus State professor Mike Wright, illustrator and comics art curator Jeff Sims and illustrator Taylor Chiu (who also produces Third Mind Comics with Curry), and in December, the five artists met on Sims’ porch to put together a plan for a new magazine. They voted on the title: Superspreader.  

On Friday, July 16, at 7 p.m., the producers of Superspreader, along with other contributors, are hosting a magazine release party at Wright’s Olde Towne East loft (732 E. Capital St., near Gemut Biergarten), with copies of the publication available for purchase. 

Artist Steyven Curry, aka Nevyets.

Superspreader is a DIY effort through and through, with no preconceived notions of what the zine should or shouldn’t be and no censorship of submissions. Poems and comics intermingle with photography, collage pieces and standalone illustrations. Most (though not all) contributors hail from Columbus, including poet John M. Bennett, illustrator Sara Guzman, photographer Sarah Achor and M.S. Harkness, who illustrated the cover, along with contributions from all of Superspreader’s producers. 

“All of the artists clearly approach this with different mediums, with different skill sets, with different perspectives,” said Campbell, who joined Curry, Chiu, Wright, Sims and Guzman for an interview at Wright’s loft. “The isolation of art-making can get kind of overwhelming. ... At some point you want a place where you can have an uncompromised vision that still has the refinement of a critical eye from your friends who have seen a thing or two and have that experience.” 

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The facilitation of community is a binding agent in Superspreader. “It's not thematic to the pandemic, but it was a chance for people to share work they were doing during that time period,” Wright said. “You can't get out and see people. You can't swap work. Maybe you're stressed because of all the things going on in the world, and you aren't even thinking about publishing. … This was a nice way to reach out to a bunch of people.” 

Curry noted that the collaborative aspect of Superspreader gives the magazine a consistent tone and mood, which Chiu paid careful attention to during the design and layout process, ordering and juxtaposing the submissions to riff on each other. On page 46, for example, Sims’ illustration of a hand holding a surrealist phone complements Chiu’s pieces on page 47, which feature QR codes over YouTube images. 

While the Superspreader team could have released the magazine digitally, they wanted something tactile in a world overrun with pixelated noise. “This is the equivalent of cutting a record,” Campbell said. “To have a physical object of media consumption I think is really important.”

In different hands, Wright acknowledged that Superspreader’s fierce independence could have its downsides. “One of the pitfalls of making things on your own without any sort of editorial contribution … to help you refine the work and hone it — it can be a trap. Your work might not grow the way it could,” he said. “But working with folks like this, who all have their chops, who are talented and have skill sets, I'm a lot less apprehensive. … I know enough people now that I can trust with my work and trust them to be critical and also maybe sympathetic toward my goals.” 

To that end, the producers of Superspreader are confident they’ll continue creating together, though the next iteration may not be Superspreader. “Most of us are going to keep self-publishing anyway. We already were. So I can totally see another thing happening,” Sims said. 

And the hope is that the existence of Superspreader will help foster a DIY spirit in the community and inspire other artists to do their own thing, too. “All it takes are a handful of people,” Campbell said.