Zine Scene — New Jersey-based literary magazine Biopsy dissects the dissatisfactory aspects of American culture.

Biopsy is an independent literary magazine published by New Jersey-based Chris R. Morgan. The curious wordsmith – described by Vice as “monkish” – says that he uses “techniques of satire, polemic and grotesque (literary) violence to dissect (get it?) those aspects of American culture that leave us generally dissatisfied”.

Biopsy, now in its fourth issue, is a meandering, sometimes existential, sometimes nihilistic, darkly humorous publication that features a lot of Chris’s writing alongside some select contributors and sorta comic-gothic art direction by Drew Needham.

We caught up with Chris to dig deeper into the Biopsy psyche and get a feel for the impetus behind the unorthodoxy.

When and why did you start making Biopsy?
The idea for Biopsy came to me in 2006 just before I graduated college; the first issue was published in early 2008. As with everyone at that stage in life I was trying to figure out what to do from there on in. I was an editor for the school’s paper, I had a love for writing as well as for punk and its DIY ethos. After I had discovered Might magazine around that same time, a magazine seemed like the right medium to combine all of those things.

What do you like about the print medium?
I came of age during the transition from ‘analogue’ culture to ‘digital’ culture. Blogs were around, of course, but seemed more like outgrowths of established communities and cliques, not unlike fanzines really. The magazine form, for me, seemed like a good way to reach different kinds of people as I didn’t feel like I had a clique or common cause to join. It’s out there in a stand for anyone to flip through. This is in addition to the experience of actually putting it together, which is certainly what unites independent magazine publishers today. You really have to want to put in the work, as well as be willing to acquire the means to see it through to completion.

What’s Biopsy all about?
Biopsy, broadly speaking, is a magazine of cultural criticism, predominantly with a satirical bent. Though its satire aims more toward the weird and polemical than the explicitly funny satire of The Colbert Report or The Onion. It’s aimed mostly at American culture since that is what I know, though it is just idiosyncratic enough to have no explicit political or partisan agenda and does not seek to turn anyone away based on ideology or identity or what have you. In addition to Might and other ‘90s-era zines, I count Jonathan Swift, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and bands like Coalesce and Big Black among its influences.

Do you commission all the stories afresh and what’s the curation process like?
Most outside essays were commissioned by me. The curation process is almost naïvely simple. If I come upon a writer whose work I like, then it stands to reason that they should write for me. It is, I admit, an imperfect approach. I suppose I didn’t need to solicit Kayden Kross for a piece but I think my instincts were right in doing so. She’s a good writer, and her contribution is a welcome bright spot in an otherwise fairly bleak fourth issue.

I generally avoid themes when planning issues as it’s better to let essays develop independently rather than to force one to fit the contours of a certain subject. Drew Needham, Biopsy’s designer, comes up with overriding visual themes that suit our tastes without straining our low budget. In fact the way it turns outs, each issue of Biopsy is presented more like a rock album in written form, though I can’t say for certain what the stupid-to-innovative ratio is for such a concept.

What do you do for a living and how does mag-making fit into your life?
At the moment I’m a freelance writer, researcher, etc. Magazine publishing is my main creative outlet and one that has gotten me more professional recognition compared to more ‘legit’ publishing endeavours like internships or what have you. It’s how I connect with people and how I show what I’m about and what I can do.

Have you swapped Biopsy for any other good publications?
I’m a compulsive trader. My most recent finds have been Canadian ‘zines like Kimiwan and Little Brother, TYCI from Scotland, as well as Gratuitous Type and Everything is Fucked, Everything is Okay which are both New York-based. They’re each wildly distinct from one another in content and presentation and really demonstrate how print’s versatility endures even now, which I hope my magazine demonstrates in turn, even if they mostly like how it looks.

What are your favourite publications?
There are a lot cool variations on the literary journal out there right now like Apology, The American Reader and Jacobin, though I also love reading and definitely wouldn’t mind working for The American Conservative – that or SPIN.

You can buy issue 4 of Biopsy and back issues on the Biopsy website.

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