‘Stupor’ zine pairs with artist Graem Whyte for ‘Turning Blue’ issue

Above: The artist-collaboration series by “Stupor.” Photos by Rosie Sharp.

If you spend much time around the Hamtramck, Mich., art scene, you are sure to encounter Steve Hughes. Hughes is the director of the Public Pool art space, facilitator of the Knight Arts Challenge-winning Good Tyme Writer’s Buffet and, perhaps most famously, longtime writer and editor of Detroit’s longest-running zine, “Stupor.”

Beginning in 1995, Hughes set out to create a guerilla publishing entity to creatively support his recent return to the Detroit area from New Orleans, collecting stories from his cohort of grad school friends, tapping the proto-punk zine format that is the archetypal form of DIY publishing. By his fifth issue, he had struck upon the winning formula that would carry him through the next 20 years of zine-making: Hughes aggregates bar stories, painstakingly collected over hours of dedicated patronage to Hamtramck and Detroit drinking establishments.

“I love to hang out at bars–I love sitting next to people and having beers with them and listening to them. Usually people just start talking, and telling you stuff. When I first started doing it, it was because that’s where I was at nighttime, at the bar. And I guess I realized one day, when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do for my next issue of “Stupor,” I was surrounded by all these stories, and I should just attempt to collect those, instead of bothering people to send me stories.”

Steve Hughes.

Indeed, Hughes is the ideal barstool companion, affable and laid-back, but linguistically complex, sliding easily between crass vernacular and bursts of poetic eloquence. This comes across in “Stupor” stories–all of which are adapted by Hughes in his own voice, and it is difficult not to imagine him as the protagonist of each and every tale of despair, desire and debauchery–which mash up the garden variety concerns of hard-drinking, hard-living everyday folk with transcendent moments of self-reflection, emotional catharsis, or surprisingly beautiful descriptions amidst all the mess of lives on fire.

In more recent years, Hughes expanded his one-man operation to include visual collaboration with some of Hamtramck’s best-known artists, each of whom brings a unique look to their issue. “You can draw lines from ‘Stupor’ to the Public Pool,” he says. “When I first started collaborating with artists, it was 2006/2007, and that was really important because I realized there were ways to reach further into the community. Then it’s not just your project anymore–it’s their project too, and that was really important. I realized that I really enjoyed working with artists and collaborating, so I wanted to see how far I could push that.”

“Back issues of Stupor” are typically available at its events.

The upcoming and much-anticipated “Stupor #8: Turning Blue” is a collaboration between Hughes and gallerist Graem Whyte, who co-owns and operates Popps Packing, another Knight Arts Challenge winner. The issue features a new twist in the “Stupor” format, a continuous through-line guided by a recurring narrator in the form of Chewbacca.

“Steve’s stories are kind of all about transformation, in a physical sense or metaphysical. I’ve chosen to place Chewbacca as the protagonist in all these stories,” Whyte says. “I did a series 10 years ago called ‘The Transformations of Chewbacca,’ so for me it kind of ties in, and it was a good way to get into illustration. It was easier for me to have this identifiable protagonist. For me, Chewbacca is kind of that primal man.”

Readers should anticipate a very male-oriented issue, indeed. “It’s got a lot of testosterone in it,” Hughes says.

The best place to get the new issue, hot off the press, is the issue launch, which will take place at Spread Art, which is also a Knight Arts Challenge winner, on April 30 from 8-11 p.m. Chances are good that the reading of this new issue will be even bluer than usual, followed by a musical set by grunge band Loose Teeth, and the release of a new cassette in the “Stupor Sound Experience series.

“It’s all a way of getting the work out there,” says Hughes. “If you don’t present it, it’s sort of dead.”

The Knight Arts Challenge is open for entries through May 2, 2016. Read more