So a few words about Saint John; it’s been a long road to recovery since moving the provincial capital to Fredericton in 1785, Confederation in 1867, the Great Fire of 1877, the end of wooden shipbuilding in the 1880’s, the opening of the St Lawrence Seaway in the 1960’s, the end of the frigate program in the 1990’s, the loss of Lantic Sugar in 2000, the recent closing of many of our call centres, and a prevailing mass exodus. Those of us that have chosen to remain do so out of loyalty, a love of family, fog, Victorian architecture, a rich cultural community, and a sometimes perverse love of grit, “I think it’s got grit to it and it’s got a shadow over it at times, both literal and figurative due to the pulp mill and heavy industry, but there’s a lot of light here as well, and there’s a lot of people flourishing here.” If there’s a curator of that light it’s Julia Wright, founder, editor, and head wordsmith of Hard Times in the Maritimes.
Hard Times in the Maritimes is the 100% analogue (and free) zine written, printed, and assembled in uptown Saint John. Hard Times was born a little over a year ago, in part as a coping mechanism to handle the tragic loss of Julia’s partner, “but it’s not what’s important about Hard Times. It’s a factor and it should be mentioned, but it has developed into something so much more than a tribute to someone who lost their life by suicide; it’s turned into a project that the community has gotten behind in a huge way; local high school students, people who are not normally photographers, or writers, or in many cases people who have not been published before, they are the important people in this, not the genesis of the project. While it’s important to know that that’s where it came from; as the issues show, it’s moved from this dark fucking thing to something that is a lot more than just sad stories about hard times, it’s developed quite a bit.” That community of contributors has provided an outpouring of the most intimate kind: personal stories and secrets, as well as some very public secrets, in a way that makes Hard Times read like the inside covers of a high school year book. It is the culmination of experiences and shared knowledge between strangers, acquaintances, and friends, that differentiate a city and a community from a collection of buildings and roads.
“It’s my love letter to Saint John.”
The issues themselves are each created in perhaps the most labour intensive manner possible: submissions are sent in, copied out via typewriter, arranged, photocopied, and assembled, “I know how to do a lot of the stuff I do for the zine on the computer, but we chose not to, we chose to do it on typewriters and we chose to do it cut and paste because we want to harken back to that arts and crafts sort of ‘80s and ‘90’s counter culture punk-rock art aesthetic because that’s what we think fits with Saint John.” The ‘we’ Julia refers to is co-editor and artist Pamela Marie Pierce, whose covers and illustrations give Hard Times a significant, if often haunting, aesthetic appeal. “I think I was always aware of Pamela as an artist for years, but she and I started corresponding via Twitter. I liked the work that she did for Jason Ogden on the Penny Blacks album, and I contacted her to tell her how much I loved it, and then I told her that I was doing this zine. It was an instant affinity. She and I have a very complementary creative vision. I would say that she has a stronger sense of the fantastic and the unreal than I do. I’m more rooted in actual events and non-fiction, whereas Pamela is an amazing realist artist, but also has a great since of the imaginative and the speculative. We both really enjoy a Victorian really sort of darker aesthetic. We both enjoy Art Nouveau. Our styles click in a way that I’ve never found anyone else that clicks on that level, or that well as a creative partnership. We’re just very lucky to be able to work together. She was the first and only person that I approached when I wanted to get the zine off the ground again, and since then we’ve just been completely doing this as a duo. ”
“It’s kind of like Victorian ghost hunter meets punk-rock counter culture.”
Hard Times, although the zine remains determinedly free, recently benefitted from a very successful Indiegogo campaign, “It went way better than we ever expected. […] We had no idea if we’d be able to raise $1000, which is the goal we had set until the night before, when Shawna Waterall from Hemmings House, who helped us with our campaign video, said ‘You guys need to set your bar higher, because you guys are going to make more money than that’. Pamela and I didn’t think that we would, but we listened to her and set it at $1500. The campaign closed yesterday and including the cash donations. We doubled that goal. That’s a massive gift from the community to this project. People have gotten behind it to a tremendous degree. As to where that funding will go, we want to keep doing what we are doing, and doing it even better, or organise more shows, or doing a broadsheet edition, or a full colour edition. We just hope it’s in the best service of our readers; that’s what we want to do, a quality publication.” You can learn more about Hard Times in the Maritimes over at their webpage, but to find issues, you may have to go searching in the wild.