Like so many artists, Stephanie Zuppo takes “do it yourself” less as a Pinterest board and more of a life motto.
To date, the 27-year-old Philadelphia transplant has personally marketed self-published comic books, ran a convention database for comic cons and zinefests and founded the first (and only) all-femme comic newspaper in Vermont, “The Ladybroad Ledger.”
Now, with the help of the Essex Hub for Women in Business, Zuppo is taking on a whole new challenge: A DIY print media studio to support small-scale operations with almost anything an indie publisher — from bookbinders to writers to printer makers and zinesters — could want, all on a budget they can afford.
If that’s the mission statement for Words & Pictures, its leader is smack dab in the execution phase: drumming up members and outfitting the studio. But staying affordable means keeping costs low overall. And that means getting creative.
“Everything is kind of cobbled together,” Zuppo said last week in the studio, which overlooks Main Street from above Martone’s.
“Total bootstrap operation,” chimed Kristin Humbargar, founder of the Essex Hub, the parent company of the Main Street Studio and its new companion.
“Exactly,” Zuppo said. “Which I think fits the theme of the DIY, zinester lifestyle.”
Indeed, much the mish-mash of furniture and equipment was either donated, like the sink from the sandwich shop downstairs, or nabbed on the low off Craigslist. The studio currently boasts an embroidery machine, light table, sewing machine, color printer, laminator and a slew of other equipment.
Zuppo has put to work some skills acquired at previous community artist studios, morphing a bunch of old desks into a screenprinting table.
There’s still a way to go. Words & Pictures’ public Amazon wishlist highlights a wide array of necessities, from a new color printer to some tape dispensers and a first aid kit.
And, of course, there are a few more ambitious items, like a Riso Duplicator, also known as a Risograph, which is apparently a copier-looking-machine that recreates a handmade look and feel with the efficiency (and cost effectiveness) of a modern printer.
Zuppo is now amid a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for further start-up costs; as of Monday, they’d raised over a third of the $6,000 goal.
Still, Zuppo said they are most looking forward to when the studio is full of life.
They got an early look at the space’s potential during a bustling release party for The Ladybroad Ledger earlier this month, and four full-time members already call the space home: Zuppo, cartoonists Iona Fox and Jesse DuRona and folklorist Andy Kolovos, who pay up to $250 a month for 24-hour access to a dedicated studio space.
Zuppo also envisions up to 15 floating members that could work during specific hours for $50 a month.
While co-working spaces have become an increasingly popular trend across many professions, there’s an added practicality for artists, who often cross mediums and disciplines within even a single project.
“It’s like a constant learning experience,” Zuppo said. “Everyone kind of has their own thing that they’re good at, and when you bring it all together, we just kind of bounce things off each other, learn from each other, critique. It just makes for a better product.”
For Zuppo, who has a master’s in comics from the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Jct., Words & Pictures represents an entirely new challenge. But the concept gels with Humbargar’s vision for Essex Jct.: a place for people to co-create and co-work in their own community.
Her reach now extends from her Pearl St. hub to the two locations looking down on Main Street, and last year’s SteAmfest is shaping up to become an annual event. One day, Humbargar hopes, these spaces might even prop the village up as a destination for creatives and enthusiasts — the northern comic center of Vermont, perhaps.
“I don’t think people have even envisioned yet what Essex can sort of hold in terms of the creative aspects,” she said. “The potential is huge.”