An Interview with Dale Speirs

I recently received the March 2014 issue of Dale Speirs’ zine OPUNTIA in which he informed his readers that he would be retiring the print version of the zine. And I quote:

“This is the final print issue of OPUNTIA. On 2014-03-31, Canada Post raises postage rates to ruinous levels, not by the usual one or two cents per annum, but by breathtaking amounts. I am a comfortable upper-middle-class pensioner but I won’t be for long if I keep mailing out print copies. No one has been a stronger supporter of the Papernet than I. From issue #1 in March 1991 until now, this zine has only been available as hardcopy. But the future has a different idea, and it matters not what I think or devoutly wish. I must acknowledge the reality. The next issue, OPUNTIA #274, will be posted online, at www.efanzines.com and any other Websites I can find that will archive zines.”

To say that OPUNTIA covers a wide range of topics is the understatement of the century. Dale’s interests include science fiction, peak oil, mail art, economics, philately, horticulture and pretty much everything in between. OPUNTIA also has an interesting numbering system. You might receive a whole-numbered issue (for example: #86) or an issue numbered “#86.1” or quite possibly “#86.3A”.

As Dale explains in his zine, “Whole-numbered OPUNTIAs are sercon (serious-constructive), x.1 issues are reviewzines, x.2 issues are indexes, x.3 issues are apazines (amateur press association zines), and x.5 issues are perzines.” Here’s Dale in his own words:

Why did you choose the title OPUNTIA?

There are two species of prickly pear cacti native to Alberta, the genus name of which is Opuntia. I spent my working life as a professional horticulturist, and one of my other hobbies is growing cacti and other xerophytic plants.

Speirs, Dale - 2004 July, Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Lake, Alberta

Dale at Bow Lake, Banff National Park

How and when were you introduced to the world of zines & what inspired you to make your first zine?

I met up with zines as a science fiction fan when I began attending local SF conventions. The conventions had freebie tables  where many zinesters  set out sample copies. For about five years I contributed articles to other zines before my finances improved to the point where I could publish my own zine. My inspiration was that a zine is a form of personal expression where I can publish what I like in the form I want.

 As of September 1st, 2014 how many issues of OPUNTIA have you published?

283.

You participated in my first mail art project “Borders/ Fronteras” in 2004 by taking photos of yourself dipping an issue of my zine EXTRANJERO in rivers. You then fastened the photos to the water-damaged zine and added additional info like “this river forms the border between place A and place B…” and sent it back to me. It was the most original contribution I received out of nearly 100 pieces. How did you first come in contact with mail art? Were you involved in the world of philately before or after becoming a mail artist?

I have been a philatelist and postal historian since the early 1980s, long before I heard of zines or mail art. There is an entirely separate group of mail artists in philately. My mother Betty was involved from that side through a group called the Art Cover Exchange, while I came into mail art via zinedom.

After she died, I inherited her collection. I gradually slid away from mail art in the early 2000s because I was doing too many other things.  On 2014-03-31, Canada Post raised first-class postage to a point where I had to abandon the Papernet.

Any thoughts on the growing number of mail art projects that post contributions received online at a website or a blog and don’t send traditional paper documentation to the participants by post?

I can’t criticize anyone about that anymore, given what I’ve done.

Why do you have an ISSN number for your zine? Most zine publishers don’t bother with this sort of thing and I know a few zinesters that would go so far as to say that a zine with an ISSN or ISBN number isn’t a zine at all.

In Canada, ISSN and ISBN numbers are free from the National Library of Canada. I also sent copies of my paper zines to their Legal Deposit Office, hopefully to be preserved for posterity or at least until the next budget cuts.  I started OPUNTIA in 1991, before the Web became widespread. In those days, an ISSN would get your zine automatically indexed by various companies for free, and libraries would use it for ordering.  Nowadays it no longer matters since Google can take the place of ISSNs.

Where do you see zine publishing in the next 20 to 30 years? Do you think there will be a renaissance of paper publishing or will most people move online?

Postage costs will kill the Papernet within the next decade.  I’m moving my zines online as pdfs in the hope that someone will read them after I’m dead and gone, and my family has tossed all my zines into the recycle bin. Currently I’m archiving OPUNTIA at efanzines.com and fanac.org. OPUNTIA is still being published, by the way, only now strictly as a pdf.

Dale can be contacted at opuntia57@hotmail.com

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