Should you be looking for champions of the Internet—specifically Tumblr, and especially queer, Chicagocentric Tumblrs—you need look no further than Topher McCulloch and Joseph Varisco, two young queers who lead rich, creative lives on their respective blogs, mugwumpian.tumblr.com and deputyjoev.tumblr.com. For a couple of years, McCulloch and Varisco, both 26, have been instrumental in fostering an entire community of queer Tumblr folks—you need only spend a few minutes on either of their sites to get introduced to their posse.
But a year ago, Varisco and McCulloch were sitting around a dining room table and came to a conclusion: The Internet—the world’s largest archive—would not suffice as a chronicle of their movement. If they really wanted to document it, they would have to move away from digital and put their virtual sensibility onto paper. Moments later, McCulloch, a designer by trade, had sketched the cover of the pair’s new journal, Chicago IRL.
The name of the zine, a reference to the Internet acronym for “In Real Life,” is kind of a joke, the boys say. “It’s funny that on the Internet you have to invent an acronym to refer to things that aren’t on the Internet,” McCulloch says. But the mag’s title also describes the process of how it was put together. Designed by McCulloch and edited by both men, Chicago IRL is a curated selection of essays, photographs and drawings, many of which have been seen on Tumblr before.
Together, the works represent a diverse swath of queer Chicago culture: There are lesbian(ish) comic strips, photographs of shirtless bears, essays about consent, poetry and even heterosexual erotica. Still, a few through lines emerge: The pages often address gender norms (to wit: The first 25 orders of issue No. 1 were packaged with custom-made lace jockstraps) and the intersection of queer and online culture. Internet art, McCulloch says, is “ephemeral—you make a GIF, it goes out there on the Internet, five seconds later it’s gone.” By putting the best of those images in print—often in larger size—Chicago IRL is “trying to get a snapshot of some of that more fleeting stuff and make it permanent.”
Order the debut issue of Chicago IRL at chicagoirl.com, $20, or get it at their release party, June 29, 9pm–2am, at Parlour (6341 N Clark St, 773-564-9274).