Interview with a Zine Maker: Chris O'Leary

Angi Brzycki, Senior Librarian, Digitization & Special Collections,
Chris O'Leary and his zine, FatBoy
"Food is how we all connect and is an incredibly powerful medium for conversation, there should be more cookbooks in the world!" —Chris O'Leary

Chris O'Leary is a Creative based in London. Currently working in Music he's also the creator of FatBoy Zine, a publication and platform which looks at Asian food, identity, and culture. Described as "part cookbook, part diary and part love letter" the project is an open collaboration between creatives from all over the world.

When did you first discover zines? How did you get interested in making zines?

I'm not sure when the first time was, but I was interested in comics from a young age and transitioned into zines from there, but to be honest when I met my partner (Emily who actually does the photography for FBZ) she introduced me to some amazing zines, indie magazines and people working on conceptual print stuff that really struck a chord with me.

I always experimented with printing while I studied, I honestly spend more time in the print rooms than the studio, so I tried to bring that into my work as much as possible. Once I'd finished University me and Emily experimented with making a magazine (called Paper Plant), it was honestly one of the most exciting times in-terms of experimentation, it made me more confident with all aspects of producing something that didn't have a commercial lens to it.

Do you collect zines? Do you have zines that you recommend?

I do! Our flat is filled with books, zines from friends and prints. I love it. When I work on anything our little library is where I go to first. And with recommendations, there's so many! A few ones I love are FFF Zine, Meantime, Rubbish, and Put an Egg on It. They all pay great attention to the writing and ideas.

FatBoy zine is a diary? How so? What motivated you to create your zine?

When I started, FatBoy only really looked at my personal history, the first two issues really focussed on my experiences and memory. But seeing how people reacted to it made me think about how lucky I am and how much I've gained from this. I want other people to feel the same way.

I'll be honest I created this as a coping mechanism really, I lost someone really important and after months of trying to find an outlet, I realized I only ever felt better when I was cooking. So our first issue used a lot of cultural iconography around death, passing, and respect, I think a lot of people connected with that.

Why do you think documenting your family recipes is important?

I know a lot of Asian families don't really write things down in cooking which is crazy! Food is how we all connect and is an incredibly powerful medium for conversation, there should be more cookbooks in the world!

The zine is a collaboration right? How did that all come about?

Yes, so our latest issue, 3 Hong Kong, includes creatives who are passionate about film, photography, writing, illustration, and more. They're all amazing, talented people who either reached out or we felt have a voice we really appreciate. And that happened really naturally, starting a conversation and talking ideas. I don't like "art directing" too much, I trust everyone we work with and if they feel the work is ready then it's ready. shoutout to: Xaviar Manhing for his scenes of Hong Kong that are incredibly intimate and honest; Cynthia Chou for her determined and insightful writing; Kenneth Lam for his beautiful and revealing photo series; Jacco Bunt for his vibrant and expressive illustrations; and Emily Leonard, her photography has become such a huge part of FBZ I couldn't do it without her.

The graphics, photos, and recipes are so amazing in your zine. Do you plan to continue to make them?

Thank you so much! Yes, we want to talk to more people who feel the same way we do from other parts of Asia and work with them to document, create, and share more stories. Everywhere we've done an issue on so far are places I grew up, but I think we should start inviting other people into the conversation more.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from your zines? Have people exchanged family recipes with you from around the world?

Haha I'd love if people shared recipes actually that's a great idea! People have gotten in touch to say that the connection to family reminds them of their own experiences, which is honestly the best response I could ask for. We've also gotten so much support and great energy around the zine's visuals.

How do you feel about having your zine in the library in Los Angeles for folks to borrow?

I'm honored! It means a lot that there's a place as respectable as L.A. Public library that wants to share our zine for people to read. I hope they enjoy it!

Is there a full length cookbook in your future?

Well, an idea we've always played with is collating all the issues into a single book, which we think would be really cool. And allow us to include more notes and photos alongside the recipes. it'll just add a different pace to the story of it all which is exciting.

Book cover for Fatboy Zine
Fatboy Zine
O'Leary, Chris