Geoffrey Golden and Amanda Meadows are the kind of people who always seem like they are laughing. His laugh is a soft booming throat laugh and hers is a wandering little chuckle, both of which are peppered in and out of conversation. They’re two funny people who are carving their name quite nicely into the Los Angeles comedy, entertainment, zine, and art world by way of their quarterly zine The Devastator, the finest printed, best designed, and funniest mini-magazine in Los Angeles–and maybe even the entire country.
The two live together in a sunny West Hollywood apartment that doubles as their living space and the headquarters for their publication. We sit on their couch, the two of them framed by a sunny window that overlooks their neighborhood. “I grew up in Buffalo, New York,” Geoffrey says. “I was one of those rare kids who always knew that they wanted to come to Los Angeles and work as a comedy writer. At one of those college tours, a guide asked, ‘How many of you high school students know what you want to do for the rest of your life?’ There were like eighteen of us and it was only me holding up my hand.”
He laughs, causing the small group of us to chuckle. “It was always my goal to come out here and write comedy professionally since I was very young. I mean, I wrote a humor column for the school newspaper, I was recording comedy album things with my friends and, in high school, they gave us a radio show on the college station. I did videos and I was doing comedy online professionally, in the early days, on MP3.com. It was always my goal to come out to Los Angeles.”
Geoff went to Emerson College, where he pursued the same types of projects, getting involved in radio and video before heading out West. He notes that there is an LA “Emerson Mafia” in and around entertainment and comedy, which we are fully aware of through friends and since they are taking over a chunk of Sunset Blvd. “There are definitely some Emerson graduates who are very prominent,” he says. “I don’t know many of them. I know a lot of folks that are like me: not famous.”
“I grew up very close to Los Angeles, likely the opposite of Buffalo: I grew up in Orange County.” Amanda started, “It was always weird for me because I was always the only black kid in class and I was also the smart kid that everyone wanted to edit their papers. It was a weird twofer. I actually felt like I was Toofer from Thirty Rock as a child.”
“I always changed my mind about what I wanted to do when I grew up,” she said. “But, every time I changed it, it had more and more to do with writing, more and more to do with editing. When I was in middle school, I became obsessed with comedy. I watched way too many things that were too mature for me: I was obsessed with Kids In The Hall and Late Night With Conan O’Brien and Strangers With Candy. I read The Onion and was obsessed with it and thought, one day, I’d like to write or edit for a magazine.”
At this point, Geoffrey was nodding emphatically, adding in at a pause, “I’d like for you to copy and paste some of the things Amanda said about her childhood into my childhood–particularly watching adult comedies very young.” The two share a laugh, Geoffrey noting how comics influenced the two of them, too. “I’m still a huge nerd. I mean, look at our bookshelf,” he says motioning to their huge collection of new and old comics, zines, DVDs, toys, and other items.
The bookshelf’s collection seems to represent the end of Amanda’s goals: publishing and written work. She eventually attended local colleges OCC, Vanguard, and Fullerton College. “All of my friends were at Chapman, so I had all of these friends in film and TV. I did some film and TV stuff for a while and was obsessed with doing late night TV pilots because it was really fun. The more I did it, the more I realized I wanted less to do with production and more to do with writing things, sort of being the one not in the fray. And, I really liked print. I graduated with an English Literature major and, as I went from retail to management to marketing jobs, I hated it and I left–and I started working for a publishing company, Phoenix Books, as their publicity manager. I was getting assistant editor tasks, which I loved because I got to read manuscripts and deal with authors. The more and more I did it, I realized that this is what I want to do: I was right the first time!!!”
“I was dating Geoff for almost a year before I started working for the Phoenix Books,” she said. “We’d constantly talk about how there was no comedy in print anymore–even The Onion stopped their newspaper run. Mad is not what they used to be, National Lampoon isn’t a thing anymore. We got really nostalgic and thought, well, why don’t we try something. Geoff was working on this really awesome army man style zine that I thought was really cool. I discovered Kickstarter and said, ‘What if…we create a perfect-bound book full of colorful comics, writing, illustrations, and stuff? We could have our friends in it! And, we could even ask famous people!’ We thought it was crazy enough to work… so, we started working on it.”
This was in the Winter of 2009, an artistic and comedic process which Amanda recalls as an adventure. This pursuit sounds challenging but, really, was a natural fit given both of their histories and interests. “I actually managed to get a job on National Lampoons’ website, which–at the time–was sort of the last evolution of the print magazine,” Geoffrey said. “They were still doing the kind of humor and things that you would see in the print magazine–but on the web.”
2009 seemed like a crossroads for them: they wanted to do something new and they wanted to put care back into comedy–through print. “I love the web. On 4chan, I’m what they’d call an Oldfag,” Geoffrey explained. “It got to a point where I wanted to see comedy again that wasn’t in meme form. One of the things working in Internet comedy is that there is this mentality of ‘We have to hit this right now!!’ For example, ‘Lindsay Lohan just did this–we have to make a video!’ or ‘This movie trailer hit the web–we have to do one of three sweded versions that will come out!’”
He continued: “I always felt like I would rather watch or read something that was the best: I’d rather read or watch the best parody instead of the fastest. I want to read comedy that has been edited and that has been mulled over.”
Amanda agrees entirely. “There are gifts that come with working on something for enough time. If someone’s writing a blog post about Syria, it’s going to be a little jumbled and hasty–but if someone publishes a well thought out article about Syria in The New Yorker, there’s going to be a lot more.”
“And you expect more,” Geoffrey says. “It’s not as immediate. There’s a pause because there’s usually more research, a lot of copy editing–all these steps. We kind of feel the same way about comedy, in as least pretentious a way as you can say that.”
He laughs, thinking about what was just said: “We think our comedy is like a Syria think piece!!”
“We’re mostly writing a book of dick jokes and nineties cartoon references,” Amanda adds laughing. “It’s the least pretentious magazine ever made.”
Working hard and fast in comedy isn’t something Geoffrey and Amanda look down on at all: it just isn’t them. “It is fine if people do it–it’s definitely a way of doing things,” Geoffrey mentions, Amanda adding, “There’s a place for it, yes.”
“But, there should also be a place for the other way of looking at it,” Geoffrey clarifies. Amanda nods, “And, print’s not going away anytime soon. It’s redefining itself.”
“It’s like radio: everyone thought that television would kill radio–it didn’t. Everyone thought that television would kill movies–it didn’t,” Geoffrey says.
“The relationships have just shifted,” Amanda states, noting that news in magazine form given present technology would be silly. But a “quarterly book-like, perfect bound, soft, colorful comedy” miniature magazine? Yes, that is the perfect medium for it.
And the medium is certainly a part of a greater movement and trend in expression. “We’ve been noticing this since, basically, the time we started The Devastator,” she says. “People were starting similar things. Our friend, Brock Mahan, in New York have this magazine called Whim Quarterly. We’ve always been into indie comics and mini-comics: it just seems like we are inundated with so many good indie comics increasingly over the years. Zines have just exploded. It feels like it’s the years of the nineties, where everyone was stapling their stuff and disseminating it at coffee shops–but it’s way more organized now.”
“It’s all these ambitious and passionate young people who love art starting their own publishing companies and collectives. Like Meredith Wallace and those guys who started the LA Zine Fest: they’ve been really big in the LA zine community too and it’s really cool to see how organized it is. You don’t usually associate the zine community with being really organized and into selling products.”
“We sort of live in this new emerging world of LA zines that I feel we are very much a part of,” Geoffrey explains. “We also do comic conventions, too: we show at these big pop culture ones–like Wonder Con, Comic Con–and also indie shows like Stumptown Comics Fest in Portland and Toronto Comics Art Festival.”
At these shows, Geoffrey and Amanda are able to share their product with lots of new people, not only fans of comedy but fans of popular culture, from comic books to action figures to movies. The root of their relationship with readers stems from the care in their work but, more importantly, a desire for classic, honest entertainment.
“I think people like artifacts,” Geoffrey says. “I certainly do. I know that I like decorating shelves with cool looking books and stuff. Sure, you could have an iPhone app that shows you pictures of Mega Man action figures–but don’t you want those real Mega Man action figures? Specifically, Proto Man? For me, zines are like records, a recording of what a band sounded like in a certain moment in time: this is what our print comedy magazine was like. With digital, you can kind of George Lucas things, going back and changing and adding CGI characters nobody wants–in print, we could still do it but it’d be much more difficult and clumsy. It would involve a lot of stickers.”
The two want to their work to be authentic and representative of their past. “There’s something really honest about it, too,” Amanda says. “Every error that is in print isn’t going away. We have less errors with each subsequent issue, but there will always be weird things. Our first issue, we didn’t know what we were doing. We were guessing our way, gleaning as much as we could from my publishing background. I wasn’t publishing comics before The Devastator: there was a lot we had to learn about art and formatting and…”
The project has them using creative muscles they didn’t know they had, expanding the scope of their capabilities beyond being funny and into design, art, editing, and comics. “Creatively, I had experience editing other people’s comedy writing and Amanda had experience editing comedy and literature,” Geoffrey said. “I had done some comics stuff–not a lot–but we definitely learned as we went. Thankfully we’ve had people in the comic business who mentor us.”
“Jim Higgins’ of Meltdown University has been a fantastic friend and was a DC editor,” Amanda notes. “He’s been very instrumental and taught us how to draw our first comics before we even started The Devastator. It was a humiliating experience but it was definitely humbling. You really appreciate what artists do.”
“There were lots of technical and business things we had to learn on the fly too,” Geoffrey says.
With a slight giggle and smile, Amanda adds, “We learned a lot of rules for designing in print, which is totally different than designing things for the web. Luckily, we had some amazing layout artists, my brother [Hassan Rahim] and Sarah Lee helping out with the first issue and Russell Lee, who has been our Design Director ever since. He’s made our title graphics look amazing and has tweaked lots–even the comics. He’s fantastic. We’ve been really lucky.”
Their practice comedically and stylistically is based in sketch comedy, too: they only use as many details (which they liken to props in a scene) necessary to get their point across. They try not to add in anything unnecessary: they keep their comedy and design in the simplest form, which is something very valuable in the medium.
The two are hoping to expand The Devastator, to become something beyond just a zine but a comedic destination, should that be where their work evolves to. “I imagine it to be a comedy brand,” Geoffrey says. “We want it to be something that you think of and see a whole stream of things–but the magazine will always be the core and will always be the focus, the heart of it. We’ve always talked about expanding our page count and doing one-off books, which we’re already experimenting with when you flip an issue over. Imagine that as a full book! It would be lovely to be on television and do movies, cartoons, action figures. I hear the pay is nice!”
He laughs. “We want The Devastator to be as big as it can sustain itself–while still being good. We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin. As long as the quality remains, it can be the biggest comedy brand on the planet.”
“We want growth–but it’s how we get there: we want it to be healthy,” Amanda says.
“The trick to that?” Geoffrey asks. “Flintstone’s Chewable Vitamins.” And, as if on cue, everyone begins to laugh.
For more on The Devastator, check out their website, give them a follow on Twitter, and a Like on Facebook. You can also pick their latest zine–whose theme is Fantasy–at their webshop, which you can preview here. You can also subscribe to them here, too.