Last week, friends of the zine Taffy Hips gathered at Ada Books on Westminster Street to celebrate the sixth issue: robot comics, prints of giant tsunami waves, and an interview with Chicago-based cartoonist Anya Davidson.
Providence's lively underground arts scene may not be what it once was. But here was a sign that the DIY aesthetic still lives.
"It draws a large crowd," said Brent Legault, owner of Ada Books, of Taffy Hips.
Editors Zara Messano and Gil Gentile launched the zine in September 2008 while undergraduates at New York's Sarah Lawrence College.
Messano, a Providence native, says the publication was inspired in part by Paper Rodeo, a now out-of-print comic book associated with the old Fort Thunder art collective. And the name, Taffy Hips, was meant to capture its oddball spirit.
"It's silly in a curious way," says Messano. "You think, 'What is it?' "
The zine, with a circulation of about 700, has national ambitions. There are copies scattered around New York and Chicago and Messano and Gentile have built a small online following.
But while the editors have landed interviews with far-flung figures like graphic artist Gary Panter, who made his name as the set designer for the madcap Pee-wee's Playhouse television show, Messano says much of the work that appears in Taffy Hips comes from Rhode Islanders who might not otherwise find a place to publish.
Providence artist Meg Powers says her work is too dark to be featured in large-scale art magazines. But her aesthetic, which often features "girls being gross," was a sensible addition to Taffy Hips. For the most recent issue, Messano asked Powers to sketch a female transforming into a bat. Powers took the concept a bit further.
"I wanted to draw conjoined girls puking up bats," says Powers. "It's violent in a goofy way."