When Rocksalt Magazine editor and publisher Geoff Sebesta visualizes where he wants his publication to end up, he imagines the comic tacked to a prison cell wall.
Story by Briana Zamora
Photos by Kristin Evans
He imagines the comic as a treasure hoarded away by an inmate with little reading material at his disposal, who might read the magazine dozens, if not hundreds of times.
“I want to know what some dude locked away in a room with nothing to do but read this comic is going to feel about it,” Sebesta says. “I want it to interest him, to entertain him, to provoke him every single time he reads it.”
The comic is Rocksalt Magazine, a quarterly alternative comics anthology and the flagship publication of Austin’s independent comic community. Since its inception by Sebesta in 2011, the paper has featured contributions from local and international artists. Sebesta says the purpose of the publication is to keep Austin weird.
The magazine offers artists a space to express, explore and experiment with their techniques, while crafting the ideas that guide them. “It’s a vehicle for culture and alternative thought in Austin,” advertising coordinator and frequent contributor Tyler Skot Carpenter says. “We represent disenfranchised opinions and weirdness, giving independent illustrators in town a place to showcase their own freaky vision.”
Sebesta says he commends Austin for its innovative and prosperous illustrator community, but notes the overwhelming difficulties most Austin artists confront while trying to make a living. “There is hardly any space for people to start small and build right now,” Sebesta says. “To support yourself as an artist, you either have to get a day job or you need to have the energy and passion to fight constantly. I’m always fighting.”
Sebesta’s fight takes physical form in Rocksalt Magazine. Sebesta says he founded the anthology in 2011 partly out of restless boredom, but primarily with the intent to promote and encourage local Austin artists like himself.
Before working as the publication’s advertising coordinator, Carpenter originally began his involvement with the publication as an intern. Carpenter says working at the magazine not only helped him develop artistically, but also instilled in him the confidence and drive to succeed as an artist. “Being involved has given me inspiration to follow my crazy dreams and make them happen, no matter the circumstances,” Carpenter says.
However, Sebesta says one of the biggest struggles of publishing an independent magazine on a city-wide scale is funding. Nonetheless, Houston based illustrator, contributor and avid reader, Maria Heg, says this is one of the magazine’s most distinct qualities. “It’s such a wonderful concept, having an all-comics rag come out monthly in any city,” Heg says. “But to be distributed for free? That’s amazing.”
To keep the publication running, the Rocksalt Magazine staff works tirelessly, constantly running Kickstarter campaigns and selling advertisements to ensure that the publication remains easily accessible to all readers.
Since the advent of the internet, comics have evolved past their traditional print and ink medium into immersive online experiences that reach a much wider consumer base more quickly and cheaply— yet Sebesta insists on printing his comics. “We rather pointedly try not to be on the internet,” Sebesta says. “I like that we’re kind of undercover. Everything is on the internet, and the idea of something that actually isn't, is exciting.”
Sebesta says Rocksalt’s purpose is not merely to entertain and showcase local talents, but also to create an accessible forum for discussing important political and social issues. Rocksalt’s comics have featured a variety of political topics, from the Charlie Hedbo attacks in 2015 to the Abortion restrictions/Texas Senate Bill 5 of 2013. “We stand proudly for ambiguity, for complexity, for a lack of easy answers,” Sebesta says. “We don’t want easy answers. We aren't here to provide easy answers. We are here to generate more questions. We are here to generate thought.”
The current print issue is available at several locations throughout downtown Austin, including Kerbey Lane and Austin Java Co. Digital issues can be accessed from Rocksalt Magazine’s website.