How I, Joe Biel (Microcosm Publishing), Escaped an Abusive Relationship, Thought Bigger Than My Bubble, Moved On, and Learned How to be Autistic in a Neurophobic World

Joe Biel
17 min readJul 5, 2019

In 1998 I was selling zines and records a few nights per week at our local DIY punk club, Speak in Tongues. A regular customer named Steve approached. “Did you hear about the Bowling Green Zine Conference happening in June?” he asked me. I hadn’t. To be honest it sounded a bit intimidating.

I had previously attended events like the More Than Music Festival, which were, admittedly, not much more than music, other than aesthetically. As an autistic young person, loud environments where politics were implied and I didn’t need to rely on my inept social skills were strongly preferred to ones where I would need to rely upon conversation, or where social hierarchies would inevitably be present. I got drunk every night as a crutch for my own inability to socialize in a healthy way and to bury my sorrows.

Still, the zine conference was happening a mere 130 miles away so I put it on my calendar and wondered what such an event would entail. And well, to be honest, the first few times I went, it was a bit off-putting. The event was almost entirely white, fairly academic, and full of the same didactic politics that More Than Music Festival was, albeit one where the goal seemed to conversationally outperform other attendees in an olympics of demonstrating both how oppressed you are and how accommodating you are to others oppression. It was exhausting and confusing. But these were rules I could understand and play along with.

Still, I continued to attend the zine conference as it evolved into the Underground Publishing Conference and eventually Allied Media Conference. It was a place where I felt like I could be an effective change agent towards a more democratized kind of underground publishing and one where my experience as an uneducated person of working class origins could be heard and relate with others who came from similar places. However predictably, those were not the people that felt comfortable attending an event on a university campus in the middle of a cornfield.

I am conscious of the impact of my presence and have come to see it as a sort of protest when similar…

Joe Biel

self-made autistic publisher and filmmaker formed by punk rock,