by Kevin Czap
Aloha my dear friends. It’s convention season again, which as far as this year is looking, basically means from now until 2013 I will be going to comics shows. I did miss the excitement in the two months I had off. One of the goals I had made for myself last year was to expand the range of shows I exhibited at, with a focus on the more indie-aimed shows. So in this spirit, the first show of the year is the Chicago Zine Fest, an amazing exhibition celebrating the aspects of this game that mean the most to me – self publishing and Doing It Yourself.
*Flashback* When my older brother started bringing Bay Area pop punk CDs and zines home from high school, it totally changed the trajectory of our lives. The particular zines he exposed me to were all funny, personal works that borrowed from the conventions of fanzines and minicomics. At the time, there wasn’t really any separation between the two in my mind – it seemed clear that any zine worth its salt had comics, or at least some kind of drawing, in them (I know better now, but I think I’ve instilled a visual bias over the years that I might be blind to now and then [pun intended]).
Anyway, I remember a few years later traveling into DC to check out a zine fair. Since those days, zines and zinesters have been The Coolest to me. My idealization of everything one should strive to be. As I gave more and more of my body and soul over to comics, this love of the zinester translated to an undying admiration of self-publishing in comics.
All this is relevant in the context it provides so that you can understand how thrilled I was to stroll up to Chicago a few weekends ago. It was the first time I’ve driven west for a show, and the first time I’ve ever been to Chi town, so the whole experience was pretty invigorating before the show even got started. Of course, the show itself, spread across two days, ended up being one of those Times of Your Life. So much amazing stuff put up by such passionate folks, with some of the best company. Mad kudos to the hardworking show organizers, this will be one that I remember for a long, long time.
Unlike other comics shows I’ve been to, the Zine Fest was split in such a way that the majority of the programming was held on Friday and we exhibited on Saturday only. This had the obvious benefit of not forcing the zinesters to choose between manning their table to make a buck or have their minds blown by the stellar readings and other events. Seriously, from noon til midnight, I was in DIY heaven. Most of the day was devoted to readings (including a Youth Reading featuring a bunch of teens and preteens too precious for words), great for the audience but also a great tactic for exhibitors because afterwards my list of tables to check out had grown several times longer. There was a lot of great writing to hear, the funnier stuff tending to stick in my mind a bit longer. Art Noose, Sarah Morean and Jim Joyce really made lasting impressions (sooo funny, super bummed I couldn’t find Jim the next day), as did Mia Beatrice, one of the younger zinesters who presented a reading from her fantastic “The Ke$ha Complex” (seriously, I think everyone in the room [the back room of the Boring Store] had the same expression on our faces, resembling that guy from the Maxell commercials).
Without diminishing any other pleasure from the day, the real highlight from Friday was the panel discussion among Christy Road, Mimi Thi Nguyen and Anne Elizabeth Moore concerning Gender, Race and Sexuality. I don’t mean to condemn anyone in comics when I say that one of the nice things about a zine show is that the level of political engagement is higher, more at the forefront. Whereas comics, as an artistic medium, is more neutral ground, there’s a stronger association between zines and progressive ideologies. As someone who shares such beliefs, it’s enriching to be in the company of like-minded individuals. Particularly when they are as fucking intelligent and on point as these three folks were in the talk. Some of the more resonant areas they went over were discussions about how subcultural signifiers can’t be taken for granted as shorthand for one unifying concept – for instance, just because someone is a punk or a zinester or whatever, it doesn’t mean they’re a feminist, an anarchist or anything else. Also, there were the grim reminders that the world of publishing still only caters to a narrow spectrum, and the best ways to have your voice heard is to either self-publish (though this is a relatively small lever) or work with people who really understand and and support you to put the work out, and who stand by it.
Saturday, we hit the tables. There was so so much to take in. Since so much of the show was poetry, prose or other printed matter, you feel a bit of a disadvantage since each table requires more investment from you, even while you’re trying to do a really quick whirlwind through. This is another reason the readings the day before were so great – they gave a taste of what was available. As I said above, I’m trained to seek out the visually interesting, so that helped me be a little speedier, but there’s still slight pangs of guilt that I didn’t get to read everything there. Anyway, here’s what I walked away with:
Note: I haven’t really had time to read any of these, so what follows will be brief.
Ink Fight, Ruby Thorkelson — I picked this up because it was big, colorful and looked unique. Inside are a bunch of brushy comics drawings that cover each page.
Full Circle, Paul Walker — A person I’m assuming was Paul came by before the zine fest wrapped up and gave this comic to me. Super appreciate it, Paul, thanks!
Simple Routines volume 1, JP Coovert — My good buddy Stephen Floyd (who I met when his band Mallwalkers came to play Cleveland a few months ago) was also at Zine Fest, representing his publishing outfit One Percent Press. It was great to catch up with him and discover we both had a deep love for the entire catalogue of Dischord Records (Fucking Black Eyes!!!). Anyway, in an effort to get the upper hand over me and make me feel like a jerk, he gave me, gave me, just about everything from his table. What a nice guy. If you’re in Buffalo, hug him. Anyway, one of his partners in One Percent is JP Coovert, so I got a lot of his stuff, including this collection of his autobio strips. Looking forward to digging into it!
Cold Lovers – Self-titled — This guy spilled coffee on a copy of “Waffle” and so he gave me this tape in return.
La Primavera, Alexis Frederick-Frost — Another book from One Percent Press. It’s about bikes, so I might have some weird Freudian issues when I read it. We’ll see.
Feeling Words: A Pocket Zine of Emotions, Teresa Cheng — This little zine is filled with beautiful patterns, so like a magpie, I snatched it up.
An Unfamiliar Path, Brian and Roger Boss — Got this in a trade.
xXXXx: Straight Edge Erotic Fiction, Art Noose — I know Art Noose as a staple of the Pittsburgh scene, so I knew that I had to hit up her table. Especially after her amazing reading the night before about her quest to find a baby daddy (spoiler: the very pregnant zinester was clearly successful in the end). Anyway, I saw this and I mean, come on. How could I resist?
The East Village Inky #49 — Cool looking zine, handwritten, filled with drawings.
???, Christopher Green — This is a neat little mini comic.
Hoax #5 and 6, ed. by Rachel and Sari — I’ve been following the tumblr for this fucking kickass feminist zine for a couple of months, so I was so excited to see they’d be at the Zine Fest. I got the two most recent issues, bursting with what I’m sure are intellectually challenging and righteous content. I recommend everyone to at least check out their site – this is important stuff (they’re also always seeking contributions in the form of writing, comics, whatever).
The Ke$ha Complex, Mia Beatrice — I mentioned this great zine earlier. Sharp, articulate and funny, this zine examining the effect of pop music on contemporary teens is really amazing. Way impressive and strong incentive to pay attention to this young zinester.
Lady Bits, #1, Sarah Morean — A smart zine focused on girl talk. Features a bunch of essays where Morean dishes on various aspects of her life experience as a woman. Super smart and insightful, Morean is a great writer, and this is a really cool project that I hope continues to expand. And it’s printed on this shimmery, opalescent paper…
A Painting in 31 Marks, 5X7, Nick Butcher, Nadine Nakanishi — Got this from the table of publisher 5X7, who were selling a bunch of these gorgeously designed art books. There were a whole bunch that I really wanted to get – I think I ended up choosing this one because it struck me as an interesting take on comics, documenting the creation of a painting strokes at a time.
Double Yellow Lines, Hope Larson, JP Coovert — Another from One Percent, this mini is a split that features work by Hope Larson and JP Coovert, both having to do with the road in some way. The Hope Larson comic is one I’ve loved for a long time from her website, where the character finds a dying rabbit on the side of the road. Haunting.
The Manifesti of Radical Literature, Anne Elizabeth Moore — A bomb for the mainstream.
Self Portraits: Folio One, Cathy G. Johnson — Great little zine featuring self portraits of Johnson in various absurd or otherwise funny situations. The crown of this mini is the set of new drawings that make up the Crying Series, which show the artist burying her face in despair while sunning at a resort, or surrounded by yipping puppies. Love it.
Demongun #1, 6, 7, Bernie McGovern — These are really really cool comics – innovative, playful and experimental. Y’all should definitely check these out.
“This Tactile Earth,” Patrick Kyle — Grab Patrick Kyle’s stuff when you can.
Area Chicago #11 — A community-focused, community made paper. Very cool.
Press Start,and Fight!, JP Coovert — JP Coovert falls in a video game! Looks like fun.
Circles Cycles Circuits, Dunja Jankovic — I had no idea who this was by when I found it at Quimby’s, but the visuals were so powerful it was an easy decision to buy it. This kind of collage-heavy comics making really appeals to me right now, and here it’s handled really well. When I found out later this was by Dunja, I was surprised I hadn’t realized earlier. Her work is great, and I’m very happy to have more of it. (Note: this comes with a kitten mask!)
Mad Licks #2, 3, ed. by Sandra Lee Ernsberger and Francesca Thompson — Free zines from the Silver Tongue group at Columbia College, the host of Zine Fest. Silver Tongue members gave the first reading of the event, and I recognize at least one name in the third issue.
A Mad Celebration of Nothing At All, Jeffrey S. Chapman (based on story by J. Erin Sweeney) — Some interesting comics-ing in here.
The Edge, Alfred Planco — If I understand the bit of text at the beginning, this zine is a bit of found poetry about marine life. Beautiful imagery.
Word on the Street: DC Sidewalks 2009-2011 — Photos of cement drawings around DC. Just one of those things that fills me with a peaceful feeling, remembering my days in the capital.
Motor City Kitty #17, Bri — Cleveland what! I already had this issue it turns out, but it’s a good one so no complaints. Bri and I have run into each other around town a few times, but I think this was the first time we ever officially met. Definitely inspiring to have someone in this city who’s been making zines for so long.
The Yage Letters, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg — My buddy let me borrow this book – reading Naked Lunch was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had with art, and I’d recently watched a doc on Burroughs, so my appreciation for his work was high in my mind. I’ve just read a few pages so far but it’s pretty great.
Mickey Comics #1, Walt Disney Jr. (Brendan Wells) &mdash My other purchase from Quimby’s. I really like the simple and weird quality of this comic.