Pt. I: Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe
The Chicago Zinefest this year was by far the largest zinefest I have ever attended, consisting of a hundred tables split between the first floor and the eighth floor of Columbia College’s Conaway Center. The organizers deserve a lot of credit for the amount of work and organization that clearly went into putting this beast together.
In addition to zines, it featured well-known writers and artists such as Jeffrey Brown, whose one-hour long workshop featured the opportunity to give him suggestions while he drew his trademark autobiographical comics. I guess it’s hard to get away from being that self-involved.
Tabling at the Zinefest this year, I felt strangely isolated and anxious, lonely even though the fest was packed and I could tell that many of my zine friends were having a great time. Very few people stopped at my table and those that did seemed to be window shopping–interested in browsing wares rather than meeting zinesters or talking about content. Many people asked me if I had any comics (versus asking what the zines were actually about), which I think had to do with the art school setting and the emphasis on comics by the zinefest organizers. I got very few requests for trades and didn’t have a chance to leave my table to explore or visit.
I am not saying these things to be a downer. I know that people (pretty much all of whom I know and like) worked really hard on the zinefest and that a lot of zinesters had a great time and that is awesome. However I also believe that negative feeling opens up important critical space, and I don’t think it’s useful to back away from those feelings or to question the things that we do, particularly because I am also in the throes of organizing the DC Zinefest.
For the first time at a zinefest, I felt like I was trying to sell something; my zines became a product, rather than gifts that I was giving. There has always been some economic exchange involved with my zines–I am not always clever enough to get the free copies or well-off enough to not ask for something–but it has never before felt like sales. For the first time, I felt like I was in competition with the other zinesters tabling, like I wasn’t good enough in some zine hierarchy of zine selling that I created in my zinefest-addled mind.
This discomfort points to a tension that I have written about and continue to feel really conflicted about, between the desire to branch out and expand, and to keep things secret, small, and “safe”. On one hand, having a really big zinefest ensured that many more people were included. By intensely advertising, by inviting “special guests” like Al Burian and his books, or comic book writer Jeffrey Brown, by having sponsors and emphasizing comics and allowing non-zines to table, the Chicago Zinefest made themselves more accessible to individuals outside of the insular zine “community”. Because of this, maybe more people know about zines, maybe the zine “community” has grown in positive ways. Also, I know that the feeling of safety I often experience when doing zine-related activities and generally in subcultural (particularly queer) spaces is largely false, and maybe I needed this familiar sense of anxiety to remind myself that there is no such thing as safe space.
On the other hand, what I value most about zine culture is the desire to be “underground,” to be outside the mainstream, to be more interested in affection than accumulation, community over celebrity. This year at the Chicago Zinefest, I didn’t get that sense of desire–I sort of got the opposite–and it makes me wonder: Is it possible for that to exist if we go too big? How do we grow our democratic desire for a cultural production that literally anyone can make, while also protecting the ideals of that production as being outside of capitalist and consumerist structures? How do I reconcile my anxiety about keeping zine culture “safe” from assimilation into the imagined mainstream, “safe” from commercialization, with the desire for zine culture to be more diverse, accessible and expansive?
Am I just pissing in the wind here?
Pt. II: Vomit
To lay the rumors to rest (for anyone who wasn’t in our workshop, where Jami Sailor announced this), the puke in the elevator was mine. To the people who watched me puke and then left me on the fifth floor, still puking, disoriented and stumbling—you are giant douchebags. I hope I puked on your douchebag shoes.
p.s. I may transcribe and post the audio from our workshop. We will see. In the meantime, Jami Sailor blogs zinefest here (picture of our table by yours truly), and Archiving the Underground #1 is available here.
p.p.s. Other zinesters, especially zinefest organizers and Chicago folks: What do you think about this?