Although it’s been around since the 1980s and the invention of the modern copy-machine, zines and zine culture have seen a resurgence over the last decade with festivals, websites, and pop-up stores featuring them all around the country, but especially in the Bay Area.
On Saturday, December 7, The East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest will celebrate it’s Tenth Anniversary at Omni Commons in Oakland. Organizer Rapheal Villet said there will be about 125 people with tables, noting that last year’s attendance exceeded 1,000 people.
“As a publisher who works with artists to make art-related small books, this is one of my favorite events of the year because you get such a diverse array of people into self-publishing and doing it on their own without permission,” Villet said. “They’re really into it, they’re passionate about it, and it shows.”
“Every year our attendance has grown, and more people than ever are applying, which tells me that zine culture is exploding,” he added. “This year, we’re having zine workshops, and a zine shop for people who couldn’t get a table with us. Anyone can bring their zine, and we’ll sell it for them for free, and give them all the money.”
Villet himself has been making zines for more ten years, and recently started his art production company, Play Press. He recalled the early days of the festivsal with great affection.
“We started out small at the Berkeley Community College Library,” he said. “Ara Christian Jo used to run the festival and had a great relationship with them, she’s the one that got me involved. When we lost her in the Ghost Ship fire, we all decided to pick it up where she left off, and keep it going. There’s a rotating cast, but our core is usually eight or nine organizers, but anyone can join, get involved, and become a decision-maker. We’re constantly trying to make the festival as inclusive as possible.”
Organizer Maira Mcdermott said the festival’s tenth anniversary will feature a gaudy wedding theme. “We’re putting giant flowers,” they said, “putting up paper ribbons, and bringing buttons for everyone who comes.”
More than just hand-made books, they noted, zines have an entire culture attached to them that either defies or ignores traditional publishing and distribution channels.
“Zine culture is wanting to share the experiences, thoughts, and feelings without being worried what others will think about it,” McDermott said. “It’s pure self-expression. When you go to a person’s table at the fest, and you like their work, and then they come to your table and say they really like yours; it just feels so good to have that real exchange with a real person.”
Villet called zine culture is “an ethos, an attitude, and a way of being.”
“It’s about taking control of what you want to be published in the world without asking or waiting for it,” he said. “It’s not about capitalism, though people do sell their books, many publishers will trade between themselves or take art in exchange for their work. It’s the opposite of mainstream publishing.”
The DIY and anti-capitalist ethos of zine culture can not only redefine traditional modes of communication, it can inspire as well.
“I got involved with zines because I want to find information on being queer, especially in the Bay Area, and I wasn’t able to find it on the internet,” McDermott said. “But I could find it in these little books if I just searched. The first zine I ever made was a mini-zine, by myself, for myself; but it feels good to share. As a former blogger, the sharing aspect felt the same. The first place I shared my work was at the festival in 2014. It was so positive that I continued in order to feel that magic, that spark. Until then, I’d been making my zines with the copier at my job, after that first festival, I was so fired up that I ordered a laser-printer that very night.”
“Zine culture exists next to digital culture, so when you’re looking at a zine you’re not on social media,” Villet said. “I think people crave real, tangible experiences, and the festival is great place to get that. Most of the books are under $10, making them both accessible and affordable, which is what zine culture is all about.”
“Every zine I’ve ever picked up is political,” added Mcdermott, “First by being a zine, but also because you’ll see content in zines that you’d never see in a bookstore. It’s tangible, it’s paper, staples, string. Something you can hold, something you can take with you and give to someone else. You can meme, which I do, but you zine too.”