West Philly zine fest to celebrate do-it-yourself art

Local “zinesters” will gather Oct. 27 to promote their self-publications.

Despite being in a society where writers and artists flock to blogs for a quick form of self-expression, the “zine” has managed to thrive. On Saturday, Oct. 27, the zine will be celebrated the 10th annual Philly Zine Fest, taking place at The Rotunda in West Philly. And, to take advantage of its proximity to a certain holiday, this year’s theme will be “Hallow-zine.”

A zine is a self-published booklet or magazine with a small circulation usually less than 1,000. Any topic can be covered in these publications, such as a few musings written by one person or a collection of political cartoons drawn by a group of friends. Since zines are self-published, readers can get a more candid perspective of the author’s thoughts than they could in a major newspaper or magazine. Although the popularity of the Internet eventually overshadowed the zine, the art form is kept alive by zine enthusiasts. Sarah Rose, one of the organizers of Philly Zine Fest, is one of them.

“At 10 years old, this festival is kind of institution,” Rose, who has been involved in organizing Philly Zine Fest since last year, said.

Of course, as with any festival, it takes effort to put it all together.

“We set a date and create a registration form. We then open registration to the public and decide what sort of activities we’ll have. Last year, we had some workshops and a film that weren’t well-attended, so this year we’re doing a trivia game and a costume contest to go along with our Hallow-zine theme,” Rose said.

Once registration is full and the tables and music are booked, Zine Fest is ready to begin. This year, 40 to 60 tables are set to be at the event.

“I think the most difficult part of the fest is balancing organizer stuff with tabling my own zines. I want to talk to and trade zines with everyone and go to all the activities, but I also want to talk about my zine as well,” Rose said. “Being an organizer has helped me to be more practical at setting boundaries and being able to accept that it’s fine not to be able to accommodate everyone’s requests.”

Rose’s love for zines started in high school after a member of a queer pen pal group she belonged to sent her one in the mail, she said.

“I kind of dove head first into zines, which was a nice segue into punk and queercore and other things I never would have been exposed to in the small, conservative southern town I grew up in,” Rose said.

Since then, she’s been creating her own zine, “Tazewell’s Favorite Eccentric,” which deals with issues relevant to her life as well as the lives of others, like abuse, addiction, queerness and poverty.

Besides gaining a creative outlet, Rose experienced other benefits from getting into the zine community as well.

“I’ve made a lot of really rad friendships with people I admire from being involved with zines for awhile,” Rose said. “This year, I’m most excited about seeing old friends and making new ones.”

Fiona Murray, another exhibitor at Philly Zine Fest and one of the creators of “Threadbear,” also found companionship in the zine community during those formidable years of high school.

“I made a personal comic zine that was mostly complaining about being in high school,” Murray said. “I printed maybe a hundred copies for each issue, and handed them out to friends and strangers at punk shows, yet I was surprised to hear from people all over the country who had somehow come across them. Zines have always seemed like a natural form of self-expression for me. I think there would be a lot more zines if blogs didn’t provide that outlet for creativity.”

Murray procrastinated on making more issues until she met fellow artist Connie Ambridge and began entertaining the idea of making collaborative comics, she said. They exhumed the name “Threadbear” from Murray’s old zine and put out a new issue in Spring 2011.

Although Ambridge, a sculptor, was not new to artistic endeavors, “Threadbear,” was her first exposure to the process of making a zine.

“As an artist, I’m always looking for venues to exchange ideas and creations,” Ambridge said. “Zines were always in my peripheral vision but I never thought I had anything worth putting in one until we began collaborating.”

After coming up with the publication’s content, many zinesters use a distribution source, or a “distro,” to make several copies of their zines. However, Murray and Ambridge decided to take the phrase “do it yourself,” literally.

“‘Threadbear’ is decidedly not photocopied, which is pretty unusual for a zine,” Murray said. “Creating a completely hand screen-printed zine is something [Ambridge] and I are both passionate about. The printing is a big part of the creation as all of the pages have quite a few hours into them, but we think the result is worth it.”

Ambridge agrees.

“Making things by hand is kind of a point of pride for me,” Ambridge said. “I’m always trying to learn how to become more self-sufficient and learn new ways to make things…There is much more personality in a zine that has all of the flaws of hand-printing. I feel like ‘Threadbear’ is an example of glorifying the imperfect and the personal, which is what is great about zines.”

Despite the laborious process of making their zine, Murray and Ambridge are excited for the chance to socialize and trade ideas with other artists in the city they call home.

“Philly Zine Fest is the most exciting one for me,” Murray said. “There are amazing talents here who are so passionate about making beautiful, inspiring things. We’re super lucky to be surrounded by these incredible zinester creatures each year.”

Cheyenne Shaffer can be  reached at cheyenne.shaffer@temple.edu.

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