Zine-making has rapidly evolved since the early punk and Riot Grrrl days, when greyscale Xerox dominated the visual landscape of self-publishing. Today, zines come in all colors, shapes, and sizes; and the diversity of their form and content is reflective of the designers and artists who produce them.
At this year’s Los Angeles Zine Fest, the exhibitors, panel discussions, and readings all showed a clear intention of making LAZF a space where feminist, queer and POC voices would be heard. In the main lobby, a mobile zine shop and feminist lending library were on display with the AntenaMóvil, a Mexican cargo tricycle repurposed by the collective Antena and F.L.O.W. (Feminist Library on Wheels) respectively.
The Black Femme Zinester panel discussion focused on zine-making as a vehicle for exploring issues relating to identity, self-care, community work, sexuality, and gender; while readings by the Skid Row Zine (SRZ) Collective highlighted the work of neighborhood artists celebrating the strength, creativity, joy, and challenges that spring from life in downtown Los Angeles.
The L.A. Zine Fest has been in operation since 2012, and the annual event has always been organized by volunteers, with funding provided by the Fulcrum Arts’ Emerge fiscal sponsorship program. Lara Kaminoff, a designer who has been tabling at LAZF for about five years says there’s been a “growing emphasis on queer artists, women artists and artists of color. Comics is a super welcoming and progressive community and I’m excited about how far we’ve come since Crumb.” First-time attendee Marie Mingoia agrees: “I’ve been to similar events before and the L.A. Zine Fest really made a conscious effort to be inclusive and diverse. It was nice to see a range of ethnicities, cultures, ages, and genders represented at one event.”
This was evident with so many exhibitors this year, like Reflekt, an L.A.-based style anthropology magazine whose latest issue features articles on subjects like Queer Latinx Style Tribes or an editorial with Lee from Slay model management, a transgender modeling agency.
“The organizers at L.A. Zine Fest do a great job at promoting new voices”, says exhibitor Veronica Graham of Most Ancient. “A huge emphasis is placed on making room for first-time zine makers or those who did not exhibit the previous year. I think with so many fairs becoming more and more competitive, spaces like this inject much-needed energy into the community. I love seeing old friends, but discovering something new, something unique is why I come to these festivals.”
Graham’s zines and prints range from formalist comics to fictional cartography to visual poems about self-identity like the playfully provocative Riso printed book Dry Spells, that she describes as a collection of homespun enchantments. “It’s the first installment for Weather Reports, a series of seasonal ‘spell’ books that are part comic strip and part visual poem,” she explains.
Graham says that the biggest change in the current zine landscape has been the process for production. “The widespread use of Riso and digital printers has been a game changer,” she says. “It’s more affordable than a trip to Kinkos and the edition sizes are more flexible than offset printing. You can also make very colorful books with Riso, which was too expensive before. The world of zines used to be all greyscale, now it’s technicolor.”
While there were plenty of zine dudes exhibiting solid work this year, it was the ladies who presented the most arresting and subversive designs at LAZF. Retro type lovers will rejoice when they view Rinny Riot’s intersectional feminist re-appropriations of vintage ephemera, or Mel One’s classic centerfold models obscured by resplendent, hand-painted graffiti. (Also see Emma Munger’s illustrative pin-ups of John Muir and John James Audubon for those of you looking to expand your collection of conservationist erotica).
Mel One, who is apart of the Bitch Betta Have My $ Collective, explores aspects of feminism, property, and copyright through her work. “I used to be very involved in graffiti in New York, which, as a microcosm of the world at large, is dominated by patriarchal and misogynistic views of women,” she explains. “As an affront to this culture that I also participated in, I wanted to decontextualize pre-conceived notions of femininity and womanhood.”
Mel One’s original pin-up concept was to “saint” the centerfolds by placing a halo around their heads in a nod to classical portraiture. But as she discovered, “the first centerfold I added a gold halo to just didn’t feel complete, so I added a Tupac lyric on the bottom, which then added layers of complexity to the meaning of the work by using the same kind of problematic, typically anti-female culture of rap to really disrupt the male gaze, thus re-appropriating the image and the lyrics with a feminist spin. Once I started, I couldn’t stop! I’ve done a series of close to 100 different pin-up inspired works, in which I do all the lettering completely by hand.”
The DIY spirit was alive and well at LAZF; however, attendees like designer and technologist Joshua Walton wished there had been more experimentation with emerging technology represented at the event. “There is a great historic relationship between approachable technology and zine culture,” Walton explains.
“At-home printers, photocopiers, Risographs, screen printing, are all technologies that have aesthetics which zine makers respond to and use in interesting ways. I want to see that with new technologies for printing such as robotic drawing arms like The AxiDraw Drawing Machine, or laser cutting/Cricut-style cutting machines. I think those technologies are waiting to be combined with traditional print techniques or even in some cases rethink them, for instance when people started 3D printing stamps and carving away at them by hand to add details.”
In terms of identifying the biggest challenges in self-publishing right now, most of the exhibitors agreed that it all comes down to production cost. Lara Kaminoff says, “Self-publishing is expensive and requires a lot of self-direction and faith in your own vision. It’s often frustrating and emotionally exhausting but the level of creative control and personal access to your readers keeps ya coming back.”
L.A.-based Riso studio Tiny Splendor created a gorgeous portfolio box of prints called The Year of the Dog filled with 21 different canine-themed Riso prints from a collaboration of designs spanning from Mexico to the Bay Area. The foil-stamped, custom-made box surely cost a pretty penny to produce, but the beauty and complexity of the work as a design object pushes the boundaries for what you would expect to find at a DIY zine fest.
Cynthia Navarro, who runs Tiny Splendor with Kenny Srivijittakar, says, “there isn’t money or profits to be made in zine and self-publishing, but I think most people understand that… there’s a different drive to be doing this.”